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.

>>>

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.

>>>

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.

>>>

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.

INDULGE YOUR WILD SIDE WITH DURIAN FRUIT ICE CREAM

Not for the faint of heart, energy-boosting Durian fruit ice cream will ignite your adventurous summer spirit, says Ysanne Spevack.

Image: Annie Shelmerdine

Durian … it’s the Marmite of the fruit world. Love it or hate it, it’s impossible to simply be un-opinionated about this stinky tropical fruit.

Spiky on the outside, and custardy on the inside, ripe durian fruit contains FIFTY different scent compounds, including smells that are found in garlic, beef, cheese, squid, leeks, and honey. They also contain four scents that are unique to durian—yes, that’s four compounds that occur nowhere else in nature! These compounds give durian its unique smell and taste, and make it stinky enough to be banned in public places throughout Southeast Asia.

Plus, durian is hot—literally. In scientific trials, it’s proven to raise your body temperature by one degree, which is significant. That’s probably the root of the rumor that it’s the sexiest fruit, especially for men. In Asia, it’s also the reason durian is never eaten alone, but always in combination with a cooling food such as a cup of tea, mangosteen, or bananas.

In Southeast Asian folklore, drinking alcohol while eating durian is believed to cause death, so people from the region rarely mix the two. However, according to scientific research carried out in 1969 by the University of Singapore, there’s nothing in durian that could possibly cause death, whatever it’s eaten with. But still, the study found that due to the unique combination of fruit sugars and unsaturated fats, eating durian while drinking alcohol causes internal fermentation that’s unhealthy, and uncomforatble. For this reason, avoid drinking alcohol while eating durian. It’s smart to stick to ice tea for cooling effects and quenching capabilities.

Found at stands throughout Chinatown in NYC, when the fruit are ripe, the spiky hard shell cracks to reveal the custard-colored creamy fruit. The edible part has a very creamy texture due to the insane amount of fat it contains—think custard and ice cream, with a faint hint of honey and garlic. And if you freeze it, you can eat it direct from the freezer. The high fat content makes instant ice cream—so simple, so good!

Malaysian durians are generally sweeter than Thai ones, and have less of the garlic taste, so they’re the best option for entry-level durian consumption. Whatever type of durian you select, it’s best to limit yourself to only 4 or 5 segments max per sitting, as it’s high in natural fruit sugars, unsaturated fats, and calories.

On the good side, it stimulates sexiness, and soothes general digestive flow. It’s high in magnesium, vitamin C, iron, potassium, copper, folic acid, and B-vitamins, so it’s great for an energy boost. It’s also perfect post-workout—when consumed with something cooling too!

>>>

DURIAN FRUIT ICE-CREAM
Since you won’t find fresh durian online, the only way to get it is to take an adventure to Chinatown during durian season—which is right now! Follow your nose, and you’ll find the stand.

The person at the stand will remove the edible part to save you having to deal with the hard shell. Come with a reusable food container if you’d like to save the planet from another single-use plastic disposable box.

Recipe 
Ingredients:
1 fresh durian (about 10-12 segments)
1 large ripe banana

Method:
Remove the pits from the durian and peel the banana.

Mash the fruits together in a bowl with a fork.

Transfer to a freezer-proof container.

Freeze overnight.

Eat!

Discover more about Ysanne Spevack and her work HERE.

GYNOSTEMMA ICED TEA WILL MAKE YOU FEEL IMMORTAL

The perfect drink pairing for summer in the city? Adaptogenic Gynostemma, a.k.a. The Tea of Immortality, will help you burn the candle at both ends for those long summer nights, says Ysanne Spevack.

Image: Jason Briscoe

 

Want a beverage that helps you burn your candle at both ends? Just say no to coffee, and “Oh hi!” to gynostemma tea!

Known as Jiao-Gu-Lan (the Tea of Immortality) in parts of Southern China, gynostemma is a green leafy adaptogenic plant that’s the go-to for busy urbanites in the know. It’s especially well suited to help us surf summer life in the city, with its fluctuations in the weather (especially this year, what happened, NYC?!) and June’s dawn-to-dusk increased outdoors time.

With the most adaptogenic saponins of any wild-crafted plant in the world (four times the amount of ginseng), this stuff strengthens your natural ability to stabilize blood sugar, supports your immune function, and enhances endurance. And it doesn’t speed you out or crash and burn. It’s all about balancing the nervous system—as with all adaptogens, by definition gynostemma can energize you when you need it, yet help you to relax and sleep at night.

But the real reason it’s known as “The Tea of Immortality” is because of its benefits to liver and cardio function. It supports the body’s production of superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant that protects the liver from free radicals. And it helps arteries, veins, and capillaries release nitric oxide, which helps them to relax.

The taste is a little like the stevia herb, but less sweet—not at all bitter, but an unusual green herby flavor that makes a fantastic base for other drinks and a pleasant iced tea.

And get this … it’s also a beautiful cascading plant that you can grow in a city apartment as a decorative house plant, so long as you have a sunny window. Alternatively, it’s easy to find at stores like Kamwo Meridian Herbs on Grand Street in NYC or in their online shop, which is my go-to for anything to do with Chinese medicine.

>>>

June Gynostemma, Shiso, and Goji Ice Tea 
Don’t smirk at the gojis!!! This is what you’ve been missing all these years. Dry gojis are nasty—but gojis in tea are FABULOUS. And they’re a natural partner to gynostemma, the strange flavors of both combining into a perfect sweet herby balance. And then basil, or if you’re super lucky and can find it, fresh shiso herb. Oh. My. Gosh.

Recipe 
Makes 1 cup

Ingredients: 
1 gynostemma tea bag OR 1 teaspoon dried gynostemma herb
1-2 fresh shies leaves**
10-20 dried goji berries

**Shiso is a kind of basil, so it’s totally possible to switch out shiso for regular Genovese or another type of basil. That said, shiso has flavor magic—it’s the third leg on the stool for this recipe to really stabilize and pop. Find it in Japanese stores, or grow it yourself. It’s easy to grow during summer in New York.

Method:
Bring some water to a rolling boil—not in a microwave, please!

Put the herbs and gojis in a coffee mug.

Pour the freshly boiled water into the mug.

Leave on the counter to steep and cool naturally.

Drink as it is, or if preferred, transfer to a tall glass and add ice.

Discover more about Ysanne Spevack HERE.

THE MAGIC INGREDIENT: DREAMY VIBES WITH VELVET BEANS

In the first installment of her new column, Ysanne Spevack shares a creamy faux Cappuccino recipe for you to sample some dreamy velvet beans vibes…

Like Jack’s magic beans in the fairytale, velvet beans (Mucuna pruriens in Latin) truly deliver. They’re one of the strongest herbal ingredients I use, and a favorite for total vibe-change. Pods that grow on trees in India, and used as an Ayurvedic medicine, they’ve been tried and tested over millennia, and are now available as an extract in the US, sold as a brown powder that’s water-soluble.

The main active compounds in velvet bean extract fall into two groups: antioxidants, and amino acids, of which the main one is L-dopa, and another is called trypatmine, for obvious reasons. Together, these phytochemicals work synergistically for neural health, and specifically relieve stress and melt our sense of boundaries. Perfect for Pisces season—the archetypal symbol of ego loss and dreams. There’s some research that links velvet beans to sexual health too, but that’s likely to be a result of their relaxing effect.

L-dopa is a precursor to dopamine, norepinephrine and adrenaline, which means it has a profound psychoactive effect. You can feel it working, stimulating a sense of dreamy deliciousness and allowing you a peak behind the veil of consciousness. If you’ve ever wanted to feel the grandeur of the Universe while you melt into your pillow, velvet bean extract is the high vibe ingredient for you. I recommend using it sparingly—a little goes a long way. Also if you’re feeling unstable, or if you’re pregnant, it’s best if you pass on this for now, as with anything psychoactive.

Here’s my recipe for a delicious hot ‘faux cappuccino’ that won’t buzz you like caffeine, and will guide you to feel a subtle oneness with the cosmos. It’s not a bedtime drink— the velvet bean stimulates adrenaline production. But it’s a fantastic way to space out with some music on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and swim in cosmic waters of the Milky Way…

The drink is comfortingly sweet, while the bitterness of the velvet bean and umami of the reishi are similar to coffee, hence the name. Nettles soothe the nerves, and keeps the velvet bean from being jarring while it takes you up a notch.

Imbibe to enjoy about a one hour of day-dreams, in a suitably Piscean way…

>>>

Pisces Velvet Bean Cappuccino Recipe
by The Conscious Cook

Makes one serving

Ingredients:

1 coffee mug filled with boiling water
1 nettle tea bag
*1/8 tsp velvet bean extract
*1 tsp powdered reishi mushroom
*1 tsp tocotrienols
1 tsp raw unfiltered honey
1 tbs raw coconut oil

* Denotes ingredients that are available online at Highvibe.com

Method:

Infuse the nettle tea bag in the boiling hot water in a large mug by pouring the hot water onto the tea bag as soon as it’s boiled.

Cover the mug with a saucer or plate, and set aside to infuse for 5 minutes.

Measure the other ingredients into a high-speed blender.

Remove the cover and tea bag, and add the nettle tea to the blender.

Blend on low, bringing the speed up to high, and then switching the blender to the maximum setting.

Blend on high for about 30 seconds, to create froth.

Pour into a large mug, spooning the creamy froth out with a spatula.

Hold the cup with both hands as you take sips, and finish it with a teaspoon to enjoy all of the frothy, creamy goodness.

Finally, relax and allow your dreams to unfold as you swim into the universal cosmos.

Discover more about Ysanne Spevack HERE.