Macrobiotics is the art of living a bright, healthy, peaceful life. It encompasses a deep understanding of humanity’s origin and destiny, natural order, and the cosmos. It encompasses evolution and history, climate and environment, anatomy and physiology, behavior and activity, thoughts and emotions, relationships and communities, arts and cultures, science and medicine, societies and civilizations, and consciousness and spiritual development.
A macrobiotic diet and lifestyle is grounded in a way of eating centered on whole grains and other primarily plant-based foods and on living in harmony and balance with nature and the infinite universe. It embraces all complementary opposites, including East and West, North and South, traditional and modern, material and spiritual, visionary and practical, and strives to create a peaceful mind, home, and world community.[i]
The macrobiotic movement, led by educators Michio Kushi (1926-2014) and his wife Aveline Kushi (1926-2001), pioneered the natural foods movement, organic farming, and alternative healing beginning in the 1960s and over the last half century spearheaded the historical shift in modern society from an animal- to a plant-based diet.[ii] During this time, macrobiotics has been studied by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), Harvard Medical School, Framingham Heart Study, and other scientific and medical organizations.[iii]
Its positive benefits in helping to prevent and relieve high blood pressure, highcholesterol, and heart disease; selected cancers, diabetes; immunedeficiency diseases; and other chronic conditions have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Lancet, Nutrition and Cancer, and other peer-reviewed journals. As The American Medical Association Family Medical Guide concluded: “In general, the macrobiotic diet is a healthful way of eating.”[iv]
The Smithsonian Institution recognized the contribution of macrobiotics to “healthy diet, our increasingly global culture, alternative healing, peace studies, and traditions of grassroots activism” with the creation of a permanent Michio and Aveline Kushi Collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. in 1998.[v] The macrobiotic community today continues to be on the cutting edge of personal and planetary change with a global network of thousands of teachers, counselors, and chefs, as well as educational centers, communities, organic farms, natural foods companies, restaurants, businesses, small publishers, and social media.
Macrobiotics is based on an understanding and application of the universal laws of change and harmony that govern body, mind, and spirit, as well as nature, so
ciety, and the cosmos. The concept goes back to Hippocrates, the Father of Medi
cine, who used μακροβιοσ (makrobios) meaning “long life,” in the 5th century BCE and had a dietary approach to healing, centered on barley, wheat, millet, and other whole grains.[vi]
As Michio Kushi explained in of The Book of Macrobiotics: The Universal Way of Health, Happiness, and Peace (2013): “Macrobiotics is the collective wisdom and universal heritage of humanity. Macrobiotics is not the manifestation, property, or exclusive possession of a single era, culture, society, nation, religion, school, family, or individual.”[vii] From ancient times, macrobiotic teachings flourished in ancient China, India, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and, the Americas.
In the mid-1960s, the Kushis began teaching in Boston, started Erewhon Trading Company, the pioneer natural foods store, and popularized the Standard Macrobiotic Diet consisting of organically grown whole grains and grain products such as brown rice and whole wheat bread and pasta; miso and others soups; beans and bean products such as tofu and tempeh; vegetables from land and sea; and sugar- and dairy-free desserts and snacks.[viii] Animal food, especially fish and seafood, was optional, and many followers are vegan.[ix] In the late 1960s and early 1970s, macrobiotics spread along with the rise of the counterculture, yoga, meditation, and the peace movement.
In his lectures about the war in Vietnam, Michio Kushi contrasted the simple grain-and-vegetable diet of Southeast Asia with the heavy meat-and-sugar based diet of the United States and Soviet Union and warned that the modern way of eating was contributing not only to heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative conditions but also to a narrow fixed mentality, mood swings, violence, and war. As the spearhead of the natural foods movement, macrobiotic food companies included Muso, Lima Foods, Manna, Eden Foods, Mitoku, Chico-San, Westbrae, South River Miso, and many others.
Initially, the plant-based macrobiotic dietary approach was so different from the standard modern diet and appealed to hippies, peaceniks, and others who had opted out of modern society that it was misunderstood, ridiculed, and attacked in scientific and medical quarters as nutritionally deficient.[x] The FDA raided macrobiotic centers and health food stores, and Dr. Frederick J. Stare, chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard University School of Public Health warned against “The Diet That’s Killing Our Kids” in Ladies Home Journal.[xi]
Within several years, society’s attitude toward low-fat, vegetarian, and vegan diets began to change. The Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs released Dietary Goals for the United States in 1977 warning of an unrecognized “wave of overnutrition” and linking six of the ten leading causes of death to the modern way of eating.[xii] In the early 1990s, the Food Guide Pyramid (with grains forming the foundation of a healthy daily way of eating) replaced the Basic
Four food groups (the previous model high in animal quality protein). The integrity of Dr. Stare of Harvard was questioned when it emerged he was a paid consultant to the food industry and had sought tobacco company funding. Following these momentous changes, macrobiotics began to attract favorable interest among leading scientific and medical organizations. From being labeled as a dangerous, fad diet and a pseudoscience, macrobiotics was increasingly viewed as a model for better health and well-being.
Dr. Benjamin Spock, described by the New York Times as “the most influential pediatrician of all time,” followed a macrobiotic way of eating during the last decade of his life.[xiii] In the final edition of his book, Baby and Child Care, released just weeks after his death at age 94 in 1998, he recommended that children be brought up on a plant-based diet.
"When parents offer healthy foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans—at home, and when the whole family, including the parents, makes these foods front and center in the diet, children learn tastes that can help them throughout life."[xiv] Within two weeks of starting macrobiotics himself and discontinuing dairy foods, Dr. Spock noted in his book, “My chronic bronchitis went away after years of unsuccessful antibiotic treatments.”
Over the years, the Kushis and their educational organizations—the East West Foundation and Kushi Institute—inspired scores of medical studies, beginning with Harvard Medical School in the early 1970s, that documented the benefits of the macrobiotic approach in lowering cholesterol and blood pressure; preventing or relieving heart disease, selected cancers, and diabetes; and improving the quality of life and well-being of children, families, and the elderly.[xv] The Second International Conference on Dietary Assessment Methods, a large gathering of six hundred medical researchers sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization, featured a macrobiotic banquet at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. Michio Kushi led a WHO conference on AIDS in the Republic of the Congo for several hundred physicians and native healers. Macrobiotics also helped to reduce aggression and anti-social behavior among juvenile inmates, assist in the rehabilitation of prisoners, and contribute to reconciliation and harmony among opposing religious and ethnic groups in war-torn regions of the world.[xvi]
In 2002, an expert panel convened by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) voted unanimously to approve clinical trials of the macrobiotic approach to cancer based on a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Best Case Study of 77 individuals who recovered from a variety of malignancies with the help of macrobiotics.[xvii] Subsequent medical tests, and reports from the Methodist Hospital in Philadelphia, Holy Redeemer Hospital in Meadowbrook, Penn., Tulane University, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston, National Tumor Institute in Milan, Italy, and Moores Cancer Center, University of California, San Diego found that the macrobiotic diet was instrumental in preventing or relieving tumors, including those of the breast, prostate, pancreas, lungs, and other organs.[xviii] The macrobiotic approach has also been helpful in relieving radiation sickness, from the atomic bombings in Japan to the nuclear accidents in the Soviet Union.[xix]
From the communes and health food stores of the 1960s and 1970s to the spas and wellness centers of the 1980s and 1990s, macrobiotics began to move into the mainstream. The Ritz Carlton and Prince Hotel chains started serving macrobiotic food to their international guests. The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University established a dining room with macrobiotic entrées for busy executives taking seminars and macrobiotic teachers and cooks were invited to the White House, Capitol Hill,and the United Nations.[xx] Macrobiotics was profiled in Vogue, New York Times, Boston Globe, and other leading publications, and Bill Dufty, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Barbra Streisand, John Travolta, Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Steven Seagal, Andie MacDowell, Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Sting, Boy George, Julia Roberts, Alicia Silverstone, Rachel Weisz, Guy Richie, Kim Kardashian, and other celebrities had their own macrobiotic chefs. Actress Gloria Swanson and singer John Denver were particularly vocal in supporting macrobiotics, often appearing with the Kushis at macrobiotic events and fundraising concerts.[xxi]
In establishing a permanent Kushi collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., Spencer Crew, the museum director, noted: “The National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution is honored to present the [Special] Collection on Macrobiotics and Alternative Health Care. This collection of health, nutrition, and personal family materials and artifacts documents important and little studied aspects of American life and culture. . . . The significance of macrobiotics in American life is little understood although it relates to such broad historical issues as the postwar move toward a more healthy diet, our increasingly global culture, alternative healing, peace studies, and traditions of grassroots activism.”[xxii]
On the initiative of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Dem., Ohio), the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution unanimously honoring the Kushis for their dedication and contribution to the nation’s health and well-being.[xxiii]
At the International Macrobiotic Conference in 2017, forty-five macrobiotic teachers, along with the George Oshawa Macrobiotic Foundation (GOMF), Macrobiotic Association, Chi Energy, SHI, IMP, IME, IMS, and other schools, institutes, and organizations, defined macrobiotics as follows:
Macrobiotics, noun, (used with a singular verb)
1. a way of life that guides one’s choices in nutrition, activity, and lifestyle.
2. a system of principles and practices of harmony to benefit the body, mind, and planet.
– macrobiotic, adj., such as macrobiotic philosophy or macrobiotic diet.
Origin: from Ancient Greek: Macro (large or long) and Bios (life or way of living).
[i] Kushi, Michio; Jack, Alex (2013). The Book of Macrobiotics: The Universal Way to Health, Happiness, and Peace. Square One Publications, pp. xii-xvii. ISBN 9780757004407.
[ii] Kushi, Michio; Jack, Alex (2017). One Peaceful World: Creating a Healthy and Harmonious Mind, Home, and World Community, pp. xii-xvii. Square One Publications. ISBN 978-0-0-7570-0440-7.
[iii] Individual studies are listed below.
[iv] Kunz, Jeffrey R. M., and Finkel, Asher J., eds. (1987) The American Medical Association Family Medical Guide, Random House, p. 27. ISBN 0-394-55582-1.
[v] Smithsonian Institution Archives.
[vi] Hippocrates; Jones, William, translator. Airs, Waters, Places. Harvard University Press, 1923. Volume IV, p. 79. ISBN 978-0674991668.
[vii] Kushi, Michio; Jack, Alex (2003). The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health: A Complete Guide to Preventing and Relieving More Than 200 Chronic Conditions and Disorders Naturally. Ballantine Books, p. 5. ISBN 0-345-43987-2.
[viii] Shurtleff, William; Aoyagi, Akiko (2011). History of Erewhon—Natural Foods Pioneer in the United States (1966-2011). ISBN: 978-1-928914-33-4.
[ix] Gray, Sylvia Ruth (2016). Eating Animals? Would George Ohsawa and Michio Kushi Be Vegan Today? Amberwaves Press.
[x] “Zen Macrobiotic Diets”. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. 218 (3):397. 1971. Doi:10.1001/jama.1971.03190160047009. “Simon, Beth Ann,” The Free Dictionary. Christgau, Robert (1966). "Beth Ann and Microbioticism". “The Kosher of the Counterculture,” Time. EBSCOhost. 96 (20). 16 November 1970.
[xi] Stare, Frederick J. “The Diet That's Killing Our Kids,” Ladies Home Journal. October, 1971, p. 70.
[xii] Dietary Goals for the United States (1977), U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, second edition. https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/naldc/download. xhtml?id=1759572&content=PDF
[xiii] Brody, Jane. “Final Advice from Dr. Spock: Eat Only All Your Vegetables,” New York Times, June 20, 1988.
[xiv] Spock, Benjamin, M.D; Parker, Charles (1998). Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care. E. P. Dutton. ISBN 978-0525944171.
[xv] See citations below for cancer, heart disease, etc.
[xvi] Kushi and Jack, One Peaceful World, passim.
[xvii] Macrobiotic Research Project,” Jane Teas, Ph.D., principal investigator; Joan Cunningham, Ph.D., co-principal investigator, sponsored by the Centers for Disese Control.
Oct. 2000 to Sept 2002, University of South Carolina, Prevention Research Center, School of Public Health, Charleston SC. Minutes of the Fifth Meeting, Cancer Advisory Advisory Panel for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAPCAM), Bethesda, Maryland, February 25, 2002; Moss, Ralph, Ph.D. “The Olive Branch Bears Fruit,” The Moss Reports, February 27, 2002.
[xviii] B. R. Goldin et al., “Effect of Diet on Excretion of Estrogens in Pre- and Postmenopausal Incidence of Breast Cancer in Vegetarian Women,” Cancer Research 41:3771-73, 1981; Anthony J. Satillaro, M.D., Recalled by Life: The Story of My Recovery from Cancer with Tom Monte (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1982); Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), Unconventional Cancer Treatments. Government Printing Office, 1990; James P. Carter et al., “Hypothesis: Dietary Management May Improve Survival from Nutritionally Linked Cancers Based on Analysis of Representative Cases,” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 12:209-226, 1993; Franco Berrino et al., “Reducing Bioavailable Sex Hormones through a Comprehensive Change in Diet: the Diet and Androgens (DIANA) Randomized Trial,” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention 10: 25-33, January 2001; “Nutrition and Special Diet: Macrobiotics,” M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Texas, ments/cime, 2003-2006; R. Kaaks, “Effects of Dietary Intervention on IGF-Binding Proteins, and Related Alterations in Sex Steroid Metabolism: The Diet and Androgens (DIANA) Randomized Trial,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 57(9):1079-88, 2003; C. Colombo et al., “Plant-Based Diet, Serum Fatty Acid Profile, and Free Radicals in Postmenopausal Women: The Diet and Androgens (DIANA) Randomized Trial,” International Journal of Biological Markers 20(3):169-76, 2005; G.A. Saxe et al., “Potential Attenuation of Disease Progression in Recurrent Prostate Cancer with Plant-Based Diet and Stress Reduction,” Integr Cancer Ther 5(3)206-13, 2006; J.Y. Nguyen et al., “Adoption of a Plant-Based Diet by Patients with Recurrent Prostate Cancer,” Integr Cancer Ther 5(3):214-23, 2006
[xix] Jack, Alex (2002). Biowisdom: A Natural Approach to Bioterrorism, Nuclear Radiation, GMOs, and Other Threats. Amberwaves Press, pp. 8–17. ISBN 0-9708913-2-6.
[xx] Kushi and Jack, Macrobiotic Path, p. viii.
[xxiii] Congressional Record, V. 145, Pt. 8, May 24, 1999 to June 8 1999, 11812.