Macrobiotics, Meat Eating, and Human Ecology
One of the most robust conversations in modern macrobiotic practice is the
role of animal products in our way of eating. Over the past few issues of Macrobiotics Today, there have been articles and letters that focused on this subject. A variety of justifications have been put forward for the increased use of animal foods and the continued use of fish and seafood in macrobiotic dietary recommendations. I feel each of these issues demand more discussion and that they are crucial to whatever macrobiotics has to offer in the fields of individual, social, and environmental health.
Macrobiotics is a philosophy focused on our relationship to nature. It describes an ecological way of living. In this article I am going to replace the word “universe” as it is often used in macrobiotic writing with the word “nature.” It is not as lofty but it simplifies quite a few issues. For clarity sake I also want to say that we all define macrobiotics in a way that suits us (I do that and so do you). For me the term “macrobiotics” has never meant “long-life” as some insist. It is not a longevity diet (but it can be). I prefer “great life,” by which I mean a life that is rich in experience and breadth of consciousness. I have met many people who lived long lives and were miserable folks with very little engagement or concern with the world around them or the people in it.
Age alone is a poor barometer for health. It is consciousness that is the central issue in our philosophy. When Ohsawa described the development of judgment (discernment), he was directly addressing the scope and depth of our consciousness. He spoke clearly about the role of eating a healthy and ecological diet in that de- velopment. His ideas on seasonal and regional eating as well as the sensitivity to the use of resources are all ecological.
The state of balance, so often referred to in macrobiotics (and in the articles referred to above), is not simply an internal condition of blood chemistry. It is a balance with our world and all that lies within it. Our understanding of food and its unique role in achieving this harmo- nious state has always provided an underpinning for a macrobiotic way of life. This relationship with nature is only accomplished when essentials of human health are reached with- out depleting resources. It describes what ecologists term a commensal relationship with nature. One where needs are met and no harm is done. The ecological and holistic approach to nutrition is what distinguishes macrobiotics from scientific nutrition, which is reductionist and an-
thropocentric.The issue of using animal-sourced foods in a macrobiotic diet revolves around several issues, some stated and some simply implied.
1. Food is energy and other considerations are sentimental.
2. Eating a strict diet is exclusive;
we must be flexible.
3. The unique energy of animal- sourced food is essential for therapeutic use.
4. Meat and Dairy foods were used
by traditional societies.
5. George Ohsawa included meat and eggs in his ten diets and Michio Kushi put in fish twice a week.
exclusivity, FlexiBility And ethics Exclusivity, Flexibility and Ethics are all interesting topics when talk- ing about food choices. We have to ask ourselves where flexibility takes us. Are we talking about acceptance by society, avoiding criticism from friends and family, or aspiring to nor disregard them in any way. If the fact that I eat different food causes them a problem I am not bothered, it’s their decision. That is not exclusivity.
This brings me to ethics. Is there a macrobiotic ethic about food? Some people may be uncomfortable about food ethics, after-all we are the non-credo folks. I often wonder if non-credo in the macrobiotic dictionary means, “anything goes.” If there is no ethic about food, we are in big trouble. If we are pursuing a balance with nature then the foods we choose are very important in that process. There is no greater damage to the environment than those caused.
“I often wonder if non- credo in the macrobiotic dictionary means, ‘anything goes.’ If there is no ethic about food, we are in
From many macrobiotic teachers for some sort of validation from the scientific community. From the early
1980s on there has been an increase in the inclusion of scientific studies in macrobiotic writings and lectures. This is understandable given the fact that science is seen as the “approved truth” in our society. The differences between the reductionist view of scientific nutrition and the holistic and ecological approach of macrobiotics do not negate either approach; it simply indicates a distinction between two points of view.
I bring this up because the lead- ing edge of modern nutrition has finally advanced to the point where a plant-based and whole-foods diet is gaining credibility. Now at the cusp of this new acceptance there is an ironic surge in demands that animal foods are an essential addition to the macrobiotic dietary approach. For
50 years nutritional science has been stating that plant-based diets (like macrobiotics) were dangerous and now we are saying, “you were right, people need meat.” mality? It is amusing that Ohsawa is often quoted when making the point.
The work of Professor Colin T. Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, that macrobiotics is not exclusive.
That’s just silly, of course it’s exclusive, at least it can be. No one was more exclusive and judgmental than Ohsawa. He was an “Old Testament” figure damning those who got sick as being punished by the order of the universe. I love his writing and quite a lot of his philosophy but he did go over the top on occasion.
We live in a society that is governed by habits that produce sickness and social dysfunction and environmental damage, why fit in? I associ- ate with people who do not eat the same as me all the time, in fact most of the time. The fact that I do not eat the same as them doesn’t make me by the agribusiness, meat, dairy, fac-
tory farm, and fish farm culture of the food industry. That is a simple fact. The question is do we stand for something aside from producing the perfect poop? I think we do and we should not worry about being able to contrast our ability to understand the consequences of our actions and the ability to love our brothers and sisters who act differently.energy And traditional diets.
The energy of the animal and traditional diets are topics that emerge in this conversation. Over the past
40 years there has been a yearning
Dr. Neil Barnard, Dr. John McDou- gall, Dr. Michael Klaper, and Dr. Michel Greger are among the increasing number of physicians who are treating serious diseases with a diet that is totally meat and dairy free.
I am not in total agreement with the physicians named above on every issue but they are certainly get- ting results, reversing heart disease, diabetes, and a wide range of serious diseases. Practicing macrobiotic counselors in America and Europe with decades of experience including my wife and I are still getting good results with diets that exclude animal foods. Something is missing from the conversation.
The citing of individual cases where adding meat or dairy into a diet with improved health results is not really helpful since we do not know any of the other factors that may have led to problems in that person. My experience has shown me that there may be many influences why people do not thrive on a simple diet. (Please note that I did not use the words strict or restricted or narrow.)
I can certainly believe that these cases occur but it is not cause for the kind of sweeping statements that there is some sort of widespread nutritional deficiency in a diverse macrobiotic eating plan. Making the shift to a more earth friendly diet challenges not only our biology but also our cultural and emotional life. The desire to take a step back from moving into an unknown realm is understandable. Making significant
changes in diet throws up many challenges and they can be exhausting. If someone is eating an overly constricted diet any number of additions can produce a dramatic improvement in condition. These additions are seldom useful for anything other than a little physical or emotional reset.
When we reflect of food traditions we surely know that they were a direct response to environmental conditions such as soil, water, altitude, and weather as well as developed technologies. This is fundamental to the ecological macrobiotic world-view. Traditions were always a question of food availability and cultural development. If you lived in a cold climate with short growing season, or at a high altitude with poor soil you are going to look to animal-sourced foods to keep warm and supply the nutrition you can’t get directly out of the earth. This has been proven by many studies that show that early hunter-gatherers relied mostly on plant foods in those areas where abundant supplies of seeds, berries, nuts, tubers, and edible leaves were available. This was true long before formal agriculture. Those days are gone.
Many people have noticed that the earth has changed radically in the past 50 years; our collective actions have brought about massive environmental shifts that affect us all as well as future generations. To a large degree we live in a built environment. The United Nations predicts that by the year 2050 over 50% of the population will live in large urban centers. What is our vision for creating balance in that environment? This is significant as the majority of macrobiotic people already live in urban environments.
Food traditions only make sense
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if they help us create balance with nature as it is today. The dismissal of the fact that meat production is harmful to the environment and was used by “traditional societies” is a simplistic rationalization. This includes the argument that grass-fed meats and naturally-grazed milk animals produce a better and healthier product. Of course they do. This includes the argument that they are “natural;” everything outside the laboratory and factory is natural. That has nothing to do with the decision to use them.
There is a certain romance in vi-Macrobiotic Compassion
Is compassion a macrobiotic quality? One of the cases against meat and dairy consumption is cruelty to animals. Some say that if an animal is allowed to live a healthy life, surely that means its meat is a healthy food. Well, that depends on if you are the creature being killed or the one that’s eating it. The sacrifice of an animal, if it is essential for food, is something I can accept. Essential here means that there is nothing else to eat. But where being closer to a vegetable than the mammal, or Gary Snyder’s assertion that ancient hunters meditated until animals came to them willingly and offered their throat for the knife. Ancient hunters did have respect for animals and so never wasted or abused them.
Animals are conscious beings. They suffer needlessly and we are killing off all the animal life on the planet in our extreme arrogance and superficial desires. A large part of our social legacy is the needless slaughter of billions of animals, devastasions of the past. The idea of following tradition has a powerful pull. The tion of forestlands to fatten them for the kill and making the oceans dead problem with traditions is that while they may be interesting and informative they often do not present solutions to problems in the present or reflect the truth of the past. Many traditions make sense and some don’t. If your ancestors used to smack each other on the head with a brick every time they met would you not feel obliged to follow suit simply because it was tradition. I respect my ancestors.
“The problem with traditions is that while they may be interesting and informative they often do not present solutions to problems in the present or reflect the truth of the past.”
ponds where only algae’s thrive. If, as I believe, macrobiotics is an ecological philosophy we need to think this problem out. It means creating a consistent vision of how to move that ideal of a “Healthy and Peaceful World” beyond a slogan and closer to reality.
Since 1967 Bill Tara has been an actors but also know that they did many things and had many ideas I do not
active advocate for natural heath care. He has been a health counselor,wish to replicate. Would it be a prob- lem if we dropped the “traditional” label and just called it a thoroughly modern diet? That could actually be closer to the truth.
The restructuring of plants into meat or milk in an animal is certainly an incredible compression of energy. Animal-sourced foods are very pow- erful I agree. I have suggested meat on two occasions over the past 49 years. In both cases the client had lost quite a bit of blood. I also regularly suggested fish up to twice a week for many years. I no longer feel that is a wise or essential choice. When we extend a therapeutic approach into a health maintenance way of eating we always create problems.
Does this exist in the developed societies?
The modern market economy survives on a wasteful use of resources and we are all a product of that way of life. It is a way of living where human comforts are put above all else. We have become used to not knowing where our food comes from or the implications of its use. The distance between our food and us gets greater every year. Have persons who want to eat meat actually killed an animal? Have they looked it in the animal’s eye? Have they butchered it?
Animals don’t like to be killed even if they have lived a healthy life. Even a fish tries to escape regardless of the old macrobiotic myth of them teacher, author, entrepreneur and creator of health education centers in Europe and North America. Bill is author of Macrobiotics and Human Behavior, Natural Body/Natural Mind, and Portal of Dreams.
He regularly teaches in the UK and in Europe at Instituto Macrobiotico, Libon, Portugal, Instituto Macrobiótico de España in Valencia, Spain, Escuela de Vida, Madrid, Spain and Esmaca, Barcelona, Spain, and The Academy Of Healing Nutrition in New York. He and his wife Marlene Watson-Tara offer a two-week Macrobiotic Health Coach Course and other programs in Glasgow Scotland where they live. For more information, visit www. BillTara.net.