Book Review: Healing with Whole Foods

Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods 
Folks on the Internet are notoriously critical: removed from the face-to-face of direct communications, they get can, and often do, get downright nasty. Reviews of products and services on the web, in this curmudgeonly, confrontational spirit, can magnify flaws in a person or thing so that no redeeming characteristics seem to remain.

This reality makes the reviews for Paul Pitchford's Healing with Whole Foods all that more meaningful. A virtual almanac of nutritional information, varieties of diets, types of food, and recipes, Pitchford's premise is that whole foods - from whatever cultures they derive and in whatever form they take - are important to the bodily and psychic/spiritual well-being of human cultures and individuals.

The subtitle, Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, gives a flavour of his approach. He doesn't favour one type of diet over another, but seeks to employ the strengths of a number of dietary traditions to address the weaknesses of each.

He spends a great deal of time, for example, highlighting the value of traditional Chinese medicine's terminology in understanding the various ailments that affect us: the lungs and the intestines are both organs affected by wind (insert fart joke here); as such, something like cayenne pepper can have a beneficial effect on certain respiratory and digestive conditions. At the same time, he values the kind of nutritional identification that comes from the modern Western tradition: at times it's important to know how much folic acid or zinc is in a food.

While Pitchford is convinced that modern Western diets are overly dependent on meats and other animal products, and that a good number of our health conditions can be located in these excesses, he is not wholly against their consumption. Thus while he tends to emphasize the value of a variety of vegetal foods, he emphasizes the nutritional value of broken-bone soups, fermented milk products (yogurts and cheeses - and fermentation in general), and the like, for certain conditions and particularly when they are made at home, "from scratch."

Some other highlights include:

  • a focus on a traditional Japanese diet with its emphasis on fermented soy (natto, miso, and even non-Japanese products like tempeh), sea vegetables, and rice; 
  • the nutritional value of soaking and sprouting grains, beans, lentils and nuts before cooking (and simple techniques for doing it at home); 
  • sage advice about the strengths and limitations of raw and vegan diets; 
  • a compendium of foods, herbs and spices detailing their characteristics (are they "hot," "warm," "neutral," "cool" or "cold?" Best for "windy," "damp," etc., ailments? And so on.); 
  • a primer on principles of Chinese medicine;
  • a number of useful recipes focussing on "building-block" recipes (prepared, not processed, ingredients for more complex dishes);
  • and much more.

I hope this review has been useful. Perhaps we can collectively decide to drop the ~$30 or so and leave a copy at Dandelion for people to peruse, take notes from, and generally preview (before adding to their own home libraries). What do people think? 

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