“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
The goal of Culinary Medicine is quite simple. It is to allow the individual to redefine, reforge, and reconnect their relationship to the food they eat through a positive food experience. For the human species, food long ago ceased to be strictly about sustenance. The history of food is the history of humankind. Food continues to serve as social currency and cultural identity.
For a given meal two people can have vastly different food experiences in terms of both tastes and emotional involvement. The same person can consume the same comestibles under differing circumstances that result in drastically divergent outcomes. Much as Heraclitus observed 2,500 years ago that, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man,” no person ever has the same meal. This has profound implications on our physiology and thus ultimately on our health, longevity, wellness, and happiness.
Our relationship to the ingredients we gather for the meal is a powerful connecting point for ourselves with family and friends, the larger community, our environment, and the planet. The existence of the 100 trillion bacteria that live within us and function as a symbiotic organ, the human gut microbiome that has co-evolved to co-metabolize the food we eat, is potent proof that we exist as a supra–organism. We are an ecosystem.
Over 2500 years ago, the Buddha’s first teaching after receiving enlightenment was given to a group of children from a small village near the tree under which he had been meditating. The Buddha made his teachings accessible to them through the eating of a tangerine. It was by utilizing the power of the food experience to cultivate mindfulness that the Buddha brought forth his teachings on the interconnectedness of all things. It is a concept that forms one of the three underlying principles in the quantum gravity approach to explaining the function and reality of the Universe in which we exist.
Today, Culinary Medicine continues those ancient wisdom practices fueled by an infusion of evidence-based medicine and science. Every one of us has our own unique relationship to the food we eat. This connection, which research suggests begins even before we are born, functions as a template for all the other relationships in our life.
A disconnected, unhealthy foundation leads to disability, disease, and despair. As revealed by the Harvard Happiness Study and The Blue Zones investigations, it is the quality – specifically not the quantity – of these relationships that are the most important variables in determining our health, longevity, wellness, and happiness.
Specifically because of these connections and their implications, Culinary Medicine demands a lifestyle approach based on sustainability. It must sustain the individual physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Neglecting this has been the failure of the “food as fuel” approach that dominates modern nutrition and medical thinking. By extension, this sustainability involves addressing the needs of the people and the environment. It is only within this construct that we can bring forth the healing energies and practices for ourselves, our friends and family, our communities, our society, and our planet.