Eat your medicine

In their roles as Global and Community Health Wellbeing Fellows, undergraduate students tend to the Community Herb Garden in April 2022. With the attention of the Fellows, mentored by Anthropology Professor Nancy C. Chen and Assistant Farm Garden Manager Kellee Matsushita-Tseng, this long-neglected patch of the Center for Agroecology’s campus farm is receiving a much-needed makeover. Credit: Kellee Matsushita-Tseng, with permission.

When Professor Nancy N. Chen feels a cold coming on, she prepares a pot of fresh garlic, ginger, honey, and lemon tea. Making sure to inhale the steam from the smashed—not chopped—garlic, she drinks the brew all day. For Chen, a medical anthropologist, food stands at the frontline of healing and she “eats her medicine.”

Recipe for Ginger Garlic Tea. Credit: Courtesy of Nancy N. Chen, with permission.

How food, medicine, and culture intersect animates Chen’s research. The notion that food can heal is not new—“These concepts have been around for centuries,” Chen said. Building on this knowledge, Chen partnered with Kellee Matsushita-Tseng, assistant manager of the UCSC farm garden, to mentor and support students in the Global and Community Health Wellbeing Fellows program while they tend the Center for Agroecology’s newly revitalized Community Herb Garden. The work, Chen said, aims to reconnect BIPOC students to their ancestral heritages via food and herbal cultivation, as well as through “active engagement” with the soil, each other, and local communities.

In practices developed over thousands of years, traditional Chinese medicine employs herbal products—like the ones sold at this shop in Vancouver, Canada, as well as some now growing in the Community Herb Garden—to create well-being and address many of today’s common health problems. Credit: Edna Winti (CC BY 2.0).

Chen’s scholarship facilitates her role, since 2018, as the Division of Social Sciences’ associate dean for health, wellbeing and society. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of good health, said Chen. “My hope is that people become more mindful about the health benefits of eating for long-term wellbeing.”

—Bethany Augliere