On Attuning to the Body
Excerpted from Dandelion & Quince by Michelle McKenzie
I value my vitality. And a sense of physical well-being is integral to my feeling alive.
It is becoming common knowledge that favoring whole, intact foods supports optimum health; and when organically grown, they offer exceptional flavor and greater nutritional value. Yet even within the whole foods doctrine, few are discussing the overall effect certain ingredients have on our individual systems. In many of my cooking classes, I loosely reference the dietary tenets of Chinese medicine, which classifies foods according to their energetic properties rather than their component parts. I studied these ideas years ago, and after years of practice, I now feel them in my bones. Students’ faces light up with curiosity, and they ask for more; the information naturally resonates. We know that we are impacted physically, emotionally, and mentally by the fruits, grains, seeds, eggs, meats, and dairy products we eat. Discerning these effects in your body is challenging at first, but just like learning a new language, you will eventually decipher physical clues effortlessly.
I am not a trained Chinese medical practitioner, but I have tried to weave my experience with the discipline into my recipes. Integrating Eastern and Western philosophies can help evolve our thinking and heal our bodies. It is beyond the scope of this book to develop this topic fully, yet I hope my few personal examples help illustrate the approach.
In the spring, as tender greens emerge from the ground, I begin to grow bored with cozy hibernation; I am ready for a brisker pace of life, greater creative output, and more time playing outdoors. I am drawn to foods like ripe stone fruit, raw shoots and leaves, and quickly blanched vegetables. I tend to forgo substantial, complex carbohydrates, and my meat consumption drops a bit.
In contrast, as the days shorten and the air turns colder, the produce is slower to grow, becomes denser and heavier, and a lot of it heads underground. Simultaneously, I want to rest, to think more and do less, and to spend more time inside and around my stove. I seek warming foods: roasted root vegetables, caramelized pumpkins, braised joints of meat, and hearty grains. During both times of transition, there is a broad synchronicity between the season’s change, my personal energy, and the produce and meat available around me. Even within each season (and microseason), cooking requirements are more finely drawn; for example, whether I need to roast a plum to warm and contract its energy or whether I should steam a pumpkin to lighten and cool it depends on many factors—sleep, exercise, and stress, to name but three.
Every food has many energetic properties, and each of us—with our particular constitutions—has unique vulnerabilities and concerns. Garnering a glimpse of this understanding will greatly enhance your well-being. For example, raw dates are sweet, warming, strengthening, expansive, and dampening. When they arrive at the market each September, it is the time of year when folks around me are getting sick. I’ve noticed that if I am at all compromised—with even the slightest hint of a stuffy or runny nose—the dampening energy of fresh dates exacerbates my symptoms, and I’m likely to get quite sick if I eat more than two. So I listen and respond: I forgo the pleasure of the sweet, sticky, earthy fruit for the preferred, albeit more subtle, pleasure of a clear nasal passage and an optimally functioning mind.
Although the chapters of this book present foods in alphabetical order, I urge you to eat with the seasons. Purchasing the foods of your region will make it relatively easy to stay in balance with your specific environmental and other needs. Even then, pay close attention to how certain foods and cooking methods affect your unique being. Aliveness is the goal.