Eating Smart - Honoring Traditions by Francesco Garri Garripoli
One of the gifts of living or vacationing in Hawai`i is that we get the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a wonderfully diverse cultural experience. Our islands reflect the core Polynesian roots of the people who first came to call this their home. I think about the brave travelers who came here in canoes from islands we know now as Tahiti, Marqueses and others. They navigated by the stars and could only carry minimal supplies over the long journey in their small boats, bringing the food they would need for their long seafaring trip, along with seeds, roots and cuttings so that they could ensure they would have food in their new home.
Over the centuries, people of many other cultures also came to call these islands their home, each bringing their foods with them, resulting in many cross-cultural blendings, some beneficial, but some not. For instance, consider our local wild pigs. The first pigs brought over in canoes were the small, mountain pigs of the Polynesian islands. They ate roots and coexisted quite well with the inhabitants, providing a great source of lean protein. When Europeans came, they brought a large breed. The pigs, raised in fenced-in farms, were lazy and high in fat. It's easy to see what happened over the following 200 years of cross-breeding. Our wild pig that lives in the mountains is quite large, aggressive and is harmful to their environment. This is only an example of happens when cultures collide without being conscious of the effects.
When the Chinese and then Japanese cultures found their way to Hawai`i in search of work in the growing sugar cane industry of the 19th century, they brought their own traditional diets. As local Hawaiian workers mixed with Asian workers, white rice started to replace the Polynesian starch staple, taro (steamed or pounded into poi). The Asians were accustomed to eating white rice in combination with lots of vegetables and green tea which contributed to the body's ability to process it. As the Polynesian diet didn't include either heavy vegetable or green tea intake, the out-of-context white rice created a major digestive challenge for the local people.
Added to the problem of white rice was refined white flour, which was the European starch staple. White flour - used in everything from macaroni salad, pasta, bread, cakes, etc., was a major blow to the health of the local Polynesians. White rice and flour are carbohydrates that get converted to sugars when they are not metabolized or used properly by the body. Reduced physical exertion and exercise that came with changing lifestyles further contributed to the problem. Add refined sugars from soda pop and candy to this and it spells disaster for the human body and usually plays itself out as arterial inflammation (leading to heart disease) or as diabetes, which indeed have become common.
Globally, people of every culture who have lost touch with their natural instincts, eat more processed foods and exercise less and less are facing the same health risks.
When I first moved to O`ahu as a teenager, an old healer took me under his wings and brought me into his hula halau. This was a very traditional halau and everyone ate a traditional Hawaiian diet. We ate fruit, poi, raw fish and cabbage. The kapuna taught me to select baby coconut sprouts and eat the cream inside. This was the start of my understanding of the transformation of food into energy.
Through my experiences of living in China, traveling through Asia, and studying Qigong and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I have continued to learn about food as a source of Qi (chi) - life force energy. Everything is energy after all, and food, like the air we breathe, is how we take in Qi every day. Eating is a very conscious process in TCM. Because each of us is so unique and beautiful, we each have a diet that is best for us. This is really empowering because it celebrates your uniqueness and gives you a path to becoming the best, most-healthy, joyful and empowered "you" that you can be. The TCM Five Element Theory is the basis of understanding the qualities of energy and how they interact in your life. There are many great books that can help you discover which Element (Water, Metal, Fire, Wood, Earth) you have an affinity to. All foods are related to a certain classification in the Elements, which helps you design a diet that is best for you throughout the various seasons. Each organ in your body is also associated with an element, and you can work with a professional to eat foods and herbs that will help strengthen specific organs and heal you in the most natural and ancient ways.
The group study trips that I lead to China and Thailand each year have enabled people to become immerse in this way of living and learn about how to incorporate the healing processes of diet, Qigong, meditation and energy work into their lives. My newest group study and healing trip to Thailand actually will create a meal plan and healing program for each person based on their individual Element and personality type.
Our personal challenge is to know what is "right" for our body and spirit. Many people... even those with major health/emotional problems... can identify what they need to change in their lives to get better. Sure, getting help from a medical/spiritual/psychological professional can help to refine the path, but we all know basically what we could do to improve our well being. The question is whether we can be honest with ourselves and then courageous enough to make the changes and break unhealthy patterns.
The `aina - the earth energy - provides us with so much, especially here in Hawai`i. The land is fertile, the water is pure, the weather is magical. The spirit energy is also a gift, ancient and powerful. Still, we need to find the quiet within us to accept what is being offered. If we put our focus on problems, limitations, and emotions, then that is what our lives will take on. Just like food, what we "take in" creates what we experience. Taking time for quiet meditation - even a few minutes every day - can help you reduce stress and return to your natural balance. Your mediation may be a walk along the beach, or sitting quietly next to a creek. It may be a visit to a heiau that calls you, or it may be to just close your eyes in quiet when you are alone. This is the time to breathe deeply and follow your breath. This is a time to give thanks for all the good things in your life, even when you feel you have to search hard to find them. This is the time to decide to take positive steps in your diet that will lead you to good health and personal empowerment. This is the time to remind yourself that you can choose to make any change you wish because everything is possible.
Francesco Garri Garripoli is the chairman of the Kaua'i Health and Wellness Association and founder of the non-profit Kahuna Valley organization (www.KahunaValley.org) that works to empower youth and families on Kaua'i. You can learn more about his books, Qigong DVDs, and group study trips to China and Thailand at www.WujiProductions.com.
copyright 2011 Francesco Garri Garripoli
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