medical foods

medical foods
Food and medicine are a continuum both in popular practice and in the systematic work of ‘traditional’ Chinese pharmaceutics. Though the medicines used in the indigenous materia medica number more than 5,000 and include many more plant, mineral and animal substances than are used in cooking, the logic that governs the theory and practice of prescriptions is very similar to that of cuisine. Herbal decoctions, for example, are referred to as ‘soups’, and a major classification system for materia medica is in terms of the five ‘flavours’. Conversely, food is widely thought of as efficacious in affecting bodily states far beyond simple nutrition. Foods that ‘drive out heat’ or ‘boost qi’, for example, are routinely used in family cooking and noted in everyday health advice.
In the self-health movement that gained ground in the 1980s and 1990s, nutritional practices have played a major role. An interesting neo-tradition of ‘medicinal meals’ has emerged with its own cookbooks, technical manuals and restaurant specialties. A soup oriented towards boosting qi and preserving strength for aging men, for example, might include ginseng, astragalus, schisandra, chrysanthemum, fennel, hawthorn and Asian cornelian cherry alongside the meat and vegetables that are its base. There are numerous popularly published materials on modifying diet to prevent or treat heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and other chronic illnesses. All these sources rely heavily on medical knowledge, classifying readily available foods according to the same technical systems that allow Chinese doctors to prescribe complex drug decoctions responding to a patient’s every symptom. Perhaps more marked in southern China than in the north, there is a great interest among eaters in both the immediate and long-term health effects of commonly consumed foods.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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