Whitney: On Food Service and Community Acupuncture

Like many of my colleagues, there are many things about being a community acupuncturist (A.K.A: Acupunk) that remind me of my time working in food service.  When I have a full schedule, the pace of being in the busy clinic is identical to being in a bustling kitchen.  Like food service, acupunking involves doing many things at once, keeping track of all of them, and making sure that everything happens exactly when it needs to.

I’m sure many of you at OAP have heard me ask, “Are you still cooking?”  It may seem like this is a funny way of asking people whether they want to rest a little longer or if they are ready to go, but I picture all of you on your own little burners, simmering away: some of you slow cook on the back burner and some are on the grill. Acupuncture points themselves are like ingredients. They each have their own nature and are picked and combined carefully to create something cohesive, delicious, and nourishing.

Long before becoming an acupunk, I was initiated into the world of food service delivering Chinese food in West Virginia at a place called Charlie Woo’s. It was a Lebanese owned Chinese food restaurant with food prepared by a Vietnamese chef. (And who says West Virginia isn’t diverse?) I drove a Subaru station wagon  that will forever be known as “The Woobaru.”

I left WV for Colorado and headed to the tiny mountain town of Nederland.  I landed a job in a popular watering hole which offered lunch and dinner. I worked my way from washing dishes to food prep responsibilities to some light cooking. Before long, I ran the kitchen by myself, cooking up Rocky Mountain oysters and huge pots of green chili at over 8000 feet. This was my first real taste of doing many things at once and having them all turn out delicious and at the right time.  It was a taste of the right pace.

In order to finish school, I attended Naropa in Boulder, CO. I worked at the local university’s athletic department preparing meals, as well as catering huge banquets and wild brunches before football games.

After moving to California, I worked as a lunch lady at Lick-Wilmerding High School, as a recipe tester for Veggie Life magazine, and finally as the dinner chef at the Pacific School of Religion.  If it wasn’t for my knee blowing out during my time at PSR (and all of the relief I got from frequent and regular acupuncture treatments) I might still be there today.  During the time I was getting treatment for my knee I fell in love with acupuncture and was amazed at what a difference those tiny needles can make with everything (not just my knee). I left my cooking job and started school full time. The rest is OAP history…

As an acupunk, I fall back on my food service skills in order to be ready for anything. Whether one of you needs a blanket mid-rest, or a needle adjusted, this is just like stopping in the kitchen and going to stir the pot that needs my attention. When you are late, early, or all dropping in at the same time, it feels the same as having to get a meal out on time no matter what else is happening. I stay calm, prioritize, and give each little “dish” the best care that I can. When I was responsible for actually feeding people, I added love into the food. Love, every time. I add the same ingredient to every one of your treatments…

When I was still an intern in acupuncture school, I had a patient who knew me when I had been pumping out yummy dinners at PSR. One day, after I put her needles in and invited her to sit back, relax and enjoy the show, she spontaneously said to me, “I’m not sure what you’ve just done, but I can tell you are trying to make me delicious.”  She got it: my food mind and my acupuncture mind operate and care in the same ways.

I am trying to make each of you delicious!