More on Seasonal Eating (and Living)

Here’s an update on what’s growing right now in the Northeast: almost everything. This can be a bit overwhelming, but if you can find a way to fit snap peas, beets & beet greens, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, corn, cucumbers, onions, peppers, potatoes, radishes, scallions, spinach, summer squash, chard, turnip greens, blueberries, cherries, peaches, raspberries, and plums into your diet, you’ll probably be feeling extremely good. You could live solely on the abundance of fruits and vegetables available now and actually, that might not be such a bad idea. If you work in a freezing air-conditioned office it gets confusing (you might be craving hot soups, hunks of meat and fried food from 9 to 5), but anyone spending any time outside would benefit from eating fresh, raw plant food. Even the harder root vegetables can be juiced or sliced up very thin for a salad. Of course, I recommend getting most of this food locally grown if you can – that’s really the whole point.

What I’m interested in talking about this month, however, is not just food but also other aspects of seasonal living. This will require me to write a little about the Five Element Theory, which is an integral part of the ancient Chinese medical system. Essentially, the theory states that all energy or substance can be categorized according to the above-mentioned five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water), each of which has its own unique characteristics. For example, the five seasons (spring, summer, late summer, autumn, and winter) correspond to the elements above. Summer, being aligned with the Fire element, is naturally the hottest month. The system expands to include bodily organs, colors, foods, sounds, tastes, directions, phase of development, and emotions. The theory comes from centuries of observations of relationships between nature and the physical body, and is applied clinically in traditional Chinese medicine. For example, the wood element, linked to spring, is also the element of anger, the sour taste, the tendons and sinews, and the liver and the gallbladder as well as the eyes. This means that a person suffering from bloodshot eyes or with a lot of otherwise inexplicable anger might be in truth suffering from a stressed liver.

I’ve mentioned this because when I write about the given season we’re in, I’ll sometimes refer to other things that share the same element. The season we are in now – summer – is closely associated with the emotion of joy. This means that summer is really the season when doing things that make you joyful is especially recommended. It’s also the time to take care of the small intestine and the heart, the organs belonging to the fire element, and the time to sweat a lot of things out (each element is also paired with a bodily fluid). It’s no accident that summer is when a lot of weddings happen (a topic that’s been on my mind lately). Some things you can do to be more in tune with this season: wake up early, spend time out in the sun, cook a variety of brightly colored food (but lighter food – for example, if you eat whole grains, try summer grains such as millet or corn rather than wheat, rice, or buckwheat), set up some flowers in your home, go to the beach, play with your friends, watch heartwarming comedies while eating popcorn (don’t microwave it, though). You can make up your own list of things that make you joyful – then go out and do the things on it! And if you are confused about the dangers of being out in the sun – read the last article.

There’s a lot more to the five element theory than what I have space to go into above – but if you’re interested in hearing more, let me know. Paul Pitchford’s book Healing with Whole Foods has probably the best analysis of it that I know, and Annemarie Colbin’s Food and Healing also has a good treatment (aren’t these book titles sounding a little redundant?).