interview with Philip McKibbin
Tahu Dubs (Ngāi Tahu) lives in Byron Bay, Australia. He uses music to spread joy and awareness.
You say you have an Ayurvedic approach to kai. Please tell me more about that.
I was working in a coffee stall in a mall in Melbourne, and it was really busy. Like, above a train station – go, go, go, like, thousands of people, all day, feeding the city. And one day, I was just standing there, and then I just started spinning. Like, I had this crazy ill-health episode. My balance went, I was freaking out, my heart was racing. You know those stalls in the middle of the mall? You don’t have a back room or anything. You’re just in those little cubes, and everyone’s around you. And so, I really freaked out, and I got on the train and I went home, and I was, like, anxiety everything, stress, heart’s racing. And I started going to the doctor a lot, and they started giving me antibiotics, and then I’d go back to the doctor every two weeks, and more antibiotics, more antibiotics. I was like, ‘What’s going on here? This can’t be what it’s come to – like, surviving off taking these pills, and a doctor that’s not saying anything.’
So then I started to look into frog medicine, which is Kambo medicine, which comes from South America, and it’s a frog poison that they take off the back of a frog. They burn little holes into your arm, then they put the frog venom onto you. And then you basically have a really uncomfortable experience of complete swelling – like, you swell up like you’ve been bitten by something really poisonous, cos you have, and then you vomit, and you purge out liver bile and toxins, and it’s really intense. So I turned to that after the conventional doctor had just been giving me pill after pill, and I did three sessions of that, and then on the third session the guy said, ‘You might want to look at visiting this Ayurvedic doctor to look at your diet.’ And that’s where it all started!
So I went and I had a little doctor’s visit, and it was pretty average – that doctor was pretty average – but with the Internet and books, we can learn everything ourselves now. So that was back in 2015, and that’s when I was like, ‘Doctors can’t really help me with this. This is gonna have to be a lifestyle change.’ And I stopped spinning, I stopped all of the illness, disease, whatever was going on, and for me, now that I know that I’m Pitta, like, the worst place for a Pitta to be is at a train station, where trains are flying in, flying out, people are flying in, flying out. It was just excessing my own Pitta, and that’s why I was getting these crazy illnesses. So that’s where it all started, and it just progressed from there. I don’t want to be sick like that again, pretty much. I’d already been following chakras and other Eastern knowledge stuff, so I was a little bit familiar with where they were coming from. Yeah.
It kind of works on the idea that we have three Doshas within our body. There’s Pitta, Vata, and Kapha. Pitta’s like water and fire, Vata is like air, and Kapha’s like water and Earth. It’s from the same school of yoga, so it goes way back. You have a combination of all of these three Doshas, and some people are more fiery than others, some people are more airy - and this comes across in personality, too. Really fiery people are like, ‘Rarr, rarr, rarr!’ Really airy people are like, ‘I don’t even know what day it is.’ And then really Kapha people who are just like, ‘Unless there’s a reason to get out of bed, I’m not getting out of bed.’ (laughs) And so there’s body types that come along with that too. Vatas are often quite tall or quite short, lean, and they can eat hot stuff. They shouldn’t eat things with a lot of air in them, like popcorn and stuff.
So, Ayurveda, after understanding the Doshas, it works on like increases like. I’ll use me as an example. I’m Pitta – mainly Pitta – which is fiery. So I’m like fire, fast, dynamic movements, and I believe that’s why I’m doing performing, and music. It’s all fast, dynamic, it’s loud – it’s very flame-like. So if I eat things like chilli, salt, ginger, garlic, onions – those are all very heating foods, so anything that’s heating is going to give me an excess of my Dosha, Pitta, and that’s going to increase that, and that’s going to lead to inflammation issues, in personality, and also in the body, so hives, rashes, excess sweating, and being short-tempered, very fiery with responses and stuff. Yeah, so what I eat is a very cooling diet. I eat cucumbers, mint, kale, zucchini, all the vegetables that really help to cool everything down. Rice, potatoes, mayonnaise, aloe vera - anything that’s cooling will balance me out. So if I ever feel out of balance, like, hey, I’m short-tempered today, I just feel irritated really fast, as you would if you were overheating, then I know, like, I’ll just have a mint tea, a slice of cucumber, some watermelon, and I’ll instantly bring my Pitta into balance again. It’s full looking at the food as medicine. And the most powerful thing I’ve found with food is the herbs and spices. If my Pitta’s going out and getting rashy, or whatever, I can use coriander seed, I can use dill, I can use cardamon, fennel seed, all those flavours – sweetness brings heat down.
But I’ll just touch on another part with the Doshas. Every Dosha has a reason, so Vata, they are very airy people, so they shouldn’t eat things with too much air in it. They’re very creative, good imaginations, sharp minds, can learn things fast, and that’s their thing. Now, a Pitta, we can get things done. A Vata might not necessarily get it done – great ideas, amazing ideas, but too much hui, not enough doey. Great ideas, but there’s no Pitta coming through to get the ball rolling and make it real. And then, if you didn’t have Kapha, which is the Earth and the watery element, they’re all about concluding an idea or a project. So a Vata sparks it off with their imagination, a Pitta does all the work with their fiery, dynamic, networking, business – the business world’s very Pitta, like, networking, moving around, it’s very dynamic – and then Kapha, they grab it, and they conclude it, and then ground it. And we have all three qualities within us. So, you can see how holistic the approach is.
Certain types can handle meat better. Vata, I think they can handle their red meats better. Pitta, I can handle white meats. And I think Kapha, maybe white meats. Because red meat’s so heavy, so if you’re Kapha, you’re already heavy, so you don’t want to be heavier, cos then you’re gonna get depressed, all of those things – anxiety, depression, all of those things that make you just stop and stay inside, they’re, like, excess Kapha-related things. So yeah, they don’t really talk about not eating meat. It’s not a restrictive approach to eating; it’s just a balanced approach, and using food to balance yourself. But, in saying that, a lot of the Ayurveda stuff that I read is vegetarian, because of that holistic approach and the understanding that if the world and the animals are suffering, then we’re gonna be suffering, too.
The way they’d see it, probably, is that there’s too much Pitta in the meat industry, cos they just churn and burn. It’s very fiery. I’ve met people over here who have worked in slaughterhouses, and I think they had to do 700 kills in a shift – cows, just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Someone would kill it, and then someone would chop it, and others would get in there and really finish it off. And they’re just telling me they think nothing of it, eh? It’s just another day at work. When Ayurveda was born, the industry would have been nothing like this. And that’s another thing: with te ao Māori: when we were eating meat, back in the day, it was nothing like the meat that we’ve got now. It would have been wild; yeah, it might have been farmed, but nothing like this sort of farming. So I think meat has a place for some people, but it’s just the fact that the industry now is so crazy, we almost need the industry to shut down, and then people maybe do their own thing – their own home stuff and that.
How does this approach to kai connect to your Māori values?
I understand that Papatūānuku is growing my body, but it’s growing my body away from this body. So when Papatūānuku grows an apple, that apple, when I eat it, becomes my body, once it’s digested. So yeah, the apple becomes my body, it becomes my cells, my skin, my organs, everything. So that means the apple growing on the tree is actually my tinana, it’s just I haven’t put it into this tinana yet, but it’s the same thing, you know? They’re compatible. I was thinking that not long ago, that the veggies, the garden, and all that, it’s literally like watching my tinana grow out of the whenua. And the only step after that is to unite with that tinana that is grown out of the whenua and put it into my tinana. But it’s the same thing. I kind of look at it like Lego blocks. Like, when I look at my plate, that’s the Lego blocks, my body’s a Lego block, and whatever is on my plate will be building my body. So the understanding is that the connection to Papatūānuku is, like, yeah, Papatūānuku grows the medicine and everything. Papatūānuku’s growing what we need for our bodies. Without all of that growing, what would we be? We can’t just survive off eating air and stuff. Some people can, I think, like air-atarians, or sun gazers or something. But if you want a body that’s dynamic and can do something, then you need proper energy. So my understanding is that Papatūānuku and me, there’s no separation. The apple is just my body that hasn’t become my body yet, but it’s still my body.
The thing with Ayurveda is that it’s not what you eat, it’s what you digest – because you can eat anything, but it doesn’t mean your body’s digesting it and using it efficiently to create your cells and stuff. And you could eat good kai, and then get up and walk around, or go for a run, and your body’s not gonna digest it well. So yeah, you’re eating good kai – well done – but because you’re not taking that time to digest, it’s not becoming anything. It’s not being digested correctly. You’re probably losing all the minerals and nutrients and stuff in it. So yeah, after I eat, I like to just sit down and digest. And this has been a big thing when I’m in a social situation – cos people eat, look at their phone, you know, there’s no connection to the food, and then they just eat and stand up and walk away. It’s like, you’ve only done half of the process. You’ve done the eating part; now you have to do the digesting part, otherwise there’s no point to it. It’s a two-part process.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to make positive changes around kai?
Probably, the first thing: don’t buy anything with numbers. It’s just not worth it. Back to that connection to te ao Māori and Papatūānuku, the fruit don’t grow with numbers. That’s a man-made thing. So stay away from it. ‘Oh, 202 might be all right.’ Nah, just, you don’t have to go there, basically. So yeah, stay away from numbers – that’s the first one.
Another is, give your body time to adjust. You can’t just start a new diet and then, like, two weeks later say, ‘Oh, I don’t feel anything.’ It’s gotta be a lifestyle approach.
Don’t be restrictive. If you like eating something – well, maybe do some research on Ayurveda, because if I like something hot, like a hot curry, then I’ll eat it in winter, when the external environment is providing the cooling for my body to be able to eat it. But I wouldn’t eat that same curry in summer, because the external environment’s full of heat as well. So if you can learn some Ayurveda stuff, you’ll get a nice balance to it.
And go shopping. Plan out meals. Write your meal list, and then write your shopping list off the meal list, so that you’re not mindlessly shopping. You know that, ‘I need this, this, this, this, this,’ and that’s going to equal four nights’ of meals and four days’ of lunch. So take the guesswork out of it. ‘Oh, what am I going to do now that I have all of this produce and that?’ Pre-plan your meals, shop after. Yeah. And enjoy cooking. Get into cooking. And get into using herbs and spices, because they are just amazing, and they’re really powerful from a rongoā perspective. They are the powerful things. Like, you just take normal rice, and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, yup.’ And then you put fennel, cumin seed, coriander seed, cardamon – and all of a sudden you’ve got this rongoā from that rice. So yeah, get into cooking, get into shopping, cos those are two things that I didn’t really do. I didn’t know. I was living in the city, and I was ordering takeaway food, and I’d go into a supermarket, and I’d just be clueless, because I hadn’t constructed the meal, so I didn’t really know what I was after. So yeah, plan your meal, do shopping lists, enjoy shopping, enjoy cooking – and preparation. Be prepared to prepare your kai, cos if you wanna eat healthy, you can’t rely on on-the-go food.
Interviewed: October, 2019
Published: July, 2020
Published: July, 2020