More than just a diet, macrobiotics is a lifestyle that encourages followers to live in harmony with their environment
Where’s the beef? Macrobiotic cooking relies heavily on plant-based foods, including vegetables, grains, and beans
Photographs by Michael Nelson
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Twenty-two years ago, Mina Dobic was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian lymphoma. The cancer had metastasized to her bones and lymph system, a grapefruit-sized tumor sat in her pelvis, and three tumors were suffocating her liver. Saying there was nothing more they could do, the doctors sent her home to die; she was given two months. “But I knew it wasn’t my time yet,” Dobic recalls. She returned home to her family in Serbia; it was there that a doctor friend suggested she look into the Kushi Institute, a macrobiotic educational institution founded by the leader of modern macrobiotics, Michio Kushi.
Dobic and her husband flew to Boston to meet with Kushi, who sent her home with a detailed macrobiotic healing regiment to be followed exactly. In addition to dietary changes, the plan included daily walks, visualization, yoga, and body rubs. While Dobic devoted herself to healing, her family also committed themselves to this new macrobiotic lifestyle. “When I saw what it did for my children, I really believed,” she says. After two months, 14-year-old Srdjan no longer required steroids for his severe asthma, and six-year-old Jelena’s recurring hernia disappeared. Seven months and 52 pounds later, Dobic was cancer-free.
Hokkaido beans ►
Organic kamut ►
Umeboshi plums ►
Shiitake mushrooms ►
Bancha twig tea ►
Macrobiotics involves following a diet based on whole grains, vegetables, beans, and bean products, while avoiding consumption of meat, dairy, sugar, and eggs. Coming from the Greek words “macro” (large or long) and “bios” (meaning life), macrobiotics was first set forth by Hippocrates, whose early medical methodology was based on faith in the healing power of nature. In the early 20th century, George Ohsawa began developing the modern incarnation of macrobiotic philosophy, which combines Western macrobiotic ideas with the yin-yang concept of traditional Chinese medicine. While macrobiotics has evolved over the years, its basic principles remain the same: the way we live and how we eat are the primary influences over our health and character.
Dobic and her family remain committed to the macrobiotic lifestyle. Mina is now a renowned macrobiotic counselor in California; she works with celebrities (including Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow), the unwell, and the curious, teaching them about the choice that saved her life, and helping them find their own way. “Macrobiotics is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle,” she asserts. “It’s a way we can arrange to live in harmony with nature. When you start eating healthy food, your mind becomes health-conscious. Once you become macro, you start making different choices.”
“We are what we eat,” says Kathy Sheldon, who runs the Miso Happy Cooking Club, a macrobiotic cooking class that is a part of oncology support services at Benedictine Hospital in Kingston. “Being conscious about what we eat is being conscious of the earth, and then we’re in harmony with our environment. It’s more about the energy of the food than nutrition.”
Whole grains such as brown rice, barley, oats, and millet account for 50-60 percent of the diet proportionally. Vegetables constitute 20-30 percent, especially leafy greens (such as kale and collards), root vegetables (turnips and carrots), and round vegetables (cabbage, onions, and squash). Beans, seaweeds, miso, and pickles round out the daily fare. Nuts, seeds, soy products (such as tofu and tempeh), and seasonal fruits are also included; a variety of condiments like shoyu (soy sauce) and gomashio (sesame salt) are sparingly used, and white fish is consumed occasionally. All produce should be organic, local when available, and chemical- and pesticide-free; most ingredients can be found at your local health food store.