Since meat forms such a large part of Western diets, a few Taoist guidelines on meat consumption should be helpful. The great Tang physician Sun Ssu-mo and other Taoist dieticians have always warned against the long-range ill effects of eating large quantities of domestic animal meats, such as beef and pork. The only domestic meat they regarded as safe and healthy for the human system was dog, and that was recommended only for its potent warming effects during the intense cold of mid-winter. The reason that domestic animals are such a poor source of human nutrition is that their own diets consist mainly of kitchen slops, garbage and dried straw. Today, the situation is further aggravated by all the synthetic hormones, antibiotics and other drugs routinely fed to livestock.
Taoists have always recommended wild game as the most nutritionally beneficial type of meat for man. Venison is especially good, primarily because deer feed on all sorts of wild nuts, leaves, berries, barks and other herbs which appear in the Chinese pharmocopeia as remedies for man. The benefits of a wild deer’s herbal diet are naturally transmitted to your own system when you eat its meat, just as all the chemical drugs injected into livestock today are transferred to your system when you eat a hamburger or fried chicken.
Note, however, that you will gain very little nutritional benefit from even the freshest wild game if you cook it ‘to death’. Any meat that is suitable for human consumption should be eaten as rare as possible, preferably raw or at least partly raw. Steak tartare and Carpaccio are good examples of raw beef dishes that are brimming with their own natural enzymes and are delicious as well. Japanese sashimi (raw fish) is even better; indeed sashimi is arguably the most nutritionally potent, enzymerich, naturally digestible form of animal protein on Mother Nature’s entire menu, a fact reflected by the longevity of the Japanese people. Taoists always recommend wild fish from seas and rivers over domestic fish raised in stagnant ponds and fed on ‘fish chow’.
The same principle applies to chicken. Chinese physicians today still recommend that their patients consume only tu-ji (‘earth chickens’) and avoid yang-ji (‘cultivated chickens’). Earth chickens are those left to roam about fields and forests to forage for themselves, rather than being fed the artificial, denatured diets of domestic fowl.
In order to prevent putrefaction, promote digestion and facilitate rapid elimination of wastes, all meals in which cooked meats form the major element should be supplemented with a dose of active proteolytic (‘protein-digesting’) enzymes, which are readily available at health and food stores today.
You may assist rather than interfere with Mother Nature’s digestive principles by observing the following basic Taoist dietary guidelines:
* Eat sparingly, and you will live a long and healthy life. The basic Taoist measure is to eat till you are 70-80 per cent full. Mother Nature invariably punishes gluttons with all sorts of misery. The human body simply cannot utilize the enormous quantities and complex combinations of food with which civilized, sedentary man tends to gorge himself daily.
* Chew food thoroughly before swallowing it. This applies especially to carbohydrates, which require initial digestion by the alkaline ptyalin enzyme in the saliva of the mouth. Gandhi’s advice on this subject rings with the wisdom of Tao: ‘Drink your food and chew your beverages’, which means that solid foods should be chewed to liquid form before swallowing, and liquids should be swallowed as slowly as solid food.
* Avoid extreme hot and cold temperatures in foods and beverages. Excessively hot soup, for example, irritates the tender lining of the mouth and esophagus, which impairs salivation and peristalsis. One of the worst digestive offenses is to drink ice water or other freezing cold fluids with meals. Such freezing infusions on a stomach full of food freeze shut the tiny ducts which secrete gastric juices in the stomach, thereby halting digestion and permitting putrefaction and fermentation to occur instead. By the time the temperature of the stomach returns to normal, it is too late for proper digestion to commence. In fact, any beverage taken in large quantities together with food dilutes the gastric medium and impairs digestion. Wine and beer, however, are exceptions because they are fermented (i.e. pre-digested) and thus they actually assist digestion when taken in moderate quantities. Even the Bible advises one to ‘take a little wine for the stomach’s sake’.