Surprisingly Spiritual, Food Does Matter

Lezil and I enjoying our 3D  movie experience.

Lezil and I enjoying our 3D movie experience.

‘Lee Ang’ has been the buzz name in China for the last four weeks. The Academy Award-winning director has had his latest movie, ‘The Life of Pi’, released nationally on the mainland. For a country that only provides 34 authorised foreign movie slots per year, it’s a big deal to get your international production into Chinese cinemas. And those prized screened movies, Chinese or foreign, are vetted and even parts deleted if they are deemed not suitable for Chinese viewing audiences.

Seated comfortably watching the opening credits with our oversized 3D glasses on, Lezil and I were immediately captivated by the enchanting on-screen south Indian setting. The film opened up on the young protagonist Piscine Patel, or ‘Pi’ as he later changed his name to, going through the struggles of bullying at school and searching for the meaning of life. Barely into the movie’s first quarter and it struck me how surprisingly spiritual it was.

Here was a boy who so open heartedly wanted to experience God and by doing so ended up actively seeking three faiths – Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. There was one very poignant moment in the movie where just before going to bed he thanks Krishna for introducing him to Jesus Christ. Lezil and I chuckled loudly but all around us, nobody so much as breathed audibly. The movie may have been produced by a talented Taiwanese filmmaker, but considering its content and geographical setting – ‘The Life of Pi’ couldn’t have been less Chinese.

This was made glaringly obvious when, during the following days, the topic of the movie came up in conversation with local friends. Without fail, the single most mentioned comment was that the God-references were confusing. One Shanghainese buddy went as far as pointing out: “You see, in China we don’t believe in God, so I didn’t really understand why the boy wanted to find God.” It then spun into a very interesting chat about world faiths and if one person could really adopt elements of different God-concepts and be spiritually-fulfilled.

In China, Lee Ang’s Academy Award is widely celebrated but not the movie which brought him that crowning glory – ‘Brokeback Mountain’. Aside from progressive cities like Shanghai, homosexuality is still seen as an uncomfortable taboo and as a result the cowboy gay-tinged romantic release could only be accessed via pirate DVD when it came out (no pun intended) in 2005. In contrast, ‘The Life of Pi’ is everywhere. Mass media outlets have covered its release, advertising has gone into overdrive and online Chinese sites are amassing incredibly positive viewer reviews.

Sprout and Eco & More sharing premises.

Sprout and Eco & More sharing premises.

And I would have never expected that a story of a young Indian boy shipwrecked at sea with a slim selection of left over Noah’s-Ark animals would put faith into Chinese dialogue.

It turned out to be a week of double-screenings. Interestingly enough, it was another holistic subject. To quote the Bible: “Do you not know that your body is a temple…” (1 Corinthians 6:19) and to be good stewards of any dwelling, you have to look after it. Sprout is a newly launched lifestyle centre in Shanghai which focuses on eating and living well. Opened last month it shares a slick-looking premises with environmentally conscious household brand Eco-More at the trendy Surpass Court in the former French Concession.

Aside from stocking a number of healthy food options like chia beans, organic teas and cacao powder, the Sprout team also host a number of monthly workshops and events. We attended their screening of the 2008 documentary ‘Food Matters’. Three rows of neatly placed chairs faced a dropped down screen where Sprout co-founders Kimberly Ashton and Chiara Squinzi were busy brewing a pot of organic peppermint tea for the 16 attendees.

With Sprout co-founder Kimberly Ashton.

With Sprout co-founder Kimberly Ashton.

Living in China is not without its health scares. I don’t even have to mention that fact that we live in a city with one of the highest air pollution rates in the country. Over the last ten years there have been various food scandals to hit the headlines from poisonous baby powder milk to exploding watermelons, fake eggs and glow-in-the-dark pork. It’s scary. Many of us want alternatives to ensure we try and at least feed our bodies with relatively healthy stuff.

During the hour and a half movie a number of experts were interviewed from the fields of medicine, nutrition and alternative therapy. The crux of it was the ever-increasing clash of the pharmaceutical industry versus the use of natural vitamins and nutrition to heal and maintain the human body. The two slogans went head-to-head: “A pill for an ill” or “You are what you eat”.

Cacao powder - one of the many 'superfoods' stocked by Sprout.

Cacao powder – one of the many ‘superfoods’ stocked by Sprout.

It was extremely insightful and there were many challenging ideas including one advocate for raw food dieting saying that as much as we see it necessary to spend money upgrading our cars and houses, why not see good eating as a must-do investment also?

Lots of facts and figures were presented and the one that stood out to me most was that in order for the body to be functioning at its optimum, we should ideally be eating a raw food diet 51% of the time. Looks like we’ll have to double the lettuce orders!

The movie concluded and both Kimberly and Chiara held a relaxed Q&A afterwards offering advice on various vitamins and their benefits, the definition of ‘superfoods’ and their own personal lifestyle changes when it came to eating. It was so totally doable. And despite that there are often many misconceptions and mistrusts about Chinese food production, Kimberly pointed out that many of the international brands of healthy food products actually are originally grown in China for export.

The very fact that Sprout is a mere 15minutes walk away from where we live, Lezil and I have no excuse but to adopt a more concise approach on how we consume food. Plus you can’t really go wrong with workshops like ‘Get In Shape – Nutrition And Fitness 101’ and their often over-subscribed ‘Raw Chocolate Demo & Tasting’ session. My mantra for 2013 is that ‘food does matter’!

Visit: Sprout, Surpass Court, 570 Yongjia Lu, Ground Floor, Unit #412. Xuhui District, Shanghai 200031
Tel: 021 3250 9103
Metro: Hengshan Road (Line 1)

For more on ‘Food Matters’ the documentary, please visit:

Lezil discussing products with Kimberly.

Lezil discussing products with Kimberly.

More health food selections at Sprout.

More health food selections at Sprout.

Slick design and layout at Sprout's open demo kitchen.

Slick design and layout at Sprout’s open demo kitchen.