Later, I learned that, indeed, the secret to vegetarian health was eating fresh young leaves of herbs and plants in the Philippines. In this country, vegetables and fruits often came from far away provinces so that they lose their freshness and nutritive value during the long transit when they're just exposed to the elements. Health experts say too much exposure to the sun is not good for veggies and fruits already picked from their trees.
Thus, too, the urgency of old folks when we were kids to plant vegetables in our backyards. That way, we got to harvest them straight from the backyard and then cooked in the kitchen, fresh and young leaves. My grandma and dad were fond of planting herbs and plants everywhere possible around the house. So did Mang Kardo, our care-taker. Back then, we thought they just didn't have anything better to do. Now we know.
In our elementary school days, we were made to manage our own garden plot during our Gardening subject. We attended a private school and yet we braved stepping on the earth with our bare feet and holding soil to break and cultivate with our own bare hands--something that my boys today miss out on because of the widespread proliferation of concrete jungles. I pity them--they never experience holding rich brown soil with earthworms in them.
So, my dad and grandma always urged us to eat fresh young leaves of herbs and plants, especially the thing we so dreaded, called "Kulakteng," that short and pointed fresh, young, and green leaf, a baby bitter gourd leaf. It was terribly bitter, and yet dad, mom, grandma, and Mang Kardo ate them like they were fried chicken. They often mixed it in boiled and sauteed mongo beans. Those days it was yak, but today, knowing its super nutritional content, I find it delicious. Age teaches the taste buds to repent. Now it's my boys' turn to find it yak. But someday, their tongues will repent, too.
It's a real concern the way kids today eat loads of junk food which is becoming more expensive and taking up about 50 percent of kids' allowances. And also the way they reject real and nutritious food like kulakteng and other healthy herbs and plants in the Philippines.
Well, I hope they send kids out there gardening again and appreciating real food.