Which kinds of food to avoid, and which to include are a long-time foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine therapy. For a long time, I have wanted to offer a comprehensive approach to dietary therapy. The theories of Chinese Medicine encompass which foods can help to alleviate or remedy certain conditions, which ones may aggravate them, and which foods are appropriate for certain constitutions and lifestyles.

Combining these TCM principles with the understanding of modern nutrition, the availability of previously scarce minerals, vitamins, and other supplements, and the cosmopolitan offering of foodstuffs from around the world could make dietary recommendations one of the easiest and most effective lifestyle ways to improve health on a large scale.

I had envisioned offering a database-type service with which I could generate lists of foods to include and avoid, customized to individual conditions. However, I was also aware that many of the foods that are traditionally recommended are unfamiliar to most Saskatchewan residents. People are willing to try new foods, but without knowing where to buy them, what form to buy, how to prepare them, etc., it has been mostly a non-starter.

Suppose you had a friend who had never seen pumpkin before. What would they do if you told them to try pumpkin? Maybe the only time they heard of it was in Harry Potter (“a few drops of Veritaserum in your evening pumpkin juice”). What would they think about kids climbing over mountains of pumpkins at the farmers’ markets, canned pumpkin, salted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie (9,000,000 hits on Google), carved scary pumpkins on neighbourhood doorsteps? Most people are unprepared to simply add a new unknown food to their daily menu.

So I had a great idea. I would build a classroom in my clinic with a kitchen where I could teach people how to cook new healthy foods. I envisioned running a series of classes in which the participants would actually cook the food, understand how it should turn out, and what the health benefits were. I even envisioned bonus classes of field trips to grocery stores to find the foods, compare offerings, etc.

A much simpler idea came from a famous TCM clinic where I worked during my internship in Hangzhou, China. Each morning, the staff would prepare a famous traditional tea, often from a dozen or so herbs, and it would be steeping in a giant urn in the reception area all day. Beside the urn would be a poster describing the tea ingredients and explaining what conditions it was recommended for. Patients and visitors could receive a healthful tea and learn about it at the same time. To date, my great idea has translated into a selection of tea bags and a hot water dispenser, without the accompanying education or daily novelty. And even that has been on hiatus in the past year.

Then there was the ultimate idea. A restaurant offering dishes specific to certain health conditions. This idea came from an actual restaurant where I dined often during my internship. The restaurant was loosely affiliated with the same clinic I mentioned above. It offered soups, stews, stir-fries and teas based on long-established dietary and herbal preparations. While many people went there simply for the novelty or the good food, you could also select dishes specifically recommended for your health conditions. And the decor in the restaurant was often descriptions of the original recipes, sometimes centuries old.

The hours I spent learning the building code to renovate my building, calculating suitable costs for classes, making up lesson plans, setting up field trips, preparing food databases, collecting recipes and cookbooks, investigating hiring cooks, … Perhaps my failing is being unable to take one simple idea and go with it. Instead I dwell on the idea as it grows until it is just too big to start, and then I don’t go anywhere, even with the simplest part of it.

Maybe I should have just highlighted menus from a bunch of restaurants and handed those out!

“Entrepreneurship isn’t about being perfect.” – Michelle Romanow, Dragons’ Den

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