I like to think of macrobiotic cuisine as one way to shrug off the pressure of corporate food structure. There is so much control in the United States as to what we eat and how we eat it, all based on government regulation, convenience and mass production. Macrobiotics is more of a philosophy in life than a diet, but these guidelines focused on mostly eating plants and cutting out animal meats is touted to have incredible effects for your health.
Strolling through a modern supermarket it becomes apparent that Americans prefer food scientists to chefs and cooks, and pre-packaged food is over represented compared to the simple ingredients like beans, whole grains and fresh vegetables and herbs. Foods engineered by scientists driven by our demand for inexpensive convenience and inadvertent overeating has shown us similar growth in health issues related to processed foods. What it boils down to is: do you want to eat something made by a chef or a food scientist? If you are eating foods purely on the basis of its convenient nature over what nutrients it holds for you, Its no wonder we struggle with health issues like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
It all makes sense to me, but can I get off of the white bread? Has my palate been permanently damaged by hot dogs and canned green beans? I may not have a choice if I want my organs to live long and prosper. With locovore as the hot-button of cuisine these days, I delved deeper into the idea of eating what farmers grow locally, and exchanging bad eating habits for good ones.
What is it?
Chef Leslie Ashburn, a macrobiotic chef in Oahu, who teaches cooking and macrobiotic food education, says, “It’s an alternative to buying into the corporate food structure. Eating a whole foods plant based diet will help support local farmers, build the economy, and help protect the environment. We can save money since when we are eating a traditional diet our financial resources are often diverted to purchasing stimulants, depressants, sleeping pills, pain killers and medications to alleviate the symptoms from an unhealthy diet.”
I first heard of macrobiotics when a family member came down with cancer and it was suggested as part of treatment. Macrobiotic followers are thought of as practitioners, like a religion, more than as a way of eating. Hippocrates is attributed with being the first to use the word Macrobiotics, stemming from makro meaning large, great or long, and bios meaning life. He is often quoted as saying, “let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food.” Despite Hippocrates being hip to macrobiotics in ancient times it was the Japanese who are credited with making it into a delicious cuisine and refining the philosophy.
Change is good but how to practice it?
A good rule of thumb is to eat locally, seasonally and organically and include fermented foods. Michael Pollan, author of many books on eating, has coined the term, “‘the American paradox:’ the more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.” His rule of thumb, in his article Six Rules for Eating Wisely is “Don’t eat anything your great great great great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” He also greatly advocates shopping farmers markets.
Eating seasonally means knowing what fruits and vegetables are in season where you live, an art long gone in this day and age of imported, and irradiated fruits and veggies. According to the island fresh Hawaii Seasonality Chart right now we have fresh avocado, citrus, rambutan and strawberries as well as cabbage, corn sweet potato, sprouts and mushroom in peak availability.
According to Chef Ashburn, “The key to eating well is taking what you like and making it into a healthier version. There are no rules for what you can and can’t eat.” She says eating meat or not is a personal decision, but “there are recommendations based on current research related to how animal food is more frequently linked with illness.”
A day in the life of a Macrobiotic
I wanted a snapshot of food for a day in macrobiotic eating. Ashburn suggested a breakfast of sprouted grain english muffins with scrambled tofu and fruit jam. Lunch possibilities were falafel in whole wheat pita or udon with tofu or green salad. Dinner of French white bean stew, sweet potato salad and artisan bread. The surprise was the chocolate cake. Sweets made with natural ingredients are not shunned, but rather eaten sparingly.
In the winter soups and stews and warm dishes are what the body needs, even here in Hawaii where the weather changes subtly these are what you will naturally be drawn to. In the spring and summer lighter eating, cooler, and raw foods will sound better than hot soup on a hot day.
With Macrobiotics a few tenets go a long way. Not only for your body and personal health, but with economic and environmental repercussions that resonate with mother earth as well.
Cranberry Quinoa Pilaf recipe