Live Small, Live Well

old Italian windows_Milan

After watching a PBS Frontline report on coronavirus in Italy , I had an idea about people living smaller lives, and not just during a pandemic. What if we chose to live this way on a daily basis? Ideas led to writing and writing led me to creating this post – even though it’s not really about writing… but ends up that way, I guess.

In other words, when something moves you, write about it. 

Small and Close Is a Good Thing…Usually

Smaller living spaces bring people closer together. There’s plenty of room for everything you need using smarter design, smarter placements, living with less stuff. Simpler lives are happier lives. People are then able to focus on what really matters: relationships and community – look at Italians, they seem to have perfected it.

Europeans have lived this way for a long time out of necessity because there’s no room for the multitudes of sprawling American McMansions or penthouse-sized apartments in most European cities. Americans seem to think they need more open living space, so they purchase bigger homes and more material items, like furniture and art and expensive kitchen toys. But is it all really necessary in order to feel fulfilled? Or is it a nod to some internal need to “keep up with the Joneses?”

Or perhaps it’s the result of an overblown sense of entitlement; that what we want we deserve simply because we work for it or can afford it. That seems more like an individual-oriented mindset.

What’s Really Important

Watching the video, seeing the small spaces Italian families share, it’s no wonder they’re as close as they are. Normally, that’s a good thing but during a pandemic that kind of intimacy, sadly, has had a deleterious effect on their lives. But I doubt they’ll change their ways because those very connections are the lifeline of Italian life.

Smaller apartment homes force people to share the whole living space, including common and private areas (in Europe, brothers and sisters routinely share bedrooms). This type of living also provides lessons in conflict resolution since we’re not going to get along well all of the time. This is a community-oriented approach.  

Smaller is Better for Everyone

Tiny houses are all the rage here in America but what we need is to reduce overall apartment living space (square footage) to make room for more people in each building. With burgeoning populations across the globe, it makes sense for us to adopt more of a European style of living. We’ve been spoon fed the ideal that the “American Dream” is to own a single family home, which requires more land space and finite natural resources (and equates to a much larger individual environmental footprint). For some reason, in America, living with others in apartment or multi-family (aka tenement) housing is perceived as inferior to owning your own home (which actually owns you for 20-30 years until the deed is in your hands). The benefits of community living can far outweigh life in the suburbs.

European style refrigerators, for example, which are much smaller than their American counterparts, force people to think about what to eat, how much, and how often. Shopping becomes a daily responsibility or at least every 2-3 days, depending on how many one is shopping for and feeding. Smaller fridges force people to choose foods that are most important: what is fresh and made daily, rather than something with a 6-month or more shelf life; that’s hoarding for a future that may or may not come. This pandemic has certainly reminded us of that.

Living smaller means living well today, within our community. Tomorrow will come when it comes.

The Viral Effect

Chinese herbs

A Shift in Focus

Okay, so this is going to be one of those occasional, off-topic blog posts I mentioned in my previous post. You know, the one where I discuss something other than writing.

Coronavirus, aka COVID-19, is making its way around the globe. In the wake of this pandemic (per the CDC), irrational fears about this virus are just as prevalent. So I wanted to take this opportunity to help ‘clear the air’ on some fears that have gone ‘viral’, especially regarding certain items coming from China – Chinese herbal medicines.

A Long History

Chinese herbs are the most studied herbs on the planet. There exists over 2500 years of empirical evidence (patient-centered treatments and responses) and Western evidence-based trials, though inherently flawed, are increasingly showing the efficacy of many herbs in our pharmacopoeia. Outbreaks of SARS and H1N1 were successfully treated with herbs in some Chinese/TCM hospitals. Chapter 2 of a popular medical text (that got me through four years of herb classes and clinics), Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology (Chen, 2001), is Heat-Clearing and Toxin-Eliminating Herbs. Subsections of this chapter contain many herbs that have either antiviral or antibacterial properties, or both. Several have been tested and show effects stronger than some pharmaceuticals (and without side effects).

There is an irrational fear that anything coming out of China, especially medicinal herbs, is contaminated with the virus. Let me clarify: 1) these herbs must pass muster at customs when arriving in the U.S.; 2) once they arrive at either a manufacturing facility or a large retail operation (in both cases, Kamwo Herbs, located in NYC’s Chinatown, and one of my finest herb sources), the herbs go through a rigorous testing process required by the FDA. These companies are in regular contact with either the CDC and WHO to continue providing safe, efficacious medicines.

Extra Precautions

According to several emails I’ve received from some of my professional accounts, herb companies are currently taking extra precautions when it comes to testing. They’re also reassuring customers that there are no health concerns at this time for the transmission of COVID-19 on packaged goods (traveling far, changes in temperature, etc.). Even the CDC advises that because of poor survivability on hard surfaces there’s a low risk of the virus spreading from packages shipped over days or weeks due to ambient temperatures. 

Seek Out a Professional

One of my concerns is people rushing to order herbs online to treat this virus without first consulting a TCM physician. Another is if you don’t know what you’re ordering or aren’t familiar with the company you’re ordering from, my recommendation is don’t do it. In school, we’re taught to look for specific certifications, such as GMP standards (Good Manufacturing Process) and other certifications. Certain companies (like MinShan) follow GMP standards, while some in China do not (and their formulas may contain questionable substances, including Western meds). It’s important to know the difference.

Also, if you’re not familiar with medicinal herbs, you may inadvertently buy herbs or a formula that is incorrect for your symptoms. This may lead to unnecessary side effects (i.e., loose bowels due to Cold nature of antiviral herbs), no effect (because they’re not the herbs you need), or an interaction (positive/potentiate or negative/inhibit) with other medicines you’re taking, whether plant-based or pharmaceutical.

If you’re interested in going the holistic/plant-based route, seek out a licensed, trained professional. Individual diagnosis is paramount to prescribing the correct herbs in the correct dosages, all in one formula. This will save you money and give you peace of mind, knowing that the herbs you’re taking are safe.

Be careful, and be well.