CHAGA mushroom: a health-food trend or TCM coffee hype?

Chaga essence is a powerful antioxidant, promotes gut health, longevity, anti-cancer remedy; Apoptosis.

After re-reading some of my earliest blogs from 2005 – where I’ve entirely related to the “story-telling” part of sharing –, I decided today to follow up with a parody on how some of the food/health hypes of 2020 reflect on me. Please, none of you, clients, friends, or strangers should feel insulted. If this blog hits a nerve, it might be time to re-evaluate your lifestyle or laugh along with me… Oftentimes, the way we perceive our best intentions to be; they appear to others – like an extraordinary attempt to show the world around us – that they care. Most of us are so consumed with this journey of “trying to do the right thing” that we indeed do more harm to ourselves, our immediate family members, and certainly to the grounds on which we thrive. Living healthy is not that complicated…

This is a parody, inspired by many of you as a group.

Yesterday, I stood in an (unnamed) health-food store to help a friend purchase injectable Vitamin B12. This is where I overheard a sales professional hyping up Chaga Powder. Beautifully packaged, grandly priced! Benny works there for years and gives me “stink-eye” every time I correct his confusing attempts to impress with limited TCM knowledge. And yet, he seems to target me when I walk in, magnetically drawn into my space. He was occupied with a client, explaining that “…this powder of a Birch tree fungus promotes longevity and is cancer-fighting….” I threw some of my “shit-eye” back towards him, and he realized I was eavesdropping. His victim was a pretty woman her back towards me, in her late twenties, provocatively covered in colorful sports-lycra, spotless white sneakers, flawless make-up, and clinching on to an expensive alkaline promoting plastic bottle. She perfectly expressed sexiness, rich, wellness and life-security in a “simplistic” expensive way. While super-tasking, on her Swarovski crystals speaker-phone in one hand, she eyed for the free coffee-replacement; a promotional shot of ‘Buddha-knows what’s in it; in a tiny taste-cup by the busy juice bar. Ewww!

If only I could explain the multi-layer observations in my little head throughout the next five seconds; Here are a few flickers:

The “menu” behind the Juice Bar, attended by “healthy-looking” bearded mixologists in semi-medical shrubs, listed a long array of creatively titled drink mixes. From a TCM perspective, they make absolutely no sense. Mix Banana, Lemon Grass, and low-fat yogurt in a “Lung Booster” is dangerously wrong. These three ingredients produce phlegm, and being this the flue- (CoVid-19) season; it appeared like a crude joke to me. I’m regularly irked by Gym-Bars alike, these upselling outlets, preparing herb-infused juices to promote “healthy” choices with absolutely no understanding for combining ingredients that harmonize from a medical viewpoint. 90% of all these concoctions are “designed” by people with zero comprehension of what these foods “regulate” in our system. In all fairness, they are consumed by 90% of people that have no sincere intention actually to consume a healthy blend. For most, it’s sufficient if they “taste good” and foremost intend to promote one’s self-interest of how we message others; “I’m caring about my health….”

 Smoothy (with plastic straw)

Anyone clothed in designer spandex with a plastic water bottle in hand, taking a bed-bug-infested ride-share to an airconditioned super-shop that sells triple-plastic-wrapped overpriced pseudo-nutrition, is not worth a “correction.” Healthy super-shops with that annoying lingering scent of chemically perfumed candles and vegan farts advertise their in-house plant-based packaged products. Shelves filled with anti-clumping lazed specks of dust of plants and quizzical potions, claiming magical benefits: To attract like-minded people to shop with keywords like gluten-free, naturally sourced, even organic… I mean, everyone in here shops at that Yoga store next door and orders from the same Amazon shoe store.

Risking every chance of future product endorsements, I’m irked that “gluten-free” is now stamped onto items that never even contain gluten in the first place, like honey. Can I please convert stocks from my financial portfolio and invest in Manuka Honey? Most gluten-free trends are an unhealthy choice. Indeed, <1% suffer from celiac; for the rest of people claiming gluten makes them sick, it is just not a value a lifestyle. But then again, we live in a world where we must have brail at the local drive-through bank… Keep in mind that many “glutenistas” consume beef, chicken and eggs foremost fed on corn.

In any of the chain markets, organic is an advertisement ploy; it makes NO difference to consume either labeled apples, avocados, or bananas. (That’s another blog…) I’m way more concerned about the lack of respect for consuming bio-engineered, fast-growing celery and salad leaves that absorb liquids and nutrition from grounds that contain high amounts of pesticides, regardless that they are sold as organic. To juice pounds of a celery stalk is a silly health trend – sorry ladies, but certainly will in the long run – affecting your kidneys! There is a reason why these vital essences are attached to high fibrous plants!

All of this in five seconds…

Usually, such fashionistas escape my pity or further attention… But the aforementioned visitor swings around, points at me with her bejeweled cellphone, and loudly screams in excitement: “Chef… Come here!”

This sporadic cooking client of mine is a true pain in the butt. Although I love her family a ton, I’ve never been respected by her nor her friends for my health knowledge. Amongst my private friends’ group, I keep my TCM wisdom constraint; nothing is as annoying as having to share close space with a chef that could give you the scary break-down on pretty much everything you have in your fridge and pantry. My best friends poke fun when I crave French fries or visit the ice-cream parlor around the corner.  Live a little! This lady, however, is manipulated by weekly fashion magazine covers claiming current health movements and constantly inundated by friends swearing their life-changing junk diets are AMAZING. She consults monthly expensive characters that sell curious Feng-Shui sessions and leave traces of China-made crystals and artificially sentenced trinkets. That’s beside her social club trends, consuming heaps of cauliflower pizzas with baby arugula and chemically manipulated fake Mozzarella that even melts under heat… Her phone apps are a carbon footprint receipt of a lifestyle that is crazy and but they remind her of an endless variety of low-caloric artificial snacks promoted by tweaked out influencers… yeah, they call it Keto…

Her husband and kids are equally affected by her confusing ideas about what could benefit their wellbeing. Imagine, you had an endless source of money available and being exposed to the Yoga teacher acting as a life-coach, your hairdresser-beautician with her personalized side-line of anti-aging products (chuck full of animal parts that are on the nearly distinguished list…) and her sincere “aim” to be a perfect mother… oh, Buddha!

“Yes, well, good morning – what a surprise to….”

“Chef, what do you think about adding a teaspoon of daily Chaga powder to my morning smoothy?”

Now the sales clerk responds with the stink eye.

I realized that I held power in my hands to burn two bridges at once in this instant. What temptation, ‘contemplating my dilemma!

 Chaga Mushroom Fungus on Birch Bark

Instead, I explained that Chaga indeed is known to contain anti-cancer properties like botulin and betulinic acid and current studies support that it might break down blood cholesterol. Wild harvested Birch Chaga (especially from the coldest regions of Russia) contain high melanin levels, a powerful antioxidant. It is assumed that this fungus help boosts immune response, and hence it is promoted as an anti-aging. Although the package claimed it’s a 3000-year-old Chinese remedy, it is rarely mentioned in the classical TCM books of the past. However, it is mentioned in various medicinal scriptures throughout Europe and was respected by Canadian Indian tribes for its curative benefits. In Europe, it was consumed by soldiers to starve hunger and applied as a skin remedy. Only more recent Chinese scripts adapted the benefits for ingestion. Know your source!

The product sold to my client was a cheap imitation, but the price she paid for it made it look like a valuable shopping experience. I’ve long embraced this as therapeutic to some ladies…

I still feel guilty for my half-truth promotion, which I find myself doing quite often nowadays: I need to work to generate income. In the end, I must find comfort that encouraging a placebo effect is better than an unfiltered truth.

“Thank you, chef!” I heard her exhaling while she already “selfied” a picture to all her friends and disappeared in her oversized SUV.

I guess Chaga is her trend-smoothy “additive” ingredients of this month.

On my way out, I did give that clerk the shittiest eyes I could manage to express! I’m convinced he has no clue why… and, I forgot to purchase my Vitamin B12 shots.

TCMchef Raphael