Monday, October 15, 2007


A lot of modern people are concerned about what they eat. Some of this is probably a good idea, but a lot seems to me to be pretty much besides the point. I heard today on the radio that a lot of people try to add Omega-3 oils to their diet because they are good for us. But the scientist that was interviewed said that there are different types of Omega-3 and that most of the additives are pretty much useless.

At the same time, a co-worker told me that a relative in the grocery business told her that the fastest growing part of the food business is the pre-packaged, micro-waveable meals. (What we used to dismiss as "nuke and puke".) The last time I was in a mainstream grocery store (several years ago) I was amazed to see the huge amount of space that was devoted to frozen entrees. Some of this might be OK, but a lot of what I've seen seems to be pretty poor stuff compared to a meal cooked from scratch.

Daoists traditionally put a lot of thought into their diet. Some of the "wild history" stories include people who refrained from eating any of the grains. (One theory I heard was that at one time all taxes were levied against grain harvest---which meant that if someone never grew grains, they never had to pay taxes!) One autobiography I read talked about a young person who lived on nothing but pine needles. (His master told him to "grow up" and eat rice like everyone else.) I have a wonderful cookbook of recipes collected at Daoist Temples by Michael Saso, which has all sorts of hearty, simple fare.

My experience is, however, that eating should be an exercise in self-awareness instead of trying to accomodate one theory or another. Our body gives us all sorts of feedback from the food we eat. Too little fiber and I get constipated. Too much, and I get gas and cramps. Foods with sugar, protein, caffein or alcohol make me dehydrated and susceptible to colds. Vegetables, fruits and soups give us moisture, which makes helps mucous flow and cleans my head. Rich food makes me loggy and sleepy. "Fresh" food eaten out of season and has been trucked long distances has little flavour and is woody, so I try to do the 100 mile diet.

It pays to listen to your body and develop some awareness about what is going on in it. I once had a taijiquan student who complained about regular lower back pain. When she described it, I wondered if what she meant was really kidney pain, so I asked what she drank. It turned out that she rarely drank anything except juice and milk---both of which are dehydrating (because of the sugar and protein.) She said the pain went away almost immediately when she started drinking several glasses of water a day.

I think that this idea of learning to be sensitive to our body is much more important than trying to follow the latest scientific research (or at least what gets reported in the media.) That's why I have the following poster pasted to the wall of my kitchen.


gukseon said...

Great poster! Is that a "Cloud-Walking-Owl" signature at the bottom?

I think this post (like the previous one) highlights the Daoist emphasis on basic awareness over vast theoretical systems. Increasingly I find myself viewing Daoism as a highly empirical, or at any rate, phenomenological, practice.

Bill Hulet said...

Yes indeed, it is my (illiterate) chop.

The empiricism is important. I think that that might be the best way to understand the "those who know do not say, those who say, do not know" lines from the Laozi. People like to jump to the general case too quickly. I find that wisdom often lies with suspending judgement and sticking with the "here and now".

Shelley said...

new to your reality and enjoyed todays post. i love the farmers markets in the summer for my 100 mile diet. any suggestions for the winter land locked crew? next year i will can and freeze ahead of time, till then?

cheers- shelley

Bill Hulet said...


There are a great many winter crops that can be eaten "fresh". If you have local market gardeners (unfortunately, they are getting rarer) there are a lot of crops that survive frosts fine and only die back when snow actually touches them, these include things like broccoli and kale.

Other items will keep in a cool storage system: potatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions, parsnips, mangles, etc. Many very high in vitamin "C" and can be used in a lot of different ways. For example, mangles make a wonderful "winter salad" if you shred them and mix in mayonnaise.

Apples keep well fresh, although I try to keep away from them because they require a lot of pesticides to be "perfect" (which is necessary to keep in storage.) A pie made from dried apples can very hard to tell from one made from fresh.

Last year I found a supplier of winter pears which was a great find. They don't require as many pesticides, and keep well most of the winter long.

If worst comes to worse, you can make some sprouts. I read somewhere that Chinese sailors never suffered from scurvey because they always at sprouted beans on long sea voyages.

My experience is that there are usually a lot of alternatives if people are willing to be creative.