Evan Pinto is an American Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner. Since moving to Shanghai from New York, he has worked at the San Ai TCM clinic and lectures at Jiatong University.
1. Before moving to Shanghai, you were practicing Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in New York, arguably one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Can you tell us a little bit about your decision to leave that behind and relocate to Shanghai?
Good question. I came to Shanghai to immerse myself in the atmosphere and language. TCM is rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy. However, the translations available in English, while logical and comprehensible to the western mindset, are not able to capture the true essence and deep poetry of TCM. They literally are lost in translation. By learning the language myself, I will be able to have my own interpretation without needing the filter of someone else. As a TCM practitioner, I am responsible for my patients care and well-being. I take that very seriously. I want to provide my patients with the best medical care I can. Furthermore, I am fascinated by the Taoist and Confucian doctrine, which is the basis of TCM. And I like to study. I like learning.
Being in Shanghai affords me the opportunity to always be learning - about the topic and about myself as an expat navigating life in China.
2. We know you’ve been building a broad client base here ever since you arrived. Do patients seeking treatments from you in Shanghai have similar health complaints to those you treated in New York? Or does diminished food safety and air quality lead to a different set of health concerns here?
My client's conditions are very similar in both locales. New York and shanghai, in my opinion, function similarly in their respective societies. Both are financial capitals, fashion hubs, and unique cultures within their countries. In fact, I believe Shanghai is the new New York. Or at least it will be within the next 20 years. As for health concerns, many conditions are similar. Stress and diet are directly linked to the fast paced lifestyles are both cities. These two factors influence general well-being greatly. In both places there are many people who eat well and function gracefully. But there are many who don't. My patients are expats. So I try to educate them on their food choices by showing them how the varying western diets - Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, American, etc. - have a tendency towards large portions and carbs. I compare their homeland diets to the TCM diet theory and make suggestions on how to tweak their choices and eat more balanced, locally, and seasonally.
3. Being a TCM practitioner, we imagine you lead a very healthy life, which isn’t always easy in a big city, wherever you are in the world. How do you feel about the food safety scandals that so often make headlines in Shanghai and how do you protect yourself against “unsafe” food?
China is now having its promised Great Leap Forward. And the growing pains of such transition are played out in the news and social media constantly. But it’s no worse than what happened in the west 60 years ago. It just seems worse because everyone knows about it nowadays. I try to approach these scandals with caution. I usually wait a while to see how it plays out. I like to let the inspectors publish their findings before I rush to decision. When the bird flu reemerged last spring, many people were frightened and stopped eating chicken completely. But what they didn't consider was that the virus was only contagious with live poultry. A well prepared dish at a restaurant was completely safe. Hot, cooked food is a major aspect to TCM diet theory. Raw food is acceptable in small quantities. And this raw food is only fruits and vegetable, never meats. As for the melamine in the milk scandal, that was humans making choices to circumvent ethical practices. That is totally unacceptable. So I choose to not support those companies.
4. Fall is time when people are notoriously sick with coughs, colds and stomach complaints. Is this as true in the USA as it is in Shanghai? How does TCM explain the prevalence of sickness when the season shifts?
China and the USA have similar weather patterns. The northern areas have four seasons, the south is mild, the west is drier in both countries. So the symptoms and conditions are actually very similar during the fall. In TCM theory the fall is the beginning of the dry season. Its when the yang Qi of the summer fades and the yin Qi of the winter gradually emerges. This transition of environmental Qi takes some getting used to. So as the body adapts, it sometimes gets confused and becomes susceptible. Eating seasonally and getting acupuncture treatments helps the body stay in tune with the environment.
5. As well as offering treatments such as acupuncture, you advocate a holistic approach to health that includes paying careful attention to what we eat. Can you give us some ideas about what we should be eating in Fall and how these foods will keep us healthy according to TCM?
TCM theory is about keeping the individual in harmonious balance. Each person has their own unique pattern of disharmony. Some have more heat in their stomach, some have more cold damp accumulation in their large intestine. Some have lifestyles that inhibit restorative sleeping patterns. All these differences make it difficult to suggest specific foods that are good for everyone. TCM says that many diseases have similar symptoms, whereas western biomedicine says similar symptoms equate to one disease. In other words, two people with the same outward symptoms may actually have different diagnoses. This is how TCM treats the individual effectively.
That being said, there are plenty of seasonal foods that with help prevent the common conditions of sore throat, cough, flu like conditions, dry itchy skin, and malaise. But it's best to have a consultation with a licensed TCM practitioner to make sure the yin qi/yang qi balance is maintained.
6. Do you follow a particular diet yourself and have you made changes to how and what you eat since moving to Shanghai? Will that change again with the season?
I do follow the TCM diet theory. But only to a point. I limit my intake of raw foods, I try to not drink iced beverages, and eat rice every day. But I also enjoy living my life and experiencing all the different tastes and pleasures of eating well. The key is moderation. I have my basic diet which is fruits and vegetable and one coffee in the morning, rice and meat with soup for lunch, and a bland dinner of cooked vegetables and rice. I keep my home vegetarian but I do eat meat at restaurants. I decided on this because I found myself eating meat 3 times a day. And the quality of meat in china is sometimes questionable. So I take precautions by only eating meat at reliable and reputable establishments. This fall I will increase my apple and pear purchases and reduce the watermelon that I loved all summer. Also, yam and pumpkin are excellent fall vegetables. This is just one tactic I have found to work conveniently for myself. There are many ways to eat healthily. And each person has unique requirements and desires.
7. Are there any flavors that you associate with New York in Fall? Have you managed to find substitutes for these in Shanghai? If you have, can you tell us where?!
I really love hot apple cidar with a cinnamon twig. And also barley soup once a week. I make it at home, but if someone knows of a good place, I'm all ears!
8. Finally, which foods and dishes are you most looking forward to eating in Shanghai this
I have an agreement with my Ayi. She plans and prepares traditional Chinese food and I let her know if I like it or not. She's from Shandong province and makes amazing pumpkin and potatoes pancakes, ma po doufu, and garlic spinach. Also, I have a guilty pleasure of pumpkin spice latte. So once a week I’ll be indulging. Some might say it’s not healthy, but as long as I balance it with acrid and invigorating foods I'm maintaining my physical health while satisfying my soul.