I love combining textures and tastes – crunchy with soft, spicy and bland, steaming hot coffee with frozen ice cream. I always thought I was plaguing my dining companions with a bad habit left over from childhood. As it turns out, I may have been unwittingly tinkering with the ancient Chinese art of feng shui.
Food has a long history as medicine in Chinese culture. Historical evidence shows that the systemic categorization of food so prevalent in Chinese medicine may have originally stemmed from the humoral philosophies of the Ancient World, making their way East via India. Nevertheless, food still plays an extraordinarily important role in Chinese well-being and culture, the practice of which is exercized daily in feng shui.
Many individuals with vested interests in living a healing lifestyle have an awareness of the ancient Chinese practice of feng shui. In Western culture, we generally think of feng shui as a way to bring health and harmony to our living spaces, be it a work environment or home. But what most Westerners don’t realize is that feng shui can be applied not only to objects, but to people, using food to fuel the flow of chi. Yes, not only is it acceptable, but it may benefit your health, wealth, and well-being to play with your food.Not only is it acceptable, but it may benefit your health, wealth, and well-being to play with your food. #fengshui Click To Tweet
According to feng shui consultant Melissa Yamaguchi, the practice of applying feng shui to food, although rare in American culture, is widely accepted in China. “The ancient principals of feng shui approach food as it relates to the Yin/Yang theory of balance; one must make sure there is a balance of tastes, colors, temperatures, etc.”
A kitchen should be designed to allow for optimal output with the least expended energy. Subtle details can make a world of difference, including the color of the walls and the properties of the countertops and appliances. (A kitchen filled with stainless steel and hard objects is thought to produce “sterile” food.)
But more than the kitchen’s layout, the actual preparation of food plays a vital role in a meal’s chi. Yamaguchi believes, “The way you cut, chop, boil, and cook the food all have an effect on the energy. A bite of fruit tastes different than a slice. If you overcook food, you have depleted the energy.” (Microwave ovens have no place in feng shui kitchens.)
Types of foods and the time of day they are consumed also play a role in the feng shui of a meal. According to Katherine Ann Lewis – the authority who created an environment of feng shui in LA’s newest shopping complex, The Grove – the philosophy of feng shui is to feed the soul good energy. For her own energy, Lewis enjoys a bowl of brown rice every morning, a food that will at once clean the body and help her maintain a high energy level. Additionally, Lewis focuses on eating green vegetables when traveling because they are believed to “feed the blood.”
While many of feng shui’s practices seem like common sense to anyone striving to achieve a healthy lifestyle, embracing the practice in its totality is a serious discipline. Fully incorporated into lifestyle, the feng shui of food promises to control energy and archetype. In other words, the belief holds that you can eat for assertiveness, relaxation, confidence, etc.
Although Kathy Swift, a nutritionist with the Canyon Ranch Nutrition Department, supports such elements of the feng shui lifestyle as timing meals and consuming foods promoted in the philosophy of feng shui, she hesitates at feng shui’s encouragement to make food choices based on the kind of lifestyle you want to live.
Dr. Adrian Pujayana of the Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena agrees with Swift from a scientific standpoint; however, he points out that most people dedicated to a healthy lifestyle tend to, “eat for who they want to be.” In other words, athletes tend to eat for performance, academics make eating choices to help sustain attention, and those with little body awareness eat without pattern or passion.
Although he does not practice a feng shui lifestyle, Pujayana is in full support of the feng shui philosphy as it relates to food. As a matter of fact, his office has instinctively adopted many of the principals of feng shui. “Our practice has had a very good success rate with controlling ADD and ADHD without drug therapy by examining Asian diets. Asian children have a startlingly low rate of behavioral problems. They often begin their day with fish and rice as opposed to the sugary cereals that dominate the American diet. It just makes good nutritional sense.”
Although nutritionist and personal trainer J.J. Flizanes of HomeBodies LA agrees, she raises the burning question, “Is a feng shui lifestyle realistic?”
It just may be more of a reality than most of us recognize. Thanks to the increasing popularity of feng shui in the 1990s, many of the restaurants we love have been designed according to the basic feng shui principals. In Britain, feng shui and food are already widely embraced. “The British are generally quicker to accept Asian customs than Americans,” observes consultant Katherine Ann Lewis.
Upon its release, Feng Shui Food, a British self-help meets recipe book by Simon Brown and Steve Saunders, became an instant classic, although it has yet to hit the American market. In Blackpool, England, the Sala Thai restaurant has adopted the feng shui philosophy both in the design and the cuisine offered.
Stateside there’s evidence that a feng shui lifestyle is on the horizon. San Francisco’s Betelnut Pejiu Wu incorporates the principals of yin and yang into many of its dishes. And the popular Plump Jack restaurant in Squaw Valley, California, is noted for incorporating the five elements of chi – earth, fire, metal, water, and wood – into its seasonal menu.
As much as I would enjoy it, incorporating feng shui into your daily life doesn’t necessarily require playing with your food. For the beginner, Lewis suggests one simple, life-changing step sure to start you down a path toward a feng shui life. The secret? Cut out caffeine.
Suggestions for Eating with the Elements
Each element represents a taste: fire (bitter); earth (sweet); metal (spicy); wood (sour); and water (salty). Determine which of the five elements best represents the lifestyle you want to capture. (For a group meal, apply the same principals, but consider the mood and flow of energy best suited to the group in this moment.) Within each element, there are yin and yang foods. Yin foods are good for active people who need to slow down. Yang foods are good for people who are easily fatigued. Choose foods within your element depending on whether you are in need of yin or yang energy.
Yin: olives, beets, couscous
Yang: apricots, coffee, lamb
Yin: mushrooms, pumpkin, mangoes
Yang: honey, chocolate, beef
Yin: peppermint, onions, radishes
Yang: garlic, peppers, sake
Yin: cabbages, sardines
Yang: salami, caviar, blue cheese
Yin: cottage cheese, pickles
Yang: cherries, lobster
By Amy Reiley