Imhotep, the Ancient Egyptian “Father of Medicine” – prescribed that humanity should “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.
Two millennia later Hippocrates studied his teachings and began to advise the same.
Post-pandemic, the consciousness that “You are what you eat” is becoming more recognized and pronounced.
HOW DO THESE HOLISTIC PHILOSOPHIES AFFECT YOUR OUTLOOK AND OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE APART FROM THE CULINARY?
I have always had a natural outlook on the treatment of ailments and disease. I tend to use allopathic medicine for diagnosis and adhere to treatments that avoid drugs and surgery as much as possible. I follow a more naturopathic outlook to preserve my health, prevent or treat illness. The practices I have used most successfully are homeopathy and medical herbalism. I take an integrative approach based on researching the diverse pharmacopeias around the world and traditional medicine systems.
Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine are most well known, but each nation has their own and something to offer and complement the others holistically. In Nigeria, many of the foodstuffs we take for granted have immense medicinal properties and potential.
Palm oil for example prevents cancer and vitamin A deficiency, protects brain function, treats malaria, high blood pressure and boosts the metabolism amongst other benefits.
I like to use prickly ash berries in some of my culinary innovations, but in Nigeria the species Fagara zanthoxyloides is more known for the chewing sticks produced from it. They are more successful at treating tooth decay than Western toothbrushes and the extract from the plant’s root is a successful agent in treating neuralgia, migraine, malaria, abdominal pain and more serious diseases. There is so much to learn and gain from non-Western medical systems, particularly in an age where alternative medicine is so popular.
When I received consultations at the Royal London Hospital of Integrated Medicine, I learned a great deal and the homeopathic prescriptions were always successful.
The RLHIM Pharmacy will always be a port of call and never lets me down in an emergency. Coffea Cruda which is derived from unroasted coffee beans proved the best cure for a serious toothache and the advice for boosting immunity I received after Lockdown was very useful.
I mostly stick to homeopathic remedies and natural agents such as herbs, essential oils and distillates whose chemical compounds and efficacy are proven to give results for the minor or seasonal ailments we all face.
I combine them with physical means including exercise, massage that manipulates specific tissue areas and hydrotherapy to build strength and retain good health, eliminate toxins, balance mind, body and spirit and preserve a youthful appearance.
Imhotep was right about food being our medicine as all foods are comprised of chemical substances. In the long term, what we eat can either kill or cure, so it is important to be mindful of what we consume: how it has been grown – with harmful agents, pollutants, organic or biodynamic means; processed – additives and preservatives; packaged, stored and cooked – some plastic and metal elements can migrate into foods – and ultimately how the body will process it?
In the UK, the process of elimination is not very hard if you are disciplined and intent on following a very healthy diet. We are lucky to have a government that is tough on Food Standards. Most supermarkets sell organic food at economical prices and a microwave does not need to be a staple appliance.
There are too many examples for me to list of how food has been and continues to be medicinal and how I make the food or drink I consume serve as medicine. A few examples spring to mind and I can attest to using them successfully:
CHILI – One of my fondest childhood memories is my mother making my father very spicy soup with scotch bonnet peppers to ward off a cold. The capsaicin bioactive compound in chili peppers is proven to help clear the sinuses and break down mucus, so her hot dishes were always successful and lovingly appreciated.
As an adult, I instinctively get out my pot of Mr Naga Chilli when the weather is damp or chilly or I feel a cold coming on. During this bleak winter I frequently made stir fried shiitake mushrooms and fine noodles with it as a quick fix or added it to roasted vegetable soups. Vegetable soup is as good as penicillin for common viruses – allium species which I start my soups off with are renowned for their antimicrobial activities so they always alleviate minor illnesses or purge the body of harmful bacteria. You can feel it working.
HIBISCUS – In Nigeria this is a natural and well regarded floral tea that helps with premenstrual cramps, regulating cycle and treating endometriosis. It is a renowned emmenagogue, – a substance that stimulates or increases menstrual flow.
QUINCE SEEDS – I was introduced to this traditional Persian remedy by Sally Butcher of Persepolis in Peckham.
As a mother, these seeds were always close by in early years as they are perfect for clearing the respiratory tract and breaking down the phlegm in a child’s chest when they have a bad cold or infection. As above so below, the gelatinous tea they make looks just like what is inside the body and efficiently purges it through coughs and blowing of nose.
As a little girl I loved the Flower Fairies books by Cicely Mary Barker and spending time exploring new flora in the garden or encyclopedias. As a teenager, I was quite fascinated by the Bach Flower Remedies and would use them if stressed out with coursework or anxious before an exam.
I now deploy many floral extracts and mineral ones too in my personal cooking and as a USP of ASH Culinaria culinary art projects.
I do believe that the mind has as much power as material efficacy. If you believe it will work it has more effectiveness.
I treat my grass and tree pollen allergies and hay fever with a combination of homeopathy, floral tisanes and local honey which have also helped many friends and relatives I have suggested them to. It is always good to start on the first day of Chinese New Year as this is the true beginning of Spring. If I leave it until later on in the season, my symptoms are always worse!
30c of Mixed Pollens & Grasses & Brassica Napus taken twice a day for 5 days when required does the trick.
I also start the day with lemon verbena tea during the hot and smoggy summer months and rest with cooled chamomile, rooibos or green teabags on my eyelids if they are very irritated.
In terms of beauty, I have always been a whizz with culinary materials. As a teenager I enjoyed The Body Shop Honey Water as a toner and when in my twenties I adored Eau de Beauté by Caudalie. It is a skin-quenching elixir based on the fabled Queen of Hungary water which was distilled from cognac, rosemary and other botanicals and used as a cure-all as well as beautifier.
Nowadays, I will use a hydrosol of rose, ylang ylang or cinnamon to soothe and balance my skin. Each has proven properties: antibacterial, hormone-balancing and anti-ageing respectively. They all smell great, so deliver therapeutic value whether beginning or ending a busy day.
I am a real kitchen alchemist when it comes to making conditioner for natural afro hair – overripe plantain, avocado, egg yolks, cucumber oil, rice vinegar, name it, I’ve tried and rarely fail to get soft and shiny hair and well nourished scalp. The latest formula was turmeric and olive oil as a pre-wash conditioner.
My hair has never been more lustrous but my bath tub may never be quite the same shade of white!
A better bet is the products made by Grasslands and Savannah https://grasslandsandsavannah.com/ which are great to treat and even cure eczema, cystic acne, shaving bumps and hyperpigmentation. They guarantee great hair too for all ethnicities.
I like this range as it is ethically made with fermented cocoa pod ash, shea butter and other wonderful natural products – no petroleum products or irritant preservatives in sight. Each ingredient has been sourced and processed with attention to detail and excellence.
Grasslands and Savannah has been the best kept secret and grooming essential of many discerning Londoners and beauty industry insiders since 1996.
I am naturally drawn to certain botanical materials whether as food or as medicine.
Annatto, cardamom, shiitake mushrooms are my most recent favourites.
When I feel a craving or cling to something new, I always investigate what its properties are. Those three each have a health benefit: antioxidative, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol reducing. I always feel, seek and find the answer to my question or observation: it is a healing food.
In 2018, your British company AFRICA: SEEN & HEARD became the Cultural Partner of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC) which is a parastatal of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.
You are developing your métier as a Culinary Artist with a strategy that will firmly establish ASH Culinaria as a specialist in African, Caribbean and global fusion cuisine.
WILL YOU ALSO EXPAND YOUR CULTURAL DIPLOMACY ROLE ALONG WITH YOUR NEW CONSULTANCY?
I have not worked as closely with CBAAC since the pandemic.
Culinary Diplomacy would be a natural expansion and reactivation of ASH‘s cultural diplomacy role.
It is something AFRICA: Seen & Heard has programmed the new practice for in its own right that fits well with the Cultural Partner mandate.
I have always viewed food as the ultimate ambassador of a nation.
Food and national cuisine create unique opportunities to foster cultural understanding between states.
Throughout history, food has been deployed as a diplomatic tool that builds relationships between nations and sets the stage for cooperation, empathy, peace and reconciliation.
Culinary Diplomacy has become a great tool of forward thinking nations as “the easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach”.
There are currently eleven government-sponsored culinary diplomacy programs and none of them were established by African or Caribbean nations.
There is great scope to innovate and launch campaigns that emphasise cultural elements and promote national cuisines and dishes. Alongside traditional marketing it can be a strong boost to tourism sectors across Africa and the Caribbean.
With adequate business development research and a strong government-led culinary diplomacy initiative, nations that are confident in their cuisine should actively increase their number of worldwide restaurants.
Thailand has done this with aplomb and excellent loan infrastructure for overseas food industry initiatives.
Foodie culture is now part of foreign policy — It’s Gastrodiplomacy
Nations that are at culinary crossroads or have a strong Creole cuisine have an advantage when it comes to Culinary Diplomacy.
I have created many Caribbean-rooted synergies alone and in synergy with Chef Anthony which we will connect appropriately in forthcoming projects.
Some of our innovations are based on migration stories and reflect the religious dietary restrictions of Jewish, Hindu and Muslim diaspora communities.
They are a great culinary diplomacy tool to engage minority populations in the Caribbean to reconnect with their original nations and evolve fusion food concepts.
Our consultancy services develop, support and facilitate initiatives and strategies that will increase awareness of specific cuisines we work with our clients and partners to:
- Develop and deliver Supper Club experiences with event companies, restaurants and historic properties
- Evolve existing restaurant menus and service styles
- Program food and beverage product promotions
- Host live or virtual cooking demonstrations
- Integrate culturally appropriate foods into public health campaigns, healthy eating apps and meal planning services
- Innovate African and Caribbean recipes and products for supermarket own-label ranges
We are open to contributing to international food festivals, hosting restaurant pop-ups in world class hotels and resorts and catering for private, diplomatic or corporate events.
Africa and the Caribbean are often overlooked when it comes to Gastronomy but we have the potential and ability to elevate our food cultures.
CBAAC and the African Union should identify and support nations whose cuisine would be eligible to be included in UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.
There are certain African food heritages that truly deserve recognition and when it is granted the global market will naturally open opportunities.
Gastrodiplomacy should be the cornerstone of larger economic diplomacy strategies and would be the responsibility of Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
Chef Anthony has twice won “Best Caribbean Chef in the UK” so would be an ideal Ambassador for any Caribbean nations launching an official Food Diplomacy campaign.
As well as promoting agricultural produce, international trade and investment and tourism, the establishment of training programs for chefs serving in diplomatic missions is also a great way to engage Culinary Diplomacy.
Since setting up ASH Culinaria, I guess I have become a culinary diplomat of sorts.
We are a small enterprise, so do not buy in huge quantities. The beauty of our size is that I am able to build strong and authentic relationships with food producers, importers, distributors and retailers from West African or Andean spices, Georgian wines and Javanese honeys to frozen Amazonian fruits, French Polynesian vanilla pods and obscure Caribbean rums.
Food is the area of culture I am most instinctively attuned with. I have always supported Nigeria in a philanthropic way, so it is important to take pleasure from the task at hand as it requires a great deal of effort.
Supporting environmental rights organisations and unrepresented nations and peoples is also very inspiring to my Culinary Art as I am able to impress a human rights, ecological or public health issue upon a donor or advocate audience.
With the Ogoni for example, I would infuse their organic Turmeric into a bespoke dessert such as Bodo Burnt Cream or garnish a savoury dish with bamboo charcoal peanuts crushed to tell a potent tale of their devastating living conditions and the need for remediation.
At private dinner parties at my home, I have long raised awareness of the Afro-Iraqi people of Zanj heritage and the social bias they face via a lamb dish cooked with their traditional date syrup.
I have also enjoyed learning about Iraq’s Arab culture via delicious dishes served at community events at the Iraqi Cultural Centre in West London.
The music of Mesopotamia accompanied the dishes and underscored perfectly how the fusion of food and music can empower programs promoting international understanding, cultural exchange and world citizenship.
Culinary Diplomacy takes several forms and is a very important soft power tool that China and the USA use to great competitive advantage. It should be more strategically deployed by African and Caribbean nations.
ASH Culinaria offers a specialized bespoke consultancy service that can support missions to promote their national cuisines, market food and beverage products and boost tourism and investment via culinary initiatives, cultural exchange and delicious experiences.
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