Sunday, February 10, 2013

Slouching towards Macrobiotics - Who thought of it first? - Part 1

It seems like there is this common pattern.

Passionate guru/longevity-expert bursts on the scene, after some serious revelation, filling the world with his ideas for getting healthy, staying lean, and living the (real) high life.  Some aren't impressed, especially the food fascists like dietitians, who declare the recommended diet to be unhealthful because "it eliminates too many healthy foods", particularly fruits and vegetables and even dairy.

But soon, sick and forgotten groupies flock to the program, and they feel better for doing it, despite the sacrifices.  It is said to cure or eliminate cancer.

It is not just a diet, but it is a lifestyle.  In addition to the diet rules, which are based on a balance of cosmic and earth energies that science cannot seem to prove or disprove, participants are told that where they live matters in respect to their health, intelligence and reproductive fitness.  They follow an organic whole-foods seasonal diet, make fermented foods, enjoy plenty of the fruits of the sea, cook on a gas or wood stove (no microwave here, ma'am!).  They keep their homes simple, full of natural stone floors, simple furnishings, natural heating methods, natural lighting.  There is no room for plastic shoes, plastic take-out containers, plastic clothing, plastic anything, really.  Clocks, TV, other electrical appliances, well, not in the bedroom please, and no eating right before bed.  There should be fresh air and time spent outdoors every day, and of course, no fluorescent lights when indoors, and TV and computer use is strictly limited, because electro-magnetic radiation is unhealthy, unless of course, you're playing at an ocean beach.

It is weird.  The participants buy weird food, eat weird, dress weird, live weird.  Their families can be supportive, or not.  All the regular gurus are not supportive.  It is a dangerous fad.  This guy is nuts.  It is fake.  Don't do it.  Yes, you can eventually get down to two meals a day, but who cares?

The guru was fond of admonishing his followers for not following local, seasonal activities, but then his proclamations were made based upon his own locale.  Still, there was not alot of wiggle-room on the rules, no matter where participants lived.  Of course, abut the worst thing one could do is eat a banana in winter in Canada.  The second worst thing would be to eat a banana in the summer in Canada.

Some of the controversial conclusions of the guru involve the differences between men and women, and the differences (including intelligence) between people's living at different parts of the globe.  This belief results in the intention of the participants to move to different parts of the globe and to look down on other cultures as less in intelligence and certainly health.  Some lament, why can't it just be about a few diet rules?  Why do I have to remodel my whole house, re-do my cooking equipment, or move altogether?  And then there is all the accompanying woo-woo philosophy...Cosmic and earth energy raining down (and up?) on us, encouraged or discouraged by our food choices....syncretic adoption of Asian spirituality....dependence on mountaintop retreats and revelations...circles and spirals of improvement, just like the tides.....and that stupid idea that any participant/groupie had to run anything up the guru flagpole in order to find out if it was safe to eat, wear, will all be revealed shortly.....

If you think I am talkin' about Jack Kruse, here, you'd be wrong.  It's about Michio Kushi, a popular choice for the founder of modern macrobiotics.  Hey, but what about the others?  Ever heard of  Dr. Hufeland?  I never heard of him either.  Michio is the guy who wrote some books about it more recently and started the expensive seminars.  I guess that is why he gets to be the guy who takes all the credit.  Certainly not Don Matesz.

P.S. as for the shameless title theft, thank you Dr. Feinman.  And, of course, This.


  1. lol good call. yes, first I thought you were secretly going to hold back his/her identity, but then I thought you were definitely talking about Kruse - electromagnetic radiation, cosmic energy... and dietary electrons? it just fit.

  2. People who are engaged in a life-style and rituals "based on a balance of cosmic and earth energies that science cannot seem to prove or disprove, participants are told that where they live matters in respect to their health, intelligence and reproductive fitness" remind a cult group practicing an alternative religion. For me it looks like people are prone in general to create some cult groups,to be attracted by rituals, to seek a person to follow, probably it is a part of being human.
    People also like to feel like they are part of a refine life-style. I see a lot of examples of rising movement of a food snobbery. Elite is not different nowadays in the way such people are dressed, but eating a ridiculously exclusive food cooked in unpractical manner (without microwave involvement, avoiding modern conveniences like plastic wrap)could be the new divide between plebs and elite, or people who want to feel like elite. It used to be the diet with liberate meat, with fruits out of seasons and expensive vines, elaborate deserts. Nowadays, when any pleb could eat any amount of meat, and any fruits are available whole year round, it is not so exclusive any longer. Organic foods come to the elitist rescue. Personal cook is another luxury fixture which is an alternative to McDonalds eating life-style.

  3. I would draw the line between people who cook in a practical manner, vs. an impractical manner. Many paleo recipes are at the height of snobbery. I thought it was funny that everyone flocked to the Animal during AHS11. Nobody really eats there, and it's all just deep-fried weird stuff flown in. Just to say that I have a whole lot less cooking apparatus as paleo than when I was macro.

  4. @G, but macro is really much simpler than people think. Stay tuned and I'll reveal all......

  5. I am not a strictly paleo girl if you judge me by my kitchen activities. I am not eating bread, but I bake sourdough rye for my husband and make fermented buckwheat crepes (served with prosciutto)for my son when he visits. I also usually have couple gallons of sauerkraut in my fridge and other fermented veggies. My mom also makes country cheese, salted fish and pork fat. I don't have any particular fermenting equipment, just some jars in a back corner of my fridge. I am doing fermenting because it is a routine in my native country. The most unusual appliance in my kitchen - the hand-operated meat grinder.
    Melissa McEven has a lot of food snobbery on her blog. Paleo meets vegetarian background there.

  6. hmmm, sounds like you are more WAPF. Sorry, I don't read Melissa's blog.

  7. It was not the case that I embraced some food ideology and changed my life-style accordingly. I was feeling like an odd fish with all that liver eating, fermenting and soups making which is typical for Russian cooking, then discovered that there are groups of people who do the same, and it makes me feel less odd.

  8. It was harder for me to have a continued connection to my family's way of eating, so I chose styles mainly based on philosophy. My mother and her ancestors had always lived in coastal areas where the epi-paleo diet was standard, and few of those foods were available where we lived. Then when low-fat and olive oil became the norm, my father's food heritage became unnecessary as well. It is interesting to see how my family has embraced paleo. Now that it is OK to eat fat, it is also ok to just serve up a dish of pork and home-made sauerkraut. That would have seemed unthinkable 20 years ago.

  9. It was easy for me because I left my country at 35 years old, and my husband is from the same culture.