A Mongolian’s view of popular diets
So there I am teaching the digestive system, which in the book I am currently using starts with a basic overview of metabolism, or why we need to feed the beast. (Yes, I actually called my lesson that.) It then includes a small section on nutrition before entering the guts of the matter “guts get it?” The perfect real world application for nutrition, then, are the various diets people eat. I began with the Atkins diet, which we all know is high in meat and fat, with almost no carbohydrates. My student’s response:
“Mr. Meharg, aren’t you just talking about the traditional Mongolian diet?”
“Um, not exactly, but your reference kinda sorta works.”
I then explained essential and non-essential amino acids. For those of us who are not science geeks, the proteins in the human body use 20 different amino acids. The human body can give enough energy and starch make 11 (non-essential) of those 20 amino acids. The remaining 9 (essential) cannot be made by the body and must be obtained from the person’s diet. We are in luck because animal protein, regardless of the source contains enough of those 9 amino acids to meet our needs. Vegetable proteins do not contain enough of those amino acids; in fact, some plants do not contain one or more of the essential amino acids. This is why vegetarians and to a greater extent vegans must eat a wider variety of foods than us lowly meatarians for proper nutrition.
“Does anyone know any vegetarians?”
“What’s a vegetarian?”
“I’ve heard the word before.”
“Alright, I guess it’s not surprising, given the Mongolian culture. A vegetarian is someone who does not eat meat.”
“Hahahaha, good one Mr. Meharg.”
“Yeah, you’re just messing with us.”
“Nope, it’s a real thing; there are people who for health or personal reasons choose not to eat meat.”
“How do they live like that?”
“How are they not dead?”
“Vegetables is what food eats.”
Cue my explanation about the vegetarian diet and all of its permutations, which led me to vegans.
“Now you really are messing with us. That can’t be humanly possible.”
Cue my explanation on how the vegan diet is actually possible and how it works despite my student’s statements to the contrary. Sorry PETA, but I just don’t see you taking off in Mongolia anytime soon, because in Mongolia PETA means People Eat Tasty Animals. Now don’t worry Mongolians treat their animals very, very well, because they rely on them to survive, and they know they will eat it sooner or later and are very cognizant of what their food is and what it becomes.
A Mongolian view on food
This view on the absolute necessity of meat in the diet is also held by the older generations of Mongolians, as I discovered one night while out to eat with some coworkers, one of whom was Mongolian.
1- “The bread was nice, but where’s the food?”
2- “The salad was nice, but where is the food?”
3- “The soup was nice, but where is the food?”
4- “Ah finally the food is here,” she says as her salmon dinner was put in front of her.