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Food, Nutrition and Tradition

Stefane has asked me to write about the relationship of Wisdom of the Body to food so let us start with the aspect of appetite or desire. Desire for food is what moves the body. The baby is listening to the voices of his parents and though his eyes do not focus he can see color and moving images around him. The baby is also smelling and so he is not just turning his ear to his parents but also his nose! What does he smell? he smells their smell and that is the smell of home. That smell in his environment and also that smell of his parents. The baby is also smelling for his mothers breast and trying to find it because the baby is hungry!

So with his little focused vision he is looking for something that looks pink and is a circle—-like a sunset. Only this time the sunset has a smell! And it is soft too and there is a heart beat behind this sunset. And so there is a pink circle, something soft, and a smell and a vibration-a heart beat. And there is a voice too! And all of this forms a body of information. And this body of information tells the baby “This is the place where you can get what you need.” And so the baby moves his body to go toward that place. And when the baby gets their milk they are getting a very rich liquid which is specifically composed for them and it is slightly sweet and fat. And in fact Mother’s Milk was for centuries and sometimes still is – prescribed by Doctors for certain sicknesses.

So human milk is the beginning of food for the baby and it is not cow’s milk which is to build a cow, and it is not goats milk, which is to build a goat! however over time people found they could drink cow’s milk and goats milk and it was pretty good for them but not as good as human milk. But if we look at Mother Nature we do not need any kind of milk after we are a baby. But I know it is tasty and I too like cheese—-the blessed fromage! so we make homage to fromage!

At present there is a lot of talk about “lactose intolerance” and things like that because someone has added something to the milk of animals – and sometime to humans which is not naturally occurring. And it could be one of many things, drugs, steroids, alcohol, mercury yes there are many substances put into the hypodermic needle that goes into the cow or goat to keep it disease free. In the United States in a large dairy farm one cow may have six to twelve injections in a day! so our milk has often been tampered with! also human milk is of course effected by what the mother eats and drinks and so this too is another issue which concerns food and nutrition which is the question Stefane brought to me.

So to the ancient mind and for the last four to five thousand years—-certainly since Hippocrates and the times of Galen and even before, among the Yellow Emperor Huang Ti in China and among the Ayur-vedic teachings in India certainly cardinal doctrines were formed about food. These doctrines were fermented for thousands of years and became established medical knowledge about nutrition and were even taught at the Sorbonne University Medical School in Paris up until about 1940 when the entire medical model of both East and West—but mainly West—-was undermined by the drug firms coming from Germany during and after World War II. One famous student of medicine -which to the ancient mind was inseparable from nutrition- was the great researcher Ibn Sina in latin Avicenna. Avicenna had memorized the entire Koran by the age of ten and wrote numerous texts on medicine and theology and so we know he was a bright man. He even warned about making the under ground water aquifer toxic! and this was in 900 a.d.! his portrait remains on the wall at the Sorbonne Medical School.


After his time his doctrines on medicine became part of the established medicine of the West and they match up with the systems of Asia as well. All of these doctrines -of basic medicine which was also nutrition – basically divided the material world—-and FOOD into four constituents or four elements. The Chinese have Five elements because they added the principle of growth as “Wood” but that is outside our immediate interest for now. The four elements are air, fire, water and earth.

Four Elements Chart

So how did the ancient mind look at AIR? well air meant you should stop sometimes whey you are eating and breathe. I can tell you the French are better at this than the Americans!!

So sometimes take a breath when you are eating. The French folk are slower eaters and take more time than other countries so this is to their advantage health-wise. Chewing food is good and we know it is good because we have teeth. Some animals do not have teeth and they have other ways to digest their food that we do not have! I remember my student Erwan wrote a play about a crow who wanted teeth! but alas! that is not the fate of the crow and the crow found out after much trouble that teeth are not so great!

The next element is FIRE and this means the food can be cooked and it also means when you eat the food the food can make you feel warm inside. The ancients believed if food felt warm inside then it was making life. Now we do not say that we say you are “digesting” or “metabolizing” or “absorbing” your food. But all of these different descriptions amount to the same thing. It feels warm. So the ancients classified food according to how much heat it released. And they did it scientifically by watching how the food burned. Some food makes a good fire, other food does not. Flesh will burn slow. Plants burn faster, especially when they are dry. Fruit does not burn well at all so the Ancients would say it is “Cold”. So these basic ideas were used to classify all food, herbs, meats, fruits and especially SPICES which were the medicine of the entire world for about five thousand years. And that is why ships were traveling to different countries along the SPICE road-it was not just about FOOD it was also about DRUGS! And we all know how important drugs are in history because it is about the quality of the life. And people want to feel good and they will pay for it.

WATER of course is in a way self-explanatory but remember you can also cook with water, like a soup and then the water can be very good for you. And the ancients knew different kinds of water in different places had different minerals in it. So they even prescribed going to other places for “a change in water”. But this was not always subtle! sometimes it was quite a shift. There are some fresh water springs which have LITHIUM in the water. And lithium is a major antidepressant still used today. And sometimes even warts will come off if you soak in lithium water! so it also has anti-viral qualities too! so wether you swim in it, bathe in it or drink it or cook with it —- water is important and very much depends on the region you live in. A big issue now is many cities put fluoride in the water and this is a known Neuro-toxin -which Hitler discovered in the Concentration Camp experiments on the Jews – to keep people passive. So it was a cheap alternative to Lithium in that it made people “feel good”, more passive etc. And this is of course better for emotional control of the population.

EARTH. Well can you eat earth? yes you can. In fact Ayurvedic Doctors prescribe charcoal tablets for after you have had bad food or food poisoning. And I think you can still buy these in France. They are similar to something called “Shila-jit” which is also used in Tibetan and Ayurvedic Medicine. Shila-jit is the minerals scraped off the cliffs at high altitudes and they are different kinds and they are used for purification and building health in many traditions though Shila-jit is a Sanskrit word. When people in ancient times could not get enough food they would strap a small cotton pocket of dirt over their naval and through this area of the body they could absorb the minerals and get some food value. But the dirt had to be taken from at least 6 inches below the topsoil.

So EARTH has immediate nutrition value but indirectly is very important for its value to GROW food. So that is the other aspect of earth. And this brings up all the ideas around fertility and how to make the earth more healthy for growing food. And here we encounter all the usual problems of quantity of food verses quality of food and “how fast can I grow the food?” verses “How nutritious is the food I can grow?” And in modern times almost all decisions are made with the idea of speed and quantity and they forget less food of higher quality can be better for earth and the human being. So this is the conflict of nutrition verses “Commercial Interests” . If people could be greedy for more nutrition instead of more money that would relieve the situation!!

So that gives you some idea about AIR, FIRE, WATER and EARTH in the context of the ancient mind.

Four Elements personified

So of these four FIRE was most important because the ancients -as we said before- linked HEAT to NUTRITION. In modern times we also do but we use the measure of “calories” or “Kilajoules” to numerate how much energy food can release in the form of heat – in the body.

Now I want to say something about which food does what because I think that is the direction of Stefane’s question.

The ancient mind saw a dead body would grow cold and dry and then rot or if in wind and sun – dry out. So the ancient mind connected DRY and COLD to death. And therefore something which was HOT and MOIST was ALIVE.

This means in the Winter Time when you are cold and hungry you eat some good steak – right “off the fire” with black pepper and garlic! and then you feel warm all over. Then you have some good red wine and you feel even more warm and pleasant! so the ancient mind says, “SEE THIS IS GOOD”. Then you can relax and talk to your friends until you are sleepy and then it is time for coffee! And you must be careful with the wine because it makes you feel warm quickly but then you will tend to chill or feel cold more easily, especially if you go outside because wine makes the blood vessels expand (dilation) but then they return to their original position (constriction). So alcohol “plays” with your blood circulation in your body and your brain and that is why your face becomes pink and you say things which are sometimes not so acceptable to the other person!

So some people say, “I love animals but I do not love to eat them! how can I be warm inside my body?” Well, it is tough. You see in history there is no vegetarian culture but only poor people who cannot buy meat except once a week or so! In south India you can be vegetarian because the weather is always hot! so you see some climates do not require your body to make heat! but if you live in Alaska with Polar Bears then you need to eat lots of fat and butter and meat to stay warm otherwise you will die! of course now with artificial heat and electricity you can be a vegetarian in Alaska but if you go outside you will get very cold very fast!

So for basic heat in the body, and especially in windy and cold Brittany or Switzerland you need butter, fat, meat because you need something in your body which will burn slow and for several hours.

One trick the poor people, the working class people who could not always afford to buy meat—-figured out a long time ago was bread. Bread- if the quality is good (and I know the French have some of the best bread in the world and I like it too!) will give you B Vitamins which are in the grains. B vitamins are a natural anti -depressant, especially B-12 or “Niacin” which is sometimes used to treat Schizophrenia when it is in high doses. Now you need to know the very white “enriched” flours have less B complex than the dark grain. The darker breads are healthier that the lighter breads. And this is true of sugar too because the dark sugar still has the IRON and CHROMIUM in it – which you need to actually digest the sugar! so when you remove the “trace elements” of the sugar it becomes white. Then you bleach the sugar—sometimes with a chemical—-and the sugar is very white. And – well—- this sugar has nothing in it anymore which will help you digest it. So your body has to find the minerals it needs somewhere to digest the sugar. So where does your body go for minerals? it goes to your bones? so you have to “mine” your bones to digest sugar! and sometimes old people have a very sugary diet with lots of processed white flour and breads and they eat the white sugar too and their body hurts ALL THE TIME. And the modern mind says “I hurt because I am old.” But the ancient mind would say “You hurt because you are eating too much WHITE STUFF!” But dark sugar, sugar with molasses, has the iron, the chromium and trace elements in it which you really need to digest it. So it is not the sugar that is bad. It is the processing of the sugar which has changed its chemical composition. Now white sugar will give you a feeling of energy for a moment and then you are tired again. Dark sugar will not “let you down” so fast! so the dark sugar has a different “ride” too! slower and not so “up and down”. Sugar of any kind is also inflammatory so it tends to produce more inflammation in the joints and arthritic pain and it is also a breeding ground for bacteria-and not the good kind. In fact many of the anti -cancer diets forbid sugar all together -because of this.

The other thing I wanted to say about bread is that if you eat meat and then bread – then the bread will hold the meat in the digestive tract for a longer time. The bread will make the meat “burn slower”. So if you are a farmer and you will be in the fields working ALL DAY then you have your meat and your bread together because you have a long day of labor, for many hours ahead of you. Now if you are not doing physical labor and you mix your meat and bread you will simply get fat! So that is what happens! the bread holds the meat in the gut and you absorb all the fat. Now you will not see a fat tiger usually because a tiger has a three to four foot intestine so his meat goes in fast and goes out fast. But a human body – if the intestine is long—-and sometimes it is over 7 meters! can hold that meat and bread in for a day or even longer! and that can make someone really smell bad and constipate, etc. because they are not working physically! of course this will vary a lot from person to person—-in medical school I did an anatomical study on two bodies of men about the same size and one man had a two meter intestine and the other had a 7 meter intestine! so the outward appearance cannot tell you everything! I am sure the man with the short intestine could have eaten anything as it was in and out quickly! like a tiger!! So with the human body there is an amazing range of variation and that is also why you have to find the diet which works for your body because your body may NOT be like someone else’s. This is another reason I believe why the medical establishment gave up on trying to be precise with nutrition. One diet does not fit all and each body can be extremely different from another body.

Getting back to the idea of FIRE in the body or heat production -the darker breads give a longer more stable heart. In fact you can make a good “flat bread” with whole grain ground and put with water -simply roasted in the oven lightly. It more crisp and crunchy but very nutritious and since it has no yeast it will not give any yeast problems either. It is a bit like the flat bread eaten in the Middle East. In fact you can practically live on roasted grain in a temperate climate. Yoga teachers would say this is all you really need with vegetables and no meat. But the old cultures would say you need some meat, especially in the colder regions. Remember Yoga teachings center on making heat in the body with special breathing so in this way they compensate for the lack of meat in the body. Yoga also prescribes lots of “Ghi” which is butter fat – when they cook vegetables. So the butter fat compensates for the lack of meat.

To summarize “What do I eat?” well you have to say “You eat what makes you feel good and energetic and not slow and constipated.” But the rule of the ancients and we could say Wisdom of the Body is simply “Stay Warm and Eat Accordingly”. So meat is the primary source of heat and after that fat and oil or butter or cheese. So we are talking about killing animals or taking their milk and making butter or ghi.

After these primary heat makers of meat and grain we have the vegetables. Vegetables do not make much heat in the body but they bring in some things that are extremely important. The first is fiber which pushes food through the intestine and this is VERY important. The second has to do with minerals which are arranged in a particular way inside the plant. And these minerals are really good for you especially from the green and orange vegetables and purple vegetables. And the colors of the vegetables will tell you about them, and the shape also will tell you about them. Red and Orange and Yellow colors are for the heart and spleen. Purple and Blue for the kidneys and bladder. Black for spleen. Green for the blood. Yes the blood is red but only so outside the body exposed to the air. Inside the body the blood is blue and sometimes blue-greenish. Also the oxygen content of the blood changes its color too from a magenta to a purple or blue.

The shape of the vegetables used to tell the Doctor the function. The pumpkin was shaped like the prostate gland or the womb. The carrot was shaped like ? Some root vegetables are shaped like various organs and sometimes the plant is shaped like various organs, or the leaf of the plant is shaped like an organ. This was called “The Doctrine of the Signatures” and was codified and well used for centuries. Paracelsus had something to say about as it related also to concepts of alchemy and the transformation of the human being.


We can make fun of this idea and say “It is not scientific” yet in general it was proven empirically over time and used with much success. Some people argue our knowledge of nutrition is much more scientific now yet the fact is the major contributor to enhanced life span of modern men was actually not modern drugs but the simple addition of sanitation systems and closed sewers and particularly water sanitation – to cities with the addition of flowing water supplied.

Raw vegetables are very healthy to eat but have to be chewed a lot or seasoned with spices, because they are difficult to digest. The function of cooking food is to make the food more digestible and in fact that is what happens. Some teachers believe cooking makes our digestion less efficient and they prescribe raw food diets. But if you are not used to raw food diets this can be very difficult for you to do. Also again if you live in a cold climate you will have a more difficult time eating raw food unless you are used to it and you have the digestive enzymes practiced and ready for a raw diet. Your body has to get used to a raw diet and unless you had one as a child it is not so easy to adapt to one. But some people have gone to raw diets and this has given their bodies a change to get rid of the bad stuff in their digestive tracts and bodies. In fact some people have gotten rid of food alleges-all of them – by going to a raw diet. Then they slowly go back and bring in some cooked food which is carefully chosen and not full of preservatives and chemicals. The chemicals and preservatives which are added to food – and yes – even tobacco and alcohol- are often worse than the tobacco and alcohol. Native Americans were not afraid of lung cancer because smoking for them was once a month at the full moon and they had pure tobacco- not every day chemical laden tobacco! so “When?” and “How much?” and “What is in it?” – are all important. We simply can no longer eat whatever is in the grocery store. We have to read the label and ask questions. It is too bad but that is the way it is.

To finalize our talk about vegetables the key points are “fiber” and “minerals”. And variety is also helpful. The ancients believed as many colors as you could get on the plate was good! now we know the colors came to be – by the mineral combination in the vegetables. The Chinese would say “cook” or “saute” til the vegetable was it’s brightest color – then it is ready! do not cook too long or you destroy the enzymes and the vitamin value. Yes Pastuer found you could make food safe by over cooking! he called it “Pastuerizing”! but you see if you want to make anything safe – you have to kill it. All living things are about risk because risk is life. Incidentally Pastuer tried to recount his process- but he was on his death bed and no one listened. In modern times we know there are good bacteria too! and therefore germs are not always the cause of disease! in fact the good bacteria are very needed in your digestive tract and this is why you need a bit of yogurt in your diet. So try to have some yogurt to keep your digestive bacteria in good shape.


Fruit is seasonal which tells you the best time to eat it. But also fruit has some very helpful qualities and one is it is laxative. When fruit is dried it is even more laxative. So at Christmas and holidays – in the old days- people would eat and eat and then they would have a kind of cake with lots of dried fruit in it! that was to get it out of their body! all their over eating!! in this way black raisins and prunes are very helpful, healthy and nutritious.

But fruit has also something in it which is very good for stamina. Now we call this stuff “Electrolytes” and these are chemicals that help move electricity through the body. And the citrus fruits like lemons and oranges and pineapples—they all have this. So if you feel tired after sweating on a hot summer day these “electric fruits” will put energy back in your body.

Some fruit has in it some enzymes and something called “bromines/bromelayse” and these help you digest meat. The fruit that you can eat with meat – and it will not give you gas either! is pineapple and papaya…these two fruits are fantastic for digestion. In Hawaii they are big pork eaters like the French. And they have big tribal parties where they roast the pig. Well they eat a lot of meat. And they found after they would eat the pig sometimes in the hot sun – the meat would expand in their stomach! oh and the pain! so when they had pineapple with the pork there was no problem with discomfort because the pine -apple helped digest the pork. Pineapple is very good for you, especially good for cholesterol in the blood vessels. So if you want to cut your cholesterol count by half then take a day and just eat a raw pineapple—-perhaps three meals of it, morning, noon and evening. Then go and see what the doctor says about your cholesterol. No you cannot cheat you must a whole fresh pineapple and that is the right amount to clean out your blood vessels!

So that is a Wisdom of the Body overview on “History of Medicine” and some basic ideas on food! If Stefane has more questions I will say what I know, there is obviously a lot on the web but the basic ideas I mention here are very old and time proven and useful to everyone who has general health and is not with some medical condition!

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