“It’s the Qi, Stupid!” or, Why Buy Locally Grown Organic Food.
The primary requirement Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda make from our food, is that it should be full of Qi. But what is Qi? One could translate Qi as “Life-force”. It is related to the Yogic notion of Prana, or the Pneuma of the the Ancient Greeks.
The Chinese character for Qi suggests the steam rising from a pot of freshly cooked rice. This image yields several characteristics of Qi– one, that it is warm, like steam; two, that it is light, like a gas; three that it is a function of freshness, it is the steam rising off of cooking rice, not the inert air sitting above a plate of week old rice.
When we speak of health, we speak of Qi, when you are ill, your Qi is taxed and may weaken; when you are frustrated, your Qi stagnates and causes tension; when you eat and digest and eliminate and sleep and think and relax well your Qi builds and accumulates, even to the point of storage.
But what does it mean to eat well?
The starting point to eating well is the quality of the essential foodstuffs used to produce a meal. (To be sure there are other factors, such as your mental state when eating). And sadly, just because produce is labeled “organic” or “local” or “free range” does not insure its quality or freshness. Its the growing process, the time in storage, and the locale that does
One thing that really hit home to me this past year as my local farmer’s market improved dramatically (Normal St., Hillcrest, San Diego, 92103), was the radical degree of freshness and Qi in the produce.
I used to buy my mixed salad greens at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. First of all, those are hot house greens. They have never seen the sun, nor tasted the soil. If there is a terrain reflected in these leafys, it is the energy of flourescent light and plastic containers. They just don’t have much taste. And the other thing is that they are often already brown and soggy, and even when not, they last about a day or two in the frig before they spoil.
On the other hand, the intense, dark green and red leafy greens sold by my two or three favorite growers at this market, the one’s who exceed USDA organic standards, which some folk feel are watered down (look for COOF certification), the same growers who also have fresh herbs and leafys like purslane, mizuna, wild arugala, and sorrel, were grown in the sun, and picked just the other day. They are characterized by intensity of taste and I am sure nutrients.
But most importantly, they are full of Qi, because they are fresh. The proof is that they last in the frig a week without the slightest wilting or darkening. So having fresh produce like that as much as possible gives you a fighting chance to build your Qi. And don’t forget what mamma said, chew your food and sit down at the table, without unpleasant distractions, like the cell phone or computer or t.v.
Two other examples that drove this home for me were blueberries and chicken.
I often find the berries at even the Health Food store, like Whole Foods really disappointing. Picked green and shipped from God-knows-where, and kept in storage for how long? You buy them and if you don’t eat them right away they become moldy.
The blueberries from one of our suppliers at the Farmer’s Market keep for a week or more without any loss to mold. And they are sweet. Ayurveda recommends eating fruit picked ripe from the tree. This is really really hard to come by. But important. Unripe fruit produces Ama, and ripe fruit Agni. You do what you can. If you can, do.
My other pet peeve at Whole Foods is that the Chicken that they claim is “locally grown,” in fact is not. Its a bald faced lie by Whole Food’s own standards of locally grown. The chicken here in San Diego comes from Northern Cal, 12-16 hours away by truck. And it is not fresh. Many times I have bought what looks like fresh chicken from WFM, only to get it home and the very next day have to return it because of the foul smell, even after washing.
There is a farmer here who slaughters his free range chickens on Friday and sells them on Sunday morning. What you will notice with his birds is the complete absence of any foul odor (which would be bacteria, btw). The other thing I noticed, since I remove the skin, his bird’s skin pulls right off. Whereas the “organic, locally grown, free range” chicken at WFM does not; its a real struggle.
So even though these Whole Food chicken are organic and free range, they have been sitting in storage so long they have chicken rigamortis and they smell bad, not a good starting point for the building of Qi.
I would rather spend $20 for a genuinely fresh chicken, and eat that once or twice a month, than buy an $8 chicken that is what Chinese Medicine calls “wrecked food” and Ayurveda labels “tamasic.” These are disease engendering foods, not Qi producing. And you can stretch that Chicken a long way, cooking some of it with beans, making soup out of the bones, etc.
copyright eyton j. shalom, san diego, ca july 2010 all rights reserved use with permission.
Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diegohttps://www.bodymindwellnesscenter.com