Macrobiotics

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Macrobiotics is an approach to self-management of health via healthy eating and lifestyle. The diet recommends mostly plant-based, locally sourced, seasonal whole foods, avoidance of preservatives, consistent timing and a well-rounded mix of food types at each meal. Macrobiotics first became popular in the United States during the hippie movement in the 1960's. As taught in 2022, macrobiotics provides a complete system for promoting health and well being. Its approach is somewhat comparable to that of Ayurveda, encompassing everything from daily exercise to self observation to adjusting diet for individual needs to spiritual development, and with an emphasis on prevention rather than remedy.

Root vegetable nishime[1] (long-steamed vegetables), an oil-free dish especially recommended for cold weather.

Even for people who don't want to follow all the recommended practices, the macrobiotic community offers many opportunities to learn how to cook vegetables deliciously. Classes include a variety of cooking styles (steaming, sauteing, braising, stewing, etc), including a special Japanese technique almost never used in American cooking: long-steaming. Vegans, vegetarians and omnivores can benefit from learning macrobiotic cooking and seasoning techniques for vegetables. Macrobiotic meal plans will also ideally adjust cooking styles and food choices for each individual's condition, and according to outside weather and climate and season.

Macrobiotic recipes are particularly helpful for people needing to eat a low-salt, low-oil diet. Macrobiotic meals are nearly, but not a hundred percent, gluten-free, because some dishes prepared in the traditional way will use Japanese shoyu (soy sauce) and barley miso, and both have some gluten in them. Thus, macrobiotic cooking is not appropriate for people with Celiac disease, at least not without modifications. However, macrobiotic meals tends to be organic, seasonal, without sugar or other processed foods, and dairy-free.

The popular cooking show Christina Cooks[2], shown on some public TV stations and available for streaming on the web, features a streamlined macrobiotic cooking style which Christina developed herself after extensive training in macrobiotics. On each 30-minute segment, she cooks a complete meal.

The diagnostic roots of macrobiotics are close to that of Traditional Chinese Medicine's mapping of meridiens and far eastern yin-yang philosophy. Macrobiotics is still being taught in various training centers working in a loose coalition, with teachers in several countries, including the U.S., England, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Its cooking training, originating in Japanese cooking techniques, is especially useful as a style of low salt cooking and avoidance of processed foods and food additives.

Criticisms

Macrobiotics has been criticized because of extravagant health claims made by some proponents. Since macrobiotics is also a philosophy and a social movement, it attracts many people who are in ailing health, some of whom later publish health claims that are not backed by evidence. There were cases in previous decades, where people became deficient in Vitamin B12 from eating a strictly vegan diet, including a macrobiotic diet. Now it is well known that vegans should take a B12 supplement.

Despite the continuing phenomenon of some people over-claiming that macrobiotics can "cure" illnesses, the movement should not be discounted as a mere "fad diet" as per the Wikipedia article. Macrobiotics has been around long enough, and proved valuable to a sufficient number of people, that any over-reaching claims should not prevent a clear-eyed examination of the system's many possible benefits. It is now widely recognized that eating a healthy diet that includes lots of organic vegetables can improve the symptoms for a number of auto-immune health conditions and can be a useful adjunct to medical treatment of those conditions.

Some zealous followers also try to equate macrobiotics with political stances such as anti-vaccine attitudes. The notion that eating a macrobiotic (or any other) diet makes a person invulnerable to pathogens, or able to spontaneously heal from advanced illnesses such as cancer, does not hold up to scrutiny.

Foundational teachers Ohsawa, Kushi and Aihara

The macrobiotic dietary approach to health was conceived in Japan in the 1920's by George Ohsawa (1893-1966), who was inspired by earlier Japanese teachers, writers and texts. Ohsawa was an effusive and charismatic teacher who wrote many books (using pen names Musagendo, Nyoiti or Yukikazu Sakurazawa) in Japanese, French and English. He began introducing Western audiences to his ideas in the 1940's and 1950's, but his flamboyant style and far-reaching claims, advanced during an era of maximum idealism, can no longer be taken as verbatim advice. His books are still studied by macrobiotics followers for their useful foundational ideas, and he is called "the father of macrobiotics", but modern-day counselors have modified his original dietary recommendations substantially.

Many of the older macrobiotics teachers and counselors now active in the United States trained originally under either Herman Aihara (1920-1998) and his wife Cornellia, who moved to California in 1970 and established the George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation, or Michio Kushi (1926-2014) his wife Aveline who were active during about the same years in Massachussetts. Both the Aiharas and the Kushis were Japanese immigrants and benefited from extensive contact with George Ohsawa during his lifetime. The current generation of teachers are all at least third generation teachers or more.

Conventions, Meetings and Gatherings

Macrobiotics practitioners regularly organize themselves into regional conferences. Since 2020, many have offered online options or been entirely online, and many include cooking classes.

Food Markets, Suppliers, Distributers, Organic Farmers

Oils and vinegars imported by Mitoku are made by traditional Japanese methods and are of high quality as compared with many domestic products, which may contain preservatives or may be made of non-traditional ingredients and flavors.

Since the 1960's, a variety of health food suppliers grew up around the macrobiotics movement. These included organic food producers, cooking schools, food importers, farmers, sea vegetable harvesters, urban health food stores and coops, some still extant today. This infrastructure has been important in making organic and healthy food items widely available at a time when mainstream foods were becoming more processed, chemically preserved, and tainted with fertilizer toxins and other environmental pollutants.

Blue Moon Acres organic farm (Bucks Co., PA)

Organic farm in Bucks County, PA and central NJ, Blue Moon Acres grows low-arsenic organic brown rice and other organic vegetables and products central to a macrobiotic lifestyle. Since the 2020 pandemic began, they have been delivering their vegetable boxes to residents within about a fifty mile radius of their location.

The Bridge

The Bridge makes tofu, seitan, amazake and other fermented macrobiotic foods.

Eden Foods

Eden Foods was founded as a coop by macrobiotic young people in Michigan in the 1960's to fill a void availability of healthy foods. Eden is now an organic and macrobiotic food packager and distributor with warehouses in Michigan and California.[4]

Essene Market

Essene Market & Cafe was founded in 1969 in Philadelphia, PA, by macrobiotic counselor Denny Waxman. For about four decades, Denny's brother managed it, and it grew to be one of the premier health food markets in the region. Around 2010 (date tba), Essene was sold to a third party.

Erewhon Market

The Erewhon natural food store opened in Boston in 1966, inspired by macrobiotics. It seems to have been one of the first natural food stores in the United States. A West Coast Erewhon also opened in 1968 and became a well-known health food oasis. Both acted as models for future natural food stores across the nation.[5]

Gold Mine Natural Foods

Gold Mine Natural Foods was founded in California in the 1980's in an effort to make more organic food available to the public.[6]

Maine seaweed

  • Seaweed from Maine

Mitoku

This importer of Japanese oils, condiments and food used in macrobiotics was founded in the 1970's to meet macrobiotic needs in the U.S.

Training institutes

The Macrobiotic Association

Located in the UK, the Macrobiotic Association[7] provides an accreditation process for macrobiotic health coaches, cooks and consultants to become MBA Professional Members and maintain the highest standards set by our code of conduct and ethics. In 2021, its directors included Simon Brown, Ariel Perea Diaz, Anna Mackenzie, Marion Price, Valentina Deva Ray and Shirley Roach.

G.O.M.F. and Macrobiotics Today

The George Ohsawa Macrobiotics Foundation, aka G.O.M.F., was founded in 1970 by Herman and Cornellia Aihara in San Francisco[8]. It was officially incorporated on March 2, 1971 and is still operating in 2021.

G.O.M.F. publishes a quarterly all-digital bulletin called Macrobiotics Today, which serves as an information hub to share news across all practitioners of Macrobiotics. The first edition of Macrobiotics Today was published by Herman Aihara as Macrobiotics News by the Ohsawa Foundation of New York in Mary of 1960[9]. As of 2021, the newsletter's editor is Carl Ferre (California).

Kushi Institute (Boston, MA)

Established 1978, now defunct.

Natural Gourmet Cooking School

The Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts was a mostly vegetarian cooking school in Manhattan, New York City, founded by Annemarie Colbin, Ph. D in 1977. The Natural Gourmet Institute taught cooking techniques from a variety of cuisines around the world, teaching that the food should be whole, fresh, traditional, balanced, local, seasonal and delicious. The menus were largely, but not exclusively, plant-based. In early 2019, the Natural Gourmet was subsumed by the Institute of Culinary Education[10], which announced its intention to keep the Natural Gourmet education track available as a separate option.

Strengthening Health Institute (Philadelphia, PA)

Owned and operated by Denny and Susan Waxman.

Macrobiotic Association

  • The Macrobiotic Association[11] (London, England) - active, provides classes and an accreditation process for macrobiotic health coaches, cooks and consultants

Teachers and counselors

As of 2021, third generation (or later) counselors of macrobiotics are older and originally trained at a time when macrobiotics became suddenly of more widespread interest during the upheaval of the 1960's. The following list is not complete, but contains important examples. A more complete and up-to-date list can be found at the back of any edition of Macrobiotics Today.

  • Mark Hanna - passed away in 2021
  • Sheldon Rice - passed away in 2021
  • Bernadette Kikuchi - passed away in 2021
  • Patricio Garcia de Paredes - a member of One Peaceful World, teaching in 2022 in the Whole Health Macrobiotic Forum in Israel and online.
  • Mio Miyasato - teaching about Japanese cuisine in 2022 in the Whole Health Macrobiotic Forum in Israel and online.
  • Annunziata Jyoti Cardona - teaching about Italian cuisine in 2022 in the Whole Health Macrobiotic Forum in Israel and online.
  • Dr. Ronald R. Parks, MPK, MD - teaching about mental health in 2022 in the Whole Health Macrobiotic Forum in Israel and online.
  • Saci MacDonald - teaching about breathwork in 2022 in the Whole Health Macrobiotic Forum in Israel and online.
  • Melanie Brown - (formerly Waxman) teaches macrobiotics in Spain.
  • Simon Brown - author of Modern Day Macrobiotics and Macrobiotics For Life; macrobiotic consultant and teacher living in London UK as of 2021[12]
  • Bob Ligon - acupuncturist, herbalist, author, life-style counselor, life coach, practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Annemarie Colbin, Ph. D. - campaigned against overly-refined food and taught about its connection to poor health; author of Food and Healing[13] and other books, and founded the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts in New York City in 1977
  • Edward Esko - macrobiotic educator; passed away in 2021
  • Wendy Esko - macrobiotic chef, author, now employed by Eden Foods
  • Carl Ferre - macrobiotics teacher, and editor of the Macrobiotics Today magazine published by the G.O.M.F. (George Ohsawa Macrobiotics Foundation)
  • Alex Jack - * Alex Jack - co-author of The One Peaceful World Cookbook: Over 150 Vegan, Macrobiotic Recipes for Vibrant Health and Happiness (2017)
  • Sachi Kato - co-author of The One Peaceful World Cookbook: Over 150 Vegan, Macrobiotic Recipes for Vibrant Health and Happiness (2017)
  • Warren Kramer - macrobiotic health counselor; passed away in 2021
  • Christina Pirello - whole food chef, author, macrobiotics teacher, and host of a public television cooking show ("Christina Cooks") featuring plant-based whole foods
  • Patrick Riley - macrobiotic health counselor, shiatsu master, near Philadelphia, PA
  • Michael Rossoff - acupuncturist and health educator
  • William Speer - macrobiotic health counselor
  • Bill Tara - macrobiotic educator
  • Jamie Trevena - macrobiotic health coach
  • Denny Waxman - macrobiotic health counselor at Strengthening Health Institute in Philadelphia, PA
  • Susan Waxman - teacher at Strengthening Health Institute in Philadelphia, PA

Teachers and counselors deceased

References

  1. Nishime recipe, recipe for long-steamed vegetables from the Eating for your Health website, last access 11/2/2022,
  2. Website for Christina Cooks, currently shown on many public TV channels in the US in 2021, and available for streaming
  3. Ohsawa Macrobiotics, last accessed 9/29/2022
  4. About Eden Foods, last access 3/19/2021
  5. "Macrobiotics Revisited: Food as Medicine" by Lisa Valantine, in Macrobiotics Today, Winter 2021.
  6. About Gold Mine Natural Foods, last access 3/19/2021
  7. The Macrobiotic Association.
  8. Macrobiotics Today, Spring 2021, Vol. 62, No. 3, p.4
  9. Ibid., p.4
  10. Press Release from The Institute of Culinary Education, Jan 08, 2019, last access 12/8/2020.
  11. Macrobiotic Association website, last acces 2/21/2021
  12. Macrobiotics Association Board of Directors, last access 2/22/2021
  13. Food and Healing by Annemarie Colbin, 1986, Ballantine Books; ISBN 978-0345303851