Today, the average person has virtually no hint as to which foods are best for his or her health, nor the proper time of year to eat them. We, in today’s world, not only have the ability to grow foods outside of their normal growing season, but we also ship foods around the world so that we eat them out of their locale…
The Rambam in his Book of Knowledge tells us that people should only eat those foods which grow in the region where they live, to the extent that the Rambam says, “One who lives in the mountains should not eat the fruits that are grown in the valley and vice versa.” Today you will even see cold watermelon being sold in the mid winter, and no one even bats an eye. Why is this, and why are we so out of touch?
To understand this we must learn some basic principles about:
In Hebrew, the word for Balance is Eezoon similar to the English word “Ease. The opposite, G-d forbid, being Dis-Ease. Our body is always trying to remain in balance. When a person is cold, the body shivers to warm up, when hot, a person perspires to cool down. If the blood sugar level rises too much, insulin is secreted to lower it; if blood sugar drops, glucagon is secreted to raise it. There are many other examples of our body striving for this balance.
According to Macrobiotics (a theory of promoting health and longevity by means of diet), foods can either be “Expansive” or “Contractive”. These terms refer to the effects the foods have on the body.
Expansive, as it relates to food, is opening up, externalizing, surfacing, coming out, etc. Contractive, on the other hand, is deepening, drawing in, restricting, tightening, etc. Both expansive and contractive foods affect your body and affect your mental attitude as well. When people eat foods which makes them feel more open and expansive, they will, in normal situations, crave the opposite-contractive foods to balance out.
Expansive foods include: tropical fruits and tropical vegetables, sugar, honey, molasses, coffee, most drugs and stimulants, oils, alcoholic beverages, and vitamin C. Tropical fruits include bananas, oranges, grapefruits and their juice, avocados, mangos, papayas, kiwi, etc. Tropical vegetables include potatoes (which were brought by Columbus from South America, a tropical region, to a colder and temperate climate in 1492), tomatoes (also from South America), and eggplant. Other expansive foods include hot peppers which were generally eaten by desert dwellers like the Bedouins. Throughout the whole Talmud, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants are not mentioned even once.
Contractive foods include: eggs, salt, meat, chicken, turkey, fish, caviar, cheese.
Now, lets imagine for ourselves an old fashion scale. On one of the extreme far sides lets put our list of “Expansive foods” and on the other extreme side lets put our list of the “Contractive foods”. Normal people want to feel “Balanced” and will therefore combine both extremes in their diet. For instance, one who eats meat or chicken will usually eat it with potatoes or ketchup (tomatoes), or eggs with orange juice, or tuna and tomatoes, or cheese and tomatoes (pizza), or french fries (potatoes) and salt. This, however, is not considered balanced, its considered eating side to side, and it wont produce a feeling of ease.
This idea is further explained by a passage in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 89b) which talks about workers not being allowed to dip their bread in salt when theyre about to work in a fig field because this would cause them to crave and eat an excessive amount of the fruit.
Our Chochamim (The Sages) have told us that there is a Jewish way for eating side to side with Meat and Wine (of course dry wine or grape juice without sugar), but that meat and wine are not considered an everyday main staple. Rather, we are advised that meat and wine should be left for special occasions like Seudat Yom Tov (holiday meals). Our everyday main staple food, according to the Sages, is cooked Grains. This is known from the fact that the appropriate Blessing over most cooked grain is “Boray Miney Mizonot”- He who has created various forms of Sustaining foods. Both of the Hebrew words “Eezoon” (balance) and “Maz?n” (grains) share the same root “Z?n”. The connection of these two words teaches us that an essential quality of Grains is that they provide us with Eezoon a feeling of ease and balance.
Today however, most of the food products which we call “grain” and bless after them “Mizonot” or “Birkat Hamazon” are actually processed white flour dosed with sugar and chemical yeast. This is obviously quite far from the type of Maz?n which our Sages had in mind.
Some foods which are in the Center of the scale (only when cooked) include: whole grains, rice, adzuki beans, lentils, chickpeas, butternut squash, pumpkin, carrots, cabbage, onions, certain greens (kale, mustard greens, collard, leeks), pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and flax seeds.
While we should be eating centered foods the majority of the time, there are times during the Jewish Year that we eat more expansive or contractive foods to facilitate our spiritual growth at that time. This will be elaborated further in the page of Jewish Year Explained