some parts of China the ground is frozen 8 months of the year and it
rains only about 2 inches a year. In other parts of the country, it is
very warm and it may rain as much as 75 inches a year. China is also
very mountainous with 60% of the land higher than 6500 feet. At least
50% of the country is very dry with the rainfall decreasing as one goes
from east to west.
Wheat is grown in the northern quarter of China in the area north of
the Yangtze River and south of Inner Mongolia. It is made into noodles,
pancakes and dumplings. (Bread is currently being introduced.) However,
since the major food is rice, China can support a much larger population
than most nations which concentrate on growing wheat, because 2 to 3
times as much rice as wheat can be grown in a single acre.
Vegetables add to the diet and the available meat is largely pork, and
chicken which can be raised on very little space. Fish, which is caught
in the rivers or coastal waters as well as being raised in fish ponds,
is also a source of food. It does not make economic sense to use valuable
farmland as grassland for raising beef.
The lack of pasture land for grazing means that there are less milk
and dairy products in the Chinese diet. Therefore, they use the soy bean
to provide protein and calcium. It is made into doufu or bean
curd. Soy beans have the added advantage of building up the nitrogen
content of the soil in which they are grown — an important factor
in a country which does not rely completely on chemical fertilizers.
The soy bean also provides the Chinese with a number of popular seasonings
— soy sauce, sweet, brown and hot bean past, sweet and spicy hoisin sauce,
and salty fermented black beans.
The Chinese also use fresh ginger root, garlic, scallions, and rice
wine or vinegar to enhance the flavor of the vegetables and the doufu.
Another geographic fact which has affected food patterns over the centuries
is the scarcity of fuel available for fires. Cooking needs to be done
quickly. Dicing, slicing, shredding or cubing food into small pieces
before cooking prepares it for quick stir frying or steaming and braising
in hot liquid off the fire. And, with small pieces of meat or vegetables,
there is always a little bit to go with every bit of rice or noodles.
Stir frying, one of the common Chinese cooking techniques, serves the
dual purpose of cooking food quickly using little fuel and preserving
the flavor and texture of the food. In addition, stir frying uses little
oil compared to Western frying techniques.
The Chinese are well aware of the importance of maintaining the fertility
of the soil. Composting is a way of life as the Chinese save all organic
matter to use as natural fertilizer or as animal fodder. In many instances
a village farmer is assigned the task of gathering up deposits of manure
from stray village animals and placing them in the communal compost bin.
Through such care the Chinese have kept up the fertility of their soil
which would otherwise have been depleted long ago by such intensive use.
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