The term “macrobiotic” was used in ancient Greece and comes from the root words “macro” originally meaning long or great and “bios” meaning life or living. It was found as far back as the fourth century B.C. in the writing of Hippocrates, the Father of Western Medicine. The term was used by other classical and Biblical writers to describe the importance of living in harmony with nature, eating a simple, balanced diet, and achieving a long, healthy life. In the Far East similar terms and concepts date back to the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, the principal medical text of ancient China and the I Ching, the Book of Changes. The ideogram for peace in the Far East is composed of two characters representing “grain” and “mouth.” Ancient people intuitively knew that eating whole cereal grains produced physical health and vitality; a calm, clear mind; and sound judgement.
In the West the concept of macrobiotics continued through the Renaissance and enjoyed a brief resurgence of popularity in the eighteenth century. Dr. Christoph von Hufeland, a German medical doctor and physician to Goethe, published a book entitled Macrobiotics, or the Art of Prolonging Life in which he used new scientific discoveries and evidence, such as the shape of the teeth and the length of the intestines, to support a return to a more traditional way of eating and lifestyle. In the East macrobiotics was reintroduced in the late ninteenth century by Sagen Ishizuka, M.D., a Tokyo-based physician, who found that a diet centered on brown rice, miso, vegetables, and sea vegetables could help prevent and relieve the infectious diseases which were then sweeping Japan and the rest of the industrialized world.
In the early twentieth century, Yukikazu Sakurazawa (1893–1966) healed himself of advanced tuberculosis using Dr. Ishizuka’s methods. Devoting his life to this method, the young Japanese joined and became the leader of the small health food society of grateful patients, readers, and associates of Dr. Ishizuka. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Sakurazawa went to France to teach and write, and adopted George Ohsawa as his pen name. Later he revived the name “macrobiotics” to describe his teachings and he is now recognized as the Father of Modern Macrobiotics.
By the middle of the century, traditional diets had virtually disappeared in both East and West, along with the understanding of using food as medicine. In the modern era new analytical methods of healing were the rule, and modern medicine moved from treating underlying causes of sickness and disease to relieving symptoms and effects.
Ohsawa taught that with proper diet we can have a great life full of adventure, freedom, and endless joy and appreciation. He spent the better part of his life traveling and spreading macrobiotic principles and practices throughout the world, including Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and, towards the end of his life, North America. His students, most notably Michio and Aveline Kushi, who settled in the United States in the early 1950s, modified the diet to take into account different environmental and climatic conditions in the West as well as accommodate the needs of a modern lifestyle.
Over the last half of the twentieth century, the Kushis have served as the leaders of the international macrobiotic community. In the 1960s they launched the modern natural food movement so that whole grains; beans and bean products, including miso, tofu, and tempeh; fresh, organically grown vegetables; sea vegetables and umeboshi plums, kuzu root, and other medicinal plants were made available in natural foods stores across the United States and Europe. At first the medical profession ridiculed their teachings that modern diet was the underlying cause of heart disease, cancer, and other degenerative disorders. But through seminars for medical professionals, scientific research at Harvard Medical School, the Framingham Heart Study and other research centers, and most of all, through case histories of ordinary people who recovered from serious illness with the help of macrobiotics, the Kushis initiated the diet and health revolution that today is changing the entire world.
By the early 1980s all of the major medical and scientific organi-zations issued dietary guidelines calling for substantial reductions in fatty foods as well as corresponding increases in whole grains, fresh vegetables, and other minimally processed foods. In the early 1990s the U.S. government introduced the Food Guide Pyramid replacing meat and dairy food, the staples of the Four Food Groups, with a diet centered around grains, cereal products, fresh vegetables, and fruit. While there are still some differences to be bridged, it is clear that the scientific and medical profession are moving in a macrobiotic direction. In 1995 a conference of several hundred medical researchers and nutritionists sponsored by the World Health Organization and Harvard University featured a macrobiotic banquet at the JFK Library in Boston with Michio Kushi as the guest of honor.
Today macrobiotic food is available at the Ritz-Carlton Hotels around the world, at the international Prince Hotels, in an exclusive dining room at the Northwestern University business school, and at numerous restaurants, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions. There is a Macrobiotic Society in the United Nations and, in 1994, Michio Kushi received the Award of Excellence from the UN Writers Society (awarded to the world’s top authors) for his contribution to humanity. In 1999 the Smithsonian Institution exhibited the Michio Kushi Family Collection on Macrobiotics and Alternative Health Care, featuring the Kushis’ personal papers, the literature of the natural foods and holistic health movements, and an exhibition of cookware and foods. The U.S. government has introduced national organic food standards for the first time, making better quality food widely available throughout the country.
Now, in the twenty-first century, the world is rediscovering whole, natural foods and moving towards a new model of health care. I am fortunate to have discovered this approach early, long before it became popular. Not only did it save my life but it also broadened and deepened my understanding, providing a new direction and common bond for my family and myself. I have had the privilege of helping countless others to heal. This is the story of my life, which led me to become a small part of this great health revolution.