April 14, 2024

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Three Questions for Montpelier Author Lisa Masé About ‘The Culinary Pharmacy’ | Food + Drink Features | Seven Days

4 min read
click to enlarge Goulash - COURTESY

Food had always brought joy to Lisa Masé. That is, until a parasitic infection contracted from a meal in Indonesia precipitated years of physical and mental pain.

“I could never have imagined that this meal, eaten thoughtfully and with gratitude for our hosts, would change my life forever,” Masé, 45, writes in her recently published book The Culinary Pharmacy: Intuitive Eating, Ancestral Healing, and Your Personal Nutrition Plan.

The author would have preferred to be spared the devastating effects of the Entamoeba histolytica that took up residence in her gut and severely compromised her ability to eat. But she has made lemonade from those decidedly bitter lemons.

click to enlarge The Culinary Pharmacy: Intuitive Eating, Ancestral Healing, and Your Personal Nutrition Plan by Lisa Masé, Healing Arts Press, 260 pages. $24.99. - COURTESY

  • Courtesy
  • The Culinary Pharmacy: Intuitive Eating, Ancestral Healing, and Your Personal Nutrition Plan by Lisa Masé, Healing Arts Press, 260 pages. $24.99.

Masé spent her childhood in her father’s native northern Italy before moving to her mother’s hometown of Westwood Hills, Kan. She came to Vermont to attend Middlebury College and never left.

Today, the board-certified holistic nutritionist and registered health and nutrition coach lives with her partner and two young children in Montpelier. Through her Harmonized Living coaching practice and her instructive and compassionate book, Masé offers hope and concrete advice to those struggling with a range of health challenges.

In The Culinary Pharmacy, she layers wisdom from her Mediterranean heritage with that of Chinese medicine and Indian Ayurvedic practices to help readers identify foods that can heal and nourish them.

Masé spoke with Seven Days about the power of olive oil, how to reclaim food roots and why recipe measurements only go so far.

In your book, you share deliciously evocative food memories from your Italian heritage. You also describe a low point of your struggle with parasites: “I felt poisoned. My vision was blurry, I could not drive. I was vomiting up most of my meals, and my intestines felt like they were on fire.” It took that extreme to help you to realize that foods of your childhood could help heal, starting with a daily dose of olive oil?

click to enlarge Lisa Masé - COURTESY

Yes, that’s such an incredible thing about the interconnection between traditional foodways and traditional ways of healing and science. I’ve always known olive oil is, like, the source of life, right? That’s how I was raised. And then, to go to all these scientific studies and see how highly antimicrobial it is and how healing it is was truly incredible.

I was researching all different kinds of antiparasitic herbs and gut-healing herbs and foods, even reading Paul Pitchford’s book Healing With Whole Foods [Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition]. That’s when it dawned on me: Oh, some of these plants that he’s mentioning are plants I grew up making medicine with. I actually already know what to do.

You suggest that people make a list of foods that feel nourishing and meaningful to them. What if your childhood memories lean more Kraft mac and cheese than risotto with foraged mushrooms?

I think this is such an opportunity for folks to take parts of their heritage, either lived or from the past, that may feel traumatic or may feel disconnected, and reconnect. What are the foods that grew wild on the lands where my ancestors lived? And oh, yeah, when I eat that sauerkraut, I do feel really good. Perhaps that speaks to a food that could become nourishing and meaningful to me as I reclaim my roots.

I think part of the big issue with the state of our health as a nation is this forgetting and the trauma that comes with the forgetting.

I love the nontraditional steps you include in recipes, like while waiting for the simmering goulash: “Stretch, read, talk with a loved one, or feed the chickens while you wait.” What’s your goal with these?

It helps people to hopefully separate themselves a little bit from measurements and start to become more creative with their cooking. It truly is a creative art, and it’s very personal. Even my clients will say to me sometimes, like, “I can’t believe you just said a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon. I put in a whole teaspoon,” and I say, “Great, that’s your personalization of this recipe.”

All my recipes were taught to me via oral tradition, standing over the stove with my dad or my grandmother cooking, having them repeat the steps to me over and over again. My dad still does that to this day.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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