Food, Medicine, and the Quest for Good Health

Food, Medicine, and the Quest for Good Health

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 144
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  • Book Info
    Food, Medicine, and the Quest for Good Health
    Book Description:

    What we eat, how we eat, where we eat, and when we eat are deeply embedded cultural practices. Eating is also related to how we medicate. The multimillion-dollar diet industry offers advice on how to eat for a better body and longer life, and avoiding harmful foods (or choosing healthy ones) is considered separate from consuming medicine-another multimillion-dollar industry. In contrast, most traditional medical systems view food as inseparable from medicine and regard medicinal foods as the front line of healing.

    Drawing on medical texts and food therapy practices from around the world and throughout history, Nancy N. Chen locates old and new crossovers between food and medicine in different social and cultural contexts. The consumption of spices, sugar, and salt was once linked to specific healing properties, and trade in these commodities transformed not just the political economy of Europe, Asia, and the New World but local tastes and food practices as well. Today's technologies are rapidly changing traditional attitudes toward food, enabling the cultivation of new admixtures, such as nutraceuticals and genetically modified food, that link food to medicine in novel ways. Chen considers these developments against the evolving food regimes of the diet industry in order to build a framework for understanding diet as individual practice, social prescription, and political formation.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50891-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION Rethinking Food and Medicine
    (pp. 1-14)

    Eating and medicating have become distinct practices and categories despite long multicultural traditions of consuming medicinal foods, especially herbs. In an era of intensive pharmaceutical interventions, when prescription medication is offered as the main solution to chronic ailments, medicine and food seem far apart. In the English language, one who is sick “takes” medicine, which implies that the patient is passive. In Mandarin, one “eats” medicine, just as, in Mandarin, one eats food. Many languages, of many different cultures, describe medicine as something that is eaten. Food is understood to have medicinal qualities, and medicine is actively consumed, often as...

  6. PART ONE Food as Medicine

    • CHAPTER ONE Healing Foods and Longevity
      (pp. 17-52)

      Traditional medical systems offer extensive documentation of the connection between food and medicine. Ancient Chinese, ancient Greek, Islamic, and Ayurvedic medicines have shared systemic views of the body, its properties or humors, and notions of energy and nutrition. The preservation of health and extension of life, particularly for elites, was a common goal of many practitioners for their clientele in these early societies. Healing foods, or foods that can be eaten raw or cooked in combination with other items, were a critical component of maintaining well-being. In this sense, the “doctoring” of foods—whether with spices or herbs—was a...

    • CHAPTER TWO Dietary Prescriptions and Comfort Foods
      (pp. 53-76)

      Dietary standards change over time and reflect shifting views concerning nutrition and well-being. In many social groups and cultural systems, one’s identity or group membership is determined by dietary practices. The transformation of certain medicines and food can be found not only in the North American or European context but also in developing nations with new consumers who participate in a globalized diet of industrial foods. The current “epidemic” of obesity in North America can also be seen among elites in developing nations. Even though foods may still be viewed as medicinal in the contemporary moment, industrial foodways, the the...

  7. PART TWO Medicine as Food

    • CHAPTER THREE Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods
      (pp. 79-91)

      During the 1990s new forms of medicinal food or combinations of food and medicine emerged. Researchers have found that certain elements of the foods consumed for health reasons can be extracted from various plants and put into pills or powders or combined with food items. These forms are called “nutraceuticals” (from “nutrition” and “pharmaceuticals”) and are sometimes referred to as “functional foods”: foods and drinks that have physiological effects that may help reduce chronic disease. Stephen DeFelice, founder of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, coined the term “nutraceutical” in 1979 as any food item deemed to have health benefits....

    • CHAPTER FOUR Genetically Modified Food and Drugs
      (pp. 92-108)

      Genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) foods have been present in industrial foodways for over a decade. Despite reluctance to accept GM foods worldwide, over two-thirds of processed foods in the United States include GM ingredients. Moreover, in the world’s most populous countries, India and China, GM crops have been planted with the Malthusian perspective that this technology will prevent widespread hunger and dependency on foreign aid. Agricultural corporations claim that farmers in these regions find that GM crops decrease the need for pesticides as they increase crop yields. While knowledge about GM foods at the consumer level might...

  8. CONCLUSION Eating and Medicating
    (pp. 109-114)

    “Living to eat” is more suggestive of the possibilities of pleasure from consumption than more functional notions of “eating to live.” Rather than maintain an anthropological distinction between eating for the good life or for survival, in this book I argue that eating with food as medicine in mind can dramatically shift the focus toward eating as part of a lifelong journey toward health. The quest for good health engages cultural knowledge, political formations, and blurred boundaries that redefine eating and medicating. Eating is not only about consuming food, it is also a social practice, often with political implications. The...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 115-118)
    (pp. 119-126)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 127-128)