The Modern Macrobiotic Diet: More Than Tofu and SeaweedSep 29, 2023 09:30AM ● By Veronica Hinke
So much has evolved in the 100 years since Japanese educator George Ohsawa created the macrobiotic diet. For one thing, the recipes have become more flexible, empowering people to save time and use ingredients that they love. “The modern macrobiotic diet is about much more than tofu, seaweed and miso,” says chef and author Christina Pirello, the Emmy Award-winning host of Christina Cooks, on PBS. “It’s about seasonal, whole, unprocessed food cooked in accordance with each person’s condition and lifestyle.”
“In the beginning, there was rigidity that didn’t give you the freedom to say, ‘I don’t want to eat adzuki beans again,’” Pirello says. “Variety is key. You can’t just eat kale and drink smoothies and hope for the best. You have to get balanced nutrition with enough protein, fats and carbohydrates.”
According to Pirello, “What we eat determines how we move through the world. Are we comfortable or uncomfortable? In Chinese medicine, we are either in a state of ease or dis-ease, which became the word disease, but in Chinese medicine, it really means uncomfortable. What do you do to get back into that state of ease, or balance? That’s really what macrobiotics is about; how do you rebalance the body—the organs—to be comfortable?”
Eating in accordance with the natural order—with the seasons—is an essential concept of the macrobiotic diet and includes fall, winter, spring, summer and a fifth season, “late harvest.” The idea is to follow our intuition, Pirello advises: “If you walk into the supermarket in November, you’re not immediately attracted to cherry tomatoes and strawberries, but the winter squashes, pumpkins and parsnips call your name. Macrobiotics allows us to understand that—even here in the United States where foods are so widely available that you can have strawberries at Christmas.”
Her recipe for Winter Squash Risotto, which is featured in her new cookbook, VegEdibles, is just one example of the delicious macrobiotic dishes she has developed. “This risotto is perfect for cooler weather, when we need to keep energy in our middle organs so we are warm and cozy, centered and balanced,” Pirello says. “Come winter and fall, we want foods that are going to help the body hold onto heat. Squash, pumpkin, turnips and rutabaga are going to help relax the body and the middle organs and help us keep grounded, centered and warm. The risotto is cooked really long, so there’s a lot of warming energy that will help you in cold weather.”
“There has to be a period when the body transitions from the heat of summer into the cool of the fall,” says Chicago area-based macrobiotic counselor Karla Walter. “That’s when we have those beautiful orange foods starting to come out, and the squashes start arriving. We have this really lovely, sweet time of the year that actually nourishes the body and helps the immune system ramp up and get ready for colder weather.”
Walter recommends the macrobiotic diet for finding calmness and rhythm. “When we eat healthy foods that sustain us, our goals come to the surface where we can see them a lot clearer. People don’t know their potential until they start to feel good about themselves,” she says.
Lisa Books-Williams, a plant-based chef, educator and therapist in the San Francisco area, encourages people to find their own plant-based path. “I found my answer at the end of a fork, instead of in a bottle of pills,” she says. “The most loving thing I ever did for myself started with changing my food choices. Sure, it would be more delicious to be eating a pizza, but eating a salad with beans and rice is how I love myself.”
Books-Williams believes that taking the extra time that is required to follow a plant-based lifestyle is worthwhile. “We can eat well inexpensively if we are willing to take an extra couple of hours each week to chop vegetables. We are worth the time it takes to batch-cook and freeze beans in single servings so we have them when we need them. Each of us has to be committed to our own well-being. No one is going to do it for us.”
While much has changed since Ohsawa introduced the macrobiotic diet, Pirello still adheres to its three core ingredients. “I still eat rice, seaweed and miso soup,” she says. “Not as much as I used to, but I still do, because miso is the greatest probiotic on the planet, followed by kimchi. Those are the greatest macrobiotics we could ever eat in our lives, and both are delicious.”
Veronica Hinke is a food historian and the author of The Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining and Style and Titanic: The Official Cookbook. Learn more at FoodStringer.com.
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