Flavor as Nourishment: Qualities and Efficacies – Lili Lai


Drawing on our research in China’s southern mountains about minority nationality medicine, and intrigued by the proverbial Chinese view that “food and medicine have the same source” (药食同源), this paper focuses on the qualities and efficacies of plants by tracing the eventfulness and powers at play in healing and eating when they are seen as closely related forms of life. We note all kinds of food and medicine mixtures, and ask, what is the role of human perception and craft in making good mixtures, or making mixtures tasteful and efficacious? The term wu wei 五味 is to be explored in both senses of general pleasures of eating and medical virtues of the qi movements that animate and invigorate the body. Following Vivienne Lo’s term “Potent Flavors”, we argue that the qualities and efficacies of “harmonies” (he 和 or tiaohe 调和) in the world of flavor can be better appreciated through the Chinese medical aesthetics of pleasure and power. Research done in collaboration with Judith Farquhar.


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