A short history of macrobiotics
The word macrobiotics (“macro” meaning great and “bios” meaning life) was first used in the writings of Hippocrates, the father of Western Medicine. In his essay “Airs, Waters, and Places,” Hippocrates introduced the word to describe people who were healthy and long-lived. Herodotus, Aristotle, Galen, and other classical writers used the term macrobiotics to describe a lifestyle, including a simple balanced diet that promoted health and longevity.
In the late eighteenth century, the German physician and philosopher Christopher W. Hufeland renewed interest in the term, in his book “Macrobiotics: The Art of Prolonging Human Life”, published in 1796. When his book was published in Japan, it is assumed that George Ohsawa, generally seen as the founder of macrobiotics, became familiar with von Hufeland’s ideas while formulating his own philosophy on diet and health, also based on the ancient Chinese food-therapy.
THE SEARCH FOR BALANCE
George Ohsawa had recovered from tubercolosis of the lung and colon in 1911 using a diet of whole, living, natural foods eaten in season, which had been recommended by Dr Sagen Ishizuka. Dr Ishizuka was a military doctor who, during the late-1800s, had had great success in helping many people recover from serious health problems. His theory was that the correct balance of potassium and sodium and acid and alkaline in the human diet leads to good health.
George Ohsawa was so grateful for his new lease of life that he dedicated the rest of his life to continuing dr Ishizuka’s work.
SPREADING THE WORD
The founding principle of macrobiotics is that each of us is responsible for his own life and health – and, at the time, this was radical and pioneering thinking. People lived their lives simply: when you were ill, you went to a doctor for medicine; there was little consideration given to diet and lifestyle. George Ohsawa travelled extensively, spreading his dietary message wherever he went. He ran courses and, in Japan, trained a group of students to go out into the world and spread the word of macrobiotics to their continents.
Five of his students, Michio and Aveline Kushi, Herman and Cornelia Aihara and Shizuko Yamamoto, moved to North America; others went to France, Germany and Brazil. Wherever they went, they popularized a huge range of Eastern ideologies, practices and products in the West, pioneriing the health food movement. Under their macrobiotic umbrella came shiatsu, Do In, nine-ki astrology, meditation, reiki, chanting, the I Ching and oriental diagnosis.
EAST MEETS WEST
Macrobiotic centres and communities sprang up throughout America and Europe during the late 1970s, attracting people who wanted to learn about ki energy, yin and yang, the five elements, trigrams and karma. There was a huge explosion of interest in everything from the East. Members of the macrobiotic community embraced acupuncture, aikido and ta’i chi, helping them become established. Inevitably, many macrobiotic ideas that were pioneering in the late 1970s and early 1980s were mainstream by the 1990s.
FOOD’S HEALING POWER
However, more and more people started to turn to macrobiotics to help them recover from serious health problems. This turning point was largely fuelled by a book called Recalled to Life by dr. Anthony Sattilaro, which charted his recovery with cancer.
Now the emphasis was on healing. As the success stories grew, the macrobiotic diet became known as a “cancer cure” diet. Its popularity with people recovering from cancer in turn meant that the diet became more purist, with the focus on clean, healing foods. This, however, tended to put off people who were looking for a generally healthy lifestyle, and even gave the macrobiotic approach the reputation of being extreme, despite being broadly in line with recommendations from the World Health Organization.
Many of the foods associated with macrobiotics were hard to come by. However, now things have changed and many of the foods recommended for the macrobiotic diet are available in supermarkets. Macrobiotics can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle and you can change your diet in small ways you can enjoy the benefits that good, healthy food – from a farm, not a factory – can impart.
Sources: “Modern-day macrobiotics” by Simon G. Brown & Dragana G. Brown – Carroll & Brown Publishers Limited; “The macrobiotic way” by Michio Kushi and Stephen Blauer – Avery