Every body is different. But the way health trends hit the globe these days, you wouldn’t know it. For months at a time, you’d think we all need to power down on a paleo diet or cut the carbs and go gluten-free. The truth is there are as many healthy diets and food philosophies out there as there are bodies – and on The Chalkboard, as long as it’s rooted in real food and sensible philosophy, we make room for it all.
The macrobiotic diet is one of those dietary philosophies we happen to particularly love. In short, it is a diet rooted in ancient Chinese medicine focused on whole, natural foods and seasonal eating. To take things a step further, we thought we’d get the gist of all that’s “macro” from a pro. Chef Lee Gross, a classically trained chef who found macrobiotics and first helped get Gwyneth on her macrobiotic way, is now the consulting chef for California’s delicious M Café.
We’ve always loved M Café in Beverly Hills, but we were ecstatic to learn that this healthy hot spot just opened in Brentwood near our TCM headquarters – and first Pressed Juicery location! The restaurant’s sweet new storefront inspired us to explore the macrobiotic philosophy a little further. Here is Chef Lee to unpack this simple diet and lifestyle for us all…
The Chalkboard Magazine: Where did macrobiotics originate?
Chef Lee Gross: Macrobiotics is a compound word which fuses the Greek words, “macro” and “bios,” and roughly translates as “long life” or “great life.” A German physician by the name of Christoph Hufeland is credited with coining the term in 1797 in his book, The Art of Prolonging Life. The word resurfaced in the late ’60s and early ’70s when a Japanese man, using the pen name George Ohsawa, expounded on the subject in a series of books and lectures. Other people took these ideas and ran with them, and the modern macrobiotic movement was born.
TCM: In a nutshell, what is the macrobiotic diet/lifestyle all about?
LG: It’s really a big nut to crack! Macrobiotic philosophy is the study of how to maximize human health and potential by embracing our place in the universe. The practical application of the philosophy is in the diet and lifestyle, which are mechanisms to create and maintain harmony and balance between humanity and the natural world, for the long-term sustainability of the all species.
Individual food and lifestyle habits are keys to recalibrating this balance, which has been out of whack for some time now. So it’s a very personal thing, but is intended to positively influence the very trajectory of biological evolution on this planet.
People who practice macrobiotics make food choices that reflect this ideal. They eat and live with intention, so as to create and maintain personal, interpersonal and planetary health. Macrobiotics is about taking responsibility for our humanness, and living with the knowledge and belief that we are faced with simple choices everyday (like what to eat) that have far-reaching implications beyond ourselves.
TCM: Tell us a bit about your own journey. How did you discover macrobiotics?
LG: I was soul-searching, while simultaneously trying to grow my career in the culinary arts and restaurant industry. I took a seasonal job as sous chef in a holistic studies center, and worked under a chef who completely changed me by introducing me to macrobiotic philosophy and showing me what it looks like when practiced in a commercial kitchen. I embraced everything about it, and immediately saw it as a career path that would allow me to mesh my skill and talent with my ideals and ethics.
TCM: What are the main components of a macrobiotic diet?
LG: Whole, natural, unadulterated food! Follow the seasons, eating what’s local and at its best. For optimal health (and energetic balance), eat mostly plant foods, using whole grains as the foundation, and a wide variety of vegetables, leaves and herbs to create beautiful, dynamic and healthful meals. Beans and legumes provide adequate protein, but some may choose to supplement their diets with naturally and sustainably-raised animal foods, if needed for optimal health.
TCM: What are some of the benefits people can see by transitioning to a macrobiotic diet?
LG: Depending on where the individual is coming from (and how unbalanced their eating has been), they may experience many benefits and improvements to physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. To name just a few: clearer thinking, better sleep, more even moods and greater energy levels, a greater sense of peace, regular bowel movements, weight loss, and the improvement and/or healing of minor (and sometimes major) health issues.
TCM: Most people view macrobiotic as simply a way of eating. What are some of the principles of macrobiotics that go beyond what you put on your plate each meal?
LG: I think I’ve touched on this above, but to reiterate, macrobiotics is a diet, a lifestyle and a philosophy. Taken in its entirety, it is a mechanism for individual, social, political and planetary change. If everyone embraced the macrobiotic ideal, the world would be a very different place.
TCM: What do you think some of the most common misconceptions are?
LG: That it is simply an “anti-cancer” diet, or that it is an “extreme” or limiting dietary approach. Yes, one may adopt a limited, simplified, plant-based diet in an effort to regain balance and health when faced with an acute health crisis (like cancer), but this is but one example of macrobiotic philosophy in action.
TCM: What’s on your reading list for readers who want to learn more?
LG: The Great Life Cookbook is a down-to-earth book with easy-to-follow recipes that celebrate the pleasures of sharing simple macrobiotic food with friends and family. The Book of Macrobiotics by Michio Kushi is an exploration of the history of macrobiotic thought, and offers an in-depth study of its greater concepts and philosophy. Brown Rice Magazine can be purchased from Etsy, and is a brand new, handcrafted ‘zine dedicated to documenting the personal macrobiotic journey of its publisher. She peppers her story with practical kitchen and life skills in the form of beautiful recipes, and even yoga poses, that are at the heart of the macrobiotic lifestyle. I love it because it is the work of a small group of tuned-in young people. It inspires me and gives me hope for the future!
TCM: Will you share a recipe with us from one of your favorite M Café meals?
LG: I’ve shared a recipe for a simple grain salad on the M Café menu. Although the vibrant red color makes this dish look anything but ordinary, the fresh, simple ingredients are relatively easy to put together and make for a healthy and impressive addition to any home entertaining menu.
M Café’s Scarlet Quinoa Salad
1 cup quinoa
½ cup red beet, diced small*
2 cups vegetable stock or water
¼ tsp sea salt
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp umeboshi vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp dill pickle juice
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup Japanese or Persian cucumber, diced
2 tsp fresh chives, minced
1 Tbsp fresh dill, minced
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
Start by making the quinoa. Wash quinoa and drain well.
Combine diced beet, vegetable stock, salt, olive oil and lemon juice in heavy-bottomed 2-quart pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
Add quinoa to pot and stir. Turn heat down to low, and cover. Cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand 10 minutes before removing cover. Fluff quinoa with a fork and transfer to a plate or cookie sheet to cool.
Next, make the umeboshi-lemon dressing by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Reserve.
Finally, assemble salad. Place scarlet quinoa in mixing bowl. Add diced cucumber and chopped herbs, and lemon zest. Moisten salad with a few tablespoons of dressing, to taste. Salad can be served immediately, or refrigerated. Taste salad after refrigeration, and add additional dressing, if desired.
* Note: Sometimes at M Café, if we find that a particular batch of beets are not sufficiently coloring the quinoa grains a deep shade of scarlet, then we will substitute a quantity of the cooking stock with fresh beet juice. That always does the trick.