So much of our life is centred on food. Do you realise that out of the 18 hours that a person is awake in an average day, s/he spends 6 hours around food: planning, shopping, preparing, cooking, eating and cleaning up. One third of a person’s day goes into filling up the body. One third of your day, everyday of your life is spent on eating. For me, however, I have to take into account also the times when I am hungry and how these result in frustration, furies and fights with people around me. All due to being hungry. Then what about the times spent in feeling shame or guilt (depending on your culture) after eating too much or too little. There is no doubt about it. Many hours of our waking life (and our fantasies) are spent on food. If you don’t believe me, work out your day and see how much of it is spent round food.

In our society today, many disorders are to do with eating: obesity, anorexia, just to mention two very visible ones. What about the borderline cases. Take a certain person I know for example. Let’s call him Fred. Fred was a wartime baby. He got fed if there was food around. Most times he was hungry. The irregular feeds and the childhood hunger remained with him throughout his life at an unconscious level, buried deep in his psyche. As an adult, when he is hungry, he is angry irrational, think bad thoughts and can be easily provoked. Once fed, he reverts back to his normal charming self. Attacked by the fury of the ‘hungries’, lots of decent people can turn ‘ugly’, thus the sayings: a hungry man is an angry man, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, etc.

In all cultures, eating is a form of celebration and a sacred ritual. This is certainly true for the Chinese. They often greet each other by asking: Have you eaten rice? Another very important custom and still practised in many Chinese homes is inviting our elders to eat before we raise the first morsel into our own mouth. Grandpa, eat rice; grandma, eat rice; papa, eat rice; mama, eat rice; first uncle, eat rice; second uncle, eat rice; first aunty, eat rice; second aunty, eat rice; etc. etc.

This custom is an acknowledgment of the kinship hierarchy and our honouring of every meal as being sacred to the family.

Rice is, of course, a sacred grain for Chinese. So sacred that the barrel holding the uncooked rice that usually stays in the same spot in the kitchen must never be sat on. This would be seen as not respecting a sacred grain. At least, according to my mother who is a great believer in all things sacred.

You are what you eat is true of everyone. When your meals are balanced and eaten with joy and meditation, over a period of time, you, too, start to feel better within yourself and therefore in the whole universe. In the Taoist way of eating, the Yin and Yang energy must be harmonised to bring about a balance in mind, body and soul. Typically Chinese, everything in the universe of food, can be eaten: meat, fish, prawns, vegetables, grains, seeds, etc. It is in the balancing of Yin and Yang that matters. So nothing is prohibited. What is taboo is ignorance that results in non-spiritual eating: ignorance of what foods to harmonise and to set the spiritual energy, the chi, to circulate more efficiently and effectively.

Eating in this harmonious way, the Chinese believe that one need not be concerned with dieting, dieting fads and diseases. Instead they believe that eating in the Yin Yang way will increase one’s libidinal energy, bring about long life and prosperity. Heaven and Earth meet in the Human Body. All the celestial gods and goddesses will be truly pleased.

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