A  somewhat  toned-down version of this editorial appeared in

Clinical Practice of Alternative Medicine 1(2):80, summer 2000

  Therapeutic foods are an old idea in Oriental medicine, but
entrepreneurs in Asia's ethnic Chinese communities have given the
idea a new flavor--or so reports The Wall Street Journal.
Medicinal restaurants are now thriving all over Asia.

  To put it succinctly, the difference between a medicinal
restaurant and an ordinary one is that your maitre d' does not
merely recommend certain dishes, he prescribes them. Therapeutic
meals might include chicken and sea-horse stew for swollen neck
glands, gecko lizards and chicken soup for anemia, and coconut
milk with swallow's nest as an aphrodisiac.

  I cannot guess how long it will take American health-food
restaurants to pick up on this trend, but I rather hope it does
not happen soon. I know we will find some way to screw it up.

  For instance, if eating at a medicinal restaurant is
therapeutic, then shouldn't it be covered by health insurance? Of
course! So, everyone's insurance premiums will go up. This
will boost the national economy through fuller employment,
because your restaurateur will need to double his staff in order
to submit claims to dozens of insurance companies--unless he
signs up with an HMO, in which case his menu will be restricted
to a few easily-prepared dishes. Too bad if you needed
the stir-fried scorpion on prawn toast--it's not a benefit of
your plan.

  Some ingredients are far more expensive than others. Medical
ethicists will debate fiercely over who truly merits shark fin, and
who must go without. And at what point would a bitter-sweet wine
of ginseng and deer penis cease to be cost-effective? Moreover,
who should pull the plug (so to speak) on stewed bezoars? The
economic security of an entire generation of busy-bodies and
bean-counters will thus be assured.

  The FDA will thrive as never before. Federal agents and
local law enforcement, guns at the ready, will conduct frequent
raids of eateries suspected of serving experimental sauces,
substandard ginseng, or the viscera of endangered species.

  Finally, some social engineer at a major university will
proclaim that medicinal food is a basic human right. Dutifully,
the Supreme Court will discover that right tucked away in some
obscure corner of the Constitution. Then Congress will mandate
free therapeutic food for everyone except the middle class, the
budget and power of Medicare will expand exponentially, and none
of us will ever again go to bed hungry--if only we can stomach it.

REFERENCE: Brauchli, MW: If you are what you eat, this story is food for thought.
The Wall Street Journal, 3/13/95, page 1.

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