H i s t o r y   o f   M a c r o b i o t i c

Hippocrates could be said to have been the first to define macrobiotics with his quote 'let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food'.

George Ohsawa had recovered from tuberculosis of the lung and colon in 1911 using a diet recommended by Doctor Sagen Ishizuka. The diet was essentially one of whole, living natural foods eaten in season. Doctor Ishizuka was a military doctor and during the late 1800s had great success in helping many people recover from the serious health problems of the time. He carried out many clinical trials and published two large volumes of his works. His theory was that the correct balance of potassium and sodium as well as acid and alkaline in the human diet leads to good health.

George Ohsawa was so grateful for his new lease of life he dedicate the rest of his life to continuing Doctor Ishizuka's work. He used the word macrobiotic, joining the Greek words macro meaning great and bios meaning life. His intention was to create a diet and philosophy to help people live a great life, to live life to the full. Having come so close to death every day was a gift and George Ohsawa was determined to make the most of the rest of his life.

Perhaps as a result of his near death experience Ohsawa put a huge emphasis on appreciation and made it one of seven essential criteria for good health. From his writings he clearly felt life was precious and had little patience with those who did not fully engage in life and did not treat their bodies with respect. Ohsawa developed a philosophy to go with the Doctor Ishizuka's ideas on food and wrote nearly three hundred books during his lifetime.

The foundation for macrobiotics was that each of us are responsible for our own life and health. At the time this was a radical and pioneering thought. People tended to just live their life and when they were ill went to a doctor for medicines. There was little consideration given to diet. George Ohsawa travelled extensively spreading his message wherever he went. He ran courses on macrobiotics and in Japan trained a group of students to go out into the world and spread macrobiotics to other continents.

Five of these, Michio and Aveline Kushi, Herman and Cornelia Aihara and Shizuko Yamamoto moved to North America. Others were to go to France, Germany and Brazil. Their greatest achievement was to successfully popularize a huge range of Japanese and Chinese ideologies, practices and products in the west, pioneering the health food movement. Under their macrobiotic umbrella they included shiatsu, Do In, nine ki astrology, meditation, reiki, chanting, the I Ching and oriental diagnosis.

During the sixties the macrobiotic movement attracted many free minded, adventurous spirited people who wanted to reach out to a different life, an alternative to the materialistic lifestyle that was leading people towards poor diets and in some cases poor health.

As time went by macrobiotic study houses evolved into proper macrobiotic centers throughout America and Europe where people could learn about the ideas behind macrobiotics and how to cook the foods. Whereas many of the original people who came along had already embraced an alternative lifestyle, by the 1970's macrobiotics started to appeal to all areas of society including doctors, healthcare professionals, actors, sportspeople, business people and politicians.

The macrobiotic centres and communities that sprouted up during the1970s and 1980s become the place to go if you wanted to learn about ki energy, yin and yang, the five elements, trigrams and karma. During this time there was a huge explosion of interest in everything from the east. Michio and his colleagues were also responsible for bringing tofu, miso, sea vegetables, umeboshi plums, bancha tea, to the west. When I first went to America it was even common for people involved in macrobiotics to make their own futons. Members of the macrobiotic community embraced acupuncture, aikido, tai chi helping them get established.

Inevitably many of the practices that were associated with macrobiotics in America and Europe grew up and eventually left the macrobiotic family. As time went by even subjects like ki, yin and yang and the five elements were no longer seen as special to macrobiotics. Macrobiotic ideas that were pioneering in the late seventies, early eighties became mainstream by the 1990s.

Logically the pool of new things to bring to west dried up and this coincided with a time when more and more people came to macrobiotics to recover from serious health problems, largely fuelled by Dr. Sattilaro's book 'Recalled by Life' which charted his recovery from cancer. Now macrobiotics took a more serious turn with the emphasis on healing. As the successes grew and more people wrote books about their recovery from various forms of cancer through macrobiotics the whole macrobiotic diet became know as a cancer cure diet.

One of the results of this was that the diet itself became more focussed and clear. George Ohsawa had put the emphasis on how to choose healthy macrobiotic foods rather than list out all the recommended foods along with the different ways to prepare them. Using his immense experience in healing Michio Kushi detailed what he described as the standard macrobiotic diet.

The popularity of macrobiotics with those recovering from serious illness meant that the diet and approach became more purist, with the focus on clean, healing foods. This tended to put off people who were looking for a general healthy life style and even gave the macrobiotic approach the reputation of being extreme despite being broadly in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation.

When looked at in its entirety macrobiotics represents the ultimate diet in terms of balance of acid and alkaline as well as sodium and potassium, something ingrained by the work of Sagen Ishizuka and later Herman Aihira, along with concepts such as yin and yang and the five elements employed by George Ohasawa and developed further by Michio Kushi. It represents a healthy high carbohydrate diet that is low in foods with a high glycemic index or load. The foods used through the history of macrobiotics are varied and suit any culture or climate. The macrobiotics George Ohsawa wrote of was a flexible approach where you could eat anything as long as you knew its effect on your health and this was something you wanted. He listed diets that included meats through to a fast of eating nothing but grains for a few days.

To really understand macrobiotics it is helpful to study all its twists and turns through its two hundred or more year history and see it in its entirety. From this vantage point you will be able to embrace the kind of macrobiotics that most suits you and your current needs. Macrobiotics has a rich colourful history that I believe truly has something for everybody.



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