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.

SPARK JOY: A STYLIST-TURNED-SHAMAN GETS KONDO’D

Is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up really a book about energy healing? As Marie Kondo publishes her follow-up, Spark Joy, stylist-turned-shaman Colleen McCann gets kosmic with her possessions purge…

Colleen in her fashion stylist days

As the founder of Style Rituals, a biz that celebrates our closets as gateways to the cosmos, I was well attuned to the connections between the mystical and material world. And a recent move from Brooklyn to Venice Beach and back, means I am also very familiar with the process of packing and unpacking.

For my latest move back to NYC, I had gotten a personal ping from the Universe that I needed to ‘go light’ this time. Accordingly, I picked up a copy of Marie Kondo’s now infamous The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and got to work. Overnight, this went from a cross-country move to a total life enema! But I figured if anyone could lead me through the jungle of my beloved belongings to minimalistic bliss, it was Kondo.

I had barely made it to page four when I realized that this wasn’t just a guidebook for spatial cleanliness, but was also an under-the-radar handbook in energy healing. Marie’s discussions about holding items close and thanking them for their existence was directly connected to the Shamanistic belief that every object carries an energy or vibration. Perhaps, I thought, Ms. Kondo is a secret Shaman. 

Inspired by this discovery, I combined Kondo’s teachings with my energy healing know-how to bring you this guide to navigating the spiritual wilds of your own material treasures …

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NUMBER 1 // There Is a Universal Method to the Madness, aka Memento Meltdown 

The Closet Cleanse: According to Ms. Kondo, one must sort possessions in the following order—clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany) and, lastly, mementos.

The Secret Shamanism: Shamans believe that working with fire allows release. When I do closet cleanses with clients, sometimes, we literally build a bonfire of emotionally-charged items and let it burn. While Kondo-ing my own closet, I discovered that Marie’s method was perfectly constructed to inspire a similar emotional release. With a background in fashion, I assumed clothing would be the most challenging step for me and wondered why she’d put it first. But I soon understood why mementos went last. I started reading old love letters from boyfriends, thumbing through my high school yearbook, and doodling with coloring pencils from my college fashion illustration class. I eventually found myself on the floor cry-laughing in ‘someone’s’ sweatshirt that I had un-accidentally kept after a weekend rendezvous. I couldn’t believe how many memories had been holding space in my abode that just weren’t part of my life anymore. Time to go!

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NUMBER 2 // Sartorial Reiki, aka Thank Your Lucky Clothes 

The Closet Cleanse: Kondo suggests that you hold each item in your hands and thank it for how it has served you in life.

The Secret Shamanism: Is Kondo also a secret Reiki Practitioner and Psychometrist? Psychometry, aka Token-Object Reading, is a form of extrasensory perception that allows us to “read” the energetic blueprint of objects, even if we know nothing about their origins. Similarly, Reiki infuses universal energy into people and items. Kondo’s approach fully acknowledges the spirit present in objects, and the necessity of honoring this energy. As I blended her recommendations with my intuitive skills, it became quite emotional. I remembered sights, sounds, and smells associated with each piece and channeled this energy to facilitate release.

‘Shaman Kondo’ giving reiki to a sweater?

NUMBER 3 // The Art of War with Yourself, aka Plunge into the Pile 

The Closet Cleanse: When purging your closet, Kondo commands you to throw everything in a giant heap in the middle of the room.

The Secret Shamanism: Sun Tzu’s teachings in the The Art of War state that “in the midst of chaos, there is also an opportunity.” For this neat and tidy (perhaps OCD spectrum) Virgo, creating a messy clothing monument was a Xanax-worthy endeavor (Céline and Chloe definitely didn’t want to be wrinkled, snagged, dirty, or stepped on). Yet my chaotic heap allowed me to push my personal limits. As I split my clothing commune into two smaller tribes of “keep” and “discard,” I excommunicated parts of my past life that no longer fit my current lifestyle. And, surprisingly, throwing things about and jumping into the pile of clothes made me feel like a kid again.

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NUMBER 4 // Everything Changes (Even Joy), aka Swapping Fashion School for Fortune Telling 

The Closet Cleanse: Kondo suggests that you ask yourself if an item truly brings you joy BEFORE deciding to keep or discard it. Do not try it on or even think about how often you use it. Just hold it in your hands and ask this simple question.

The Secret Shamanism: Guess what I realized? Joy evolves. And the things I wanted to keep were energetic fortunetellers of the life I wanted to lead right now. My transition from the fashion world to the healing world was anything but seamless and I was still in the throes of figuring it all out (going from styling, designing, and brand consulting to seeing ghosts and hearing voices was never gonna be comfortable). While sorting, I realized I was casting aside old items from the fashion world in favor of mystical mementos that fit my current and future vision of myself even better.

 

NUMBER 5 // Come Back to the Present Moment, aka Boyfriend Jeans are Real! 

The Closet Cleanse: Kondo states that people are unable to let go of certain items because they are either attached to the past, fearful of the future, or unwilling to live in the present.

The Secret Shamanism: This is for all the girls out there who are still holding onto college sweatshirts, worn-in t-shirts, or anything else that belonged to “the X.” Wonder why a former lover still lingers in your head? Because you’re still sleeping, lounging, and working out while wearing those memories on your sleeve, literally. During my Kondo-ing, I was going through a major breakup and the practice of purging catapulted me from the past to the present. I realized that it wasn’t about “him,” it was about me. I needed to be proactive about doing everything I could to move forward, and holding onto his belongings was definitely not helping.

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NUMBER 6 // Say Yes to Your Life Right Now, aka Magic Rocks Are Heavy but Old Memories Are Heavier 

The Closet Cleanse: When you look at an object and say “I might use this one day,” remember Kondo’s warning that “someday” means “never.” You don’t have room in the house-of-me for “perhaps one day.”

The Secret Shamanism: I carry around lots of heavy crystals in my bag of tricks, but the energy of old memories that no longer served me was WAY heavier. Why was I keeping mementos of people and things that weren’t aligned with my happy-place? As I bid adieu to objects associated with energy vampires from my former life, I severed the cord so that both parties could move forward.

Shaman McCann at work

NUMBER 7 // Repurpose with Your Love Language, aka Mermaids for my Roomie 

 The Closet Cleanse: While Kondo warns against unloading your purged belongings onto unwilling participants, finding new homes for past treasures can be an act of love.

The Secret Shamanism: In Shamanism, when we receive a physical or emotional gift we refer to it as “receiving medicine.” You are getting the “medicine” that you need at exactly that moment, no matter what form it comes in or where it comes from. Mid-purge, I started leafing through Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, and remembered that my love language was gifting. The result? A friend got all my old-life high-heels. One of my favorite adventure buddies is now enhancing her metaphysical talents using the giant crystal I moved from my alter to hers. And my former roommate discovered her passion for sea spirits through my houseplant decorated with a collection of plastic mermaids. Show love and pay it forward.

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NUMBER 8 // Spiritual Smoke, aka Burn, Baby, Burn! 

The Closet Cleanse: Kondo suggests removing discarded possessions from your apartment as soon as humanly possible.

The Secret Shamanism: After following Kondo’s practices on how to sort, I decided to insert some of my own Shamanic practices to release any dense energy that can quickly adhere to people, places, and things. Sage what you decide to keep—with the windows open or in an open area outside. As I burn my bundle of herbs, I like to say out loud: “Any energy that is not mine or of my highest and greatest good, get the f*** out … with love, but seriously, it’s time to go.” Even though the purge scared the hell out of me, as I moved the energy I felt like the shackles had been taken off my ankles—I was light and free!

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NUMBER 9 // That Elusive Equilibrium, aka Stilettos & Sage 

The Closet Cleanse: Après cleanse, I was NYC bound with two suitcases of clothing, and one small suitcase filled with the contents of my Shamanic practice (crystals, feathers, tarot cards, sweet notes from clients, sage, sound bowl, etc.).

The Secret Shamanism: Marie Kondo always asks what brings us joy. I’d recently experienced a full moment of joy when I was hired by a former fashion client to speak about the power of rituals and manifestation. As I waved a sage stick around a room full of execs while wearing fake eyelashes and stilettos, I was so joyful I could have cried. Fittingly, while purging, I realized I had to make a conscious choice to let my worlds collide. I wasn’t willing to give up all my high heels or my signature pink nail polish, but I did need to make space to bring back a bit of California in the form of a stack of yoga pants and a massive collection of crystals. To be in my “joy,” I needed to marry the sparkle, fun, and creativity of the fashion world to my personal promise to recharge in nature often, keep a devout meditation practice, and embrace a newfound love for juice.

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NUMBER 1O // The Transformation Cycle, aka Meeting Kali in the Closet 

Did I mention that this was also one of the most traumatic weeks of my life? Within five days, I had ended a relationship with someone I truly love, my beloved aunt died and, oh yeah, the cross-country move was in full swing. In Shamanism we speak about embodying the energy of an archetype. Post-purge, I felt like the Goddess Kali had hung me by my ankles and shook all of the change loose from my skinny-jean pockets.

In other words, f***ing great and completely naked at the same time. With three suitcases to my name, I was a full-on gypsy. I was light, free, mobile, and personified. And while I know that I’ll need to shape shift again and again, as of today I’m bouncily nimbly between New York and L.A. with only my most joyful possessions. All I’d needed to do was step through that closet door. 

Colleen McCann is a fashion stylist turned Shamanic Practitioner with practices in NYC & LA. She realigns the energetic with the visual through Intuitive Crystal Readings, Shamanic Hands-On-Healing, and Feng Shui Space Balancing. Make sure to follow her on Instagram, and pick up one of her new Energy Healing Kits  and Medicine Bags on Goop to jumpstart your cleanse!

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MY MYSTICAL LIFE: STORY MEDICINE AND THE GOOP MRKT

Getting my emo on at Story Medicine, and Gwyneth being Gwyneth at the Goop MRKT….

No column last week since it was Thanksgiving and, frankly, I was drunk. And it was so good to let my hair down and switch off for a day! It’s been a HARDCORE YEAR (any other life path 8s out there feeling it??) and I’ve been pretty much tee-total in the name of getting some serious inner and outer work done. But turns out a dose of “spirits” medicine was actually just what the doctor ordered 🙂

Anyhow, I’m back, and I’m also trying a new format for this column, mapping my week Mon-Friday. Lemme know what you think!

:: MONDAY ::
I got to see an advance screening of the new J-Law movie Joy, and entrepreneurial ladies, this is a holiday season MUST. It tells the story of legendary inventor Joy Mangano, and busts the myth of the “overnight success.” So many times building the Numinous I’ve been like, “oh man, this isn’t not working, it’s never going to work.” And then something DOES work, and I just keep going. Joy’s story is a reminder that making your dreams real and running a business is hard. You will feel completely vulnerable. You will encounter setback, after asshole, after humiliation, after enormous IT bill from somebody who didn’t even do what you asked, but it’s what it takes and it’s worth. Every. Minute. (watch the trailer below)

:: TUESDAY ::
I was reunited with my sweet soul sister and Temple of Venus co-creator Elyssa Jakim, who spent the past few months over in Portland (only meeting the love of her life…on Tinder!) She introduced me to two exciting things: a documentary series called The Quest For The Cures, all about one man’s search for the best natural cancer treatments (weekend watch-list sorted), and the fact she’s doing Akashic records readings from 12-5pm tomorrow at Species by The Thousands in Williamsburg. GO. She’s amazing.

:: WEDNESDAY ::
I went to meet Gwyneth Paltrow at the opening of her Goop MRKT – which is essentially the NYC version of our Astrolounge @ Selfridges, a high-vibe holiday pop-up decked with all things mysti-cool. A lot of people don’t like GP, but we say back-off bitches. As beautiful Alexandra Derby (who invited me) put it: “She comes from privilege, so her putting $1K sweaters on Goop is just her being her authentic self.” And isn’t that what it’s all about?? Enough hating on the sisterhood. Less envy of those who “apparently” had better breaks than us. How about just be inspired and go get yours.

Me + GP @ the Goop MRKT

:: THURSDAY ::
Story Medicine! So Alexandra and I cooked up this idea for a crazy-ass event, where YOU, our guests would create the content by coming to share your stories. And in the process get heard and get healed. The amazing team at lululemon’s HUB seventeen said “yes,” and we hosted the first Story Medicine event last night. There were tears, there was laughter, there were many, many hugs, and there was a vegan feast from Daphne Cheng (see pudding below). There were even three dudes! But best of all was hearing all the stories. Raw, honest, human storytelling is the BEST entertainment you guys. We’re planning the next one for Feb 2016.

Out of this world chia pudding by Daphne Cheng

:: FRIDAY ::
In the spirt of no such things as TMI (see Story Medicine), I got my period today. Now, I’ve been researching how to work with your cycle, and the wisdom all says “on day one, retreat from society and go within” – since this is when your intuitive powers reach their peak. Thing is, that would have meant no column again today. Also canceling four really important meetings this afternoon. Truly committing to working with my flow is totally on my to-do list for 2016, but since my cycle is really irregular it’s hard for me to plan for down days when my bleed begins. So period experts reading this, any insight on this one much appreciated!