macrobiotic diet

Hippy days are here again

Isn’t it amazing that the ‘hippy diet’ the authorities once warned would corrupt a generation is now officially endorsed by the medical establishment, says Craig Sams

Stop the press! Amazing news from researchers…

The British Journal of Cancer recently published a report funded by Cancer Research UK. The report says that 40 per cent of cancers arise from lifestyle factors including poor diet and obesity. Specifically: not enough fibre, not enough vegetables, too much meat and too much alcohol.

In 1966, full of the joys of discovering good health and vitality through macrobiotic diet, my girlfriend and I visited the macrobiotic bookshop in New York. Irma Paul, the owner, sat behind the counter looking morose, not at all the happy image of macrobiotics (Greek for ‘long life’ or ‘big life’) that I expected. She allowed us to look at the books but said that we could not purchase anything.

Her reason? The American Medical Association had recently urged the FBI to bust the bookshop for selling illegal books. The FBI took the books away and went over them with expert advisors from the American Medical Association. The result? The bookshop closed a few days later and the books were taken away, condemned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and burned. Reader’s Digest later ran a cover story calling macrobiotics ‘The Hippie Diet That’s Killing Our Kids.”

What was the evil message that brought such a fate?  Kiddie porn? Bomb-making instructions? No, much worse as far as the AMA was concerned: these books contained statements that too much meat, not enough fibre, not enough vegetables and too much meat and alcohol could lead to cancer. Exactly what the British Journal of Cancer article now states.

At the time the medical orthodoxy was that cancer was in the genes or just bad luck. Prof Max Parkin, a Cancer Research epidemiologist, commented on the new report: “Many people believe cancer is down to fate or ‘in the genes’…it’s clear that 40 per cent of cancers are caused by things we have the power to change.” I wonder where ‘many people’ got that wacky idea? Perhaps from listening to all the medical experts who told them for decades they couldn’t do anything to prevent cancer.

In the 1950s American magazines ran ads extolling the preference of doctors for Camel brand cigarettes. Oh dear. I wonder how many people took up smoking because of these role models…and died?

In the 50s Wilhelm Reich talked about the ‘Emotional Plague’ – a disease that parents gave to their children by beating them and abusing them, passing on sick behaviour from one generation to the next. He argued for sexual liberation and advocated condom use and economic independence for women. Several tonnes of his books were burned by the FDA and he died in prison in 1956.  Now it’s illegal to beat kids, women are liberated and child abuse condemned.

So, two pioneers of sensible thinking went to their graves bitter and disillusioned and didn’t live to see their ideas become accepted in the mainstream.

What about me? After discovering that the FBI, the AMA and the FDA were hysterically alarmed about macrobiotics, I figured it was at least as powerful as I had thought.

I went to the newly-opened Paradox macrobiotic restaurant that evening and decided then and there that my future would lay in bringing awareness of the joys of healthy eating to as many people as possible. It fulfilled my do-goodism and my revolutionary instincts.

What about the authorities? The same governments that burned books and chucked their authors in jail now support sex education and condom use and urge their citizens to eat more vegetables and wholegrains and to cut down on meat and booze.

Can you imagine any MPs or doctors nowadays plugging cigarettes or urging people to eat junk food and beat their kids?

Is More Research Really Needed?

Stop the presses!  Amazing news from researchers!

The British Journal of Cancer recently published a report funded by Cancer Research UK .  The report says that 40% of cancers arise from lifestyle factors including poor diet and obesity.  Specifically: not enough fibre, not enough vegetables, too much meat and too much alcohol.

In 1966, full of the joys of discovering good health and vitality through macrobiotic diet, my girl friend and I visited the macrobiotic bookshop in New York.  Irma Paul, the owner, sat behind the counter looking morose, not at all the happy image of macrobiotic (Greek for ‘long life’ or ‘big life’) that I expected.  She allowed us to look at the books but said that we could not purchase anything.  Her reason? The American Medical Association had recently urged the FBI to bust the bookshop for selling illegal books.  The FBI took the books away and went over them with expert advisors from the AMA.  The result?  The bookshop closed a few days later and the books were taken away, condemned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and burned.   Reader’s Digest later ran a cover story calling macrobiotics ‘The Hippie Diet That’s Killing Our Kids”

What was the evil message that brought such a fate?  Kiddie porn? Bomb-making instructions?  No, much worse as far as the AMA was concerned: these books contained statements that too much meat, not enough fibre, not enough vegetables and too much meat and alcohol could lead to cancer.   Exactly what the Britich Journal of Cancer article now states.

At the time the medical orthodoxy was that cancer was in the genes or just bad luck.   Prof Max Parkin, a Cancer Research epidemiologist, commented on the new report: “Many people believe cancer is down to fate or ‘in the genes’ …it’s clear that 40% of cancers are caused by things we have the power to change.”     I wonder where ‘many people’ got that wacky idea?  Perhaps from listening to all the medical experts who told them for decades they couldn’t do anything to prevent cancer.

In the 1950s American magazines ran ads extolling the preference of doctors for Camel brand cigarettes.  Oh dear.  I wonder how many people took up smoking because of these role models?  And died?

In the 50s Wilhelm Reich talked about the ‘Emotional Plague’ – a disease that parents gave to their children by beating them and abusing them, passing on sick behaviour from one generation to the next.  He argued for sexual liberation and advocated condom use and economic independence for women.  Several tons of his books were burned by the FDA and he died in prison in 1956.  Now it’s illegal to beat kids, women are liberated and child abuse condemned.

So two pioneers of sensible thinking went to their graves bitter and disillusioned and didn’t live to see their ideas become accepted in the mainstream. What about me?  After discovering that the FBI, the AMA and the FDA were hysterically alarmed about macrobiotics, I figured it was at least as powerful as I had thought.  I went to the newly-opened Paradox macrobiotic restaurant  that evening and decided then and there that my future would lay in bringing awareness of the joys of healthy eating to as many people as possible.   It fulfilled my do-goodism and my revolutionary instincts.

What about the authorities? The same governments that burned books and chucked their authors in jail now support education in sex and condom use and urge their citizens to eat more vegetables and wholegrains and to cut down on meat and booze.

Can you imagine any MPs or doctors nowadays plugging cigarettes or urging people to eat junk food and beat their kids?

Macrobiotic Cruise

When I first started out on macrobiotics, in 1965, we all thought its powerful message would sweep the planet - it seemed blindingly obvious that a balanced and nutritious diet based on organic wholegrains and vegetables was the way to a healthy future.

Then, in 1966, came a double whammy: George Ohsawa, the charismatic and inspiring leader of macrobiotics worldwide, died suddenly, not long after Reader's Digest ran a cover story titled "Macrobiotics - The Hippie Diet that's Killing our Kids". The author was America's leading nutritionist - Dr. Frederick Stare of Harvard University. I visited the macrobiotic bookshop in New York on the February day the FBI closed it down in the wake of Stare’s article and pressure from the American Medical Association. A few days later the books were taken away and burned. That’s when I understood how fundamental the way we eat is to the way we live together on this planet and decided to devote my career to healthy eating.

Despite this early setback, macrobiotics soldiered on in the US and Europe. The founding natural foods companies: Eden and Erewhon (US), Whole Earth (UK), Manna (Holland), Schwarzbrot (Germany) and Urtekram (Denmark) were the hard macrobiotic core that ensured that sugar, refined flour products, white bread and white rice were out and provided the foundation market for natural and organic food during the lean years of the 70s and 80s.

So what is macrobiotics? Beneath the yin and yang philosophy and the Japanese ingredients like seaweed, miso, tamari, umeboshi and daikon pickle, there’s a diet that says: eat mostly wholegrains and vegetables, minimise dairy, meat and sugar, eat lightly, chew well, put your health and happiness first. Seen like that it's not so radical and it reflects the diet and lifestyle of an increasing number of consumers. In its stricter forms it’s a cure for cancer and other degenerative disease; in its wider more relaxed forms, it’s an effective way to raise a healthy next generation and stay out of the clutches of the drug & medical establishment. Macrobiotics gives form to common sense, it is not so much a diet for health as a diet for longevity - it takes the very long view, spanning not just a lifetime but generations. Instead of degeneration and hereditary disease, it emphasises regeneration and hereditary healthiness. So when I heard about a macrobiotic sea cruise in the Caribbean I guiltily put down my copy of The Ecologist with an article about the negative environmental impact of cruises and booked a balcony cabin for Jo and myself.

The Costa Atlantica is a new Italian cruise liner, a floating hotel with 3 pools and a 1000-seat restaurant plus buffet bars with permanent megasnacking on offer. To the relief of my eco-conscience, it has a earned the “Green Star” award for clean water and clean air because it leaves no waste in its wake and burns low-sulfur fuel. With a population of 1900 passengers and 900 crew, service levels are high. Of the passengers, 450, a quarter, were with our ‘Holistic Holiday At Sea.’ A typical day would begin with yoga with Kamina Desai, or meditation with John Howell. Then breakfast of miso soup and cooked cereal and steamed vegetables. Lunch was a 5 course affair, a typical menu would be vegetarian sushi, black bean soup, radicchio-hiziki salad, millet pilaf with baked squash and steamed dandelion greens, then a fruit compote with a wholegrain cookie. All followed by kukicha - 3-year twig tea. Dinner would be similar, with an optional wine list and, on one evening, complimentary wine from Frey - the organic, sulphite-free winemakers.

During the day we’d hang by the pool, listen to lectures a la carte from luminaries like Michio Kushi (macrobiotic philosophy), Christina Pirello (cooking), Yogi Amrit Desai (Yoga and meditation), Jami Lin (Feng Shui) and Ohashi (shiatsu). Private consultations were charged extra. Or, if we were in port (Key West, Cozumel, Jamaica, Cayman Islands), go off to swim with dolphins and stingrays or visit other local attractions. At night there was the ship’s disco or the elegance of a life size replica of Venice’s famous Café Florian and, one enchanted evening, a macrobiotic talent show that brought out the best in the group – a total hoot.

The holistic cruisers were a mixed bunch – about one third middle-aged or elderly middle Americans who had become disenchanted with the asset-stripping process that is modern medicine (90% of all money spent in the US on healthcare is spent in the final year of a person’s life) or had been written off by doctors as stage 4 terminal cancer. Their comeback stories at one evening session were the most spine-tingling part of the whole cruise, amazing tales of recovery, tumour shrinkage and total remission after just a few weeks on a macrobiotic diet. About a third of the cruise was yuppies of various kinds who’d adopted macrobiotics as part of a dynamic health approach and about a third were people like me, ageing-in-years-only, long time adherents who were dynamic, skinny and joyous witnesses that the complaints and degeneration of old age can be postponed indefinitely with the right diet and exercise programme. 35 years ago it was all theory – now there are thousands of people who adopted macrobiotics in the 60s and have not needed to see a doctor since then. The proof of the pudding was inspiring to the cancer patients – they just wished they’d figured it out before they got the tumours. It was all fantastically reassuring – macrobiotics is no longer a faith but an experience- and evidence-based reality. In sickness and health it works – its total commitment to organic food, wholegrains, local food, seasonal food, low meat and dairy intake and sugar avoidance all seemed totally whacky in the 60s and we took a lot of flak. Now it’s widely accepted. The ultimate accolade came from the Harvard School of Public Health, Dr. Frederick Stare’s old domain, which recently described the macrobiotic diet as a practical example of the way that Americans should eat if they hoped to deal with the burgeoning crisis of obesity, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The wheel has turned completely.

At the end of the cruise most of the participants signed up for next year’s (Feb 27-Mar 6 ‘05) before they disembarked. I’ll be taking my Mom, my kids and grandkids for a repeat of the best vacation I’ve ever had. Great food, great company, great education, great entertainment – “macro” in every way. (This article first appeared in the April 2004 edition of Organic Products News)