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Healing with Food:
Whole food, produced without chemicals and cruelty, be it fruit or fish, is the most powerful and fundamental source of medicine for the human body. It is the primary source of rejuvenation, purification, regulation, balance, strength and healing for every aspect of the mind, the body, its spirit and the earth itself. As the earth and the beings who inhabit it share the same basic elemental resources, what befalls the earth, befalls the beings of the earth and what heals the earth, heals its creatures. It is therefore of utmost urgency for the health of both the earth and the people who inhabit it to reconsider how and what we are eating and to take decisive action toward a more sustainable, harmonious future.
In order to restore our relationships with food, we need more than the latest fad super diet based on counting calories and numbers as the means for dietary healing. Our relationship to food and how it's produced has eroded so severely, that food diversity is seriously endangered. Our food standards have dropped so low that processed, fast food has become a significant path for nutritional intake for a majority of Americans. These issues are monumental for both agriculture and for human health. We are now facing an international dietary crisis. As the westernization of food and what John Robbins calls the "Great American Food Machine" infiltrates our national food resources and the international food market, epidemics of both obesity and diabetes are rapidly soaring not only here at home but abroad as well. According to the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), "The prevalence of overweight and obesity is increasing worldwide at an alarming rate in both developing and developed countries. Environmental and behavioral changes brought about by economic development, modernization, and urbanization have been linked to the rise in global obesity."
Here at home:
Approximately 127 million adults in the U.S. are overweight (2/3 of adults), 60 million obese, and 9 million severely obese according to data from the 1999-2000 NHANES.
Approximately 30.3 percent of children (ages 6 to 11) are overweight and 15.3 percent are obese. For adolescents (ages 12 to 19), 30.4 percent are overweight and 15.5 percent are obese.
Less than half of U.S. adults have a healthy weight.
Obesity is on the verge of surpassing smoking as #1 cause of preventable death.
17 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes, accounting for more than 90 percent of diabetes cases. An additional 20 million have impaired glucose tolerance, sometimes called pre-diabetes, which is a strong risk factor for developing diabetes later in life. An estimated 70 percent of diabetes risk in the U.S. can be attributed to excess weight.
To inspire the renewal of our connection to whole food, we need to become more conscious of what we are facing personally, professionally and politically, and to begin a movement of change that begins with each of us as individuals. Changing our relationship to food is as psychologically and socially profound as changing how we choose to love ourselves. Our food choices are rooted in our childhood. They connect us to our families, our friends and the memories of our entire life. Great and terrible meals mark phases in our lives and developments in our relationships with others. I have heard one great chef note that the modern definition of famine is not based in food availability but in that of the heart. As we have moved away from a family meal, from cooking, eating and sharing our daily stories together, we have sacrificed intimacy and fertilized isolation and depression. It is therefore important to note that the most effective path to inspire change in this aspect of an individual's life must include a rediscovery of the inherent joy in eating. Clearly some important components to healing would include using organic whole foods produced as local as possible, sharing meals, telling stories and creating a personal dietary culture rich in meaning.
The Root Medicine for a Modern World Health Crisis
Chinese medicine has a rich body of information about food, its energetics and medicinal nature to share and inspire our diets with. Chinese medicine is beautiful in its ability to reframe the concepts associated with digestive disturbances and dietary habits into workable psychological paradigms that can create enough conceptual space for people to reassess their relationships with food. Chinese medicine can categorize food as tonics, which can support the optimal functioning of a body, as phlegm resolving, as diuretics, as carminatives and diaphoretic in addition to noting the toxic effects of food. People must begin to understand this relationship with food, that there is a relationship with food that goes beyond filling our somatic gas tank with any fuel that will make it go in the moment. We need to reawaken a sense of how our bodies change through the seasons, with age and during times of illness. We need to learn about what foods to eat and what to avoid and when so as to promote the greatest health and balance. Chinese medicine can offer a terrific framework for these necessary changes.
We can begin to address issues of diet using a few simple and powerful guidelines. Firstly, from a Chinese theoretical perspective, using a Five Phase or Five Travels approach to seasonal eating can be quite helpful. According to this system of thought, each season is associated with both a food flavor and an organ system. The web of the body is held in balance through a moving constellation of creation and control mechanisms. During each rotation of change through the elemental phases, the peak strength of the matching organ system with it's corresponding taste and season also changes. When a particular elemental phase is engaged and is at its strongest activity, it is important in Chinese dietary therapy, to not over-consume the flavor of that system. Doing so could project that aspect of the body into an excessive state and create imbalance in the body. Instead, eating the flavor of the element for which the active phase may insult, thus protecting it and giving it strength, is the best strategy for optimal health through the seasons.
Here are some ideas according to the the system of Five Flavors in Chinese Medicine and eating according to the seasons:
Winter: Eat more bitter foods, less salty
Spring: Eat more naturally sweet foods, less sour
Summer: Eat more pungent foods, less bitter
Late Summer: Eat more salty foods, less sweet
Autumn: Eat more sour foods, less pungent