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Cultural beliefs regarding key foods

The most important attributes of food recognized by the people of Doumen are as follows: tasty (like or dislike), price (expensive or cheap), nutritious and healthful, prestigious, filling, seasonality, can be cooked or eaten together, etc.

Foods from Least to Most Expensive


Food Item

Price Range (RBM)/1000RE



0.01 - 0.03


Kong Xin Cai

0.02 - 0.09


Goat Liver

0.04 - 0.06



0.08 - 0.40



0.08 - 0.46


Pig Liver

0.14 - 0.21



0.15 - 0.25



0.28 - 0.71


Fresh Hot Pepper

0.93 - 1.86



1.20 - 6.80


Chinese Cabbage

2.00 - 20.00



2.04 - 2.38



2.30 - 7.70


Dried Hot Pepper

3.86 - 4.83



4.00 - 10.00



4.60 - 7.70


Bean Sprouts

10.00 - 20.00



31.60 - 36.80



45.70 - 71.40

When buying or growling food the people in Doumen generally consider the type of food. All the interviewees recognized noodles, rice, or steamed bread as staple foods used mainly for filling the stomach. The two attributes most often mentioned for vegetables, beans, bean products, and animal foods are taste and price. The preference of the head of the household (husband or wife) is crucial in selecting food for the family. For example, Mr. Ban Ke Jian, who is the head and the decision-maker of the household, does not like bean curd, so he does not buy bean curd often for family consumption. His wife also does not buy the bean curd because she and other family members respect him, and do not want to do something unfavorable towards him. This practice may influence food habits of their children in the future. However, such practices may weaken with economic growth and cultural modernization.

Most animal food, processed food, and canned fruits are expensive, except for eggs which are produced locally. Eggs are also considered prestigious foods. Prestigious foods are generally consumed when there are guests or relatives, or during special festivals or holidays. Families generally buy and bring canned fruit and processed food such as biscuits, fast noodles, pastry, milk powder, and formulas when they visit relatives or someone who is sick. The actual price of eggs is not low, but since they are mostly home-produced, they are considered cheap.

Generally, the people in Doumen do not know the term vitamin. Two key-informants replied that they have heard and seen the word vitamin. One said that the village doctor gave him a small bottle of vitamin C when he was sick. The other saw the word vitamin in an advertisement on television. The informant who studied in the professional school in Doumen knows that a vitamin is a nutrient that can be used as medicine, but does not know how it functions. The young respondents seemed to know a little bit more about vitamins than the older ones. They obtained most of their knowledge from television.

Parents feed their babies according to the availability of food in the household. Generally they do not force children to eat what they do not like. If they think a child is not hungry or is sick, they will change to other available food that the he likes. The parents do not pay more attention to children who eat the adult diet, they let them eat what they like from what is on the table.

Hot pepper is generally considered not suitable for the very young child, because it is hot and children may suffer from the "red eye" if they eat it. Chives are considered undigestible for children. Some families do not let the children eat rabbit meat. They have the superstitious concept that if a child eats rabbit meat, his or her mouth and lips might grow to be like those of the rabbit.

Food patterns

The women of child-bearing age typically eat three meals a day. There are no special foods for them. They eat the same foods as the other family members. The diet of pregnant women does not change much. Most respondents said they could not eat dishes with much oil due to a poor appetite and vomiting in the first period of pregnancy. Fruits and sour foods are consumed more than usual during this period. Young couples with higher education levels buy milk powder, tonics, and some "nourished liquids." Some husbands said they will buy some foods that their wives ask for, or will let their pregnant wives go to the market and buy the foods they like.

Nearly all respondents recognized that nutritional needs are greater during pregnancy. The foods to be eaten are fish, chicken, banana, biscuits, and other fruits. However, they think that the availability of nutritious foods is limited and the price is high, so they cannot afford to purchase them. Some mentioned foods to be "nutritious" that are not, and that are processed and expensive. Due to lack of nutrition knowledge, most people do not recognize the nutritional value of locally produced food.

Vitamin A-rich foods consumed by women are the same as listed earlier, and available locally. Although some women do not know the relationship between food intake and pregnancy outcome, most think that there is a link between food intake and the baby. They said that growth of children in their rural village is poorer than those in the cities. They heard that eating better during pregnancy will produce a better and healthier baby. The problem is that they do not have the income to buy many foods. These answers show that there is a need for conducting nutrition education activities in this area focusing on nutritional needs during pregnancy and how to eat better using locally available food.

Some foods such as hot pepper, rabbit, dog, beef, mutton, and donkey, are not encouraged during pregnancy. It is thought that the dog meat can induce abortion, donkey meat will prolong pregnancy, beef and mutton can cause discomfort. These ideas are inherited from the older generation and have been practiced for a long time. However, we found some young women who said that it is not so strict now, and some of them eat those foods during pregnancy, but some worry about it when they do.

Among the ten key-informants, five answered that egg, fish, meat (pork), fruits including canned fruits, pig and goat liver, and other nutritious foods or tonics are thought to be beneficial during pregnancy, but all of these foods are relatively expensive. Only eggs and some locally available fruits are common beneficial foods during pregnancy. The other five informants said that they do not know which foods are good for pregnant women.

Eggs, black rice, red jujube, red sugar, and chicken soup are special foods for women during the first thirty days after delivery. Women lose a lot of blood during the delivery, so they should eat more of these foods that are thought to enrich the blood. This concept is actually from Chinese traditional medicine and has been practiced for a long time in nearly all of China. As mentioned above, egg is considered to be a nutritious and healthy food. Postpartum women are supposed to eat lots of eggs, particularly during the first thirty days after delivery. The family generally stores or prepares a certain amount of eggs or egg dishes before the predicted delivery date. Relatives and neighbors bring twenty to fifty eggs to the woman during the congratulatory visit, generally on the ninth day after delivery for a girl, and twelfth day for a boy. It is common for them to eat five, ten, or even twenty eggs a day during that period. One key-informant said she just could not eat so many eggs in a day.

Spinach and green leaf cabbage were mentioned as good foods during that period. Chicken soup and noodles, especially noodles mashed with a lot of soup, are thought to accelerate milk secretion. Traditionally, egg consumption is stopped at thirty days after delivery. The consumption of other foods mentioned above will be discontinued also, and lactating women will resume the normal family diet. There is a need to educate the public to change this practice. The daily egg consumption should be decreased to two to three per day in the first month after delivery, and should be maintained during the whole lactating period.

Hot pepper is also prohibited during lactation since it is believed that child will suffer from red eye if the mother eats it and that it makes the breastmilk hot and the child will not eat it. Most importantly lactating women should not eat the chinese prickly, aniseed, pepper, and other strong scented flavorings. These condiments should not be used in any dishes, since the people think that they will decrease or even stop the breastmilk secretion. Eggplant is another food that should not be eaten by lactating women for the same reason.

Breastfeeding is generally started the third day after delivery. People explained that there was no milk during the first three days. The baby is fed with sugar water or breastmilk borrowed from a neighboring mother who is breastfeeding. Goat or sheep milk will be used for the baby by some families who raise these animals. Colostrum is not fed to the infant in most families because mothers do not know its value. They said that the colostrum does not look like milk, so most of them discard it. Only two young informants answered that they fed the colostrum to their children. One of them heard that colostrum contains antibiotics that can help the newborn resist infectious disease. This message was disseminated by doctors in the township hospital. The other said that her child started to suck her nipple very early, so she did not squeeze out the yellow water.

Nearly all infants were exclusively breastfed from the third day, with the exception of those whose mothers were ill or had poor milk secretion. Most babies were continuously breastfed until one and half to two years old. Some were fed until they were three years old.

Food supplementation for infants begins at about the age of six months, usually with rice porridge and mashed noodles with soup. Rice porridge is cooked with water for a long time until the water becomes sticky. Mashed noodles are also boiled for a long time. Eggs are an important supplementary food, after porridge and noodles. They are generally boiled or steamed. Boiled egg yolk is the first part that is fed to the infant. The mother feeds the baby the egg yolk mixed with rice porridge, mashed noodles, or alone. After the child gets used to the egg yolk, the white part is fed to him or her. Children are given eggs frequently; they are considered healthy, and are also given to sick people. Eggs given to babies under one year of age are steamed. An egg is broken into a bowl, stirred with a chopstick or spoon and bits of green onions are added. The bowl with the egg mixture is placed in an oven in which vegetables or steamed bread are being cooked, producing lots of steam. The dish is soft and tender, unlike fried or boiled eggs, and can be fed to the infant easily with a spoon. The frequency of feeding eggs to young children is shown in Table 6.4, in comparison with overall household intakes, chicken diseases. Their chickens died off and they became discouraged with raising them.

The three families who reported eating eggs less than once a week commented to the interviewer that they know that eggs are healthy food. They do not eat eggs very much because they have had bad luck with

Frequency of Weekly Egg Consumption in Households (Doumen)

Age Group

Less than Once






Six or Seven

Up to 5 Years















Note: Egg consumption (and intakes of other foods) was obtained first for the overall household, then for individuals.

Oil and animal fat are not fed to young infants. The respondents said that the infant cannot digest oil or animal fat, and they get diarrhea when they eat them.

The infant is generally breastfed on demand except when the mother has to work in the field. Some mothers bring their babies with them to the field when the farm workers are busy, and there is no one to take care of the infant at home. Usually the mother-in-law or older sibling takes care of the baby when the mother works outside the home. In this case, breastmilk cannot be given to the infant. The infant will be given milk powder or adult foods chewed first by the caretakers. In Doumen village, most mothers breastfeed their children for one and half years. Some children were breastfed for two to three years. No other form of milk is fed to the infant during the first year of life. Mothers whose breastmilk is not sufficient will use goat milk, milk powder, or infant formula. The quantity of these foods purchased is small. The infant is fed mainly with rice porridge or mashed noodles. Some families might buy one or two bags of milk powder for the infant during the first year. But along with the economic growth, this practice may become more popular in this area.

In this poor rural area, mothers generally stop breastfeeding when the child is one and half years old to two years old. The breastfeeding period is much longer here than in urban areas. The reasons to stop breastmilk feeding are: it is the time to stop; the child can eat the adult diet already; and there is no more breastmilk.

Parents try to start feeding table food when the child is more than one year old. They feel that the child may not digest the solid or harder foods, so they usually feed younger children with tender foods like porridge, mashed noodles, taros, etc. Eggs are still good sources of vitamin A. After two years, children eat the regular adult diet, and parents do not prepare special dishes for them unless they are sick. A common concept of mothers is the more food the child eats, the better. Otherwise, the child may be sick or dislikes the food, so parents generally encourage children to eat.

Most of the key-informants said that children eat between meals, usually foods leftover from the previous meal, such as steamed bread, sweet potato, a steamed corn stick, or a few peanuts, etc. Some families with a little extra income will buy biscuits or fast noodles from the local small gallery or from Kai Feng City.

After two years, children eat fruits and vegetables, the same as adults. Two older key-informants said that ten to fifteen years ago? male children were better cared for than females. However, since the family planning policy was initiated in 19.30, the practice has changed. The government allows couples to have two children in farming and poor rural areas, unlike the one child policy in urban and more developed areas. The number of children in a family has greatly decreased. Therefore, parents have gradually recognized that they should pay more attention to the growth and development of their children without any sex bias. Now there is practically no difference in feeding practices between boys and girls.

Food preparation

Preparation methods for vitamin A-rich foods vary according to the type of food. Eggs can be boiled, fried, steamed, or cooked with other vegetables such as tomatoes, spinach, chives, and cabbages, etc. Animal meats, such as pork and beef, are cut into small pieces and fried with vegetables. Pork can be prepared as meat stuffing and mixed with minced vegetables for dumplings. Chicken is, generally boiled for a long time with condiments and vegetables, making a nutritious soup. Spinach and other green leafy vegetables are usually fried or boiled with meat. After picking, hot peppers are sun-dried for winter consumption, or for making hot pepper powder and guadou (a vegetable paste popular in Doumen village). Most households process guadou for their own consumption. It is made of fermented soybeans, wax gourd, bean curd, and hot pepper with different condiments. It is very salty and can be preserved for a long time. People in Doumen village eat guadou nearly every day, and it may be a good source of vitamin A for the people in this community.

Peanuts are sun-dried first, then sold in the market or to the government. They can also be exchanged for peanut oil. Families generally produce 500 to 2000 kg of peanuts. Therefore fried or boiled peanuts are usually available and will be served to visiting guests or relatives as well as to the family. Children eat them as between-meal snacks.

Salted and pickled cucumber, eggplant, and cabbages are prepared for the slack seasons of winter and early spring. Along with the increase in greenhouses, many kinds of green leafy vegetables are available in Kai Feng and Wang Fu Zai markets throughout the year. The quantities and varieties will increase rapidly over the next few years, nightblindness

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