Monday, September 20, 2010

Tea as a Gateway to Eastern Cultures: Working out the Kinks in our Food Supply

Reading Jeanine's recent post on Tea and Meditation inspired me to write this post because it got me thinking (again) about tea and meditation. How is the title of this post related? What does eastern culture have to do with the food supply in the U.S.? And what do these things have to do with tea? They are all intertwined, as you will see.

There is a degree to which becoming interested in certain aspects of a culture (such as food or music) leads one to become interested in other, often deeper aspects, such as philosophy and history. For myself, this has certainly been the case, and not just for tea and eastern cultures, but for a all cultures.

One practice that I have recently been getting more involved in is qigong(氣功). This is the same "gong" as in gongfu(功夫) tea brewing. Qigong is an ancient art of movement and exercises that is hard to describe or involves meditation and has spiritual elements, and can also be considered a form of alternative medicine. The following public domain image was obtained from Wikimedia commons:

I first encountered qigong in the context of a class in Tai Chi Chuan(太极拳) I took some years ago while living in Cleveland. Recently I found a group in my town of Newark, DE, associated with the University of Delaware, which teaches and practices qigong regularly.

After one brief (30 minute) session, I became aware of a remarkable change in both my body and mind. For one, I felt very relaxed, as if someone had given me a very good massage, and with this relaxation came mental clarity. But what is most remarkable was that this feeling of relaxation and clarity extended throughout the next several days. After the second practice and experiencing similar results, I started to become more aware of how and why this was happening. Practicing qigong was making me more aware of the sensations in my body, which was making me become consciously aware of bad posture and/or tense muscles as I went through my normal daily activities, which was in turn allowing me to correct the bad posture and relax the tense muscles.

Through this experience I came to a key realization: through increased awareness of the sensations in our bodies, we are able to easily (and without much effort) correct and eliminate many small problems that we might not have noticed. These problems take their toll--bad posture and tension uses your body's energy inefficiently and can make one unnecessarily tired, can place strain on muscles and joints, can constrict blood flow, not to mention raising overall stress level, which has deleterious effects on health. Often, we don't even notice they're there...but when we become aware of them, we can fix them and enjoy increased energy and relaxation in their absence.

What does this have to do with tea?

It's no secret that I have a very specific agenda in creating RateTea: I want to help people to think about food and drink. I want them to think about flavor and aroma, and I want them to listen to their bodies. I also want them to think about where their food comes from, including the people and the business entities and social structures that produce the food and bring the food to their table. Just as tea can be a gateway into eastern cultures, it can also be a gateway into the appreciation of food and drink.

Working out the kinks in our food supply:

Our food supply has many "kinks" in it, and some overall "bad posture" so to speak. Much of the U.S. food supply is dominated by heavily processed foods which are often low in nutrients and loaded up with salt, sugar, refined starches, and unhealthy fats. Tea, being a primarily aromatic beverage with a fair amount of bitterness and very little sweet or salty flavor, can help retrain people's palates to pursue healthier food.

Another problem is that much of our food supply is produced in environmentally unsustainable ways--not just because of how it is grown (factory farming which often relies heavily on chemical inputs and has devastating ecological effects)--but also because it is shipped over long distances, which uses a great deal of energy, and results in a lack of freshness when the food reaches the shelf. Furthermore, the food industry is dominated by large agribusiness companies which often lobby for legislation that makes things worse for people and for the environment.

But a lot of the solutions are easier and less costly than one might expect. For example, throughout America people have lawns and yards which aren't being used to grow anything. The rain and solar energy falling on these yards is a resource that is being completely wasted. These yards could all be turned into gardens, providing a wealth of fresh food right at the site where it would be eaten. People already plant trees in their yards...they could plant fruit trees instead.

As in the case of qigong and the body, sometimes the problem isn't that the solution is difficult, costly, or complex, it's just a question of becoming aware of how your body works so that we can stop holding unnecessary tension and clouding our mind with unnecessary thoughts. Our society is like a body--we are all connected. When we become aware of how our food system works, we can work out the kinks. They are unnecessary. And they will work themselves out naturally as we become more knowledgeable about our food and where it comes from.

1 comment:

  1. "Tea, being a primarily aromatic beverage with a fair amount of bitterness and very little sweet or salty flavor, can help retrain people's palates to pursue healthier food."

    I have noticed this since I have been drinking tea on a regular basis. My intake of unnecessary sugars is quite low, maybe one desert a week.
    I do not drink soda or any sugar loaded drinks anymore either.
    Foods and drinks like that are hard on my stomach and my body. Tea promotes a healthy lifestyle even if one is not actively looking for a healthy lifestyle.
    Thank you for your always informative posts, Alex!