Author: Becca Edwards
Why do we crave certain foods? Why do so many people like crunchy, salty French fries dipped in a creamy, sweet Wendy’s frosty? And why did the mention of that kooky combination just incite your taste buds and appetite to start a quasi-peaceful protest against your health-conscious mind? Could our cravings and food pairings be a yin and yang thing? Like an all-you-can-eat buffet, let’s dig in and find out.
You may or may not be familiar with the concept of yin and yang, so we’ll start with the basics—its pronunciation. When saying “yin,” think of the Japanese currency, yen. Or better yet, just rhyme it with the word “when.” Easy enough, right? Yang is a bit trickier. Chances are the Southerner in you wants to rhyme “yang” with “thang.” I get it. I’m southern, too. Think of the “a” sound in “y’all”) and rhyme “yang” with the word “song.” Now, what the deviled egg does yin and yang look like, and what do these words mean?
You might be familiar with the yin and yang symbol. It is a circular icon divided evenly by two teardrop shapes, one white with a black dot and the other black with a white dot. The white portion, or the yin component of the symbol, represents feminine or expansive energy. Words associated with yin include moon, night, cold, damp, dark, passive and slow. Conversely, the black portion, or the yang component of the symbol, represents masculine or contractive energy. Words associated with yang include sun, day, warm, light, active and fast. The interplay of yin and yang is used to illustrate how seemingly contrary forces or concepts are actually complementary.
We are comprised of these energies, too. Have you ever described yourself or heard someone describe themselves as cold natured or hot natured? That’s yin and yang. “A person can be cold in nature or yin type or hot in nature or yang type,” said Beth Schoon of Hilton Head Acupuncture, “but usually we are a mixture.” We may also be more yin and yang at different times of the day, week or year, depending on several factors including what we eat. For example, watermelon is considered a yin food, and think how much cooler you feel after one delicious slice.
When it comes to cravings, Schoon says your body may be trying to tell you something. According to Schoon, the basic principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine are rooted in the Daoist philosophy of yin and yang. “We enjoy the foods we enjoy because our body is seeking balance, she said, “and the body, when listened to, can heal itself.” Schoon went on to describe the Sheng Cycle or creative cycle that occurs in nature and our bodies. (Refer to our Sheng Cycle graphic to see how flavors, elements, energies, and seasons work together.)
“We are moving from the earth element into the metal element,” Schoon explained. “That means we should eat more pungent foods like onions and garlic. In Chinese dietetics, we seek to create balance and optimal health by eating according to the seasons, our energetic constitution (yin and yang), and the colors, flavors and preparation of our food,” she continued. When we are out of balance we experience dis-ease or disease.
“Some people suffer from allergies and sinus infections in the fall. These conditions are an overabundance of yin,” Schoon said. “Traditional Chinese medicine recommends pungent flavors in the fall to warm the body and move energy and mucus. Pungent foods are yang and alleviate allergies.” For those of you with stuffy noses and sinus headaches, imagine a warm broth with fresh ginger, garlic and scallions. Doesn’t that sound delicious? Yep, that’s your belly healing your body with nutritious food.
When it comes to “food-losophy” the Eastern and Western approaches are, as you might guess, very different. Americans tend to group food according to the food pyramid as it pertains to a particular diet such as Paleo or Atkins, or as fat, protein or carbohydrate. “The Eastern way of eating looks at food as an art form, blending colors and tastes to help heal your body rather than scientific data like fat, carbs and calories,” Schoon said, admitting that she is a believer in the integration of Eastern and Western for a healthy diet.
So how does yin and yang play out on the plate? “Balance is the central focus of all culinary art. The goal of any chef is to choose ingredients that will complement each other and provide a variety of sensations within each bite,” said Amanda Russ, owner and chef at Pomodori Italian Eatery on New Orleans Road. “Think about why you like a BBQ pork sandwich with cool, creamy coleslaw. The spice and heat of the BBQ are simultaneously enhanced and neutralized by the cold, mellow cabbage.”
Russ continued, “Opposites attract because every part has its counterpart. When you think of pairing dishes together for an entrée or ingredients for an appetizer, you think of contrasts in all of the elements, whether it be colors, shapes, textures or flavors.” One of her favorite dishes to prepare in late fall is her fresh fig salad. “It starts with a mound of quartered figs whose deep purple skin contrast with its pink and lime green centers,” Russ said. “I add a bright white dollop of goat cheese crema, sprinkle it with crushed pistachios, drizzle it with jalapeño pepper syrup and dot it with 25-year balsamic vinegar, resulting in a beautiful visage that actually dances on your tongue.” (See Recipe on page 54)
Why this flavor fandango? Your tongue is like a yin-yang party waiting to happen. The front tip senses sweet (yang), the middle salty (yin) and then sour (yin) and the back bitter (yin). Russ’s recipe hits all these flavor points, hence a savory soiree in your mouth.
When it comes to our wellbeing, can we have our Wendy’s frosty and fries and eat it too? Let’s weigh in. “To create perfect health, it is important to really know your body, to understand your constitution and to balance yin and yang. It’s also equally important to look at your lifestyle and create balance in all things—like your exercise routine—and attune your body to the seasons,” Schoon said. “If we took the emotion out of food and really listened to our bodies, we might not have such high occurrences of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in this country.”
If you are having a craving for an “unhealthy” food, Schoon recommends stepping back and thinking about what you are really craving. “Is it emotional or constitutional?”
Becca Edwards is a birth doula, holistic health coach, yoga and Barre instructor, writer/blogger, and owner of b.e.well and b.e.creative (bewellandcreative.com).