The Ulam School Shines The Spotlight On A Forgotten Malaysian Salad
By Samantha LimFebruary 18, 2019
Malaysians are doing amazing things for our country. And so are our expats, some of whom now call Malaysia their first home.
Eric Olmedo, principal research fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA), is establishing The Ulam School to create a new culture of eating. Why? Consuming more ulam will help curb obesity in Malaysia and alleviate the impact of noncommunicable diseases, he opines.
In Tapai: Travels & Guilty Pleasures of a Fermented Malaysian by Hishamuddin Rais, the flaneur and food lover insists that, “A Malay makan without ulam is just like the French having a meal without wine.” So it’s interesting that Frenchman Eric Olmedo is putting his backbone into reminding Malaysians of the importance of ulam in a balanced diet.
Why ulam? When it could have been lauk-pauk, kuih-muih, or other dishes particular to the Malay Peninsula?
“Sorry to be an alarmist,” says the affable sociologist. “But Malaysia, Vietnam, and to a lesser extent, Cambodia, are facing a public health crisis. In these three countries, which constitute my team’s fieldwork, the increasing prevalence of overweight and obese citizens from 1990 to 2013 has been staggering.”
There is no sugarcoating the fact: Malaysia has reached the highest obesity prevalence in Southeast Asia. “Almost half the population is affected,” reveals Olmedo, quoting the Asian Development Bank Institute. “The exponential rise of urbanisation, sedentary lifestyles, and unhealthy eating habits have been recognised as the leading factors for obesity and its associated health complications.” It certainly doesn’t help that our country is awash with fast food chains.
“Furthermore, the high volume of imported low-nutrient vegetables has made it expensive and logistically challenging to obtain healthy meals,” adds Olmedo, making a case for the locavore movement. “This is why we need ulam — to fight against imported macro greens with low nutrients. By the way, as you can guess, ulam is not specific to Malaysia. Vietnam has its rau thorn and Cambodia its chi, but they are all essentially the same.”