The ancient Chinese believed that the cyclical effects of the seasons have a profound effect on human growth and wellbeing, according to Paul Pitchford in his book “Healing With Whole Foods”. If we are in tune with the seasons and are aware of the changes that are happening outside as well as inside of us, then we can consciously prepare ourselves for each change of season.
Indigenous Australians and other native cultures had a connection with the earth that enabled them to survive and thrive for thousands of years without the modern technical advances we have today. Food was grown, harvested and eaten within a tight radius of their settlements and village. Many cultures travelled by foot to have more availability to food supplies. Health benefits were gained from hunting and gathering, planting, growing, harvesting and preparing the food. There was a deep spiritual connection with the land and the produce that fed and nurtured their bodies and souls. Since the industrial revolution, we have lost the connection to our food source and the land, cities have grown and the processing, packaging and preserving of food has meant we can have whatever food we want at any time of the year.
The results of this have been a huge increase in obesity, diabetes, cancer and other health problems for all indigenous races that have adopted a Western diet, and of course for ourselves as well. The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and other countries throughout the Pacific are facing an epidemic of non-communicable health problems. These are directly related to the increased consumption of unhealthy imported processed foods, the neglect of traditional food systems, and lifestyle changes, including decreased physical activity.
Eating foods that are locally grown and in season is becoming easier for us here in Australia as Farmers and Growers markets are fast appearing in many rural areas as well as in the cities. Unfortunately we have had to reach a crisis point with our health, the environment and our food security for this to be the case.
Eating locally sourced and seasonal foods has many health benefits, the most important being that they have higher nutrient levels and taste a whole lot better than food that has travelled vast distances and may have sat in cold storage for up to 18 months. In America, several “Farm to School” case studies have shown that not only are the children involved in the studies making healthier food choices when they know where their food comes from and how it is grown, but they also influence their parents in their grocery shopping and cooking choices. As more and more schools are now teaching children about growing food, we hope see a turnaround in our eating habits. Education of these young people is the best way of regrowing our connection to the land and to the food that nurtures and heals us.
Some guides to eating local seasonal food and becoming aware of the cycles of the seasons:
- In spring, focus on tender, leafy vegetables that represent the fresh new growth of this season. This is the season to attend to the liver and gall bladder according to Chinese Medicine. The diet should be light and the greening that occurs in springtime should be represented by greens on your plate, including spinach, lettuces, parsley, basil, rocket, mizuna and kale. Raw and sprouted foods are excellent at this time, honey and mint tea is beneficial and this is the best time to fast and cleanse the body of the accumulation of heavier foods from the previous winter.
- In summer, stick with light, cooling foods in the tradition of Chinese medicine. This is a time of growth and expansion. The foods to eat include strawberries, paw paw, bananas and mangos as well as vegetables like, zucchini, eggplant, cucumber and capsicum. The warm weather is more conducive to eating salads and raw food and any cooking should be light as in stir fried tofu and veggies with a salad.
- In autumn, turn toward the more warming, autumn harvest foods, including carrot, sweet potato, onions and garlic. This is a time of pulling inward or contraction and preparing for winter. According to Chinese medicine sour foods like sourdough bread, sauerkraut, olives, pickles, adzuki beans, vinegar, yoghurt, lemons and limes can help begin the process of contraction. Emphasize the more warming spices and seasonings including ginger, turmeric and peppercorns. Add baked vegetables to a salad to take the chill off it and increase the amount of cooked foods being consumed.
- In winter, turn even more exclusively toward warming foods. “Cold and darkness drive one to seek inner warmth. It is a time to rest, to meditate deeply, refine the spiritual essence and store physical energy in the form of added weight for the cold season” (Paul Pitchford). Foods that take longer to grow are generally more warming than foods that grow quickly. These include most of the root vegetables like carrot, potato and onions as well as pumpkin, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Cook vegetable stews, casseroles and soups that warm and sustain the heart with plenty of garlic, ginger and turmeric for the immune system. Add seaweeds and steamed winter greens to wholegrain and bean dishes to fortify the kidneys.
By tuning ourselves to the seasons, eating locally grown foods and having a deep connection with the environment we live in, if possible growing some of our own foods as well, we can live a healthier life with fewer ailments and illnesses as well as creating a sense of harmony and peace for ourselves and for Mother Earth.
Suzanne Staples ND DBM
Naturopath Herbalist Homeopath
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