Friday, May 14, 2010

The tale of the agricultural village

Once upon a time, there was an agricultural village in a rich and fertile valley. To ensure the health of its children, the village elders mandated a daily diet of one portion each of meat, fish, vegetables and fruit for dinner everyday.

As the years went by, some parents found it more and more difficult to get their children to finish their portion of vegetables. The elders tried to make the vegetables more interesting. Instead of just spinach everyday, they introduced carrots and green beans. However, the problem continued. In some households, dinner time took twice as long because the children struggled to finish their portion of vegetables. There were fights and tears. Many children grew to hate the smell of vegetables.

The elders studied the problem and found that there were a growing number of such children. In fact, 1 in 10 children had a severe food intolerance to carrots. Some families had moved away to other villages because they couldn't keep up with the vegetable policy. The elders suggested, "maybe if we reduced the portion of vegetables slightly, that might help."

This caused a big furore in the village.

"You're threatening our livelihood! This is a conspiracy by the rich and privileged fishmongers!" roared the vegetable sellers.

"Vegetables are in our roots, this is how our village was founded! Villagers who don't eat vegetables should be ashamed of themselves."

"One portion each is fair! I hate fish, why should you only reduce the portion of vegetables?"

"The children are just spoilt, they should try harder!"

"They should have a better attitude towards vegetables!"

"It's the parents' fault, they should have force fed their children vegetables when they were babies."

"I had to grow up eating a portion of vegetables everyday! If I could do it, so can you."

The parents protested, "We're not saying vegetables are not important! But we want our children to love eating them. Forcing the children to eat one portion everyday is making them hate vegetables for life."

One parent chirped, "We moved here from another village! We don't have vegetable growers in our roots!"

Another added, "We moved here from a cattle ranch! We didn't even have vegetables available. It's a foreign food to my children."

Yet another said, "Why should you dictate how much and what we eat? It's a personal choice."

Others insisted, "My children have really tried their best but they just can't finish it. I even tried hiring a professional cook to make the vegetables more palatable. It didn't help much." (In fact, professional vegetable cooks were greatly in demand and a highly paid trade).

The uproar intensified. Both sides were shouting to be heard and it threatened to break the harmony of the otherwise apathetic village.

The elders retreated so quickly they left skid marks. "Calm down, everything remains the way it always was. Maybe within the next 5 - 15 years, we'll look at adding bok choy to the vegetable mix."

And thus, another generation of vegetable-hating villagers was created.



SH said...

Dear Monica,
You have a wicked sense of humour and I love it! You're spot on. I think the "elders" may regret their decision in the future.

Hopeful said...

oho! I figured out this was an allegoric tale about 2 paragraphs in. And when I saw the labels at the bottom of the post, I realised I was right! ;) good tale!

Anonymous said...

An apt and well put analogy indeed. Yet this does not bode well for the village for expedience to reinstate a false calm means that even the very prospect of attempting to figure out how to see the woods for the trees has been denied. It has been written that where there is no vision a people perish ... and here we have acclaimed vision based on self-elected blindness ... calm it may be for those who live here and now, but woe to the next generations! Of course, no one wants to contemplate what will happen when the vegetable-hating masses boil over ... courage to contemplate and better still to act - I think, that's called Leadership.

Lilian said...

Hey, you can start a new career as a folk story writer. This is very good hahaha.

I think if it were up to some people, our kids would only have bittergourd for all meals. No pain, no gain, they sneer.

Off topic, now this is true life okay, no more analogy. But when Brian was small, he hated eating veg. And on makan outings, I had well-meaning friends who would force all the children to eat vegetables. Brian would cry but still eat a little, bitterly. These friends said, he has to learn to eat. I looked on, heart pain, but nevermind lah...we don't have meals with these friends all the time.

Then we moved abroad. I still hardly cooked vegetables at home cos no demand :) But Brian was slowly exposed to some vegetables in school and then one day, maybe two years ago, he started asking for more vegetables. He started eating them raw, asking for caesar salad, asking me to cook broccoli. He would eat the entire plate of veg if I didn't stop him.

He learnt to love vegetables in his own time, without being forced. When I tell my friends this now, they are surprised, didn't think this day would come the way he used to balk looking at a strand of veg.

And this is how a vegetable-loving boy was raised, without being forced (well at least not at every meal) :)

monlim said...

Lilian: Very encouraging account! I'm still trying to get Andre to love his vegetables (both literally and figuratively). You give me hope that it might still happen yet.

To all: I'm not intending to create a reaction with this story, I just wanted to show that in the midst of all the fighting about the vegetables, the well-being of these children has taken a back seat :(

elena said...

I love Lim LL's laissez faire attitude towards vegetables and all else....

And Monica, we should do the same with Chinese. Give them what they need but if they really can't, just let them be and let go of the top schools aspirations that we have for them. Actually for me, my kids don't have too much problem with Chinese as they have inherited a little of their father's family aptitude for languages (I hope) but have other learning difficulties especially concentration ( esp when the exam is nearly 2 hours).

I know of someone who send her P1 kid to tuition 5 times a week and to various institutions just to ensure that she gets into the GEP come P3...I really wonder how the poor child copes??

What really has become of us parents? Shouldn't we just go with the flow based on the kids abilities? Why force feed the vegetables?? for thought as we start the weekend morning...Have a blessed one!!!

Anonymous said...

cool story. maybe the only way to understand the decision of Village Head is to see that the policy of equal weighting has to do with nation building/identity building/meritocracy/asian values/elimination/streaming process. Public education has to serve other purposes than the ideal education vision. This applies to all public schools in the world not merely in Singapore. If one takes away all natural affinity to one's Mother Tongue, I say reduce weighting, it is only a second language. But being immersed in MT since young, i find it hard to see the younger generation of children forgoing their MT. This weekend, during my wait for seats at Resort World Hard Rock Cafe, I saw a little young caucasian girl asking for ballon from one of the staff in mandarin,wo ke yi yao yi ge qi qiu ma ?the chinese staff did not quite get it, and i had to explain to the chinese staff what the caucasian girl wanted. I was amazed by the fluency of the young girl probably aged 6,7. I turned around and ask her father where did she learn her mandarin. Her Angmoh father smiled and said that he is located in Shanghai and her 2 children learnt CHinese language in Shanghai schools. He commented that some singaporean chinese kids can't speak mandarin at all, and it is quite a shame, as singapore had quite a good environment in learning the language. He felt that singapore parents really need to start young if they want their children to do good in their Chinese. He spoke mandarin with his two children whenever possible. Felt a bit embarrassed at the end of the conversation though.

Elan said...

Love the allegory!

In my version of the village, those children who don't like vegetables are allowed to eat more fruit. Those who don't like to eat fruit can eat more vegetables. However, fish and meat always had to be accompanied by fruit.
The end result was that the village had the advantage of being good at eating both fruits and vegetables, which was good for the village as a whole because they could communicaate with both the big vegetable-eating city nearby and the many smaller fruit-eating cities further away.
All the children still got all the fibre and vitamin C they needed to grow up strong and healthy, they enjoyed their meals more as they could choose their food and in the future they could choose to go to either the fruit cities or the vegetable cities to work. :-)


monlim said...

Anon: The thing is, I believe the elders' decision was motivated solely by popularity and just to appease the protesters. I understand your point about affinity but remember, not everyone shares that affinity. Don't forget it's not just Chinese taking Chinese and also, some Chinese (eg Peranakans, M'sian Chinese, Indonesian Chinese) really have no means of introducing a Chinese environment when the kids are young and shouldn't be penalised for it. Once again, think about the kids! But we're moving away from allegories which are more fun and less threatening :)

Elan: I love your suggestion! That would make the village truly a democratic one, wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

I love your story!
After hearing about how the elder's daughter and her brothers were made to eat vegetables in public when they were children just to show the villagers that the elder is not anti-vegetable, one begins to understand how decisions continue to be made in this village....It's not just about the children is it!

monlim said...

Anon: I know what you mean, that article was very revealing. Funny how the giant chip on the shoulders of the vegetable community has not dissipated after all these years. I think the elders of yore would have cared more about doing the right thing than being politically correct, which unfortunately is not the case with the new generation of elders.

TYK said...

Excellent, excellent story! The solution is no solution at all, just to appease the mobs. The village sounds like a communist tribe.

Angie Maniam said...

"Vegetables are in our roots". All puns intended? *grin* Your post was sent to the 300+ people in the Singapore Homeschool Group! You're famous now! Er ... not that you weren't before.

monlim said...

Angie: Not sure I welcome the err... infamy! Haven't you heard? Some of these villagers carry parangs and I'm a pacifist :P

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