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The world is experiencing a resurgence of the history and practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that is now available to us. Natural remedy references fill the shelves in bookstores, lead discussions amongst health care practitioners and are praised in food magazines to promote healthy lifestyles. Still, there is a sense of mystery and magic to this four-thousand year old archive of wisdom.
We are the result of how and what we eat. Simply that. The powers contained in, and then released from, everything we consume (eat, inhale, see and smell) impacts us in ways both small and large. Because of its uninterrupted and continued application in the Asiatic world, Eastern Medicine, as it is known today, presents us with a sophisticated and distinct body of knowledge and treatment methods.
Human beings are complex machines. The power of suggestion, along with the combined stimuli from our senses, produces psychological and physiological responses within us. We are partially a result of the knowledge that is offered to us in the early stages of our lives. This period of physical and mental development impacts how we live, where we live, and what we choose to think and hold true. We tend to become comfortable, if not apathetic, in our youthful invincibility; at least, that is, until we are faced with an illness resulting from our chosen lifestyle. Add to this the inherent and infinitely varied, genetic predispositions passed down through generations, and it quickly becomes apparent that a single cure cannot be expected for any given ailment, nor should it be. Despite this, Western medicine dictates that we all, whether young, old, blonde, bold, strong or frail, are to be treated for the same ailment with the same, singular cure/pill/injection. TCM treats the origin of symptoms, balancing physical reactions and supporting underlining physiological harmony.
We are taught from earliest childhood on that we must trust our doctors when they prescribe our medications. However, the processes and research involved in modern pharmaceutical production are incredibly complicated, and unintelligible to most of us. We, the dependent, are powerless to comprehend or understand the full range of effects of these modern medicines. Still though, we have been conditioned to trust the viability of unexplainable, unpronounceable drugs while disregarding “the apple a day” that keeps the doctor away. Ironically, we seem to recognize this apparent conflict, but we continue to participate in our conditioning. Read the disclosures of TCM; they leave rarely toxic traces.
Developing a respect for the physics and chemistry of what we eat does not require a Doctorate. We are constantly lectured about good vs. bad cholesterol, how many calories we should or should not consume, etc. Seemingly forgotten is the simplicity of naturally grown food itself. We could, with relative ease, adapt to a way of eating and making choices that strengthen the immune system and nourish our primary organs, helping us to feel alert, awake, energized and happy. Yes, generically manipulated chemicals can do this quickly, and sometimes effectively; however, we are learning more and more of the horrible, long-term effects associated with this approach. We co-exist today with allergies and illnesses that are undocumented in our past, slowly making us sickly, worried, and overly sensitive.
The reality of modern living subjects our system to 75% generically-modified foods, praised in super markets. 25% of all cattle on super-farms are infected with the pathogen E.coli. Annually, the US farmers use over 750 million pounds of herbicides, and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates we all, humans and animals, carry about 700 chemical contaminants in our cells, turning some human intestinal organisms antibiotic resistant! Chemical synergies, Teflon, and plastic fragments are proven to cause child cancer and attention disorders. Synthetic chemical reactions are in control of our immune system. Anyone born after 1950 has probably inherited non-biodegradable toxins. However, most non-manipulated plants present themselves in the same form as they did thousands of years ago. So, how have we come to this current state?
Along with budding religious consciousness thousands of years ago, grew sophisticated healing arts. Grave samples discovered from the Stone Age and analyzed by modern DNA technology, show astonishing parallels in correct usage and applications of plant varieties. Egyptian mummification practices demonstrated some of the most advanced uses of natural power. The Greco-Roman period broadened the range of healing Gods, with Hermes, Apollo, and his daughter Hygiea (who lends her name in the modern practice of disease prevention through “hygiene”). During the fourth century, schools of modern science were founded, and today’s doctors swear an ethical oath to Hippocrates, whose lectures listed four hundred applications of herbal remedies. However, today’s doctors do not learn nor teach his lectures any longer.
Greek physicians left us with incredible documentations of discoveries. Thophratus’ discoveries (370 BC), and Galen’s work (200CE), identified over six hundred plants. Their work is hidden away in the Vatican library. From the time of Jesus we have the term Chironic Medicine (Folks Medicine). Each period has claims to the discoveries of medicinal properties in plants. Unfortunately, despite their academic brilliance, some, such as the Druids, integrated implausible details of folklore into their accounts, clouding to this day the importance of their discovery with non-factual superstition. These fantastic stories, as well as the actual knowledge, led the Catholic Church to assume the right to convert many peoples to Christianity. Ironically, their monks of the Middle Ages secretly translated historical scripts into multiple languages, preserving within a very valuable collective herbal library.
During the Dark Ages, religious power fueled the myths that assumed that illnesses were caused by the malicious influence of ghosts, black witches and fairies – forcing their acolytes to repent of their sins, and remain close to the Church for their own protection. Still, herbology and the knowledge of natural curatives remained the foremost remedial resources for the peasants and working class, though they became associated with magical brews and unexplained miracles.
Historical records contain some amazing resources, detailing the journals of chefs who cooked for kings and nobility. In such documents, i.e. shopping lists and bills of fare (menus), chefs recorded the consumption of foods, eating habits, and travel details of their employer and guests with such detail, in the event of some sudden illness, any physician was forced to consult with the chef when forming a medical diagnosis. It was within the chef’s range of responsibility to determine how healthful was the quality of the food that was caught, harvested, purchased, cooked, and presented. Herbalists were always on hand to consult, when needed, and large varieties and seasonal choices of foods were respected.
Now, national trading brings us year-round seasonal alternatives in our diet. Preserving has extended storage times beyond nature’s organic limits. Food is manipulated to look better and to taste better. And, some if it is engineered to make us practically addicted. Some kids consume extremely high percentages of processed foods, causing them to battle chains of physical and psychological illnesses that were unassociated with their age only fifty years ago. It seems that we have allowed (if not required) our farmers, food producers, and suppliers to trust in the codes of food regulators. There is a misconception: The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does NOT conduct any drug testing to approve product safety. The resulting products have been marketed to us for only about a hundred years, while Nature has fed its earthly inhabitants for millennia.
With the awareness in place that most of our health issues are a consequential result of the lifestyle we have adopted, the issue of how to eat becomes the focus once more of many hot-button platforms; insurance wastefulness continues to skyrocket while talk-show-approved doctors and health gurus keep their studio audiences fascinated (and intimidated) with warnings about the stuff we eat. We are conditioned to be alert about the products that we buy, what is fed to our kids at school, and we are cautious when nutritionists recommend yet another perspective on our food intake. But at the same time, we blindly trust the “safe” and “healthy” endorsements of both the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical companies, though they are locked, sometimes for years, in countless lawsuits over the reliability of these same endorsements.
Processed food is not good. Even with vast amounts of research data made publicly available to support and verify positive endorsements, we are subsequently (and consequently) inundated with smart advertising campaigns that seek to comfort and reassure us about the very product we are wary of consuming. Still, we eat and eat, too much and too quickly. Day after day. Should we not know more about the basic food powers? TCM is knowing about basic applications of natural products.
In this age of processed and refined foods, we are largely disconnected from the raw, source production of food grown in nature, which has lead us to a subsequent and fundamental lack of knowledge about it. However, it is this very knowledge that can help us make the correct food decisions for our individual bodies, lives, and circumstances. Tomatoes, for example, nourish the eyes, stimulate circulatory function and help us to produce healthy antibodies that work to counteract cold symptoms. But it doesn’t stop there. The values of other parts of the tomato plant, from the seeds within the fruit, to the green leaves on the vine, which can strengthen our heart, have also been established. If more of us knew the basics about the food as it grows in natural conditions, and learn to respect the simple, innate need to eat according to the circumstances of our surroundings, we would all be much healthier, happier, stronger, and wiser.
The ancient Egyptians grew and ate rosemary for a multitude of medical purposes. The Greeks cured migraines with rosemary. The Romans recognized the soothing power of rosemary oil when treating battle wounds, calming both the pain and the mind of the injured. Our great-grandparents knew that rosemary strengthens the heart. Even Shakespeare famously praised rosemary for its power of enhancing memory. Today, cosmetic companies are banking on the old knowledge that rosemary lubricates dry skin, using it in skin lotions and hair shampoos…so much information from a single little sprig of a common plant! This TCM knowledge is passed down to us through generations.
From Egyptian invasive chirurgic text (3000 BC) to Leonardo da Vinci’s meticulous vascular designs, and from the crude bone-fixers whose diagnosis was rooted in consulting the patient’s chef, and through the fruitless attempts at 16th century opium treatments, Modern Medicine experienced a significant revolution only in the 19th century. We leaped into an arrogant assumption before WWII that we could cure ALL illnesses: The hypothesis that penicillin would prevent all future diseases turned out to be wrong. We discovered the horrid mutation of viruses outgrowing our research capacity.
The following results were unexplainably silly for the smart kind of creatures we claim to be.
For more than fifty years, Western medical schools willfully and arrogantly ignored the teachings and incorporation of Traditional Medicine into their curricula. Even with President Roosevelt making requests for TCM’s to be wholly included during his time, only now do medical students have such resources officially available to them. And, they are now tapping into the well documented and proven knowledge that nature offers a vast variety of preventative and curative solutions. Even so, it is still cautiously labeled alternative medicine.
Foods and plants are now dissected, divided and broken down into their components. Genetically manipulated, unripe produce is artificially grown. It is arrogant to assume we can isolate one singular healthy component and absorb it, expecting a controlled and boosted benefit while disregarding the symphony of perfection that nature presents in her supreme amalgamation, as grown under the sun. Vitamin and mineral-enhanced food celluloid, resembling enlarged and perfectly shaped and mutated versions of out-of- season fruits and vegetables, replace real produce. Some produce is so un-natural, not even insects eat them.
We don’t stop, do we?
Today, Chinese Medicine, with its focus on preserving and promoting health, and its unique concepts of disease prevention and treatment, is often regarded as a discipline with potential for high growth in economic development.
Switzerland voted in 2009 to adapt TCM into their insurance coverage plan, making this a first step in utilizing the importance of giving modern doctors the choice to recommend homeopathic choices when suitable.
We are puzzled when nowadays a city-chef like me talks about the power in all plants. When I explain a little about preventative or healing power in the food I prepare, some even now think this ought to be voodoo or unworthy old school. As a private chef, I am surprised about the imbalance of trust I receive from people in my workplace: As long as I prepare food that is good, there is little interest in the quality choices I make to boost the immune system according to environmental changes, or my seasonal healthy choices. TCM is most effective as a preventative life-style. Until someone gets sick, forced by a diagnosed result, some are confronted with a simple truth:
Eat fruit, vegetables, roots, nuts and grains in their raw forms. This is true. We all have heard the message many times. Yes, it is boring; an apple turnover is more enticing and a tomato sauce sounds more inviting… Our body reacts to all the stuff around the apple in the turnover-presentation. A tomato-sauce often contains very little of the original product that advertises fresh fruit: the red sauce could even be made without any tomato in it at all! Like spoiled children, we crave endless sugar, fat, and salt!
I am merely a city-chef (possibly a Druid), and my upbringing in the Swiss mountains as a Buddhist child exposed me early-on to powerful herbs, and old, inherited knowledge of the application and physical reactions of the herbs, roots, plants, etc. that we eat. My early curiosity for this information blossomed into what has become my life as a chef. I have traveled throughout Europe and Asia, where I have lived and worked for many years, studying TCM and forming the foundation for my use of TCM in the ingredients I select and the cuisine I create.
My message is a simple one: Know what you eat. The knowledge is now available to everyone. Choose wisely what you take into your body and learn how a few easy adjustments can have an incredibly positive impact on your overall future wellbeing. I hold no patents or copyrights for any products or information, nor is there any ulterior motive involved in my association with TCM, other than a genuine desire to share with everyone, and provide a guiding voice for the ancient and unshakable solutions that I have learned. TCM is an answer to many varied health problems, without risk of side effects or toxic reactions, and can be considered the result of the longest time-tested medical trial, with the most active participants, in our cumulative history.
TCM chef Raphael
Please check out my website: www.TCMchef.com (in construction)