What Wikipedia Doesn't Want You to Know About Macrobiotics (and Holistic Health)
Continued from Home Page
As for Zen, it is true that adherents of this Buddhist sect ate in a semi-macrobiotic way until modern times. But then so did Buddhists of other schools, as did Jews, Zoroastrians, Gnostics, Christians, Muslims, Taoists, Confucians, Africans, Native Americans, and people from many other faiths and cultures. It would be more accurate for Wikipedia to say that macrobiotics is a diet drawn from Jesus and his followers (who ate primarily grains, vegetables, fruit, and a little fish) than from Zen. But that claim too, however true, is much too narrow a perspective. Macrobiotics is a universal concept and practice. As educator Michio Kushi observed, “It is not the limited philosophy of one time or place, one country or people, one teacher or organization, one religion or way of life. It is universal in its scope and eternal in its duration.”[i]
Reading the Wikipedia article transported me back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. During the hippie and counterculture era, Dr. Frederick Stare, chairman of the nutrition department at Harvard University wrote a lurid article on macrobiotics “The Diet That’s Killing Our Kids” for Ladies Home Journal, the nation’s foremost women’s magazine. During that era—the nutritional dark ages when the Basic Four food groups (two of which were meat and dairy) reigned and a nation of hamburger and hot dog lovers was bombing the rice fields of Southeast Asia to smithereens—the FDA and FBI raided macrobiotic centers and natural foods stores, and the medical profession ridiculed vegetarian diets as harmful and deficient—if not politically subversive.
Thankfully, times changed, even if Wikipedia remains stuck in a time warp—a dark era when the Standard American Diet was not yet linked to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. That came in 1977 with the historic U.S. Senate Report Dietary Goals for the United States associating the modern way of eating with six of the ten leading causes of death. Studies on macrobiotics at Harvard Medical School, Framingham Heart Study, National Institutes of Health, CDC, and other top medical organizations, as well as statements by the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society, and other medical societies, later confirmed the health benefits of macrobiotics, and the Kushis’ were honored with a Permanent Collection on Macrobiotics at the National Museum of American History as the new millennium arrived. On the basis of scores of peer-reviewed studies on the benefits of macrobiotics, the medical committee of the Smithsonian created the collection. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution unanimously honoring the Kushis and the macrobiotic community.
Yet none of this appears in Wikipedia. With a view to setting the record straight in “the encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” I revised and updated the entry on “Macrobiotic Diet,” carefully including all the citations in the New England Journal of Medicine, Atherosclerosis, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and the other peer-reviewed journals.
Within minutes, before I had completed uploading my revisions, my computer screen froze and a message appeared that my entry was blocked! It turned out that an administrator had intervened, deleted all my updates, and reverted to the original pejorative entry. A message on the editor’s page said that my inserts were “fringe promo” and had been deleted. A cursory look at previous edits on the “View History” tab showed a pattern of attempts by other citizen editors to bring the article up to date, and each time they were rejected as biased and redundant.
Curious, I discovered that the embattled guardian of public health and nutritional morals was Alex Brown, a medical editor, who proudly notes in a link to his bio that he was once named “one of the top 10 medical contributors” to Wikipedia. The other articles he created on Wikipedia included “List of Ineffective Cancer Treatments,” “Pseudomedicine,” and—believe it or not—“Frederick J. Stare.”
As Max Planck, who introduced the concept of the paradigm shift, famously observed, "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."[ii] It seems Dr. Stare is the exception that proves the rule. Like a vengeful ghost in Shakespeare, he has come back from the bardo in a bizarre case of spirit possession to hijack macrobiotics’ digital identity!
From the adulatory write up of Dr. Stare on Wikipedia you would hardly realize his career ended in disgrace when he was unmasked as a paid consultant to the sugar lobby, junk food cereal companies, and even Big Tobacco! Talk about the diet that’s killing our kids! On his kudos page, we learn that Alex Brown received a virtual Cheeseburger, Brownie, and Cup of Coffee for his trolling efforts by fellow Wikipedian administrators. I rest my case.
Actually, macrobiotics is not being singled out on Wikipedia, and I shouldn’t take its antebellum nutritional stance so personally. The entries for Homeopathy, Acupuncture, Reiki, and other holistic approaches are even worse! It is mindboggling that in a time when virtually every hospital in the country has integrated acupuncture and therapeutic touch into its medical practice that Wikipedia claims there is no evidence that they work!
When I mentioned my frustration to fellow writer and researcher Bill Shurtleff, he laughed at my naiveté. He characterized Wikipedia as a battlefield for contested ideologies and vested interests. He said that whenever he attempted to add a
citation from The Book of Miso, The Book of Tofu, and other classics that he co-authored or list his Soyinfo Center, the world’s most comprehensive online database on soybeans and soyfoods, his reference was deleted. He is now permanently blacklisted from the site. Instead of Wikipedia, he recommends using Encyclopedia Britannica, which relies on seasoned authorities, not self-appointed guardians of nutritional and medical correctness.
As I later discovered, thousands of people signed a petition on Change.org to halt Wikipedia’s attacks on holistic and alternative medicine: “Wikipedia is widely used and trusted. Unfortunately, much of the information related to holistic approaches to healing is biased, misleading, out-of-date, and just plain wrong.” The petition went on to say that for five years repeated efforts to correct the misinformation were blocked. In response to this appeal, Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales scoffed that there was no place for “the work of lunatic charlatans.” As other independent investigators concluded, “The information on Wikipedia is filtered to remove any talk of natural remedies, natural cures, and organic medicine, referring to anything that is not lab-made as quack medicine, anti-science, or even conspiracy theory when it challenges ‘science-based’ information that has no independent research sourcing. The information that makes it through the Wikipedia filters and is published is pure mainstream, allopathic, and biotechnology driven.”[iii] Mike Bundraft, a Neuro-Linguistic Programming expert, launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish Un•Biased: The Truth About the Healing Arts on Wikipedia, because of the site’s hatchet job on dozens of alternative approaches. Many schools and colleges, as well as news sites, bar their students or teachers from using Wikipedia for research papers or articles on account of its slanted viewpoints, fake history, and rampant sexism (85% of editors are male).[iv]
Articles on genetic engineering in Wikipedia also whitewash the dangers of GMOs and falsely claim there is a broad scientific consensus on their safety. This is absurd. Consumers Reports, the largest independent product safety magazine in the country, has long questioned the safety of GMOs, and virtually every major health and environmental organization from the Sierra Club to the National Audubon Society have expressed deep concern. Many medical organizations support mandatory labeling and strict oversight, including the American Public Health Association, the American Association of Environmental Medicine, American Nursing Association, American College of Physicians, the California Medical Association, and the British Medical Association.
After I told my colleagues at Planetary Health about this experience, we decided to publish our own entry on macrobiotics as a small book and link it on our web sites. Hence this volume. Whether it is balanced and fair, biased or unbiased, we leave to each reader to decide. But it does include vital information summarizing over 100 scientific studies, medical reports, and case histories that an informed public has the right to know about. We suspect that a high percentage of online searches for macrobiotics—as well as homeopathy, Reiki, acupuncture, yoga, and other holistic approaches—are inspired by medical doctors and other healthcare professionals who recommend complementary alternatives to their patients.
Denying the public safe, simple, effective, commonsense remedies and potentially life-saving information is tragic. Such censorship is practicing quack medicine of the worst kind. Even Dr. Stare changed his tune. In an interview with the New York Times in 1978 following the release of the landmark Dietary Goals for the United States, he said: "As I see the [macrobiotic] diet today, it is really not much more than a typical vegetarian diet. Anybody switching from the average American diet to a macrobiotic diet is going to take off 10 or 15 pounds, just by reducing his fat intake.”[v]
The truth has never stayed silenced for long. History will judge whether macrobiotics, holistic health, and the whole trend of modern society, including the medical profession, to embrace a sane food and agricultural system based on organic, plant-based foods is a fad diet or the key to reconnecting with humanity’s ancestral roots and creating a healthy, peaceful, sustainable future.
Alex Jack, president of Planetary Health, Inc., is a macrobiotic teacher, counselor, and author. He has served as editor-in-chief of East West Journal, executive director of Kushi Institute, and director of the One Peaceful World Society. His books include The Cancer-Prevention Diet with Michio Kushi (St. Martin’s Press, 3rd edition, 2010), The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health with Michio Kushi (Ballantine Books, 2003), Aveline Kushi’s Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking (Time-Warner Books, 1985), annotated editions and commentaries on Hamlet and As You Like It (Amberwaves Press, 2005, 2012), and The One Peaceful World Cookbook: 150 Vegan Macrobiotic Recipes for Vibrant Health & Happiness with Sachi Kato (BenBella Books, 2017).
[i] Kushi, Michio and Alex Jack (2013). The Book of Macrobiotics, third edition, Square One Publications.
[ii] Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
[iii] TruthWiki, “Wikipedia,” retrieved April 7, 2017.
[iv] Cohen, Noam. “A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia as a Research Source,” New York Times, Feb. 21, 2007.
[v] Wells, Patricia. “Marobiotics: A Principle Not a Diet,” New York Times, July 19, 1978.
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