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THE ENERGY OF FOOD
Feng Shui is the study of energy. The fundamentals of this ancient system rest on a deeper understanding of how energy works in our lives.
As the earliest natural scientists of China studied the world around them, they became fascinated with the forces they could see at work in nature. The very earliest term for what we now call Feng Shui was made up of two characters which meant "looking into the heavens" and "looking at the earth."
You can get a feel for this spirit of natural inquiry in those moments when you are wondering what the day ahead will be like. Perhaps you are wondering what to wear or whether to take an umbrella with you. You look out of the window or step outside the door of your home. You look up into the sky and your eyes survey the world before you. It's as if, in those moments, you were scanning the universe for clues. We want to know what lies ahead and we all do this as if our instincts tell us that the information we need is there and available to us.
Based on exactly that same, but far more prolonged, investigation, the earliest Chinese scholars examined how the information they gleaned could be used to help establish favorable locations for human dwellings and how people's lives could be organized in harmony with the constantly changing patterns of energy in nature.
As their understanding developed, they took a number of factors into account. These included visible realities such as the landscape, the materials used for construction, colors and textures. They also included invisible influences like magnetism, the passageof time and the way everything changes.
Out of this attempt to understand the complex interactions of visible and invisible forces, came one of the most simple, yet profound contributions of Chinese culture to human thought — the understanding of Yin and Yang. This understanding is one of the cornerstones of Feng Shui and, because it is so fundamental, is explained in this first part of the book.
You are also introduced to the Chinese understanding of food. In the Chinese medical model, food is often called "postnatal Chi." The character "Chi" represents the fundamental energy of the universe. It is sometimes called "the breath of heaven." We are born with a plentiful supply of Chi, but it is used up as we grow, live and work. It needs to be restored. The source of that essential replenishment is food. To the Chinese mind, therefore, the vital energy of food is accorded great respect. The energetic properties of different foods — and the ways in which those properties change according to the way food is prepared and cooked — have been carefully studied over the centuries and the resulting wisdom incorporated into the holistic approach of Chinese medicine.
In an era which has become obsessed with speed, it is perhaps inevitable that so many people should suffer from a sadly diminished view of food as a mere facility. Fast food, with little nutritional value, has become an emblem of our times. The very different view presented in this part of the book is the foundation for understanding the rest of the advice given in the later parts.
At the very heart of the energy model described in these pages is a perception of a world which is constantly in motion. Everything is changing from one moment to the next. Nothing remains the same. Even so, we do not inhabit a chaotic universe. We see recurring patterns and the forces of perpetual change seem constantly to be balancing each other. Precisely because of this tendency towards balance, it is possible to live in harmony, rather than in conflict, with the dance of energy we call life.
All this may seem very theoretical and far removed from the practical, down-to-earth business of arranging your kitchen and deciding what meals to cook. But, increasingly, more and more people are beginning to realize that we have gone seriously astray by failing to understand the true nature of what we are actually doing when we prepare and cook food. A kind of mechanical, lifeless approach to food has become widespread which fails to take into account the many essential, but invisible, forces involved. We ignore these at severe cost to our bodily and mental health.
That is why this first part of the book opens with a reminder, on pages 16-21, of the history of cooking and kitchens. While we are tempted to think of modern life as a great advance on that of our early ancestors, it is also important to understand that we are still in contact with the fundamental energies of nature whenever we cook and eat.
It is also important to have a correct understanding of the nature of these pervasive energies. Energy moves. That is its inherent nature. Ordinarily our senses perceive only the most obvious forms of movement, such as the motion of vehicles in the street or tree leaves swaying in the wind. We are far less aware of the subtle ways in which energy circulates soundlessly in our homes or how it vibrates in walls and home decor. Many people have also lost touch with the differing qualities of energy in various foods.
Thus, in this first part of the book, you will find pages 22-9 devoted to the movement of energy. Although we experience much of our life as a progression which seems to be more or less like a straight line from one day and one event to the next, in reality most of our experience is cyclical, like the changes of the seasons. This is central to the understanding of the Chinese approach to food, and forms the basis of the final part of this book which deals with cooking in harmony with the seasons.
Kitchens are among the remains of the very earliest civilizations, some dating back well over 5000 years. These first peoples included the Banpo of northern China. One of their villages has been excavated near the old imperial capital of Xian, now world famous for its vast underground army of terracotta warriors. The treasures found in the Banpo archeological site include food storage jars and cooking implements.
From these and other very early human endeavors, all the culinary traditions of later civilizations have evolved. Many of the most fundamental aspects have remained unchanged over the centuries.
Visit almost any history museum and you are likely to find a life-size model or mural depicting a scene similar to the one you see opposite. It is the prototype of the kitchen in your home. This simple scene is also the ancestor of virtually all other kitchens, from those found in the most elaborate industrial catering operations to the most elegant restaurants.
A cook normally needs the basic elements you see in the picture opposite: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Metal. In this primitive setting, the earth is the fundamental platform on which virtually all activities, including cooking, take place. It is also the source of everything that is grown and cooked. The holding properties of the soil are used to make earthenware vessels and utensils.
Food is being prepared at a lakeside. The water will be drunk but it is also essential for preparing and heating food. Later it will be used for cleaning and for putting out the fire. Once tamed, the principal use of fire from the earliest times was undoubtedly for cooking. Here, the camp fire is fed with wood in the open air.
Despite its vital properties, we often take the air for granted. But little that we see in this scene could take place without it. Without air most living things would perish. It is indispensable to the fire, and the smoke, steam and vaporized oils dissipate into the surrounding atmosphere.
In some repects decisions about food — where to find it, where to store it, and where to cook it — have determined fundamental questions about where to live. This has been true not only for individual families, but entire villages and civilizations. Famine and drought have been two of the most powerful causes behind large-scale movements of populations throughout history.
The development of agriculture is widely recognized as having changed numerous aspects of the lives and social structures of peoples for whom hunting was their sole method of procuring food.
Whether the decisions were about where to live or how to establish reliable systems for food procurement and preparation, people in widely differing lands and cultures faced common questions. Is there an easily accessible food source? Is there a reliable source of water nearby? Are there sufficient fuel resources for cooking? Will it be possible to store reasonable quantities of food during the different seasons?
Cooking raises other questions as well. Food attracts predators, both animal and human. How can it be stored safely and securely? Fire and water are both dangerous elements. How can homes be protected from possible water damage and the risk of fire?
Throughout history, different communities have developed their own distinctive answers to these questions. Some took the risk of living and cooking in the same space, often because they had no realistic alternative. Others lived in separate family dwellings, but cooked collectively either in purpose-built structures or the open air.
As Chinese culture developed, great emphasis was placed on separating spaces according to their specific functions. This led to the construction of housing which, as far as possible, clearly distinguished between the areas set aside for various human functions.
The picture on the facing page shows a well-to-do 19th-century Ching dynasty mansion where the main home is reserved for receiving guests, studying, dining and sleeping, but where other activities, including food preparation, take place in smaller separate buildings.
A contemporary kitchen (see opposite) seems a far cry from the open fire of our earliest ancestors or the wood fires and pantries of a bygone age. But from the Feng Shui point of view it consists of the same five fundamental elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Metal.
Our ancestors lived and cooked literally on the earth. Nowadays we have constructed so many ways of trying to protect ourselves from calamity that we are in danger of forgetting the earth. It is always beneath us, supporting us. Everything we cook and eat comes from it. It is the source of all nurture and nourishment.
Our forebears' open fires have evolved into modern ovens and stovetops. Instead of wood, we rely on electricity, gas, and other sources of energy. But no matter what fuel we use, this Fire energy is still our hearth. It is the heart of the kitchen and, in many respects, the heart of our home.
We cannot cook in an airless room. Good ventilation is essential, just as it was when our ancestors relied on the open air around them. We not only need air coming in, we also need to ensure that noxious fumes and cooking odors are expelled. Unlike our ancestors, who could rely on the atmosphere around them to absorb smoke and smells, we now have to take care that our indoor kitchens don't pollute our homes.
We need water when we cook. It is indispensable. The nearby river, lake, or village well has now been transformed into the domestic supply of running water. But like all Water energy, it needs to be treated with respect and great care.
It is almost inconceivable to find a kitchen anywhere in the world today without finding something metal in it. Even the humblest cook needs a pot and a knife.
THE ENERGY CYCLE
The kitchen is a place of transformation, a place where many energies intersect. Everything that is brought into the kitchen is changed in some way. This process of change is part of a far larger cycle of energy — a cycle that includes not only the preparation and cooking of food, but the entire process of life itself.
During the T'ang Dynasty (618-906 CE) the Taoist master, Lü Yen, often known as Ancestor Lü, wrote of the energy which pervades the entire universe: "In heaven, energy is substance and form, yin and yang, the motion of the sun, moon, and stars, the waxing and waning of the moon. It is clouds, mist, fog, and moisture. It is the heart of all living beings, their ripening and their growth.
"On earth, energy is power, fuel, the essence of everything that lives, the source of mountain streams. It is the ebb and flow of life, it sets everything in motion and holds all that exists. It is the movement of time, maturing and aging, rising and falling. In humans, it is the life force, movement, action, speech, and perception. It is the spirit of life moving in the body, the gateway to living and dying."
This understanding of life as a vast cycle of energy is beautifully expressed in the art of Chinese landscape painting. In the detail reproduced opposite, the painter evokes the swirling movement of energy in the natural world. Yet, at the same time, all the elements in the panorama are balanced.
The soft, yielding leaves (Yin) are balanced by the solidity of the rocks (Yang). The dynamic force of the water (Yang) is balanced by the quiescence of the mountains (Yin). The cool groves (Yin) are balanced by the heat of the daytime (Yang). The light falling on the high peaks (Yang) is balanced by the shadows in the lower valley (Yin).
The artist, however, is presenting us with more than a set of opposites. An entire cycle of transformation is depicted — symbolizing the process of unending change in the natural world. In this painting, as in numerous classical landscapes, the medium of change is the water element.
As the waters tumble over the rocks and spread out into the valleys, the heat of the sun transforms their passage into mist which rises upward, obscuring the mountains from view. It is a cycle also enacted as water is taken in and released by each leaf and plant on the slopes. The cycle permeates the four seasons, with droplets taking new forms as hailstones, snowflakes, and ice crystals.
In order to understand the world of Feng Shui and the art of Chinese cooking, it is important to understand the poetic logic of this landscape. You are looking at a particular illustration of water, rocks, and trees, but in the mind of the artist, and in the mind of the trained observer, it is also a portrait of the universe. The brush strokes depict all the fundamental elements of life and the profound processes of change without which those elements would be lifeless.
As you will see later in this book, the same logic applies to the arrangement of your kitchen and the preparation of even the simplest meal. It is possible to approach both so that you are able to live, cook, and eat in accordance with the dynamic harmony of nature.
SUN AND RAIN
Within the natural cycle of life on earth, there are polarities of such influence that we tend to think of them as completely different states. Most of us think of day and night in this way and we often plan what we will do, who we will see, what we will wear, and what we will eat according to the daylight hours and night time.
The interplay of sun and rain has a similarly profound effect on our beings, although, unlike the regularity of day and night, the shift from one to the other is often more unpredictable. Nevertheless, whether we normally experience a prolonged period of sunshine followed by a rainy season or whether sun and rain come and go intermittently, both have a distinct effect on our bodies and minds.
The sun's energy opens us up. We feel uplifted. We have more energy and we feel more alive. This is true whether we are out in the sunlight, whether we are just going about our life indoors on a summery day or whether we are spending time in a reasonably warm, dry environment where we feel comfortable and energized. Our internal organs tend to relax and expand when they are warm. Our blood flows more quickly. Our digestive processes work faster.
Heat has the same effect on our mental and emotional powers. We tend to open up, we are more expansive. We communicate more freely. We are more passionate. Life seems more intense to us.
As we warm up internally, however, there is a risk that we might overheat and start to dry out. Our bodies naturally start to adjust to this. We become aware of feeling thirsty and we start to consume liquids. We feel the need to calm down and we take a short break. Our appetite is affected, as are the foods we naturally want to eat; our summer diet is very different to our diet in winter.
When it is overcast and dark or when we are cold, our natural reaction is to close down. We withdraw our energy inward. We instinctively protect ourselves from inclement weather. We start to use up our energy reserves to keep ourselves warm. Our circulation slows down and our digestion becomes more sluggish.
The shadows, cold, and damp depress us. We are less alert. We become more introverted. We talk less. We become more obsessed with ourselves and less interested in others. Our internal energy feels blocked, like a river heavy with silt.
If the damp and cold persist, there is a risk that our inner environment will be seriously affected. Our vital organs, our blood, and our flesh will suffer. If we have chronic poor circulation, conditions such as arthritis may develop. Our natural reaction is to find ways to warm ourselves up and to expel the damp from our bodies. On cold, wet days we develop an appetite for hot foods and warming broths. If we feel sluggish, we might go to the gym where we feel better for sweating out the dampness that has started to make its way into our bodies.
These natural processes of balancing heat and cold, dampness and dryness, have been studied by Chinese natural scientists and physicians over the centuries. Their insights form the basis of much Chinese medical practice, but have also had a profound influence on the entire approach to cooking and eating. The underlying aim is to understand the fundamental processes of nature and to live and eat in ways that keep us in harmony with the changing world around us.
YIN AND YANG
One of the most fundamental ideas running through the whole of Chinese culture is the theory of Yin and Yang. You find it at the heart of almost all the great contributions that China has made to world civilization, from early natural sciences to the development of herbal medicine, from acupuncture to the design of ornamental gardens and the techniques of brush painting. The Yin and Yang philosophy is also the basis of Chinese cuisine, from the most elaborate state banquet to the simplest of meals at home.
The easiest way to understand Yin and Yang is to look out of the window. In the early morning, when the sun's rays first appear, you can see them starting to glance across the leaves on the trees, or the stonework on the wall. There is a natural feeling of warmth, of movement, even of expectation. That which was dark is becoming light. This sense of energy is called Yang. The Chinese character for Yang shows a hillside bathed in the light of the sun once it has risen above the horizon. The brush strokes imitate rays of light streaming down towards the earth.
Look out the window later in the day. The same leaves are in shadow, the sunlight no longer splashing on the stonework. That which was light is heading towards the dark. What was Yang is now Yin. The Chinese character for Yin shows a hillside when the shadows of clouds have fallen over it. This is combined with a few strokes that show people gathered together under one roof.
China's earliest natural scientists were absorbed in the meticulous contemplation of these very simple phenomena. Looking out of your window in the morning and afternoon are the first steps in understanding Yin and Yang. To really penetrate this mystery you need to take a little more time. Pick a comfortable chair and just sit by the window. Or you can go into your garden or to a park. Any time of day will do, but early to mid-morning on a fairly clear day is probably best — then it is easiest to chart the course of sun and shadow.
When you have picked your spot, look around for something that catches your attention. It might be a nearby house or a group of bushes. Ideally, look for something that is partly in the light and partly in shadow. For example, a house with a sloping roof will naturally have shadows under the eaves. When you have selected your object of contemplation, watch what happens.
Slowly but surely the light moves. The shadows move. The quality of the light changes. The tones of the shadows change. There is energy in both the light and the dark, but there is a difference between the two. Both have their own power, just as night and day have their distinctive force. At the same time, however, while they are distinguishable from each other, they are also inseparable. Day cannot exist without night, nor the night without the day.
As you watch the play of light and shadow, you see them slowly changing into each other. What was Yang becomes Yin. What is now Yin will become Yang.
|Part One THE ENERGY OF FOOD||12-33|
|THE ENERGY CYCLE||22|
|SUN AND RAIN||24|
|YIN AND YANG||26|
|FOOD AS MEDICINE||30|
|Part Two FENG SHUI ESSENTIALS||34-71|
|THE ENERGY FIELD||38|
|THE KITCHEN LANDSCAPE||42|
|THE KITCHEN ANIMALS||44|
|THE FIVE ENERGIES||48|
|DOORS AND WINDOWS||54|
|LIGHT AND AIR||58|
|SINGLE ROOM LIVING||70|
|Part Three PREPARING AND COOKING||72-109|
|PREPARATION AND EQUIPMENT||76|
|(The cleaver, chopping board, carborundum, using|
|the cleaver, wok, wok tools, stir-frying, the|
|SHOPPING AND SNACKING||88|
|LIGHT AND SHADE||90|
|THE CHINESE PANTRY||92|
|BEANS AND BEAN PRODUCTS||98|
|(Vegetables, meat, and fish)|
|Part Four THE FOUR SEASONS||110-55|
|STEAMED PORK DUMPLINGS||116|
|CHICKEN AND CORN SOUP||120|
|PORK WITH GREEN PEPPER AND ONION||122|
|STEAMED FISH WITH GINGER AND SCALLION||123|
|TOMATO WITH BEEF AND EGGS||124|
|SWEET POTATO SOUP||125|
|SOYBEAN SOUP AND DOUGH STICKS||128|
|CHINESE MUSHROOM AND CHICKEN SOUP||130|
|GINGER AND PINEAPPLE BEEF||132|
|DRIED BEAN CURD WITH EGGS||135|
|FISH SOUP WITH CILANTRO||140|
|EGGPLANT WITH BLACK BEAN SAUCE||143|
|HAM AND TOFU WITH MUSHROOM SAUCE||144|
|RICE NOODLES, SINGAPORE STYLE||149|
|HOT AND SOUR SOUP||150|
|PEACE AND WELL-BEING FOR YOUNG AND OLD||151|
|STEWED BEAN CURD WITH LAMB||152|
|STIR-FRIED GREENS WITH GARLIC||154|
|EGG PUDDING WITH GINGER||155|
|ABOUT THE AUTHORS||157|