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Page 5 - Eating in Harmony with Daily Energetics
The evening meal occurs at the time of day corresponding to the autumn season, and preceeds the long winterlike night. The natural movement of Qi at this time of day is downward and inward. Qi becomes more yinmaterial, and less yangenergetic. Naturally, things come to rest, condense their form, and conserve their energies. The Nei Ching refers to these as the times of harvest and storage.
Traditional Chinese medicine maintains that the Kidneys are the most active organs in the time period when many of us partake of dinner, 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. This is when the Kidneys restore our native vitality that is, during this time they once again store Qi within themselves to enable us to maintain inner life while outwardly we fall into a deathlike slumber.
As in autumn, the early evening is a time to celebrate the harvest of the fruits of the day's labors, and to flourish in gracious enjoyment of health and human company. It is also auspicious to nourish in oneself the yinQi that characterizes the cool, damp and winterlike night time.
According to Chinese medicine, sour, salty, and bitter foods have the condensing, moist, and warm or cold energies that characterize the evening and night. In general, Chinese medicine recommends against large or frequent consumption of chilled or raw foods, as these tend to injure the Spleen and Stomach, dampening their fire. Therefore, since salty, bitter, and some sour foods tend to have intrinsically cold energies, it is recommended that these usually be taken in cooked form. This way, one can reduce their impact on the system, yet derive the yinenhancing benefits that they offer.
The evening marks the rising to predominance of yin, materialized Qi. To reflect this in our evening meal, the ubiquitous serving of grains may be enhanced by emphasizing foods with more condensing and descending forms, and sour, salty, and bitter tastes. Rounded vegetables such as onions, hard "winter" or soft summer squashes, and cabbages have a condensing form, and root vegetables, small peas and pulses, and beans have a condensing and descending form. All of these foods can help us to condense and root our own energies for a long sedentary night. Kidneyshaped beans in particular enhance the storage function of the Kidneys, especially if taken in the form of a salty soup and/or accompanied by salty sea vegetables.
Fruits and sweets also tend to have a condensing and descending form or energy, and thus the evening meal is the best time to enjoy dessert. But, as we noted above, since these foods also have a very cold and damp nature, it is best not to rely on them to excess, as they may easily weaken the Spleen. Books by western authors on Chinese cooking often lament that dessert is not a common feature of the Chinese diet, but this lack clearly reflects respect for the principles of Chinese medicine. According to the diagnostics of Chinese medicine, a craving for sweets is often indicative of a Spleen disorder. Interestingly, the "Nei Ching" also says that the proper food of the Spleen is salty. It seems that fruit and sweets are attractive mainly to individuals who are not regularly tonifying their Spleens with the substantial sweetness of grains at the core of their diet. The traditional Chinese diet also contains many salty condiments, and this combination of sweet grains and salty seasonings seems to keep the Spleens of the Chinese people very happy, as the dearth of Chinese sweets would seem to suggest.
Reprinted from Qi Journal, Summer 1992
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