This month we are highlighting women in wellness who inspire us and bring so much knowledge, joy and intention into the world of well-being. Every week this month we will be sharing an interview with one of them, learning more about their work, projects, recipes and visions for the future!We are kicking off the series with the amazing Zoey Xinyi Gong, founder of Five Seasons TCM, a BIPOC-founded boutique wellness brand that shares and modernizes the knowledge of TCM food therapy through educational content, functional products, and its avant-garde aesthetic. Zoey is a TCM chef and nutritionist born in Shanghai, China and currently based in Brooklyn, New York.
Sun Potion: What was your journey like into the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine? Was there a moment when you knew that you would dedicate yourself to this ancient healing practice?
Zoey Xinyi Gong: Growing up in Shanghai, China, TCM was in my daily life. My grandparents always put herbs into our family meals and constantly reminded me of acupressure massages and other TCM traditions I should pay attention to. However, I wasn’t really aware that what they told me was TCM. I was more interested in the western culture and processed foods.
I came to the US when I was 16. Just after 3 months of eating American foods, I developed plenty of health problems, from drastic weight gain, to joint pain, to IBS, to terrible skin rashes. I was not well physically or emotionally. Trying to be my own doctor as a teenager, I researched online and really dedicated to refreshing my diet. Eating healthy helped me tremendously and I later decided to go to NYU to study nutrition and public health. While I loved what I learnt, I realized the limitations of biomedicine and western nutrition: it is often restrictive, not individualized (how can one number define people across all ethnicities and genetic dispositions?), and compartmentalizes our body. Synthetic drugs and the health system are also making healing difficult and disabling for many people. Also as a chef, western healthy cuisine was very boring for me. I was so tired of salads, oatmeal, and avocado toasts. So with all these factors, I started to look back to my Chinese roots. Starting from reading ancient Chinese recipes, I was so fascinated by the beauty and wisdom in Chinese foods. At the same time, my mom took me to an acupuncturist and herbalist who treated my menstrual problems successfully with care. I then started to experiment with modernizing TCM recipes and pursuing a TCM master degree.
In short, it took me a couple of years to find TCM and make it my career, but it was so worth it. I really feel I’ve found my path with TCM food therapy and I’m grateful for that.
Image by @georgeevanphoto
How did Five Seasons TCM come to fruition? What are some of the goals of Five Seasons TCM?
I launched Five Seasons TCM in October, 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. It is a boutique wellness brand that shares and modernizes the knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) food therapy through educational content, functional products and its avant-garde aesthetic.
I created the brand because I felt that it was difficult to find good information around TCM food therapy, despite the fact that it is such a rich, interesting, and beneficial subject. When I was hosting TCM dinners in the city, I was constantly asked by my guests where to learn more about TCM foods, and I didn’t know how to answer. The pandemic gave me some time to put up a website and brand. Five Seasons TCM’s mission statement reads:
Promote, educate and inspire a TCM lifestyle.
Provide access to high quality, sustainable, and curated products, inspired by East Asia.
Showcase the authentic knowledge of using food as medicine.
Amplify the voices of the asian community, practitioners, and talents.
What do you recommend for those of us who are new to TCM and looking to learn more and also enjoy some of the revered healing foods this practice offers?
I put up a 101 TCM Food Therapy course on Five Seasons TCM for beginners to learn. There are also a lot of free resources on the site for people to read about TCM.
If and when you have a moment to yourself, how do you honor your mind and body? Are there any practices that support you in moments of stress, especially over the last year?
I find making sounds and art especially healing for me. When I feel down or stressed, I play sing bowls, the flute, and paint.
What does your current morning routine look like?
The first thing I do is to boil some hot water. Then I mix it with room temperature water and add lemon or fresh herb like mint or basil or thyme to make a cup of warm beverage to wake up my body and digestive system. Then I do some facial massage when I put on cream and lotion. And I finish my morning routine with a dot of essential oil behind my ears.
What are your go-to tonic herbs and adaptogens?
Reishi is a must for calming and immunity. Goji and chrysanthemum are fantastic for liver and eyes. For me personally, I use plenty of sha Shen, Yu zhu, mai dong, yi ren, fu ling to replenish yin, cool excessive heat, and drain dampness. I love drinking @fiveseasonstcm Throat Soothing and Dampness Reducing tonic, as they contain my favorite herbs!
Do you have a current favorite TCM recipe? Can you share one with us?!
I’m super into brussel sprouts recently. However, in NYC restaurants, usually I can only find honey-chili ones or raw slaw made of brussel sprouts. How boring! So I made one with black sesame and it turned out to be super tasty! Pan Fried Brussel Sprouts with Black Sesame
What is your go-to meal to cook at home during the Spring months in NYC?
I usually cook really simple things for myself. For spring, I usually make a mixed grain rice with buckwheat, red rice, green lentils, quinoa, and Mung bean. And make at least 2-3 vegetable side dishes like a goji celery stir fry, mixed sprouts with yuzu dressing, and a soft tofu and artichoke salads. For protein, I usually steam a fillet of fish from a trusted source.
Favorite place to travel?
I went to Turkey last summer with my boyfriend. I really love the fusion of cultures there. It’s such an interesting mix of Asian, Arabic, Greek, Iranian, Persian, and Egyptian culture. The traditional foods there, not surprisingly, grabbed my attention and immense interest! I was mostly in Istanbul, and the cats in the city were just..!!!
Thank you! When I design a recipe for Five Seasons TCM or my Instagram, I first think about seasonality. And then based on this season and l inspirations from my daily life, I pick a fresh ingredient and a dried ingredient as the focus of the dish. And from there, I let my creativity and feelings take charge. If I were in the mood for dessert, I’d make a sweet dish; if I were in the mood for comfort foods, I’d make a satisfying, savory main. The process is quite organic and fun! I try to make my recipes inclusive of all cultures.
When it comes to making recipes for food therapy clients or businesses, I need to take into consideration the specific health conditions and formats of the dish.
Can you share advice or words of wisdom for other women entrepreneurs out there?
I am still learning as an entrepreneur. I don’t have any background in business, so everything I’ve done has been a learning-as-I-go process. I will say authenticity, good content creation, and meaningful collaborations is very important.