The first book of Chinese medicine written over 2000 years ago, called the Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon), is obsessed with disease prevention. The book is full of stories of a time when people lived longer lives without diseases. The secret to staying healthy was the ability for people to live in harmony with the natural world.
I think for the modern world, this is more important than ever. We are so removed from the natural world some people barely even step outside. Only from the garage to the parking lot, and to the mall or the supermarket.
Our mass market food supply is one of the most troubling and possibly disease causing aspects of the our disharmony with the natural world. Much of the processed food is grown on an industrial farm full of pesticides, chemical fertilizer, or injected with hormones and antibiotics. It comes to us after more than 1500 miles logged on the road in the best case. If not, it is in a plastic bag or cardboard box and full of preservatives and extra sweeteners.
But luckily for us, we can make some simple choices to bring us as individuals and as a society back closer to harmony with the environment.
You are what you eat.
There are a lot of Chinese medicine recipes to stay healthy, prevent diseases, maintain balance, and treat specific aliments. I have written about seasonal remedies, and I will be writing more about them in the future. But more important than the recipes is the quality of the food.
70% of the results of a dish, for both taste and health, rely on the ingredients that go in it. The biggest factors for food quality are how local is the food and how much has it been processed.
Here are some basic guidelines for quality food.
1. Eat Locally: The simplest way to do this is by eating locally produced food from the farmer’s market. Fruits and vegetables which have traveled for a long distances are less nutritious than local food. This is because the cell walls will become injured and the valuable vitamins and nutrients inside will spill out. You can often find local food at a farmer’s market where the produce is more likely to be fresh.
You’re taste buds will love you. Think about it, you are tried after a long road trip, and so is your food! Also, local farmers can plant variety’s which are not chosen for their ability to ride cross country, but rather for their taste.
And, you will also benefit your local economy, patronize small businesses, and cut down on greenhouse gases. Eating local food will also keep your diet seasonal so you will eat a greater variety of food throughout the year and also be eating food more appropriate for the season.
We have a great Greenmarket network in New York, it is a great way to benefit your own health and the whole planet. Some of the favorite farmers at my market are my dairy farmer where I buy my milk and the local organic meat producers.
A great kosher option is an organization called Mitzvah meat, which is a collective that shares locally and ethically raised kosher meat products.
2. Eat Pesticide, Hormone, and Antibiotic free: You should try to eat foods that are pesticide, hormone, and antibiotic free. Pesticides kill bugs, they are also toxic to us. So the simple answer is don’t eat them. This is hard, because crops are sprayed and fed to our animals, and put in our food.
Eating organic food is a good start, which will help avoid many pesticides. At the same time, organic food has over the last 20 years developed into a massive industry. This tips the scale to massive producers armed with lobbyists trying to make standards more lax while creating larger barriers for entry into the marketplace.
Smaller operations tend to suffer. Shopping at the farmer’s market will help you find local producers who use natural techniques, although many of them do not certify themselves as organic because of the costly paperwork. Yet their produce certainly follow organic principles. Another great thing to do it join a Community Supported Agriculture co-op.
Hormones are given to chickens and cows to produce more eggs and milk. They do produce more eggs, but they are not as good tasting or good for you. Also, you end up consuming some of those antibiotics and hormones. Eggs from free range chickens are better looking, better tasting, and better for you. And better for the animal, who does not live in a factory farm. Same goes for small organic milk and meat producers.
3. Cook at home: By cooking at home, you can choose the best food for you. That way you can have control of what goes into your food, and becomes you! Cooking food at home will help you avoid eating additives, too much sugar, corn syrup, and preservatives. You will also save a lot of money and be able to pronounce all the ingredients of your food. Not to mention, cooking is a lot of fun.
Follow these these simple recommendations and your feel great, benefit the environment, and your local neighborhood. Of course Chinese Medicine food recommendations are helpful, but the source of the food is most important. If the food does not have a lot of nutrients, then no amount of medicinal cooking will make it healthy.