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Living the natural way

Updated: 2014-02-07 07:29
By Sun Ye ( China Daily)

She brings up her children 'as Mother Earth intended', and her firm conviction has turned her into a fervent advocate and the founder of Beijing's first gathering of organic, sustainable producers. She insists she is still a mother above all else, and she tells Sun Ye why.

Zhang Yinghui's 13-year-old elder son Marco has an unusual complaint. He wants to know why he has not gotten sick like the other children.

"Everybody else gets ill and takes time off school," he told his mother a few-years back.

 Living the natural way

Top: Zhang Yinghui and her two sons hike in Italy. Above: Zhang, a stayathome mother and freelancer, cooks for her family. Provided to China Daily

It's true. Marco has never been inside a hospital, never taken any antibiotics or any over-the-counter Western medication, and he and his brother recently skied twice as long and twice as far as their mother when they took a holiday in the Alps this winter.

Zhang, 49, is a ruby-complexioned stay-at-home mother and freelancer. Most of all, she is a champion of natural living, and she attributes her children's good health to a simple doctrine - living simple, and living "the way Mother Earth intends us to live".

Natural Living, Zhang's book, documents her parenting lifestyle from food choices to medical advice and was published in December by Tsinghua University Press.

She insists that it is not meant to be a lifestyle encyclopedia, but her readers believe it is.

At a recent seminar where she shared her experiences with 15 mothers anxious to learn more, Zhang was bombarded with questions ranging from how best to mop the floor to where to buy organic rice in Beijing.

Zhang had all the answers.

Soapberry, baking soda and white vinegar are good for cleaning. Coconut oil blocks the sun well enough but may draw the attention of inquisitive bees.

She also has recently tried products at Beijing and Shanghai's country fairs and can help recommend the safe products and good food.

"Environmental and food safety problems are terrifying and we want our children to live a healthy life," says Wang, a mother at the seminar. "What Zhang has done is very impressive."

"Natural living is a lifestyle that has its essence in the littlest things you do," Zhang says.

"It all started when my son was born," Zhang says of her lifestyle, which is dutifully recorded and updated on a blog named Children of Nature, Zhang Yinghui.

"I was offered a spoonful of processed baby food. It was mashed carrot, but it did not taste like carrots."

Brought up in China's north-eastern Beidahuang, a fertile region where the black earth produces an abundance of produce, Zhang knows what natural food should taste like. She also knows additives and preservatives are not necessary.

Zhang left her hometown for further education in the 1980s and traveled across the ocean with her Italian husband. She now divides her time between Britain and Italy.

She decided to take charge of what goes into her infant's mouth and began to shop and search for natural ingredients not only for the dining table, but also for her whole household.

When Marco was 1 month old, doctors pressed her to agree to general anesthesia to treat his furuncle. Zhang decided against it, trusting more on the body's power to heal itself.

Fed only on a diet of natural seasonal foods supplemented with plenty of activities outdoor, neither of her children needs to visit doctors. Since 2009, Zhang's family has also done away with herbal and traditional Chinese medicine.

"I'm lucky to have my kids as such," Zhang says. To guarantee them a healthy childhood, Zhang has given up her career as an economist to be a full-time mother.

"Sharing a healthy, happy child-hood with the mis the most important thing," she says.

"Children live in the society we adults create and shape, and we should change it for the better for them."

In Beijing in 2010, a taste of over-seasoned seaweed marked "all-natural" gave her the motivation to start the city's first Country Fair. To her, it was only natural to have a market that sold truly organic, local, safe good food.

"It wasn't hard at all. I didn't go out of my way to make it happen. For me, it was a gathering of my family's suppliers, a small circle of trustworthy providers."

The market has grown and developed even after Zhang left for Britain, and it is currently one of the city's most popular organic platforms, selling natural products that range from vegetable, fruits, honey to cosmetics and bedding.

Zhang also initiated the organic school lunch at the Daystar Academy in Beijing, where her son had attended before he left for Britain.

"I have to keep an eye on every-thing and make sure that it is a natural meal for students that isn't impossible for schools to make," she says.

Living the natural way

The only thing that stops her from doing more is being away from her sons, but even so, she managed to steal some time away.

Last year, Zhang was indifferent parts of China to research the quality of organic farms and work-shops. "I want to make a documentary film that will pose the question to viewers: How should we live our lives?"

For her personally, the choice is simple. A "simple, natural life" without a microwave oven, television or a car is good.

"A natural life is one that involves both practice and mind-set," she says. "If our basic necessities are met, it will be enough."

Contact the writer at sunye@chinadaily.com.cn.

(China Daily 02/07/2014 page22)