Macro what? A way of life!

Living and eating in harmony with the environment is becoming important and practical.


by Catherine Honora Kineavy
hat exactly is macrobiotics? Many have heard the term but have a vague idea of its meaning. It sounds extremely scientific, but it is quite artistic in its philosophy. The actual word is derived from "macro" meaning "long" or "large," and "biotic" meaning "life." Thus, macrobiotics is a way of living that will lead to a long and great life.

Macrobiotics promotes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and longevity. It does this by advocating living a life of moderation.

The practice of macrobiotics is not new; its origins go back to Greece and China before 600 B.C.. The philosophy has changed over time and has travelled from the Greek Isles and Asia to the world through its many teachers. The two major macrobiotic centers for learning in the United States include the Vega Study Center founded by the Aiharas in Orville, California and the Kushi Institute founded by the Kushis in Becket, Massachusetts.

Macrobiotics entails a myriad of choices that permeates every aspect of an individual's life. While food choices are at the center of macrobiotic practice and philosophy, macrobiotics is not simply a restrictive diet. Macrobiotic choices include adopting a respectful relationship with the natural world. Many who practice Macrobiotics choose to wear mainly organic clothing, and use natural housecleaning and beauty aids, which combined contribute to protecting the earth's resources. Both individual and planetary health are priorities to those who practice macrobiotics. In other words, they see their environment as intimately connected to themselves. The primary connection to the natural world is through food.

The Yin and Yang of food

Those following a macrobiotic food plan eat locally-grown organic foods in season. In this way they live in harmony with nature's rhythms. Macrobiotics believe that eating seasonal foods is essential in maintaining balance in one's life. The most important aspect of food espoused by the macrobiotic philosophy is that every food has a yin or yang energy. Yin energy is more expansive whereas yang energy is more contracting. To put this more concretely, greens, for example, are more expansive, they grow above the ground they are lighter in taste and texture; carrots, on the other hand, are more yang, they grow under the ground and are more contracting. The energies of foods have a direct effect on an individual's physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Macrobiotics believe food energies can affect our health and food can be used as medicine.

Food as medicine

Edward Esko, a macrobiotic teacher and author, maintains that there are two levels of healing using food. The first, as previously mentioned, is the "fundamental level," namely, that each food has a yin or yang quality. At the fundamental level, macrobiotics practice balancing the energies of foods so that they do not get too much yin or too much yang at any given meal.

The second level is the "symptomatic level." This is when you use food to counteract a certain condition or symptom. For example, if someone is congested, he or she should not eat tofu or dairy because they are mucous forming. Alternatively, eating daikon radish would assist the body in eliminating accumulated mucous. Perhaps to those who do not practice macrobiotics this sounds too simplistic or unbelievable, but to try it is to believe it. I have not taken over-the-counter drugs since I started practicing macrobiotics. I have treated my symptoms through food energetics.

Macrobiotics also has first-aid remedies that work wonders. For example, in the case of burns, tofu can be used to take the heat out immediately. I used this method when I burned my entire hand on a cast iron skillet. My friends were stunned when I used tofu to get the heat out and reduce any possible blistering. But it worked. However, it is necessary to know the energies of foods in order to practice macrobiotics.

The standard macro-biotic food plan

There are many foods used in macrobiotics, but the misnomer is that macrobiotics eat mainly seaweed and tofu. It is true that seaweed is a staple in the macrobiotic food plan, but it only accounts for about ten percent of the meal plan. The standard macrobiotic food plan according to Michio Kushi consists of the following:

Everyday Foods

Occasional Foods


Foods to Avoid

I am sure some readers are saying why not potatoes or tomatoes? Well, because they are very acid producing. Another underlying premise of macrobiotics is that in order to bring harmony to the body the acid and alkaline levels in the body should be balanced.

One might also be saying what about tropical fruits? What's so bad you wonder about eating pineapples for example? Nothing is really bad with eating pineapples, but the macrobiotic philosophy is that you eat what is grown locally. Pineapples are grown in warmer tropical climates. The goal of macrobiotics is to eat an ecologically-based diet. When someone chooses to eat food other than is locally grown, he or she participates in maintaining the demand for the transportation of non-locally grown foods, which, in turn, leads to the destruction of natural resources, through the transnational as well as international shipping that then is required. Rather, the macrobiotic food plan is based on the traditional diet which is seasonal and locally-grown. Also, if someone ate pineapples in the middle of winter in New England, for example, it would have a very cooling effect on the body, when, in fact, the body should be being warmed from food due to the cold winter climate.

Macrobiotic cooking

Macrobiotics believe that cooking techniques should be modified during the changing seasons, just as food choices are. During the summer, things should be cooked for shorter periods of time, whereas during the winter, things should be cooked longer. For example, during the winter, it is best to make more stews, which require longer cooking, stews retain more heat to keep the body warm during the winter months. Summer salads, on the other hand, have a more cooling effect on the body, which is necessary during the hot summer months.

Macrobiotics believe that cooking with natural gas is best. Natural gas is not only better for the environment, but it is easier to control: the food cooks more evenly and the yin/yang energies of the foods are relatively unchanged. In addition, choosing all natural cookware, including ceramic or cast iron pots and pans, and wooden spoons are the standard practice of macrobiotics. Again, using natural products is both energetically and environmentally better.

Way of eating

In addition to what you eat and how you cook your food, there is an established macrobiotic practice for the way you eat. As busy Americans, we are used to eating on the fly, not thinking about what we are eating, not paying attention to how we are chewing or for that matter if we are chewing our food. According to Michio Kushi, we should eat regularly and more if we exercise vigorously, every meal should include some grain products, we should eat a variety of foods prepared in a variety of ways, and when we cook we should be in a good frame of mind. Macrobiotic philosophy argues that the mind-set of the cook can alter the energy of the food. Again, this may seem far fetched, but try cooking with no distractions, shut the television and radio off, and concentrate only on cooking and make sure your intentions are good. The food will taste better. Again, I wouldn't have believed it if I did not notice it myself in my own cooking.

Also, eating before bedtime is not recommended, as it does not promote good digestion. Chewing your food is key to getting the most nutrients out of it. Macrobiotic philosophy is to chew your food until it becomes liquid. The saliva has an alkalizing effect on the food which again aims to create balance within the body. Finally, the last principle is to eat with gratitude and appreciation for all people and the natural world.

The cycle of life

The macrobiotic believes that food is an essential link in a maintaining one's health and correspondingly believes that many degenerative diseases including cancer, heart disease, and arthritis are directly related to unhealthy food choices and the introduction of pesticides in the food chain. Many individuals who have been diagnosed with these disorders have begun to practice macrobiotics and have recovered from their illnesses. By choosing organic foods, one is also choosing to replenish the health of the environment organic farming replenishes, rather than destroys the land.

It is the philosophy of macrobiotics that if one practices its principles then he or she will be able to reach a higher level of consciousness because his or her body will be free from pesticides and other toxins and his or her ability to think clearly will be fortified by the balance of yin and yang. The ultimate goal of the practice of macrobiotics is to bring harmony to individuals, who in turn, will bring peace into the world.

Just as in any philosophy of life, moderation is key to longevity, and macrobiotics is a lifestyle of moderation. There is criticism that the macrobiotic philosophy is extreme, but like any practice, some people take it to extremes, but it is meant to be practiced in moderation. This includes occasionally consuming foods that are considered luxuries. Flexibility is more important and more balancing than ascribing rigidly to any philosophy.

When I began cooking macrobiotically, I found it confusing at first. It was almost like learning a new language because many of the food staples are Japanese in origin. But with practice and the help of a teacher, I soon caught on. It has changed my life for the better. Where once I had the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I now have the energy to handle many activities. My immune system has recovered, and I attribute my healing to living a macrobiotic lifestyle. If you would like to find out more about macrobiotics, please write or leave an email for me at

Catherine Honora Kineavy, M.A. is a macrobiotic vegetarian, free-lance writer/editor and shiatsu masseuse.

For more information, please contact the following organizations:

The Macrobiotic Learning Center of San Diego. Contact: Jacqueline Wayne (619) 270-8409.

Macrobiotic Association of Southern California. Contact: Betty Rose (619) 454-2024

World Peace Kitchen. Contact: Mindy Goldis (619) 488-7698

The Kushi Institute. (413) 623-5741

The Vega Study Center. (916) 533-4777

L.A. East West Center for Macrobiotic Studies. (310) 398-2228

George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation. (916) 533-7702

The following companies specialize in selling macrobiotic products:

Gold Mine Natural Food Company (800) 475-3663

Mountain Ark Trading Company (800) 643-8909

Natural Lifestyle Supplies (800) 752-2775

Wellspring Natural Food Company (800) 578-530