Not long ago I met an old acquaintance at a local diner. As we sat down, he asked if I was a strict macrobiotic and if I would be able to find anything to eat at this diner. I responded by saying that “strict macrobiotic” is an oxymoron.
Recently I met someone who, upon hearing my name, “Kushi,” commented that they had tried macrobiotics once but it didn’t work for them. It sounded like they thought this thing called “macrobiotics” was like a pair of shoes that one puts on and removes.
As I travel through life I am constantly reminded that the understanding I grew up with regarding what is popularly known as “macrobiotics” is very different from the understanding that most people have on the subject. The two ideas I always come across is that macrobiotics has to do with food (or is food), and the other idea is that it has to do with disease or curing disease through some restrictive diet. Neither is accurate and both completely miss the real practical idea of what it means to live macrobiotically.
The macrobiotic philosophy as taught by my father, Michio Kushi and by his teacher, George Ohsawa, was originally called the “unique principle” or “the order of the universe.” These terms are much more descriptive of their original ideas than what has become the accepted understanding of macrobiotics, i.e.: a restrictive diet for curing disease. Once the word “macrobiotics” was coined and used as a noun, its meaning began to deviate from the original ideas for the simple reason that once something is named, it automatically creates what it isn’t.
The real value of the macrobiotic way of life is seen when it is applied to all aspects of our daily life, using the ideas as a compass to achieve not only our individual goals and desires, but also the goals and desires of our planetary society as a whole. In other words, applying the natural laws of the universe in maintaining our individual and social health and well being. All human suffering and disease result from our ignorance of natural laws. Living macrobiotically is not about a restrictive diet or avoidance of disease, but rather understanding that we humans, being a part of the universe, are born with the capacity to fully enjoy and share in all the abundance the universe has to offer.
Humans, like all mammals living naturally, are born with the capacity to live a long healthy, disease-free life. One of the basic ways in which we do this is through our food choices. All animals living in nature understand and eat species-specific foods. Humans are no different from other animals in this regard. In order to maintain our health and well being, we need only to choose foods which nature has provided for humans. If we examine our digestive system from our teeth down to the other end, we can see that nature has designed us to eat a vegetarian, whole grain based diet. This is where the food choices come into play — not to eat a narrow restrictive diet, but in order to fully realize our dreams.
Depending on where we live, in order for us to maintain our well being, our food choices need to be made up primarily of what can be grown locally. If we live in New England, and we choose to eat foods grown in the tropics, it becomes challenging to live comfortably in New England. Not only will this cost us in terms of our individual health, but from a social, economic and ecological perspective (particularly with perishable foods) there are high hidden costs associated with transporting foods over long distances. Likewise, if we consume cow’s milk, what nature designed as the perfect food for a calf, we humans, having very different characteristics and needs from a calf, will face health challenges from consuming foods nature did not intend for humans.
Our bodies are designed to be physically active. Living as a human being means being physically active. It would be impossible to achieve all our dreams and maintain a sense of being fully alive without maintaining a physically active lifestyle.
Humans are social creatures. Being human is to participate in society. In order for us to feel fully alive and achieve our dreams, it is important that we actively participate in society. The number of friends one has is a good measure and reflection of one’s own health.
Humans are designed to have nurturing personal relationships and provide a healthy nurturing environment to raise our children. The quality of our home life is also a good measure and reflection of our health. When one is healthy and fully alive, it becomes easy to maintain a nurturing, sexually active relationship with our partner. The degree to which we maintain a passionate love affair with our spouse, regardless of how many years together and regardless of our age, is a reflection of our individual health.
Another wonderful marker of health is when one is excited about growing old together with their spouse, knowing as they go through life, they enrich themselves through life’s experiences and therefore have more to share with each other. Finding your soulmate is as simple as understanding and living as a human being.
So what living macrobiotically means, is living as human beings — which means waking up fully alive, looking forward to every day, enjoying the food we eat, being physically active, participating and contributing to society through your work and other activities, having a ton of friends, having a nurturing home for our children, having a passionate love affair with your partner, and going for all your dreams. Dietary deprivation and fear of disease don’t have to be a part of it.