By Courtney Ellis, MNT and Lisa Compton, LAc, MSOM
What is seasonal eating and why is it important?
Seasonal eating is a simple yet ancient holistic traditional way of eating that has been lost over generations. The main concept is to just eat foods that are “in season”. Sounds very simple yet in this modern era, it can be very difficult to navigate when your local grocery store provides the same produce year round. There is a purpose to your health and well- being that seasonal eating provides. It means preparing meals around foods that have just been harvested at their peak as well as preparing the body to meet the needs and challenges of each new season.
Seasonal Eating and Your Health (Part 2):
The Tao of Eating
In Part 1, Courtney shared the very practical (and healthy) reasons for eating ‘with the seasons’. In Part 2, I’ll share a bit of the wisdom (not mine, but the ancients’) of traditional medical system(s) that helped give rise to this knowledge and practice.
As Courtney shared, and one can’t argue with the fact that you just can’t beat food picked and eaten at its peak - for taste or nutrition. The ancients would have referred to this as the food’s qi, if you will. In traditional Chinese medicine [TCM] (as well as other ancient & traditional systems of medicine and healing), all things - living or not- are characterized by qi (pronounced “chee”)*. For our purposes here, we’ll focus on the living. All of the food we put in our bodies is what gives us new qi or energy to survive at a level of health that mirrors the quality of the food that goes in. The fresher a food is, the higher the quality of the nutrients (qi), and thus, the higher (more) the quality of energy your body will get from it. You got it - you are what you eat.
The second and fourth points Courtney raised were about eating locally as a benefit to the environment and the consumer’s wallet. Millennia ago, this was just a matter of logistics; you ate local or you didn’t eat. from a medicinal standpoint, healers/doctors looked to what was readily available in the (mostly) immediate surroundings to heal and cure sickness, and keep people well. Health had to be restored and kept from the same environment that created it. Nutrition has from the beginning of medical practice, been foundational in one being truly well or healthy.
In TCM, foods have 5 energetic properties (cold, cool, neutral, warm, hot) as well as 5 flavors (salty, sour, sweet, bitter, pungent). These properties allowed help to indicate and predict how a food (would) interact with the body and conditions affecting it. Doctors back then realized that they couldn’t keep the seasons from changing, but they could balance the effects the seasons had on their patients by advising them to eat particular foods at certain times, but avoid them at other times. This is, of course, an oversimplification but the table below shows the correlation between a food’s energy (ies) and flavor(s) and its actions.
Foods (list is not all inclusive)
Astringent. Calms diarrhea and excessive perspiration
Lemon, sour plum, yogurt (also sweet), leek
Honey, cherry, pumpkin, pear, apple, banana
Draining: promotes urination, elimination
Lettuce, celery, bitter melon, tea leaf, coffee
Pungent (acrid, spicy, hot, aromatic)
Promotes circulation, stimulating
Mint, cayenne, garlic, scallion
Seaweed, miso, pickles
Since we are going into autumn, let’s look at what nature offers us. Here in Colorado, the typical climate will be some cool and for sure dry. This is a time of year when I see a lot of dry coughs. Seasonal foods to help combat that? Nature offers you the pumpkin, sweet potato, apple, and pear - familiar fall friends. The salty flavor helps the body attune to the colder months of winter, but for those who tend to get that winter cold, relief might be found in having tea made with selections from the pungents (mint, scallion, garlic, or cayenne) at the first sign of the bug.
As I stated before, what I’ve just offered is a simplification; the practice of treating lingering or moderate to severe conditions requires quite a bit more nuance and training. No worries - the first step is just local to your area.
Butternut Squash Soup
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut butternut squash, onions and apples in 1-inch cubes. Place them on a sheet pan and toss with the olive oil, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper. Divide the squash mixture between 2 sheet pans and spread into a single layer. Roast for 35- 45 minutes, until very tender.
Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock to simmer. When the vegetables are done, put them through a food mill or processor with a medium blade. Add some chicken stock and coarsely puree. When all the vegetables are processed, place them in a large pot and add enough chicken stock to make a thick soup. Add the curry powder, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper. Taste for the seasonings to be sure there’s enough salt and pepper to bring out the curry flavor. Reheat and serve hot with condiments either on the side or on top of each serving
By Elizabeth Legg
“FEAR IS A NATURAL REACTION TO MOVING CLOSER TO THE TRUTH”—PEMA CHODRON
It’s that time of year. The time that people often reflect on their lives, their past year, and the year to come. The transition to the new year can create a sense of pressure to re-evaluate whether we’re “on track” in living the life we had envisioned, and it can result in setting goals to get back on track. As we zoom out and evaluate whether our ideal self and our actual self are in line, there can be guilt and shame when the gap is larger than is comfortable.
The goals we set to “correct” this gap often involve plans to do more, increase discipline, have more control, etc. Not long after the initial motivation, there may be another wave of guilt, shame, and feelings of failure, if we again don’t reach what he had envisioned. Do you ever find yourself believing that punishing yourself with guilt and negative self-statements about your failures will somehow teach you a lesson and motivate you to achieve more? Have you ever noticed that when you feel shame and fear of failure, you withdraw, constrict your heart, feel protective, and actually do less rather than more?
In her book, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”, Pema Chodron presents a paradigm shift from the western culture of “achieve more and beat yourself up when you fall short”. She reflects on how our attempts to escape pain and suffering (such as by setting goals in order to relieve feelings of failure and shame) cheat us from the opportunity for happiness by leaning into such moments of pain with curiosity and self-compassion. “…Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.” (p. 12)
Perhaps rather than starting the new year with a list of what we’d like to achieve and correct, we might start with tenderness and curiosity toward ourselves in the moments when we feel most fearful and groundless, with the knowledge that it is precisely when we want to shut down, withdraw or constrict that lie the greatest opportunities lie to lean in, soften, and touch into a new experience of peace.
Happy New Year!
Books We Love That You Might Too:
Pema Chodron: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Liz Legg)—referenced above
Charles Duhigg: Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (David Handley)
Jen Sincero: You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life (Maya Strausberg)
Martha Beck: Finding Your Own North Star (Sara Keith)