In Confucian ethics, one’s body is a gift from one’s parents, and it is under our care and trust as long as we are alive. In addition, preserving our health is our obligation so that we may produce healthy children, who in turn will produce healthy offspring. In other words, health, like the environment, is in our trust for future generations, not just ourselves.
When we speak of ‘genetics’ in the Chinese medical context, we need to go beyond the random yet fixed view of it that most people seem to have. Genetics is not a roll of random dice, but a process that can be influenced by many things, including diet, environment, emotions, our mating partners, and lifestyles. A new scientific discipline, ‘epigenetics’, states that the genetic code is not a fixed, arbitrary grouping of genes, but that our ‘programming’ can be greatly influenced by all of these factors.
My dear aunt lived a long life, 101 years old G-d bless her. Her diet wasn’t junk food, but it certainly wasn’t vegan or organic. She enjoyed her fancy restaurants. But few people today could grow up on junk food and live to that age without the intervention of advanced technology. Anyone who was born in the first part of the 20th century lived in a world where all farming was organic, all food seasonal, people were not sedentary, air and water were more pure. Of course, there were also killer epidemics, and many areas lacked sanitation or ample food supply. But the onslaught of industrial chemicals in food, air and water had not begun, and there were few ‘junk foods’ available.
Even if later in life one’s diet was poor, the original foundation of that generation (early 20th century) was strong. And we need to insure that our children and grandchildren have a strong foundation as well, not only with good diet, but a clean environment, a stable and peaceful family and home life, and all of the other factors that contribute to sound and healthy people, G-d willing. Without that foundation, it will difficult indeed to insure the health and longevity of future generations.