WHY FOOD IS MEDICINE … FOR US AND OUR PLANET

Ysanne Spevack learned early in life that food is medicine. But we must also consider how our food choices impact the wellbeing of our planet …

Portrait: Clara Bensen

When I was 22 I went backpacking around India for three months. I visited the river Ganges and saw the burning bodies and the dolphins and Shiva temples in Varanassi. I went deep into my own process and traveled far off the grid. To prepare for my return to London, I went to Delhi for my last week. To see some other Westerners. Check that I was still myself.

In 1993 there was one German café in Delhi, where they had coffee and croissants. It was a big deal, all the travelers went there. And that’s where I got sick. I’d been eating street food for months, lots of deep fried lentils and rice, all very safe because the deep-frying killed any bugs, and I was actually quite plump. But on the plane on the way home I got intense diarrhea. The decline in my health was very quick, very intense. It continued this way for months.

I was really, really sick. Super skinny, with no energy and a distended belly, like a famine victim, and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. They gave me round after round of antibiotics. But I was getting worse. Skinnier and skinnier, no energy at all. Finally someone recommended I go to see an herbalist. At first, I was like, “the doctors can’t fix it, what are herbal remedies going to do?” But I decided I had nothing to lose.

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I found myself at the London Clinic of Phytotherapy, an extraordinary teaching hospital. I was seen by a doctor and his ten students. It turns out I had something called Shigella, a bacterium related to E. Coli, and the remedies they prescribed were a herbal tincture, a serious boiled herbs tea, and a bottle of pure undiluted garlic juice. Just pure, squashed garlic, and very, very strong. I remember knocking back the first round. As I felt it going down, there was a sensation of relief. I could literally feel it healing my esophagus as it went down. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced that feeling since.

It was this experience that taught me the healing power of food—a philosophy that has informed my life and my work ever since. But in our current climate, adopting a healthy diet is as much about healing our planet as it is our bodies. I believe the term “mindful eating” is absolutely meaningless if this is not also considered.

We tend to focus on diet as it relates to our own health and happiness. Our digestion, and how our skin looks. But I believe we should be experiencing these benefits almost as a bi-product of caring for the Earth. Which also means caring for the people far away who actually produce our food. People who are often exploited by our desire to have beautiful bodies and lots of energy, and to live high-performance lives.

Ysanne delivering her TEDx Talk, “Open Your Senses With Music and Food”

There’s currently lots of focus on a plant-based diet as the least harmful to the planet. But it’s more complex than that. It’s true that a vegetarian driving a Hummer has less environmental impact than a meat-eater riding a bicycle. Beef is so impactful to the planet, it’s the most harmful single ingredient.

But a coconut, for example, comes from very far away. It comes from a place where workers are exposed to pesticides, and paid a pittance. I see these issues the same way some vegetarians see meat. It’s about looking at the whole story, not just the ingredient, but how it gets to you, and where it comes from. It’s about seeing the reality. That’s my main thing really. Increasing people’s perceptiveness, supporting them to see the truth about food, and about how everything else is connected from there.

You could say I promote a macrobiotic diet—which basically means seasonal and local. People think of macrobiotic as Japanese, because the diet and the word were coined in Japan. But there it just means eating stuff that’s grown locally, and which resonates with where your body is at.

So, if you live in New York for example, rather than like hitting the coconut oil really heavy, it might mean choosing local sunflower oil, since sunflowers are grown here. Olives grow in California, so olive oil is the way to go there. When you begin to really research it, it’s also creatively much more exciting when you can eat truly local.

For example, come January there’s no fresh food in New York City. The fruit and vegetables are all imported from miles away. But if you’ve got some sprouted alfafas seeds that you’ve been growing in a canister on your windowsill, you’ve always got fresh food in New York, whatever the weather.

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I take this very seriously because I know food is medicine. And with the healthcare situation in the US the way it is, eating to prevent illness is another important conversation to be having, especially for lower income people. Another reason to eat local, too, because it’s less pollution. Yes, it’s all these fashionable little potions and powders. But it’s also the main ingredients of your dinner.

There’s a lot of perceived elitism in the healthy eating scene, but the poorest people can also have a really solid diet—like I did when I was 17 and living in a squat in London, making nutritious meals for no money out of lentils. There’s also only so high of a price point you can put on locally grown plants. Cabbages are amazing!

While I’m not a fan of some of their ideas, I’m quite protective of the women who are attacked for talking about how food is medicine, Gwyneth Paltrow and Amanda Chantal Bacon of Moon Juice being the two most often assaulted. It’s massively gendered. Because we’re not seeing Alex Jones of Info Wars being attacked. We’re not seeing Tim Ferriss being attacked. And they’re all recommending similar stuff, but aren’t attacked at all.

It’s important we separate the conversation on food and localness from elitism and medicine, and take it out of the context of gender.

And anyway, when you look at it, it’s often people who are broke who are eating the processed food, which is the expensive stuff. From my perspective, they’re eating meals that have been prepared by servants in factories. Not to mention paying a premium for the truck that brought it to the store, the marketing campaign, and the shiny box it comes in.

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Ysanne Spevack is a composer, private chef, and the author of 13 books. Ysanne is available for talks, cooking classes, personal chef and consultancy projects, and to create private dinners and mocktail events. Discover more about Ysanne and her work HERE and watch her recent TEDx Talk HERE.

MY MYSTICAL WEEK: THE ROAD TO HAPPINESS, RAINBOW WARRIORS, AND A NIGHT AT YOHO HOUSE

This week, Numi founder Ruby Warrington witnessed the birth of two very special (Leo!) projects and learned all about the Rainbow Warriors…

I went out on the road (to happiness). I was in LA most of this week for the launch of a project I’ve been working on for Buick – the 24 Hours of Happiness Test Drive. And seriously, how progressive of a major corporation like them to focus on wellbeing as one of their core values going forward, the “red thread” that will run through their communications going forward. My role was to help them create content for the campaign – namely this podcast on how happiness is a choice from Harvard happiness researcher Shawn Achor; a custom, mood-elevating in-car scent blended by Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon; a 10-minute pre or post-drive guided meditation by Jeff Kober; a pressure point massage technique to ease tension behind the wheel by Dr. Dot (one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met btw); and even an in-car yoga sequence by Maroon 5 and One Direction’s on-tour instructor, Chad Dennis.

We’re talking serious high vibes! And besides this being kind of a groundbreaking concept for the motoring industry (right?!), how amazing to get the opportunity to put these potentially life-changing tools into the hands of mainstream drivers all over America. And my feeling that this was actually some lightwork in action was confirmed 100 per cent at the launch event. Themed around colour therapy, the ACE Museum in Hollywood was transformed into a factual RAINBOW of mood elevating hues for the night (see entrance below), and if you’ve been following our Instagram account, you might have noticed how I’ve been feeling about rainbows recently. If not, read on ‘cos you’re gonna love this…

I learned more about the Rainbow Warriors. A month or so ago, I began seeing rainbows EVERYWHERE. Like everywhere. In the shower, on my yoga mat, while I was doing the dishes. On billboards, and hey, all over Facebook, as everybody rainbow’ed up their profile picture to celebrate #LOVEWINS! When I mentioned this to my friend Aly, she told me about the Rainbow Warriors, a prophecy from Native American tradition that a generation of children would one day be born whose destiny it was to bring in light and love for the healing of planet Earth.

Um, WOW. You can read more about the Rainbow Warrior prophecy here, but as I was chatting to Amanda from Moon Juice about this at the Buick event, we simultaneously broke out in goosebumps over the fact that here was a car company channelling the rainbow message loud and strong. Because you could say, OMG, cars = pollution = BAD. But let’s just get real for a second. Cars are a FACT OF MODERN LIFE, and if you ever drive, use Uber, or even hitch rides places, please climb down from your high horse. (Plus, the motoring industry is not NEARLY as big a polluter as the commercial meat production industry. Something else to think about.) As Amanda and I both agree, real progress always begins with LOVE. And in my eyes, with their happiness campaign Buick are showing some serious love for their drivers, and therefore our planet.

I party-hopped over to Yoho House. A.K.A. the brand, spanking new Wanderlust center in Hollywood. And wow, serious WOW! Housed in the site of the old Golden Bridge, we’re talking four-floors of pimped-to-perfection yogic bliss, from the 200-person studio space, shaded patio and farm-to-table restaurant on the ground floor, up to a custom pine-clad roof terrace, via cosy library hangout, intimate, candlelit workshop spaces…it’s enough to make you wanna move to LA. (Oh, wait, I’m kind of manifesting that one anyway…if you’re listening, Universe.)

The center opens to the public this weekend, and you can find out all about how to become a member at Wanderlusthollywood.com/membership

(More rainbows on the wristband to get into the party too…! #rainbowwarriors)

MATERIAL GIRL, MYSTICAL WORLD: AMANDA MOON JUICE

Her juices have a cult following on the West Coast…and she’s basically a total babe. This week’s Material Girl is Moon Juice founder Amanda Chantal Bacon, here’s a peek into her Mystical and super stylish World…

Amanda Chantal Bacon shot by Tasya van Ree

What was your entry point into healthy food and juicing?
Healthy and body specific eating began around age five with a divine intervention by an ayruvedic doctor. The gateway to serious juice drinking was an apple lemon ginger green juice.

What’s been the most transformational part of your own foodie journey to date?
It really dates back to that doctor, who pulled me aside and had me stop eating sugar, wheat and cow’s milk when I was five years old. It turned out to be life defining. This has all been enhanced by working as a fine dining chef, traveling the world’s farmers markets, and experiencing peasant traditions.

How does this tie into your path as a spiritual being?
My meditative practice and life experiences are directly affected by the foods I eat. When I’m juicing and eating light sattvic foods, I can tune in and slip out to other dimensions within seconds. I don’t drink any more for this reason, but even eating heavier, cooked foods and meat just adds some time and pranic work to getting the cosmic high. I would have to say that there was a real shift in my spiritual perception when I made a deep commitment to clean eating and drinking.

What’s in your fantasy juice?
Love this question…It would be white peaches pressed into fig leaves drunk on a dock in the summertime on Lake Como.

:: M A T E R I A L   G I R L ::

My label
Black Crane

Black Crane AW14

My shoes
Celine

Celine SS15

My fragrance
Rose oil from India

Roll on fragrance oil by Jurlique

My jewels
Pink opals

Pink Opal ring, $115 by Max and Chloe

My pampering
Colonics

My food
Raw chocolate

Fine & Raw chocolate truffles, $28

My home

Earthy mid century modern

:: M Y S T I C A L   W O R L D ::

My awakening 
Breath of Fire

My sign
Aries sun, Aquarius moon, Scorpio rising

My mantra
Sat Nam

My healer
My son, Rohan

My reading
Pema Chodron is who I turn to when I need some grounded advice and a good strong shoulder

The wisdom of Pema Chodron…

My mission
Bringing love and beauty to us all with plants

My transformation
Is a daily process, and I’m on a particularly ripe and juicy part of the ride…

Shop the full selection of juices and cosmic provisions at Moonjuiceshop.com, and follow Amanda @moonjuiceshop