3 Ingredients for an Intact Food Culture
Throughout most of history people have lived within the comfort of intact food cultures that inform what foods are eaten seasonally, regionally, and what food combinations are ideal for proper digestion. For example, traditionally in China, spicy cuisine developed mostly in humid regions because according to basic principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) spicy foods help “sweat out” excess moisture in the body. In many ancient cultures nutritional beliefs were interwoven with medicinal systems, TCM and Ayurveda are just a few examples. Intact food cultures, in all their diverse forms, provide a foundation for individuals to be able to make decisions about their food choices that are intuitive and simple.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which considers food the primary foundation of health, developed in China over thousands of years. Even without having formally studied TCM, everyday people in China know that if you have pimples around your mouth or jaw it means you are eating too many ‘fiery’ foods, like meat, chilies or fried foods. The term is shanghuo, which means to rise the fire in your own body. They also know the antidote is cooling foods like cucumbers and daikon radishes. People are empowered to trust themselves when it comes to knowing what food choices will support their health. They are even able to self-diagnose mild symptoms, a practice that is highly discouraged in the US, like headaches, coughs and indigestion and administer their own treatment through food or herbs. Both TCM and Ayurveda integrate nutrition, medicine and food culture into coherent guidelines so that everyday people can apply to their lives. In the US and many Western countries, these three realms are usually presented separately, leading to the fractured food system and broken health care system we now face.
Of course, in this day and age, countries like China and India are very much at risk for losing what makes their food cultures “intact.” In China, many people I spoke with expressed that even though they understood the basics of TCM, they thought of it as “unscientific.” Some of them expressed being torn between loving Chinese cuisine and the desire to have a more “modern diet.” Starbucks and KFC are becoming all the rage. Ironically, many practices that are starting to be regarded as “backwards” in China, like holistic healing and farmers markets, are becoming quite “progressive” in the US and other Western countries.
Food culture is the web which supports beliefs and practices about food in any society. Of course the U.S. does have a food culture, and it is not all bad but certain events have taken place that have fractured it’s foundation and it needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. While the local food movement and the health food movement have made encouraging strides, without having a food cultural revolution the root of the problem will not be overturned. We need to look at examples from holistic food cultures around the world to rebuild a food culture that can support Fooition in each of us.
Here are 3 Ingredients necessary for an intact food culture to thrive:
- People connecting with Nature.
Traditional agricultural methods are in sync with Nature’s rhythms, or at least being out of sync is recognized as a problem. The trendiest sustainable agriculture concepts like closed-loop systems and permaculture are often Western ways of explaining traditional, indigenous agricultural practices from other parts of the world. The central principle is to respect nature as the provider that sustains us, and always be giving back instead of just taking. When this is practiced in agriculture, food cultures will support a cuisine that is seasonally and regionally sustainable and appropriate. On a spiritual level this makes the entire food culture more gracious because people are aware and respectful of their interdependence with Nature.
- People connecting with Food.
Many religious traditions hold space for a moment of silence, thanks, or prayer before a meal. This is to give recognition to the marvel that takes place every time we eat: something that is not us is about to become us through digestion. In Ayurveda, digestion is thought to be the foremost pillar of health, and all diseases are thought to start with a problem in digestion. Good digestion does not only depend on the quality of the foods being eaten, but also on the mood of the person and the ambiance during mealtime. The energy in the food is equally important and is influenced by many factors including the mood of the person cooking. No wonder why sometimes nothing can quite beat grandma’s homemade specialties. Many cultures believe that eating meat is eating the suffering that led up to the death of the animal, which is why they are either vegetarian or reconcile this belief by using ceremonies or blessings to offer thanks to the animal that has been sacrificed. These are just a few examples of ways that an intact food culture fosters respect and awareness around food quality and brings mindfulness into mealtimes.
- People connecting with People through Food.
The power of food can remind us how we are all connected, because despite our differences we can all share the simple pleasure of eating. While I believe sharing food across cultures can foster mutual respect and understanding, there is also a sort of bonding and pride that takes place between people that grew up sharing the same food culture. It is a shame that some of us don’t have a food cultural identity to call our own. While Americans can claim to be raised on American food culture, it is an individualistic food culture that highlights convenience and personal space, devaluing community around eating. A few examples are ordering a single-serve dish at a restaurant compared to the family style eating that takes place in most parts of the world. Think of the way any drive-through meal is packaged to be handled and enjoyed only by one person. Even during “family dinners” it is common for everyone to be glued to the TV which disconnects people from the others in the room and makes it near impossible to pay attention to the food being eaten. In an intact food culture, food is the centralizing force that guides many social interactions. People enjoy light conversation and laugh around a table where food is being shared and food culture is being celebrated.
So what can you do?
Knowledge is the impetus for change. Reading these may have just made you more aware than ever that the food culture you call home is not exactly intact. It may have some healing or re-structuring to be done. When we first start to realize this, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. When surrounded by an intact food culture, Fooition naturally transpires in the individual, but even in absence of such a culture, we can still take responsibility for our health and reconnect with our Inner Fooition. Even when we wish to change the world, the best place to start is in our own heart. See how you can start to foster Fooition in your own life and be a pollinator of positive change in your food cultural environment. Once the individual journey is begun, the momentum will ripple to the entire of society. Read 3 Ways to Find your Fooition to embark.