During his time at the Kushi Institue, Phiya led and coordinated the macrobiotic best case series presetnted to the National Cancer Institute, hosted and conducted health seminars around the country, and redefined the meaning of "macrobiotics".
Phiya is currently involved in producing a documentary film on macrobiotics and life of his parents, and has started an online publishing company, Kushi Publishing. He also shares his love and knowledge for macrobiotics on his personal blog. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.
Part I: What is a macrobiotic diet?
There is no such thing as a "macrobiotic diet'. Diet commonly refers to something that is limiting and restrictive-- completely opposite of macrobiotics. There are no taboo foods in macrobiotics and whatever human beings have eaten since the beginning of their appearance on earth is included in the macrobiotic diet. So the question What is a macrobiotic diet? really should be: What is the optimal diet for all of humanity?
First, it is important to understand that macrobiotics is really about change, balance and living in harmony with the natural environment. It is based on the view that we are influenced by our environment externally and internally; in causal and transformative ways. Food, including all the things we ingest: air, vibrations, etc., is the mechanism that allows us to transform ourselves in order to adapt to our environment. When we eat food we are eating the essence of the environment which created that food, and we transform ourselves with it. If we understand our relationship to our environment in this way, then we can begin to see that we are and have always been the product of environment through the foods that we ate throughout the history of humanity. We can also begin to see that our bodies and all of its characteristics have been gradually evolving overtime according to the changes in natural environment reflected in the foods that humanity has consumed over time. By examining our human physical traits we should be able to understand what foods were consumed that made us human.
Based on this view George Ohsawa and Michio Kushi concluded that whole cereal grains have been humanity's primary food followed by vegetables and some animal food. The ratios of these types of food to each other are shown, for example, by the type of teeth that an adult human has in his mouth. There are 32 teeth, four of which are canine for eating meat, the rest are incisors for cutting vegetables and pre-molars and molars for grinding seeds and grains. The ratio of animal to plant food ideal for human consumption is therefore concluded to 4:28 or 1:7 with the dominant portion of plant material to be grains and seeds. Based on this Michio proceeded to outline a "standard macrobiotic diet" or a whole grain-centered, plant based diet.
When this "standard macrobiotic diet" was presented many mistakenly believed this to be "the" macrobiotic diet, one that pretty much avoided or excluded all animal foods and dairy products. In reality, no foods are taboo in macrobiotics including animal foods, which are portioned into much smaller ratios than is normally consumed today. These dietary ratios of different foods were reflected in a pyramid-style presentation that Michio later created and can been seen here. However, the original “standard macrobiotic diet” gave the impression that macrobiotics was a rigid and fixed diet instead of its real intention, to show the optimal diet for humanity.
Furthermore, those suffering from chronic illnesses resulting from consuming too many animal and dairy foods (which happen to be the majority of Americans) were recommended to not eat such foods. This helped further the myth of a "macrobiotic diet" that was limiting and avoided all animal foods save for the consumption of the occasional fish. But in truth, macrobiotic dietary recommendations vary according to the condition and situation of each individual. Information presented in books and pamphlets on macrobiotics did not help to alter this perception.
The best way to understand the dietary suggestions that both George Ohsawa and Michio Kushi recommended is to describe it as a proposed diet for all of humanity; based on a biological, evolutionary, environmental theory of foods that created and sustained humans since their arrival on earth. This theory proposes that the diet most suitable for maintenance and continued evolution for all of humanity is a plant-based one with whole cereal grains as the main staple food. All other foods, including all animal foods are not excluded but are second to grains. In addition, diets should vary according to geography, climate, season and personal need and condition. The macrobiotic approach is not a specific diet, but a theoretical system based on maintaining harmony with the ever-changing environment, with food being the transformative tool.
Additionally, foods can be further modified through cooking and processing methods. The application of fire, grinding, pressure, time, salt, water, oil and other culinary methods can transform the nature of the foods we eat, making them more edible and suitable to the climates we live in. The art of balanced cuisine-- macrobiotic cuisine-- is simple and two-fold. It is, first and foremost, to make all foods edible and suitable to our environment and second, to prepare them according to our own personal needs. In this way, a skilled macrobiotic chef can, theoretically, take any food item and transform it into something that will support the balancing of an individual. The art of macrobiotic cuisine is not one with only a limited set of ingredients, but instead is one where the challenge is to transform any and all foods into something balanced and beneficial. It is the greatest challenge and art for any chef to take on.
The dietary application according to macrobiotic principles is the complete opposite in meaning to the popular notion of the word "diet" which is limiting, restrictive and rigid. It is, instead, about learning how to incorporate, play with and balance any food item in a way that addresses individual needs while also promoting the health and development of humanity.
Tomorrow: Part II on the Macrobiotic and Cancer Connection