Duan Family's Self-Sustaining Lifestyle

The Dinner

Around the table, there is laughter and talk as the family share the news of the last two weeks. They drink some local beer, which costs about 25 cents a bottle. Although proper custom dictates that one should focus on the meal and not talk, it is hard to follow such traditions when the family only gathers every other week and don't have much time to catch up.

However, one Chinese tradition that is strictly followed is that everyone must finish all the food in his or her rice bowl.

"Li li jie xin ku," one of Mr. Duan's sons jokingly reminds his wife.

"Li li jie xin ku" is a line from a famous Tang-style poem, "Min Nong," or "Compassion for the Farmer." The poem describes the hardships that a rice farmer must go through in order to harvest the rice that will end up in the rice bowls of people around China. To leave food left in one's rice bowl is very rude, for not only is it wasteful, but it is also disrespectful to the farmers who toiled in the fields to bring such foods to one's rice bowl.

As Mr. Duan stated, "A grain of rice is a drop of sweat." No sweat was wasted on this meal, as all the rice bowls were emptied to satisfaction.

Most Western families would pass around sweet desserts as a finale to their dinner, but Chinese customs are a bit different.

"Sugar is a killer," declared Mr. Duan. "Sugar is the most harmful to the human body, so we eat as little of it as possible."

Instead, a watermelon from their own fields is sliced up and passed around.

"Watermelon is better, because it acts like a beverage as well. We don't need to drink water because of the water content," Mrs. Guan explained.

Indeed, on a summer evening in the countryside, there is no sweeter ending than gathering of family and a slice of watermelon.

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