Macrobiotics - Our First Introduction and Early Pioneers

Macrobiotics - Our First Introduction and Early Pioneers

Part of this article was edited out from the original post, Macrobiotics, An Unexpected Gift and Answered Prayer, with additional information added about the early macrobiotic pioneers.

Don and I had both discovered macrobiotics in our younger years, prior to meeting.  

Briefly, Don had a deeper involvement with macrobiotics.  He harvested seaweed with Larch, of Maine Seaweed for a season.  Larch prepared macrobiotic meals.  Afterwards, Don spent time at a macrobiotic study house, and had dinner with fellow macrobiotic students and teachers, which included Michio Kushi.  Later, he worked as a macrobiotic live-in chef in Seattle, Washington.  His first studied at the Kushi Institute in London, England, and became a Level 1 Kushi certified Macrobiotic Chef.   Together, they authored The Nourishment for Life Cookbook, chockfull of information and recipes.

My own introduction to macrobiotics began in 1989, while living in Grass Valley, California, and working as a barista at a local coffee shop in nearby Nevada City.   There was a co-op / market + restaurant called Earth Song where an old high school friend who had been living in the area would take me to shop for food. 

On several occasions, I would dine at the attached restaurant and order their 'Macro Meal' which was a ridiculously affordable, and incredibly delicious and satisfying meal, typically consisting of brown rice, perfectly prepared dark leafy greens, some beans, and a chunk of corn bread or a whole grain roll, and a small cup of miso soup I believe.  It was served with several condiments, including some pickled ginger, gomashio and tamari or shoyu sauce, and the entire meal set me back less than $10, which included a fresh brewed cup of kulcha twig tea.  

Finding Balance with Brown Rice

The best part about the meal was how balanced and happy I would feel after eating it!

It was at Earth Song that I found The Self-Healing Cookbook, Whole Foods to Balance Body, Mind & Moods, written by then local author, Kristina Turner.  I absolutely fell in love with her book, and with macrobiotics.  Actually,  I twice gave away a copy of Turner's book, only to find myself drawn back to it.  Earlier this year, I purchased my third copy, this time the 9th revised edition.

The concept of foods having a distinct energy was new to me at the time, as was the notion of being able to choose different grain, bean and vegetable combinations ~ or preparation methods ~ to regulate my moods.  

As a twenty-something I was quite inspired!  The standard, Midwestern  'meat and potato' diet I grew up eating certainly didn't offer me relief from all the allergies, anemia,  digestive and other health issues I was plagued with since young, not to mention an ability to balance my energy and improve my moods! 

Turner's book, filled with cute, homey drawings, and old style type-face print is by far the most nostalgic book I own.  Every time I read through it, I'm transported back to simpler times filled with the excitement and adventure of learning so many new things  that I had otherwise never been exposed to, including cooking all these new foods.   I was like a sponge, soaking it all in.  

Turner's book was but one important influence.  There were many other characters I learned from while working as a barista in Nevada City, including 'Key Man Jim' who brought me a copy of 'Way of the Shaman,' a broader understanding about astrology, and much more.

Upon reflection, I can see how this time period set me on a new trajectory in life, exploring holistic health and natural foods, which I resonated with from my first taste of brown rice.  Macrobiotics gave me a compass. Every time I veer off course, my GPS always guides me back to my true North.  Without fail.  

Recently, I made another macrobiotic connection.  The first natural foods store I had ever been in was called Erehwon, on Glenwood Street, just four blocks from our home at the time.  It was the 1970s.  I was in high school.  I loved being in natural foods stores.  The colors, textures, and aromas of all the bulk whole grains, beans, pasta noodles, and beautiful fresh produce excited me.  I felt more at 'home,' and in my element surrounded by all the natural foods.

Little did I realize that Michio and Aveline Kushi who helped bring Macrobiotics to the West started Erehwon ~ 'Nowhere' spelled backwards ~ during the 1960s as part of their vision to bring natural foods to cities across our country.  The stars aligned, and they were successful.  A burgeoning natural foods movement was born in our country, although in truth, it was more like a return to natural eating as had been practiced by traditional cultures for hundreds, and thousands of years, prior to the Industrial Revolution.

For Aveline Kushi, raised in a small mountain village of Japan, the traditional diet, and life in general centered around unpolished, or mostly unpolished brown rice.  Polished rice is the norm among Asian populations today, but it was not always that way.  Traditionally, polished rice was consumed mostly by the wealthy elites.

Aveline Kushi shares stories about her life growing up in the mountainous country of a village in Japan, noted in a famous tale, found in the Kojiki, "Japan's most holy scripture."   The tale shares how Susa-no-wo-no-mikoto, brother of the Goddess of the Sun, Ameraterasu, came down to Earth from Heaven, and comes upon a couple and their beautiful daughter, huddled together, weeping.  A ferocious dragon with eight heads would come down from the mountains each year, and eat one of their daughters.  The last surviving daughter was their youngest, Kushi-inada-hime.  In a nutshell, the young god devised a clever scheme to save Kushi-inada-hime in exchange for her hand in marriage.  

In Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking, For Health, Harmony, and Peace, Aveline recounts stories of her youth, growing up in rural Japan,

"In this beautiful setting, village life revolved around the yearly cycle of rice.  In ordinary conversations, the word for "food" or "meal" is gohan, which means cooked rice.  When speaking about breakfast, or dinner, we say, "Have you had your morning rice?" and "Did you enjoy your evening rice?"  The rice cycle follows the four seasons, beginning with the preparation of the seed and sowing in spring, transplanting and cultivation of the fields midsummer, harvesting and milling of the ripened crop in the autumn, and storage and processing into traditional grain-based products in the winter."

How very interesting that Aveline should eventually meet and marry Michio Kushi, and adopt the Kushi family name.  Even more interesting, the name, Kushi-inada-hime means Wondrous Princess of the Rice Fields.

In deed, Aveline herself is legendary, not only for her cooking, but also together, with her husband Michio, for introducing brown rice ~ and other whole grains ~ to Americans during the 1960s.  When she arrived in the States, it was difficult to find quality brown rice that met her standards.  She traveled the country, in search of rice growers that would grow rice in the traditional ways of her youth, ultimately partnering with Lundberg, the only grower to meet her standards.  Lundberg brown rice and other whole grains and macrobiotic staple foods were sold at Erehwon, which made their way into macrobiotic kitchens across America.

I'd say, Aveline lived up to her legendary namesake!

Macrobiotics: Deeper Roots - Hippocrates, Hufeland, Ishizuka & Ohsawa

Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland

In truth, Macrobiotics has much deeper roots, dating back to Hippocrates. The term itself, a composite of macro, which means large, big, or great, and bios, which means life, was first coined by Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland (1762-1836).  

Hufeland, born at Langensalza, Saxony, was a German physician, naturopath, and writer, "famous as the most eminent practical physician of his time in Germany and as the author of numerous works displaying extensive reading and a cultivated critical faculty." He published probably his most famous work, Makrobiotik, order die Kunst das menshliche Leben zu Verlngern, in 1797.  Hufeland's father held the office of court physician to the grand duchess at Weimar.

Sagen Ishizuka

Sagen Ishizuka (1850-1909.) According to Wikipedia, Ishizuka was a doctor in the imperial Japanese Army who "pioneered the concepts of shokuiku (food education) and the macrobiotic diet.  He was one of the first to investigate the nutritional value of whole grains as well as sea vegetables, daikon, and kudzu."

George Ohsawa

George Ohsawa (1893-1966), born Nyoichi Sakurazawa, is attributed with starting the modern day macrobiotic movement.  He traveled abroad, spending time in France, taking on other pen names.  He was a prolific author, publishing newsletters, and around 300 books in Japanese, 20 in French, several of which were later translated to English.

Ohsawa defined health according to seven criteria, which he outlined in his writings with the seven levels of judgement.  According to Ohsawa, one's judgement becomes more elevated from eating and living macrobiotically.  To Ohsawa, having good health involved a lack of fatigue, good appetite, good sleep ~ needing only 5- 6 hours per night, good memory, good humor, clear thinking and action, and gratitude.

Ohsawa was born into a poor samurai family, and lost several family members, including his mother, while still young.  He attributes their sicknesses with the introduction of the Western commercially processed foods, and beef into Japan.  Ohsawa advocated for peace, and spent time in prison for his anti-war stance.  

Ohsawa was inspired by the teachings of both Hufeland, and Ishizuka, and healed himself from tuberculosis with a macrobiotic diet.  He studied with Manabu Nishibata, a disciple of Sagen Ishizuka (1850-1909), in Tokyo, where he eventually met and took Aveline under his tutelage.

Michio and Aveline Kushi

Both Aveline (1923-2001) and Michio (1926-2014) studied under Ohsawa, and helped spread macrobiotics from coast to coast, and around the world.  Michio who originally studied law,  lectured at conferences and seminars around the world, and wrote several books about macrobiotics.  

In the Foreword to The Macrobiotic Kitchen in Ten Easy Steps, by Gabrielle Kushi with Michio Kushi, Dr. Neal Barnard, President of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine attributes his introduction to healing with natural foods to Michio, whom he met at a symposium for physicians presented by Michio in Boston.

Under the Kushi's, several macrobiotic learning centers were opened, including the Kushi Institute in Massachusetts.  Many have studied with the Kushi's, and thousands have turned their lives around, healing from late stage cancer, AIDS, and countless other diseases by following a healing macrobiotic diet, customized for individual needs.

David Briscoe of Macrobiotics America - My Macrobiotic Counseling Teacher

David Briscoe and his wife, Cynthia are both highly acclaimed macrobiotic chefs, counselors, and teachers with a decades-long resume which includes everything from a one-on-one practice, to online courses, appearances on national television and radio shows, including Dr. John McDougall's radio show, PBS, and much more.  David cured himself of schizophrenia with a macrobiotic diet, and has written about it in A Personal Peace, Macrobiotic Reflections On Mental and Emotional Recovery, co-written with his mother, Charlotte Mahoney-Briscoe ~ a book  Don and I highly recommend.

In 1975, David was given the honor of apprenticeship with Noboru Muramoto, author of Healing Ourselves, a book both Don and I had copies of when we were much younger.  In 1983, he was among the first to be certified by the Kushi Institutes premier macrobiotic counselor program.  

In 1990, David was invited to be the administrative teaching and counseling associate at the The Vega Study Center in California with the late macrobiotic master, Herman Aihara.  Don spent several days at The Vega Center sometime prior to David's arrival.  After Aihara passed, David founded Macrobiotics America-Macrobiotics Global.

Both David and Cynthia continue to contribute to the spread of macrobiotics via their vast knowledge, talent, experience, online courses, and all that they accomplished, which at one point included owning a restaurant, and creating delicious macrobiotic meals at various events.  I am proud to have studied with these two humble macrobiotic masters.  I highly recommend checking out his website to read more about David, Cynthia, and their late son, Ira at

One Peaceful World Vision by Michio Kushi

The Kushi's had a passion for not only helping people improve their health with a macrobiotic diet, but also believed that many of societal's ills centered around the diet.  They held the vision that world peace was possible when more people restored a traditional, grain and vegetable-based diet.   

Although he passed, and the Kushi Institute has sadly closed, it's his vision that we hope to help reignite.

In the preface to the first edition of One Peaceful World, Creating a Healthy and Harmonious Mind, Home and World Community, Michio Kushi writes, 

"Macrobiotics––the way of peace through biological and spiritual evolution––does not require legislation, treaties, demonstrations, violence, power politics, or ideological battles. Peace does not begin with any political party, religious movement, or social platform.  It begins in kitchens and pantries, gardens and backyards, where the physical source of our daily life––food, the staff of life, our daily bread or rice––is grown and prepared.  From individual hearts and homes, peace radiates out to friends and neighbors, communities, and nations."

"Whoever takes charge of the cooking is our general, our pilot.  We need no weapons, no shields, no offensive and defensive powers, just will and self-reflection.  Brown rice, millet, miso soup, whole grain bread, beans and bean products, fresh vegetables and fruits, sea vegetables––these and other whole unprocessed foods are our "weapons" to turn around the entire world.  The energies of nature and the infinite universe are absorbed through the foods we eat and are transmuted into thoughts and the actions that spring from them.  By becoming one with our larger environment and observing the universal laws of change and harmony, we are quite capable of restoring balance and order to our planet."

In Summary

The reason macrobiotics holds such meaning to both Don and myself is precisely because it feels like being home to us.  The further we sway from the macrobiotic way of life, the more imbalanced and out of sync we feel ~ something we now know painfully well.

Macrobiotics has been an unexpected gift and answered prayer to my life's quest for direction, freedom and purpose.  

Don and I share the passion of macrobiotics with many others around the world, to help change how we treat one another, by changing how we treat ourselves.  Eating natural foods links us to these earlier pioneers, and our own ancestors.  When we choose foods that provide even, calming, peaceful, grounding, stabilizing energy to our bodies, our mind becomes more clear, and our judgement is elevated.

This is how we change our world, one peaceful bowl of fresh, hot pressure cooked brown rice at a time.

#macrobiotics #brownrice #onepeacefulworld #georgeohsawa #avelinekushi #michiokushi #worldpeace


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