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The Practical Herbalist

Food and the Immigrant

When I was in training as a herbalist, an instructor of mine, confided in me about a problem he had. His young 8 year old son had come from China to live with him here in the United States. His son was not doing well. He was always sick, he was gaining weight and he was having problems breathing and playing sports. We both knew what the problem was. His son had no ability to handle the heavy American food that he got everyday at school. Asian people have little ability to digest dairy a staple on the school menu. Add to that a rapid increase in calories, grease, sugars and processed wheat and it was just too much for his body to adjust to. What really pained the father was that he knew that forcing his son to eat better, would only further isolate his son from the American kids whom he was trying to get to know. His son had a hard enough time trying to fit in without adding socially unacceptable good food to his lunch. In the end we decided there were few good answers and that compromises would have to do.

This scenario is happening often in our modern society. Children are being adopted from foreign countries and food is often at the root of many health problems. Children in overseas orphanages are fed simple diets. New parents are always tempted to over feed a child to help them grow big and strong. The result can be many chronic health concerns. We buy pediatric formulas that are loaded with lots of vitamins and minerals and dairy (specially processed to be absorbed more quickly) in order to get as much into the child as quickly as possible. Sometimes it can be too much, especially in a child who comes from a land where there is no abundance of rich foods. Eventually the body adapts and many of these children do eventually adjust to the American diet. Some will develop obesity, asthma and diabetes just like many over fed people do.

A similar situation happens with vegetarians or anyone who radically shifts their diet over a long period of time. A long time vegetarian who is fed meat will feel lousy for days, because they no longer have the ability to digest the meat. An Instructor of mine once told me of a family he was trying to help. They were always sick during the winters of Minnesota. He found that they ate a traditional diet of foods from their homeland year round. They were from a tropical country, and the diet of tropical fruits and seeds was not enough to sustain them in the winter. The mother however, refused to cook differently. She did not want her children to lose the foods of their culture. Some compromises helped, but it was not easy.

In the United States we have a wealth of food, and too much of a good thing can be a problem. Parenting books stress the importance of setting limits and saying "no" to the wants of a child when something is not in the child's best interest. That is part of good parenting. The new twist is that a child from a different culture has different needs. Remember that the statement "all men are created equal' is a political statement, not a medical one. We are all different and acknowledging that is the first step in understanding how to help all people to grow and thrive.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066