The subject of diet is one that I generally avoid. It is potentially full of contradictions and pitfalls. I am also not an enthusiastic cook, so it was with some trepidation that I approached Daverick Leggett's latest book, Recipes for Self Healing. My commitment is to self help, and to making the wisdom of Chinese medicine accessible to a wider public; here Daverick succeeds beautifully on both accounts. His descriptions of the Chinese medical system are both simple yet profound, his explanation of the crucial balance of our ability to receive and transform as the key to our health are enlightening. But this book is much more than that. Recipes for Self Healing inspires us to see diet in a totally new way, and gives us the necessary tools to use food as medicine. This is a great gift.
Part One examines the subject of nourishment, looking first at the human being as part of a greater cosmology, and later examining the more psychological basis for the many reasons we may be unable to 'receive' or transform. This lays the foundation for Part Two, which examines the world view of Chinese medicine. It begins with the simple question 'What is a human being made of?', and elaborates with a description of the meridian system, the zang fu, the bodily substances, the climates, etc. This information is accessible to readers with no background in Chinese medicine while remaining thought provoking and informative to those with many years experience. Each section is followed by general food suggestions, so if we are reading about yang deficiency we immediately have the necessary general information to treat yang xu with diet. This is further elaborated into suggestions for individual organ deficiencies, affects of climates, etc.
Part Three introduces the various food categories, clearly explaining the difference between the eastern and western approach to diet. As with all aspects of the medicine, the Chinese have carefully observed the effect of various foods on the human organism. Food is not merely evaluated as a sum of its many parts, but in terms of its energetic vibration and its resonance with certain areas of the organism.
After some general guidelines for healthy eating, we are introduced to the individual recipes. These are many and varied and contain recipes from different cultures and traditions, including many of my favourites such as Baba Ghanoush, which Daverick explains as being particularly good for the yin, the blood and the liver, and Kicharee (or Kedgeree) which is explained as being very balancing, as it strengthens both the qi and the blood, and has a particular affinity to the spleen and the heart. I liked the inclusion of Congee (or Jook), a basic rice gruel, and the Chinese equivalent of the Jewish chicken soup. I was reminded of my days in Hong Kong and trips to a small cafe selling only Congee, where dishes were chosen according to medical needs. Easy to digest and assimilate, and a great tonic to the spleen, Congee cured me of residual dysentery and associated digestive problems.
This section ends with some great suggestions for herbal teas and other drinks. The recipes themselves are easy to follow and do not require specialist shopping as most of the ingredients seem to be widely available. Part Four concludes the book by addressing many of the areas of debate and confusion around diet. It discusses coffee and tea, alcohol, raw foods - explaining pros and cons, and most importantly ensuring that by understanding the underlying energetics we are able to make informed choices. There is also a particularly enlightening section on genetic engineering, and some useful information on the energetic actions of common drugs, vitamins and supplements.
It takes a lot to get me excited about cooking, but this book has certainly done that! It is simple and yet profound, instructive but also exciting. Recipes for Self Healing is most certainly a book that I will recommend to all my friends and patients. By following the recipes and engaging actively with our own healing processes we begin to take responsibility for our own health. This is the first step towards true healing.
Sandra Hill Sandra Hill has been a practicing acupuncturist for 17 years. She is co-author of A Guide to Acupuncture, author of Reclaiming the Wisdom of the Body and Oriental Paths to Health. She is co-founder of Monkey Press and joint founder of EJOM.