I have seen the power of diet. I can almost tell you that I have witnessed the lame walk and the blind see.
I was a young woman, waitressing in a natural food restaurant in the early 1970’s. I opened the door many nights for a very crippled young man in a wheelchair who came there to enjoy the absolutely marvelous food we served in the elegant Seventh Inn Restaurant in Boston. The Seventh Inn was indeed like seventh heaven to us with its cornucopia of fresh whole grains, vegetables, soups, fish, desserts, teas, wine, and beer. The atmosphere of light bamboo wood, rice paper screens and beautiful music and art was truly an oasis in bustling, dirty old Boston. The young man in the wheelchair had a twisted body, even in the wheelchair. His appearance was weak with a slightly greyish complexion. Over and over again, I opened the door, until one afternoon, he walked. He used two canes, and his body was still somewhat twisted to one side, but he walked.
I cannot tell you if this young man was having successive operations on his spine or if he ate macrobiotically at home. I was too immature to follow his progress as I wish I had now. I wish I had a documented case history to tell you, but even then it would only be considered what Western medicine calls an “anecdote.” To the young man who got up out of his wheelchair, his story would be far more than an anecdote.
Another time, I was serving Michio Kushi and another young man who was trying to change his condition through the macrobiotic diet. He had been blind, but was starting to improve. He said he was doing everything according to what he had been told by his advisor, but his progress had plateaued and he wanted to do better.
Michio nodded as he listened, the he asked, “What kind of cooking oil do you use?”
I don’t recall the exact kind of oil, but I do remember that it was a more yin oil like peanut or olive oil, not bad oils, but just not good for what this man was trying to achieve. (Yin force would spiral outward, releasing energy. Yang force spirals inward, tightening energy. Yin and yang represent the way all energy moves in the universe. Western medicine does not recognize the forces of yin and yang, but macrobiotics is based on balancing these forces.)
As I cleared the table, I learned something I have never forgotten.
Michio advised using sesame oil, a more yang oil, instead of a more yin oil, which, he said, would inform his eyes to create a more yang condition which he needed to improve his eyesight. “Cooking oil, very important, because we use every day, many times a day.” Michio said with his broken English. “Cooking oil can create yin condition or can create yang condition.”
I cannot tell you if the young man succeeded to improve his eyesight further. I don’t have any documented experimental data, but I do know from my own experience and my faith in what I have achieved on a personal level, that I believe his eyesight could have improved further by making that simple alteration in his cooking - changing his cooking oil. For another person, a different alteration might have been necessary. Every person is unique, and every person is in a constant state of change as our bodies respond to changes in life. In macrobiotics, we pay attention to the conditions of our health, and make alterations in diet and lifestyle as needed.
Macrobiotic people recognize many truths about diet in the Bible and in literature.
One example is the advice given to the mother of Samson in the Old Testament, Judges 13:
"There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son…Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean…She may not eat of anything that comes from the vine, neither let her drink wine or strong drink, or eat any unclean thing.”
In the Bible “unclean” refers to meat and animal fats, including dairy, which, according to macrobiotics, can clog the fallopian tubes and interfere with the natural process of egg production. Another cause of what we consider infertility now is miscarriage, which according to macrobiotics, can be caused by the consumption of too yin foods, such as grapes and tropical fruits which cause the energy spiral to literally un-wind.
I can tell you the story of my friend Tanya who had been sent home by fertility doctors as hopeless for childbirth. After eating the macrobiotic diet, she had four children when I knew her in Boston in the 70’s.
In her book Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism, Jenny McCarthy talks about diet and its effects on autism: “A lot of people, including me, will tell you that it’s important to look into the foods you feed your kids and how they react to them. I know many other parents and doctors will agree that with autistic kids, you should go for an organic and clean diet. It worked for me to feed Evan food that is without additives, preservatives or dyes.” She also talks about the elimination of dairy, and the addition of cod liver oil, and vitamin B 12 supplements which brought back eye contact and speech in her son.
Jenny McCarthy’s success reinforces the idea of the power of diet, but it also tells me how the human race is starving for real food. Perhaps illnesses like autism would not exist if we ate real, natural food rich in vitamins and minerals as our ancestors did.
Why am I talking now of the power of diet? Because I want to tell you about Crime & Diet.
Crime & Diet: The Macrobiotic Approach (Japan Publications, 1987) is a little known book by Michio Kushi & Associates.
Like everyone else, I was horrified by the killings in Sandy Hook, CT. I was horrified before that by Columbine. Just a few days ago, on Christmas Day, I was horrified that a disturbed man, who had served 17 years previously for killing his own grandmother with a hammer, had actually shot and killed two firefighters after killing his sister and setting fire to his house. Seven houses burned from this crime on Christmas Eve.
What can we do about violence? What can we do about mental illness? Can the solution be as simple as changing diet?
One of the most direct and amazing results discussed in the book Crime & Diet came from the study done at the Tidewater Virginia Detention Home for Boys, which under the direction of Frank Kern and Stephen J. Schoenthaler, in 1981, took sugar out of the diet of the boys in the home for three months. The boys, ages 12-18, were in detention for crimes including alcohol and narcotic violations, disorderly conduct, larceny and burglary. During the time sugar was not in their diets, the boys’ incidents of violence decreased by 45%.
The results of the Tidewater experiment exploded on the media and medical scene. Criticism abounded about non-scientific results. However, we now realize the connection between sugar and violent behavior.
One of the simplest truths about diet we find in the Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist. In the scene when Oliver gets into a fight at the undertakers where he is apprenticed, he gets trapped in the coffin, but he is not afraid of the officer who comes to arrest him. In fact, he shouts at the officer from inside the coffin. The undertaker’s wife says he must be mad to speak to an official that way, and the officer says, “It’s not madness, mum, it’s meat! If you had kept him on a diet of gruel, this never would have happened.”
I’m not suggesting that people eat gruel to keep from being violent. In fact, gruel, or oatmeal, in the Oliver Twist story was watered down and not very life-sustaining. A vivid example of the power of diet as the idea was to keep the children weak and docile. However, cereal made from whole grain is extremely powerful and life sustaining, traditionally a peasant food. The peasants, of course, were a lot stronger and healthier than the noblemen who ate as much meat and sugar and drank as much wine and brandy as they pleased.
In macrobiotics, we learn about the affects of diet on physical health, but also on mental health, behavior and violence. Crime & Diet tells many stories of people who found relief from the violent thoughts that tormented them by discovering macrobiotics.
I can only tell a few details here, but you can read all their stories, told in their own words, in Crime & Diet.
Peter, a 28-year-old artist was institutionalized with symptoms of schizophrenia. “Mental illness,” he said in Crime & Diet, is like cancer; it’s a life growing inside your head that is alien to your own life.” Peter started taking drugs after high school, LSD, mescaline, marijuana to stop his feelings of alienation. The drugs didn’t work; they only made his feelings more intense and chaotic. He had the chance to begin macrobiotics while in the hospital. Slowly, he began to feel stronger physically and mentally. At the time of publication, he had been well for many years, while continuing macrobiotics, and in his words, “taking on bigger challenges in life.”
David was a lazy college student who recalled, “hating life” the day his friend left a pile of cookbooks for him outside his door. He was intrigued by one of them, called "Zen Macrobiotic Cooking." David describes walking the streets at night in a Thorazine haze. One day he wandered into a health food store. He tried cooking brown rice and failed miserably. He went back to his old diet but became more depressed and bored with life. By chance, he saw an ad for macrobiotic cooking classes and began cooking again. Gradually, he was able to stop Thorazine completely. David said, “After showing me the need for good food, macrobiotics has brought me to an understanding of the spirit of life. I have been shown how to express my thanks and the importance of this expression every day. I have learned to pray. And for those who suffer from frustrating and confused states of mind, I pray every day.”
I don’t wonder at the depression, confusion, rage and violence that accompany the Western diet of junk food and processed foods devoid of true nutritional value. Artificial vitamins added back into processed foods cannot sustain human life. Wheat, for instance, loses its nutritional value one hour after it is ground from the whole grain into flour. That makes bread, breakfast cereal, crackers, bagels, muffins, pizza dough, etc. empty of anything but added salt, added sugar, artificial vitamins, preservatives, artificial coloring and flavor enhancers. Dehydration is another insidious condition that arises from reliance on meat, designer coffees and flour products plus the intake of excessive, hidden salt in processed foods. Because of heavy salt content in our food and other factors, such as air conditioning in buildings and cars, we have actually started to carry water bottles with us wherever we go. Dehydration causes many symptoms, including depression and quickness to anger. Add alcohol and inhibitions disappear while dehydration increases. Add drugs, and behavior goes off the charts.
In Crime & Diet, in the chapter titled "A Crime-Free World", Michio and Aveline talk about visiting Linhó Prison in Portugal. There they met many prisoners who had begun macrobiotics. Michio and Aveline were stunned by their enthusiasm and by their questions, which were about spirituality and philosophy rather than questions about their personal conditions. Aveline said, “Before I went to Linhó, I was a little scared, as I had never been in a prison…But once there, everyone was so eager to study, asking questions with shining eyes…”
People who begin macrobiotics tell us that one of the most important lessons they learn is to appreciate the simple, most wonderful things in life. If you can’t appreciate simplicity, you will never be happy. When I was little, my mother and I used to watch the sparrows play in the sand lighted by the twilight sun. We were mesmerized by their joy. I still love to watch the birds play. I also enjoy washing dishes, seeing the water sparkle and the dishes come clean. If you can’t enjoy the simple moments of life, if you want an expensive car or a huge TV or diamonds or gold and the latest designer clothes, you will never be satisfied. You will always want more and you will resent people who have those things. It’s a dead end. The only freedom is in simplicity.
As I pray for the souls of the murdered children from Sandy Hook, I find that I also want to pray for the hearts and minds of those who are violent now, that they may find peace. It may be difficult to feel compassion for criminals, but they, and the world, need our prayers.
***Note: If you wish to begin the macrobiotic diet, please consult with a physician. I recommend starting slowly, by adding brown rice to your diet and taking away all land salt (substitute sea salt). Take away sugars, chemicals, preservatives, dyes and processed foods. You may even take them away gradually, which will be easy, for you will find that after eating brown rice, all unhealthy foods will become unappetizing to you. Also I highly recommend beginning the diet and lifestyle under the supervision of an experienced macrobiotic cook and advisor who can guide you through any questions or problems.
Here is a list of macrobiotic sources:
Kushi Institute, Becket, MA - http://www.kushiinstitute.org
Diane Avoli - http://www.dianeavoli.com
Steve Gagné - http://www.stevegagne.com
Edward Esko - http://edwardesko.com
Susan Krieger - http://www.susankriegerhealth.com
Amberwaves - http://www.amberwaves.org
Amberwaves - http://www.amberwaves.org