Food as medicine

Ayurvedic chef Jacqueline Foster offers sessions at the West Tisbury library.


Food is more than a tasty meal for Jacqueline Foster. Food as medicine is the tenant of her life and the center of her work as an Ayurvedic healer and chef. Originating in ancient India, Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine that emphasizes the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and spirit. Foster explains, “The discipline is an over 5,000-year-old practice from India, and there is so much to learn. I will be a lifelong student. I’ve carved out my one little area.”

Foster says, “Food is intrinsic to my life,” and, in fact, her career began when she was 14 years old as a prep cook in a Greek pizza restaurant. She went on to culinary school, cooked in restaurants, owned a food truck, and became an accomplished cheesemaker. The latter brought her to the Vineyard when, about 14 years ago, she came to work first with Mermaid Farm and then Grey Barn.

Little did Foster know that her life would change yet again when, some ten years ago, she recounts, “I had my mind blown after ‘accidentally’ walking into an Ayurvedic workshop at the Yoga Barn.” It turned out to be a eureka moment. “This was everything I’d been trying to find, the framework to connect more deeply to food and use it as medicine and what effect our food and environment have on our health.”

Foster continues, “My goal is to weave my 25 years of experience cooking food and making it taste great with that medicinal practice and educating people on how to eat to feel good.” Along these lines, she is giving three talks at the West Tisbury library to share ways to use our kitchen to do just that.

Foster will start the series with Building Immunity: Ayurveda for Cold Season on Sunday, March 3, at 2:30 pm, which is perfect if you are tired of catching every cold out there, frequently feel under the weather, and/or want to build your immunity to avoid susceptibility. Perhaps you reach for vitamin C or zinc when you are ill. “These are great and useful tools, but there are ways that Ayurveda tells us that we can build our immunity through our gut health, which helps us to be more resilient and resistant to disease of all forms but especially the viruses and bacterial infection that slide around in the fall and spring,” Foster says.

Basic to Ayurveda is the concept of digestive fire, which is unique to and a cornerstone of the discipline’s perspective of health. “It’s not just our digestive tract but goes down to each cell’s ability to metabolize what comes out and then get rid of waste, which is really important and slows down in the winter. We need to do things to heat the body up from the inside.” Ginger, for instance, can be our best friend of the season. “Basically, from October to the end of March or April, unless we already have a lot of heat in our body, we should be cooking with ginger and drinking ginger tea,” Foster reports. However, if you have a lot of inflammation already, say inflammatory arthritis, cystic ulcers, or skin inflammation, then ginger isn’t for you. She explains, “Alternatively, people should be thinking about the rhythms in which we do things.” In addition to diet, it is lifestyle, such as when you eat, how much, and when you sleep and get up. “That will impact your immunity. It’s fascinating information, and when you hear it, you realize it makes sense. There are people who figured this out 5,000 years ago, and when it’s practiced, it works. The beautiful thing about Ayurveda is that it is preventative. Although, there are also protocols for that, too.”

Foster will address The Sanctuary of Sleep: Ayurveda for Deep Rest on Sunday, April 28, at 2:30 pm. The discipline holds that quality sleep is a foundational pillar of health. Lack of quality sleep affects not just our lifespan but also our health span and cognitive decline. She will share simple Ayurvedic lifestyle and dietary practices to enhance restorative rest.

The final session is The Ayurvedic Spice Rack: The Medicine Cabinet in Your Kitchen on Saturday, May 18, at 1:30 pm. “One of my earliest memories of cooking is that my mom would let me make pretend food,” Foster remembers. “I would just go for the spice rack and mix all kinds together because I loved the smells and colors.”

The medicinal uses of spices are key in Ayurveda. You’ll get a cheat sheet and template for spice jar labels that indicate all the medicinal uses for items like cumin, coriander, fennel seed, cardamom, turmeric, and mustard seed, which are common and very impactful. “We will also talk about how to use them so that they remain subtle, how to store the spices properly, and how to bloom them in your dishes.” Blooming is necessary to revitalize the spice. “I’ll be talking about a common Indian cooking practice, making a tadka where you heat a healthy fat over medium-low heat and ‘bloom’ your spices for ten to thirty seconds until they are aromatic, which wakes them up because they’ve been dried and asleep in a jar for so long.”

Foster’s goal for the workshops is for people to gain a good understanding of each subject and some tools, as well as curiosity about Ayurveda because it does good in so many ways, not just for the individual but collectively. “If we come into rhythm with nature as individuals, we’re going to feel better, and when we feel better, we do better,” she says.

Jacqueline Foster’s talks will take place at the West Tisbury library. For more information, visit, and to contact Foster, email