Cultural Ills: Yeet Hay

Cultural Ills: Yeet Hay

I had never heard of yeet hay until someone mentioned it off-handedly on a message board this week.  Yeet hay is an illness that befalls people who have the misfortune of eating too much greasy and/or spicy food.

I'm fascinated by culturally-specific illnesses and fears.  For example, a common belief in Southeast Asia - particularly Taiwan -  is that a fan can kill you if you leave it on all night.  As you can imagine, this is an unfortunate belief in a tropical climate.  

The fear, called "fan death," even leads manufacturers to build sleep settings into their fans.  In Taiwan most air circulation fans have a button you can push for "blow air for an hour then stop."

Yeet hay translates literally to "hot air" or "big fire air."  It is closely tied to the Chinese concept of Qi, the importance of maintaining a balance between the elements, and the underpinnings of Chinese traditional medicine as a whole.

Yeet hay is apparently specific just to the Chinese, and has not acculturated to neighboring countries or to other races.  This is interesting if you think about it.  I would have expected it to have a higher profile outside the Chinese community, considering the popularity of Chinese traditional medicine and cures, and other Chinese medical and philosophical tools like Feng Shui and the I Ching.

The four humors of Chinese philosophy are hot, cold, wet, and dry.  Yeet hay results from being too hot.  Not literally hot, mind you, but simply having consumed a lot of foods which are said to be hot.  Greasy, spicy, heavy sauces, lychee fruits, and fast food like KFC are all classic "hot" foods.  A lack of sleep is often a contributing factor.

Yeet hay runs a spectrum from "a slight sore throat and some pimples" to "mouth sores and nose bleeds."  The cure for yeet hay is to consume foods which are "cold" like chrysanthemum tea, watercress soup, 24-flavor tea, influenza tea, green bean soup, sour plum soup, and beer.

Interestingly, although many Chinese and Chinese-American people were chided by their parents for eating too much yeet hay food, there is no opposite condition.  Foods which are said to be cool are called "leurng," but parents rarely caution their children about leurng.

This situates yeet hay in an interesting point on the graph.  In fact I saw many comments from Chinese people who strongly suspected their parents were just using yeet hay as a sort of bogeyman, to keep their kids from eating too much junk food.

It's a common refrain, "I tried to explain yeet hay to my non-Chinese friends and they didn't understand OR believe me!"  It's difficult to discuss, not least because there is absolutely no way to translate the term.  A Western audience will likely never have heard of yeet hay, although I think a lot of people understand the concept of Chinese balance, yin and yang, that kind of thing.

I find it particularly intriguing that canker sores are one symptom of yeet hay.  I have been sporadically plagued by canker sores ever since I was a little kid.  No explanation has ever been unearthed, and most doctors prescribe either more vitamin C or less.  Next time I get a canker sore, I'll have to think back and see if I've been eating yeet hay!

Photo credit: Flickr/callme_crochet