The bright and radiant future of macrobiotics
interview with Verne Varona
From : The Radiant Future of Macrobiotics
Posted: The Macrobiotic Guide - July 2004

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Q: Do you think, there will ever be a big change happening in the macrobiotic movement?

Verne: As a movement, macrobiotics, compared to other movements, seems to be lagging in the back of the pack; impoverished, often idealistic, predominantly Asian-oriented and rigidly holding on to its archaic ideology. Based on the way it appears, I think its appeal for the general public is diminishing, despite some recent celebrity press or its expositions.

The people who get involved in macrobiotics are coming to it from a compulsion to heal, philosophical interest or because of celebrity driven PR that promotes well-being. That's all fine and well, but ultimately, the most inspiring factor that can sustain macrobiotics will be truly healthy converts that do not come off fanatical, condemning or arrogant about their philosophy or other healing modalities.

Unfortunately, most macrobiotic counselor's have learned a formulaic protocol, which seems severely aged and almost mechanical; 'here's the circle, here are the grain/vegetable division, make this dish three times a week, make this beverage two times a week, this is the should column, this is the avoid column,' etc. It might be, in many cases, necessary to offer guidelines and sometimes, very specific recommendations, but what I see is an enormous amount of stress being generated by the people trying to maintain this and it becomes all too consuming. Frankly, opposite than it was intended.

By some of the writings I've seen and the way, in some quarters, macrobiotics is still taught, the movement has a hint of fundamentalism to it. It's often explained in a polarizing way, listing things good and bad with laws and just punishments ("violating the order of the universe"). I believe much needs revamping. There is something archaic about the dietary formulas because they're based on models of conception, not the practical biochemical reality of modern people's condition.

I think we have to really stop holding on to this image of what macrobiotics should be and get real by understanding that genetics, emotional stimuli, the environment, and the need to respect spiritual practice, all play an important part in our health and that everything is not dependent on our daily three square, condiment usage or masticating until you're blue.

So many deaths from apparently healthy macrobiotic people have all indicated this reality and it's really time to get in the face of people who are claiming their deaths to be due to eating too many flour products, or excess salt or, whatever mono-ideas are being expressed. In the grand picture of things, this is such small thinking.

There is an almost childlike simplicity to some of the recommendations that defy the realities of our conditions, the modern lifestyle and of what we know to practically work. It has been said by a well known teacher of macrobiotics that Leukemia is one of the easier cancers to heal with macrobiotics. A friend of mine, 57 year old European man, was recently diagnosed with leukemia and had very high leukemic cell counts. Really high. In fact, it had spread throughout his body and had also (this discovered later) infiltrated his marrow.

He was severely anemic and could hardly catch his breath, which was causing obvious cardiac stress. A counselor over the phone told him that he just needed to "yang up" and that Leukemia was, "easy to cure." Such armchair amateur advice really flies in the face of survival, instinctive and real. I'm no fan of western medicine, however, its technology, symptomatically, has saved my life and many others in crisis. Sometimes, this is necessary. But simplistic and dogmatic attitudes, and the gross dismissal of everything western or medical, can be often dangerous.

Q: What can be the bright and radiant future of macrobiotics?

Verne:  I think it might begin with examining semantics and rethinking Ideology.

For a bright and radiant future of macrobiotics, I think the word "principle" needs to be added to the word macrobiotic, as in "macrobiotic principles," as opposed to just using the word, macrobiotic--which invariably sounds like a club, cult, movement or something having extreme exclusivity, where members harshly judge other, have a certain look, speak a certain language, etc..

I think the principles of opposites, or whatever you want to call them; yin and yang, zig and zag, Benny and Barbara, etc., are important to convey in words simple and direct. Instead of the typical way that they're conveyed, which seems so superficial. I do not see this wonderful and inspiring principle being exploited as it can in so many domains. It is expressed in a linear way, superficially categorizing opposites as a label and not the essence of its dynamic laws, applications or depth.

We're not just relating to two extremes. When we say, "oh don't mind him, he's just being very yang." To me, this is really a statement reflecting a very superficial statement that reflects gross yin/yang ignorance. What happened to descriptive English? I used to have an unspoken rule with my daughters when they were teenagers that they could not use the word "interesting" or "weird" to describe anything. My daughter would say, "My boyfriend is just acting weird..." And I'd say, "All right, give me another word that better describes him..." and then I'd get a more elaborate meaning or the real story, or feeling, behind what she was attempting to say.

It's pathetic how lazy we've become. And this does insufficient justice to the complex layers of yin/yang that are always present. Someone may act "yang" which might look like aggression, but it might be fueled by their yin fear that could be fueled by food and drink that is overly yin, or more acid based. So, it's not all that fair to relate to things with such a simple label. I see the same tendency in other movements, meditation movements, Scientology, etc., where the language supports exclusivity and this, I believe is not a spiritually nourishing tendency because it separates. See, I could have just said, "yin," but "separates" makes it more clear, and this makes a solution more approachable.

On one level, this is purely an issue of semantics; however, it seems that semantics is sometimes the very thing that stands in the way of promoting macrobiotics common sense principles. The biggest concern I have in promoting macrobiotics, is how much macrobiotic thought centers its philosophy around energetics. In the extreme, this becomes a futile ideology, because 3/4 's of the world cannot relate to this.

We are a physicalized and material society with fairly small numbers that realize an energetic or spiritualized perspective. I'm only lamenting on our need to be more compassionate with people that think in this common vein. If we can appeal to them on their level, or at least respect this level by being able to speak that language, they might find more inspiration to experiment more ambitiously.

The need to express what we say in scientific terms, for whatever is available that they can relate to, then this is one of the ways we can restore credibility. We must learn to talk to people not at them. For those that are teaching the physicalized health aspect of macrobiotics, the need to know basic nutrition--as we know it, despite it's rapidly changing face--and the realistic limits of what we express as health belief systems, should not only have energetic reference, but physicalized as well. We're just talking about some standards for macrobiotic education; learning a bit of science, chemistry, physiology, etc.

When you approach a crowd, as an educator, your teaching, to make the broadest impact, must address every level of what Ohsawa originally outlined as the seven levels of judgment; explaining how things can work mechanically, sensorially, according to our developing likes and dislikes (sentimental), our intellect, ideology and a level of thought that embraces any or all of these levels (supreme). Instead, you have teachers spouting off very theoretical information that does not always make sense, not practically at least, and centered on one or two levels. This automatically excludes others.

For example, telling a nutrition class that scallions have "upward energy" makes little sense to the scientific mind. Do we have to cater to people's pre-disposition to science? Not exactly "cater," but be respectful of their limited comprehension, sensitivity or belief systems, if we truly want to influence them. Making gross references to "discharging" and "cleansing" really belittle our positions, because these are frequently buzz words for, "I don't know." Granted, there is a discharging mechanism as well as a cleansing one, but all too frequently, they are used in general contexts that mask our own ignorance--or fear.

Counselors need to say, "I don't know," sometimes and stop playing doctor long enough to realize that the solutions we've been presented over the years are, in themselves, somewhat idealistic and plainly deficient ‹ at least for our absorptive abilities. And, the truth of the matter is that we're learning as we proceed. We may need more oil, omega-3's, some regular animal protein, less grain, more or less salt, more fluid, etc. There is no cookie-cutter formula, but in many cases our needs go way beyond standard macrobiotic recommendations.

The cancer deaths of many long-time community members and macrobiotic teachers do not devalue macrobiotics, but should force us to look at a larger picture than has been emphasized; one the embraces, the environment; our stress levels, stress susceptibility, or management ability; our emotional self and the need for self-expression; our passions--or lack of; our relationships and our family connections; and so forth. All of these factors have the power to dramatically influence our health. Hearing that someone died because they ate too many flour products or ate tempura several times weekly, are statements that cry "cult" and smack of clear fanaticism. It's just too far-fetched in my belief.

I address the physical/health side of macrobiotics here because the advice is so readily available, pervasive and standard. I recently heard a comment that a female celebrity made about macrobiotics when questioned why she did not eat a certain part of her meal at an awards function: "It's not macrobiotic--and I'm eating a strict macrobiotic diet." Comments like this drive me up a wall because they reflect poor teaching; relegating macrobiotics to a good and bad philosophy.

Additionally, we've learned all kinds of things from recent cutting edge nutritional science--things that can help up when we're in need of support. Sometimes, people need the initial boost that may come from concentrated food sources, whether it be a temporary supplement, green powder, intravenous B12, it all has a place--and depends on the individual and where they're coming from.

There are many reasons for the slow growth of macrobiotics as a movement, but in particular, I see it as being overly food obsessive, and rooted in the cultural expression of the Japanese, which, in case you've not noticed, happens to be a culture 180 degrees from our own.

We need more cultural references--from other cultures, and we need a re-vamping of a macrobiotically principled approach to eating (emphasizing generalities of Principle Foods: grain and vegetables and beans; Secondary Foods: sea vegetables, bean products, animal protein, oils, supplements, fruits and natural sweeteners and Pleasure Foods: anything enjoyed in small volumes).

I think we also need to lose those ridiculously complex 12 Theorems of the Unifying Principle and Seven Principles of The Order of the Universe. They, in their essence, are brilliant, but few understand them. Number one; because of their wording, and number two; because no examples are given.

Therefore, probably 95% of the people that see these "laws," walk away thinking it reads like some cult manifesto. We devalue these profound laws by not explaining them clearly and practically. This this information needs to be re-interpreted, because it's deep meaning is lost in the outlined way it's being conveyed.

Q: How can new and old students of macrobiotics bring about positive change?

Verne:  By meeting regularly and addressing these issues, redefining the texts and coming up with new marketing strategies, etc. You see the same old speakers at all these camps and expo's. It's great to see old friends, but we need to include people that are not towing the party line to broaden our vista's and also to bring in others for exposure to what we can offer them.

I remember in Boston in 1971 when Erewhon began to carry cheese. Many in the small knit community were protesting, but it brought in people that would have never otherwise entered the store and they began asking questions about products that were new to them, They saw seminar announcements and consultation flyers and found new inspiration.

Another thing is the poverty mentality I see so rampant among macrobiotic institutions, teachers, etc. Few see the value of spending any money to attract new faces, print better marketing brochures, sponsor events, etc. The reason I hear for this is, "but, we have no money!" And then I think, OPM! What's OPM?--Other People's Money. We need to find sponsors, use whatever 501 (c) non-profit organizational status we have among numerous organizations and pitch people with money to chip in. It's all about marketing, ultimately.

I'm currently doing a film about food. It's a documentary, but feature length and the budget is about 250K. Do I have this in my account? Hardly, but I know other's do. So, my partner and I have written a hilarious script that gets right in the face of food companies, kids, adults with food compulsions, advertising and marketing, etc., and put it into proposal form. And, there seems to be no shortage of people who are coming through saying they want to invest and really get behind putting a conscious message in an entertaining package for the millions.

So, we have to become better marketer's. We've got a great billboard. but it's in the desert and no one's driving by to see it. Media can be very powerful, but there's no power in struggling financially, so we need to give people who are like-minded projects to back that offer them strong purpose, potential profit and something that can be entertaining at the same time--and they'll want to invest--for which they can also get a tax write off.

The point here is not about me and my projects, but that we have to reach out in to the real world that we are so critical of and feel separate from, and ask for help. And do it in a way that leads and inspires, not condemns and faults. There has to be some kind of marriage, because the truth is, we need each other.

Q: In your mind can macrobiotics ever free itself from of it's old image? all changes

Verne: This is difficult, but possible. What has to be done is something that I think might require Herculean effort--re-doing all the books out about macrobiotics, especially the Ohsawa works that still recommend the number seven diet to cure all ills. I personally think that Ohsawa was brilliant, but the writings (and translations) are a product of 1940-1960 macrobiotic concepts that contain tremendous and profound insight but still ends up making macrobiotics look a bit bizzare with advice that is simplistic, if not dangerous.

Whenever you see a negative article written about macrobiotics, they're still quoting that material. The excuses I hear from some is that the material is out there "out of respect for our Japanese teachers" efforts. Well, conversely, if we really wanted to respect them, we'd try to bring macrobiotics into the 21st century, as I suspect Ohsawa would have done anyway. But modernizing the material with a more gentle and flexible approach seems to be a good place to start. This is my take.

The real spirit and soul of macrobiotics was a hearty willingness to live an adventurous life full of challenge, good will and a growing sense of self-mastery ‹ cultivating a daily sense of fearlessness by virtue of faith through the challenges they face and self-reflection they practice. Instead, you find people who are diagnosing you with or without your permission, making gross health, historical and philosophical judgments, acting condescending in their manner and communication while demonstrating questionable morals and ethics.

I think this is really a learning curve for many teachers, as it was for me, but at some point, there needs to be a graduation. Many teachers are still very busy avoiding their own stuff essentially saying, "do as I say, not as I do" in terms of their own addictions (cigarettes, coffee, poverty, power--standard "holier-than-thou" stuff), and making theoretical excuses for their behavior that even they could not possible believe. This does not set an inspiring example.

Q: How is finance at the root of most of it?

Verne:  All the gossip and back-talk I see going on seems so petty; " this teacher is not good," "that person's school is not a real macrobiotic school," "this teacher is not teaching the real macrobiotics like I am, " "that person cannot cook medicinally," etc. I wonder what many who support themselves with macrobiotics would do if they could not make a living from it? The lack of alternatives can sometimes create very competitive and conflicting attitudes that border desperation to remain in the fray.

You don't find a lot of cross support among peers. And I know of some counselor's charging some very high fees and making their clients dependent on them, something that the original goal of counseling was designed to be completely opposite. I know of one counselor who insisted that this particular cancer client donate $1500 for "future telephone follow-up that's crucial to your recovery" before any more counseling was done. Since there were no other counselor's in the area, this person felt this was the only alternative. I've heard some really nasty stories.

The most common was a lack of follow-up to personalize consultation recommendations. This makes people bitter and alienated. They end up judging an entire movement based on the greed or lack of compassion of one individual. So, yes, there's a bit of financial fear to all of this, no doubt. If you really think about it, in regard to Ohsawa saying that "if you really know yin and yang, you'll never be out o a job," such an attitude does seem a bit contradictory.

There are so many wonderful philosophical, spiritual and health aspects of what we know as "macrobiotics."
No movement is without it's fanatics, it's critics or its icons. But when these overwhelm it's message and essence, we lose the purity, the distinction and of course the teaching. If it's to be a "unifying principle" as Ohsawa called it, we must find ways to unify, not only with each other, but with our audiences. The first step is exactly what The Macrobiotic Guide - Newsletter seeks: the opening of dialogue. Thanks for the opportunity to speak.

Verne Varona has been a 34 year student of Macrobiotics and has authored, "Nature's Cancer-Fighting Foods" (Prentice Hall Press). He is presently producing a documentary, "More Than A Mouthful How America Eats" and lives in the mid-west where he watches corn grow and continues to write.  He can be reached at


The following, excerpted from recent addresses, provides a glimpse into Prem Rawat and his message:

"For so many centuries, a voice has been calling out: 'What you are looking for is within you. Your truth is within you, your peace is within you, your joy is within you.' The desire to feel those things is what I call the thirst. We have a thirst to feel love and joy. We haven't been given a thirst to feel anger. We have been given anger, but a thirst to feel tranquility. We have ignorance, but we have been given a thirst to feel clarity.

As long as we have been alive, and as long as we will be alive, the thirst to feel good, the thirst to feel joy will always be there. The thirst is within us, and as long as it is there, there will be a need for it to be quenched. People ask: Who invented the idea of fulfillment?  The thirst did. Who came up with the idea of clarity? The thirst did. Who came up with the idea of peace? The thirst did.

The problem is, what is true within us --our heart-- only wants to accept things that we have felt. Not the ideas that come from our mind, but what is real. And that is a very big difference. If we understood this, we could make our lives much less complicated.

If someone said to me, 'Thirst is quenched by water,' there would be no debate. It wouldn't matter. I know. It is not because I believe it, or because I think its true, but I know. And that's the difference. It is in the realm of experience. It is not based on fiction. It is based on my most fundamental reality.

Peace also needs to be felt. Love needs to be felt. Truth needs to be felt. Joy needs to be felt. Feeling is our fundamental reality. We are feeling machines. And when we don't feel peace or love or joy, then we want to fix the feeling machine: What can we do? Let's go to this training, let's go to that seminar, let's learn this, let's try this, let's try that.

We have felt the part of us that is complicated. What about feeling the part of us that is simple, the part that is clear? What about being able to enjoy, to sing in gratitude? We need to feel that. Without it, our life is incomplete. Without it, we will do many things, and all of those things will be undone.

So, as this world goes around, and around, and around as it has for such an extremely long time that is where we find ourselves. There we are, on the surface of this earth. Another little drama has begun. Another actor has come and entered the stage. They have their script. What is your script? What are you supposed to say? What role are you supposed to play? The whole world wants to tell you what your script should be. Parents want to tell you what your script should be. Your mother wants to tell you, your father wants to tell you, your brother, your sister, your uncle --everyone wants to tell you what your script should be.  And then there is your heart that also wants to tell you what it should be. Will you listen? Can you? Can you afford to listen to your heart?

We have thirst. Instead of trying to quench it, we try to forget it. How can that be? How can we forget what is so important? How can we forget that this is our time? In this time, we can discover that which is the most beautiful in its nature, the most beautiful --and brings the most joy. And we are those machines that love joy.

Some people say, In this big universe, you're just a speck of dust. You may be a speck of dust. But oh, what a speck of dust! In this speck of dust, the infinite and the finite are fused. And you are the threshold of the two. Here, the mortal being comes as close as it possibly can to the immortal. The same power that drives the universe breathes us. We have been chosen to be the platform for life.

And there is a way to peek into this incredible universe within. We can be fascinated by what we see. And we can be fascinated by what we feel when we connect to ourselves and the joy starts to spring forth. This is no accident. This is the supreme reality of every human being. And, when you feel that feeling, that's it. That's it. Time stops. It doesn't matter. Then you know. Nothing has been pulled out of the box of ideas good or bad. You know. And when you know, you are fulfilled. Then you know you are fulfilled. Then you know you have peace. And then --and only then-- is your fundamental reality fulfilled. That is the possibility that Knowledge offers."