Hot Air

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My grandmother blamed a variety of physical ills on poor diet and “Hot Air.” My grandmother was a smart woman. Given the opportunity and the desire, I am sure she would have been able to identify quite a number of social ills caused by “Hot Air.”

My sister and I grew up knowing it as “Yeet Hei.”

When I was young, I did not give much credence to “Yeet Hei.” I needed my McDonald’s fries. However, in college I did cut down on fried foods when the salivary gland under my jaw would swell up. I didn’t question why I should do it. I just did it and was convinced it worked. After college, I learned the swelling occurred because the gland does not drain properly and not because of too many fried foods (at least not directly).

Even older now and knowing what I know, making the mistakes I’ve made, I am more conscious of my decisions and their resulting consequences (including decisions about what I eat and when). However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit there was a fair amount of vanity and self-preservation involved in my dietary decisions. I am 40 now. My waify Gothrock 28″ waist has begun to challenge gravity. My metabolism slowing. I inhale and increase the flesh hanging over my belt. Mornings are more of a challenge. I always feel tired. Even sleep is an issue as it is not so much rest but an escape from exhaustion.

I acknowledge “yeet hei” as a cause of some of my ills. I’ve begun digging deeper into Chinese beliefs regarding food and diet. There is a lot to remember. Chinese food beliefs are broad and complex. The American Academy of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Minnesota provides an interactive chart and a well organized and easy to understand description of Chinese Dietary Theory.

For a more succinct description, Wikipedia provides a nice write up under the search, “Chinese Food Therapy.” Their description includes a table of ailments, food causes, and food cures. They are careful to say that their description is based on Cantonese food beliefs. The Cantonese beliefs are the ones my sister and I were raised with.

The Cantonese believe that the goal of diet is to maintain the balance between Yin and Yang energies. Yin foods are those items that lower metabolism and decrease the body’s heat. Yin foods have high water content. Yang foods are the opposite. Yang food items increase the metabolism and have high fat content. For example, in the summer I drink Chrysanthemum tea (hot and cold) to keep my body cool. When the weather gets cold, I drink ginseng tea (usually hot) to keep my body warm. The Taste of Asia site has an explanation of Yin and Yang foods and recipes.

I remind myself not to over do it because too much Chrysanthemum in the summer and too much ginseng in the winter would upset the balance I am trying to maintain. However, while the concept of balance is neat, its maintenance is not.

How do you keep from having too much when you don’t know whether you’ve had too much or not until you’ve had too much?

Also, what is the impact of taking an aspirin on a body’s Yin and Yang? MSG and other preservatives? Chinese food nowadays is packed full of MSG. Sometimes it is used for no other purpose than flavor.

The West is skeptical of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which Chinese food beliefs are a part of. And I can see why if the examples being given are that a plant with a heart shaped leaf is used to cure heart disease or tiger bones give a man more vitality because tigers are energetic animals. But seeing isn’t always believing.

Something my sister said about Chinese medicine and food beliefs resonates for me. She said that Chinese medicine works at curing the disease where Western medicine alleviates the symptom. I would like to add that Chinese medicine is more demanding because it requires a regular prescribed diet in addition to the regular ingestion of sometimes foul smelling and bitter soups and teas. Western medicine is less intrusive in terms of lifestyle (with the exception of not operating heavy equipment or drinking alcohol).

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