|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
Vegetarian World Forum
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL
Two-and-a-half years in Indo-China with five young children gave me an opportunity to record several interesting points on the relationship between nutrition and the physical and moral development of children.
As we had practised vegetarianism at home since January 1950 (using only very little dairy produce), I did not think it would be necessary to make any change in this diet in Indo-China. I arranged menus similar to those we had in France but without wholemeal bread - I considered rice would replace that. The children and for more and more cheese, so, as this was very expensive, since it had to be imported from France, I added a little chicken to the diet about once a fortnight. This I did because it seemed that the amount of protein they were getting was insufficient, though we often included ground-nuts in our meals.
On this diet I had no trouble with the children's health. But their rate of growth did not appear to be normal. Periodical measurements and weights showed only a small increase, especially towards the end of the stay.
During our return journey when a mixed diet was offered, the children were less averse to eating meat than on the journey out. I let them eat it. It seemed to me they were already beginning to grow more quickly.
Immediately we arrived home we went back to a full vegetarian diet with wholemeal bread, wheat, fruit - a diet as rich and balanced as possible. There followed a sudden spurt in weight and height: my elder son (born April 6th, 1942) put on 3-1/3 lbs. in weight in less than a month and about 1/3 of an inch in height. His sister (born January 28th, 1944) put on 2-1/5 lbs. in four weeks. The results in the other children were less spectacular though they, too, showed an increased rate of growth. In four months the eldest had gained 17-1/2 lbs. and had grown nearly 5 inches. His sister had gained 8-4/5 lbs. and grown 4 inches. The others gained between 5-1/2 lbs. and 8-4/5 lbs. Their increase in height was less marked.
As I had suspected, the fruit and vegetables out there had little nutritive value. The soil seemed to be exhausted, and the rice is not sufficient for a European.
These observations prove, once again. that white bread, of which the children ate large quantities, does not help growth. The flour (which came from France) arrived in metal containers, was pre-heated before export, and thus was more injurious than that we use at home and of absolutely no nutritive value.
IN France, the two elder children were always good scholars (in the first ten places and my son was two years younger than the class average). When we arrived in Haiphong in November, 1951, they were sent to a special class for French children and they did quite well and easily passed their end of term examinations. Then we moved to Hanoi, and the children entered the Albert Sarraut school there.
The boys years was not very satisfactory but he passed his examination and was promoted to the next class. His work became more and more mediocre, however. He neglected his homework and and forgot his lessons. It did no good to grumble or reprimand him.
The girl had difficulty with her work. Her spelling was deplorable. She seemed unable to understand her arithmetic. She certainly went up to the next class at the end of the term, but, being more conscientious than than her brother, she worried a lot about her rather poor results.
Then we returned to France in July, 1954. Both the children only did moderately well during their first term at home.During the second term there was a distinct improvement. And during the third term my son achieved a place among the first five. I had no need to worry about him any longer. His homework was done and his lessons learnt. One felt he was working to his maximum capacity. In the case of the girl, progress was also very marked.Her teacher reported that at first she hbad found her very poor.
It is difficult to judge the mental development of the other children who were very young when we went to the Far East.
After this experience, I remembered a remark made by a colleague on our arrival. Here, French children are all dunces. The Viet-Niem children are all at the top of the class.. This is quite true: the honours list did not favour Europeans. The Examiner at the Albert Sarraut school, with whom I discussed this point, attributed this impaired mental power to the climate; but the climate of Tongking is not so very unbearable. The worst months are June, July and August - during the holidays. I believe that the factor of nutrition is responsible in no small measure. During the first year the children lived on their reserves. As these diminished their work and rate of growth deteriorated gradually. On returning to a balanced diet their bodies were able to build up reserves again and a remarkable improvement in growth and mental ability followed.
DURING this same period in Indo-China one fact struck me very forcibly - the very hard work done there by the working. dasses. Their diet consists almost entirely of. rice - three or four small bowls a day, with a little salad and a few bits of dried fish or a sausage the size of one's little finger and some condiments. They drank some warm, weak tea or occasionally a bowl of Chinese soup brought from a travelling merchant. That is all.
Is it due to this almost non-toxic diet that the Viet-Niem women do not have in their confinements the complications and mishaps which are so frequent in France? I was given some interesting information on this point from the mid-wife who assisted at the birth of my youngest child. She had a Maternity Clinic at Hanoi where there were between five and fifteen confinements every twenty-four hours.
The new born babies weighed about the same as ours - even a little heavier - the average weight being eight and four-fifths lbs. The small and slender mothers bring their babies into the world more quickly and without difficulty. (Haemorrhages and the application of forceps are unkown.) Even in cases of breech presentation in primaparas babies weighing nearly 10lbs. are born alive and without difficulty. Only rarely are babies not breast fed. During pregnancy women lead a normal life, most of them working quite hard. Is it due to this diet also that the women are so calm and patient under all circumstances? For these factors, as we know, contribute largely to happy childbirth.