Hope you have been well. This is my first letter in 2017 and I would like to share with you something I have been thinking about a lot lately.
1. My parents and their shark fin soup in China
My parents were born during the Great Chinese Famine, when at least 45 million people died from hunger. Till the age of 21, my parents and their families had never had enough food to eat. Later when they became wealthier, they fed us everything they could afford – from shark fin soup and edible bird’s nest, which Chinese people are very fond of, to chooks in their garden and fish freshly caught from the sea.
Nowadays they are almost pescatarian. But I remember when I refused to eat the hen who was happily running in the garden, my dad was annoyed and told me I would appreciate it if I was ever starved like they were; it had been thousands of years since we Chinese prided ourselves eating animals. It is a tradition so I should follow. I followed, growing up eating anything my dad put in my bowl, leaving a child’s empathy and imagination behind.
2. What is tradition anyway?
It is till recent years had I started questioning, what is tradition anyway? The world is forever changing, every millisecond, everywhere, in every person – how can a tradition of thousands of years stand its ground and never change?
Does tradition alter, evolve to reflect the reality, or vice versa?
3. The meat-hooked tradition VS animal welfare and climate change
Research shows that tradition is one of the many factors that thrive the meat industry, despite of growing awareness about animal welfare and the environment.
On the progressive side, the Chinese government is aiming at reducing its citizens’ meat consumption by 50% to improve public health and reduce carbon emission (The Guardian); here in Australia, the number of vegetarians has risen to 2.1 million today – a rise from 9.7% (2012) to 11.2% (2016) of the population (Roy Morgan).
It might be for different reasons, but meat consumption in the United States has also fallen in the past decade. This includes 18% less beef, 10% less pork and 1.4% less chicken between 2005-2014 (Vox).
4. Starting with my family
When I visited my parents last year, surprisingly, they accommodated my vegetarian choice (occasionally I eat fish). Although I have been joking with friends about the pig fat mum used in her ‘vegetarian’ dishes because of the cooking oil issue in China, I felt grateful to be understood and accepted. For the first time I told my dad to eat less meat and seafood for environmental and health reasons – and it in fact resonated with him.
At that moment, I felt empowered to change our tradition to adapt to the reality we are facing, with respect, knowledge and empathy.
5. Many of us are creating a set of new traditions
There are many other things my parents could not understand about me. For example, being in a same-sex relationship, working from home, traveling, not to mention advocating for what I believe in – for them, one should only be minding his/her own business to live a life peacefully.
But when I think about many inspiring people I have met or learnt about, I no longer feel alone. More and more of us are devoting ourselves to follow what our heart tells us, rather than tradition – be it pursuing the work we love, being in love with the person we love, traveling around the world, or creating positive impact for our community.
6. But it is never easy to change an old perspective
Almost 15 years ago when I was dipping snake meat into a bowl of fresh chopped chili soy sauce, my parents told my grandparents that they were sending me to study in Australia. My grandpa wasn’t happy. In his mind, it was a tradition that family stayed together. My dad insisted and here I am, fortunate to enjoy my freedom in Sydney where I call home.
I am forever thankful to my parents. At that time, they were perhaps unaware how forward-thinking they were, to send a 17-year-old girl to somewhere even they themselves had never been. They broke our tradition.
7. A new tradition for the many generations to come
Perhaps my parents also never imagined, that one day they would give up most animal delicacy they once prided themselves of, and that tradition could be re-created. In 200 years of time, if human still exists, I hope we will be remembered as the generation who set our own tradition to pursue what is the most important for many generations to come, not only for ourselves.
Thank you for reading. I would love to hear your stories too. Email me at info[at]mundanematters.co.
To hear more about my story, or other inspiring fellow creatives such as Katherine Sabbath (cake creative), Nikki To (photographer) and Chef Clayton Wells (Automata), join us at our talk Evolving a Tasty Niche at Vivid Ideas 2017.
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