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The Vegetarian World Forum

No. 2 Vol. 2 - THE VEGETARIAN - SUMMER 1948 pp.26-28:

A VEGETARIAN HOUSEWIFE IN SINGAPORE
Rie von Krusenstierna-Vreeswyck

I do not know who first wrote about the "glamorous East," but it must have been a tourist. (Tourists are those creatures who walk around Singapore in order to raise the prices sky-high and are always found in the wrong shops. Anyhow, it can't have been a housewife with a small Income.)

Yet, what could be more attractive to a vegetarian than a country which is always green, where one has the summer season all the year round and where fruits seem to be of enormous size - pineapples, papayas, and coconuts? Do not the picture postcards show us the sunny roads, and fruit-stalls filled to overflowing, served by charming bronzed young men?

The pity is always that 'the pictures omit three characteristics of the East, namely,' the heat, the dirt, and the smell.

Let me assure you, dear vegetarian, that you can eat string beans, cucumber, a sort of lettuce, spinach all the year round, and various other "European Vegetables" which you, in the West, only enjoy in the summer. But if you could just imagine these vegetables grown under a broiling hot sun in a temperature of about ninety degrees and very little rain, perhaps you may begin to doubt the quality of them.

Let me tell you, then, that most of them are downright dry and tough. Of course, they have to be watered constantly, and there is the ditch from which the water comes . . . it is, however, unfortunate that this ditch is also used for other purposes, since the charming little bamboo huts on your picture postcard have no modern plumbing, I regret to say.

And those charming bronzed faces peeping from behind the coconut trees suffer from many diseases. It has been a constant surprise to me, after having been taught at school that the sun is the best disinfectant and kills most germs, that there are so many infectious diseases in the East, like dysentery, typhoid, cholera, etc. In my attempts to eat raw salads I managed to get amoebe-dysentery and typhoid, and, thanks to the fact that somehow I missed out cholera, I can still write this article. But before the reader should ask if I have not beard of disinfectants, I hasten to add that that happened in the days when I could not prepare or supervise my own food. We still eat raw salads every day-but how?

Here is our salad, exactly the same every single day of the year! A few white cabbage leaves, carrots (imported from Australia), tomatoes, cucumber (small green ones), grated beetroot or turnip (also imported from Australia). Lettuce is not safe to eat, for its wrinkled leaves cannot be well washed, for all our salads are thoroughly washed with soap. Yes, we wash each cabbage leaf or tomato in a rich lather and rub them between our hands and have come to the conclusion that carbolic soap is the only safe disinfectant for raw vegetables!

As to fruits, yes, bananas will be always with us so are papayas though I cannot stand the sight of a pineapple any more after having had it for breakfast day after day. Apples and oranges are imported from Australia, but are rather expensive. But, really, if we Westerners complain about tasteless dry vegetables and the costly imported fruits, let me add that it is mostly our own fault. We do not know how to adapt ourselves to the circumstances and could learn a lot in that respect from our brethren of the East. When we come to the East we expect to eat nothing but our own "Western" vegetables and fruits. There is a large range of native fruits and vegetables which most Europeans have never tried and will never try. Imagine an Eastern visiting England and complaining of the high price or unavailability of mangoes in England and insisting on his own native diet only!

A vegetarian friend of mine complained that she found it most difficult to maintain a properly balanced diet in the tropics, because, as she says, it was so hard to find lentils and other protein-rich foods. But the country and every market is filled to overflowing with various types of pulses and "dhal," and many soya-bean preparations. Other vegetarians never dare to touch salad and indeed, even the Eastern vegetarians never eat anything raw except tomatoes and cucumber, which can be peeled.

It has often been alleged that Europeans can not live healthily on the diet which is natural to the people born in the topics. That is often true, and though I cannot generalize, I know in my own case very well the reason. For instance, the diet of the South Indian Brahmin consists of mountain of rice, a little dhal (pulses), some root vegetables cooked "to death," a lot of green chilies and a bowl of buttermilk. They thrive on that, but when. I share this diet I have to pick out all the green chillies, and thereby deprive myself of the only source of vitamins! I have seen a small Indian baby of a year eat an amount of green chillies which would have made me call for a fire-engine!

And as to the Chinese vegetarian diet, this consists of rice, though more often noodles, some soya-bean cheese, mushrooms, and green-leaf vegetables, which are only slightly cooked, just scalded. When I share this diet I must confess I avoid those large, uncut leaves, which have neither the crispness of raw food nor the softness of well-cooked vegetables, and so I am back at my old trouble of missing out the vitamins. Fortunately the Chinese eat a good amount of fruit which the South Indians do not. One of the strangest customs in the East, for which I still have not found a reason, is, that when a person is ill, he should eat no fruit. They are horrified to see us drink lime-juice or oranges when we have fever or indigestion. Once I got my stomach thoroughly upset from eating pungent South Indian food, and felt that I would like to live for days on nothing but orange-juice. But when the Indian doctor came he prescribed . . . pepper-water, called "rassam" There is one thing the vegetarian housewife in the East needs more than anything else, and that is a cookery book with tables of food values for all the indigenous foods and vegetables in the tropics.

 

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