Why We Eat

February 11, 2014

Thirty-five years ago, I changed the way I eat in order to regain my health during a life-threatening illness. Obviously, it worked out well, as I am here and healthy these many years later.

In the process of discovering my way back to health, I was introduced to Japanese philosopher, Georges Oshawa, considered to be the father of modern macrobiotics and its accompanying lifestyle. Oshawa has penned many books and in my reading, I was enchanted (and sometimes shocked) by many of his very black and white statements.

After thirty years of living a macrobiotic lifestyle, I keep coming back to Oshawa’s statements and using them guide my own life and work…and to help me understand the state of our collective health.

“True health is that which you yourself have created out of illness. Only if you have produced your own health can you know how wonderful it actually is.”

I often say that we don’t know how lousy we feel until we feel better and then we want to kick ourselves for wasting time feeling poorly…when all we have to do is change our lifestyles, beginning with what we eat, to feel better day to day. Oshawa once said that if we are unaware or unsure of what a food does to our bodies, we have “no right eating it.”

Harsh, right?

I thought so at first, but maybe not. In reality, if we look with open eyes at the ways in which we eat, we’ll see that most of us eat blindly, consuming for the sake of consumption; or because the food is there or because it’s easy and convenient; or we’re bored or tired or stressed. The result is a world that is groaning under the weight of our poor health. Perhaps if we paid attention and understood the real effects of our modern diet on our health and the health of our planet, we would choose differently. But because we choose to remain unaware of the consequences of our choices; or because we want what we want when we want it, our health is what it is.

So maybe Georges Oshawa was not so far off base.

Another sentiment of his that sticks with me more and more as I watch what’s happening with our modern way of eating is along the lines that each of us is entitled to only so much food…an allotment for our lifetimes, in a manner of speaking. He used apples as his analogy: let’s say each of us is entitled to 1 apple a day. If we eat 2 apples, then someone is going without an apple that day.

If we pay attention, this philosophy could not be more obvious in our world. One look at a restaurant meal and we can see why the world still struggles with hunger when there’s more than enough food on the planet to feed everyone. According to Hunger Notes (worldhunger.org), the world produces enough food to feed people 17% more calories than it did 30 years ago, despite the population increase. It translates into at least 2720 calories per person, per day.

So why do we have more than 1 billion people starving when such abundance is available? It’s an easy but hard-to-hear answer. While conflict, politics, climate and resource inequality play roles, we can boil this disparity down to one big problem.

Some of us are eating more than our fair share of apples each day.

Plain and simple, if we look at the portion sizes consumed in our modern world, we can see why people are starving and why others are obese. Both are signs of imbalance, extreme in their own ways. Some will go without if others enjoy excess. Someone will starve if we waste. Farms discard a huge portion of produce, more than 40% in some instances because it’s not “pretty enough” to be sold on supermarket shelves.

You can begin to see where hunger comes from.

In macrobiotic philosophy, we are all part of one vibration in the world. What we do to each other, we do to ourselves. Over-use of resources; waste of food; gluttonous portions served in restaurants…all our waste is coming back to haunt us. Mother Nature will have balance so ironically and tragically for us, balance comes not in the form of dying only from malnutrition, but dying from over-nourishment as well.

When people ask me what macrobiotic eating is all about, I tell them it illustrates that all life – my life, your life, and the life of the planet are important. Ancient people based their approach to health on simple principles of understanding nature. Their lives depended on that understanding. They needed to understand weather, food, their environment for their survival. Our modern life is drowning us in a sea of information designed to paralyze us or manipulate our choices.

The traditional view holds that health is a result of establishing a beneficial relationship with nature. An essential life skill that helps us adjust to and respect nature is…wait for it…knowing how to cook. Cooking changes the quality of natural foods, making digestion easier, giving us the ability to adapt and shift our eating with the seasons and our own needs and desires. Understanding cooking is key to creating delicious foods that serve our health and wellness as well as our tastes. Cooking simple whole foods allows us to eat in way that promotes personal health, satisfies our desires for sensual foods and more important… creates environmental health.

But old habits die hard. We have been conditioned to believe we need animal food for the protein we need to survive and thrive. We forget that cows eat grass; gorillas live on berries, nuts, grasses, seeds. We have been conditioned to believe that cooking is a drag and we don’t have time for it in our busy lives. Knowing that…and we do know this…consuming animal foods and convenient junk food has a huge negative impact on our personal, social, and environmental health, the discussion about what’s healthy will continue to focus on the role cooking plays in creating health.

So how do we begin to make…and see…the changes necessary to rescue the planet and our collective health? I can tell you that being a food Nazi won’t do it. In my humble opinion, the best way to attract people to a healthy and sustainable diet and lifestyle is by example. It’s broccoli, not rocket science. There’s no need to lecture or stand on a soapbox. Live your life well. People will naturally feel attracted to life choices that seem to create joy and wellness. If what they see is a self-righteous, preachy health nut, they’ll run from the room to the nearest drive-through.

So chill, man. Macrobiotics is designed to help you create a great life, free from constraints and distress. It does that by opening your intuition so you can see the big picture of your life…and all life. Macrobiotics provides the tools that allow you to live authentically with respect for nature, each other and all living things.