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Macrobiotic Week!

Posted Oct 13 2009 10:02pm

Friends, fellows, bloggie-woggies, lend me your eyeballs! For reading purposes only, I mean. I hereby declare this week “Macrobiotic Week” on Soap & Chocolate.

The concept of eating macrobiotic has always intrigued me, and recently it has been delighting my taste buds as well! Therefore, I would like to spend the remainder of this week’s posts exploring the philosophy and method behind this dietary style, as well as just what might go into a macrobiotic meal at home.

A recent dinner at Angelica Kitchen served as one such inspiration for experimenting with macrobiotic foods in my own kitchen.

angelica 2

Their Wee (ha!) Dragon Bowl contains an assortment of cooked, whole foods: beans, tofu, hiziki seaweed, brown rice and steamed vegetables. It comes with your choice of dressing—all the food is otherwise undoctored.

This came with a cup of their miso soup, which is definitely the best miso soup I’ve come across outside a Japanese restaurant. There was also a generous hunk of the Southern-Style Cornbread and miso-tahini spread, which, while delicious, is the one not-so-macrobiotic element of this meal.

angelica 1

The miso-tahini combination was to become a rather common theme in many of the meals that followed—brace yourself! I ain’t tired of it yet!

So if you were to guess the meaning of macrobiotic eating based solely on the plates above, what would you conclude? Japanese? Plain? Vegan?

Any of those guesses would be at least partially correct. Though the word “macrobiotic” comes the Greek for “long life,” the macrobiotic diet and philosophy were developed by a Japanese educator named George Ohsawa, who believed that simplicity was the key to optimal health. ( Source )

Macrobiotic does not necessarily also mean “vegan,” however. Played by the rules, the macrobiotic diet includes fish and seafood but avoids meat and dairy. Nonetheless, all foods featured in “Macrobiotic Week” shall be vegan, in deference to Vegan Mofo.

What are those “rules,” anyway? Funny you should ask!

From about.com:

  • Whole grains typically make up 50 to 60% of each meal. Whole grains include brown rice, whole wheat berries, barley, millet, rye, corn, buckwheat, and other whole grains. Rolled oats, noodles, pasta, bread, baked goods, and other flour products can be eaten occasionally.
  • Soup. One to two cups or bowls of soup per day. Miso and shoyu, which are made from fermented soybeans, are commonly used.
  • Vegetables typically make up 25 to 30% of the daily food intake. Up to one-third of the total vegetable intake can be raw. Otherwise, vegetables should be steamed, boiled, baked, and sauteed.
  • Beans make up 10% of the daily food intake. This includes cooked beans or bean products such as tofu, tempeh, and natto.
  • Animal products. A small amount of fish or seafood is typically consumed several times per week. Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy are usually avoided. Fish or seafood are eaten with horseradish, wasabi, ginger, mustard, or grated daikon to help the body detoxify from the effects of fish and seafood.
  • Seeds and nuts in moderation. Seeds and nuts can be lightly roasted and salted with sea salt or shoyu.
  • Local fruit can be consumed several times a week. Includes apples, pears, peaches, apricots, grapes, berries, melons, and other fruit. Tropical fruit such as mango, pineapple, and papaya is usually avoided.
  • Desserts are permitted in moderation, approximately two to three times per week. Desserts can be enjoyed by people who are in good health. Emphasize naturally sweet foods such as apples, squash, adzuki beans, and dried fruit. Natural sweeteners such as rice syrup, barley malt, and amazake can be used. Sugar, honey, molasses, chocolate, carob, and other sweeteners are avoided.
  • Cooking oil is typically unrefined vegetable oil. One of the most common oils used is dark sesame oil. Other oils that are recommended are light sesame oil, corn oil, and mustard seed oil.
  • Condiments and seasonings include natural sea salt, shoyu, brown rice vinegar, umeboshi vinegar, umeboshi plums, grated ginger root, fermented pickles, gomashio (roasted sesame seeds), roasted seaweed, and sliced scallions.

Simple indeed, right?

Well, I made the mistake of doing a little more research beyond the guidelines above (not that I’m exactly getting all academic on you or anything—this is all elementary Googling!)

See, there are seven essential components to the macrobiotic diet:

Carbohydrates - whole grains, beans, vegetables, seeds, fruits;
Proteins - beans, bean products, fish, seeds, nuts, meat, eggs, dairy;
Fats and oils - cooking oils, nut butters, nuts, seeds, butter, animal foods;
Minerals - salts, sea vegetables, vegetables, fish, meat;
Vitamins - vegetables, fruits, sea vegetables;
Enzymes - fermented foods, raw vegetables and fruits;
Water - spring water, vegetables, fruits ( Source )

Of these components, some are are “yin” and others “yang”—opposing yet complementary forces. Some have an expansive effect on the body, others have a contractive effect. Ideally, you’d choose foods that are not only a balance of such contrasting elements, but also in harmony with the environment.

“For example, the hot/warm (Yang) temperatures of Summer are balanced by light cooking, fruits and raw vegetables (Yin). In the cold Winter (Yin) we pressure cook and bake (Yang).” ( Source )

Then we have the Five Element Theory. By choosing foods from each element every day, we make sure that all our body’s systems are well-supported.

For example:

FIRE
Taste:  Bitter Foods:  Bitter greens, Kale, Collards), toasted seeds
Organs:  Heart/Small Intestine
Season/Color:  Red/Summer
Energy direction:  Outward
Cooking Method:  Stir fry, Dry Roasting
SOIL
Taste:  Sweet
Foods:  Winter Squash, Sweeteners
Organs:  Stomach/Spleen, Pancreas
Season/Color:  Early Autumn/Orange
Energy direction:  Downward
Cooking Method:  Boiling
METAL
Taste:  Sharp or Pungent
Foods:  Ginger, Garlic, Mustard, raw Onion
Organs:  Lungs/Large Intestine
Season/Color:  Late Autumn/White
Energy Direction:  Inward
Cooking Method:  Pressure Cooking/Baking
WATER
Taste:  Salty
Foods: Sea Vegetables, Beans
Organs:  Kidneys/Bladder/Sexual
Season/Color:  Winter/Blue, Black, Deep Purple
Energy Direction:  Floating
Cooking Method:  Pickling
TREE
Taste:  Sour
Foods:  Sprouts, Lemons, Sauerkraut, Vinegars
Organs:  Liver/Gallbladder
Season/Color:  Spring/Green
Energy direction:  Upward
Cooking Method:  Steaming

According to macrobioticcooking.com, the significance of eating from all elements is that each element’s taste is found on the tongue; therefore, if all elements are represented in a meal, it will be satisfying. Furthermore, each of these tastes supports a different organ system, so we must consume foods from each category for optimal nourishment.

Have I put you to sleep yet? I happen to think this is fascinating! And even if it’s hogwash, the macrobiotic diet happens to consist of my most favorite clean foods, so it’s fun to play with no matter what I think of all the yin-yang-yo-yo part of it.

Your reward for sticking with me through the edumacational kick-off of Macrobiotic Week is a delicious, homemade (picture of a) macrobiotic meal!

001

The base is made of HEAB ’s Asian Fusion Oats (flavored with honey, miso and tahini—see the theme?), which I cooked in water and almond milk. You wouldn’t believe how perfectly creamy, sweet AND savory they turned out!

002

For veggies, I sauteed a big grabful of baby spinach and 1/2 cup mushrooms in 1 teaspoon each sesame oil, nama shoyu and brown rice vinegar.

And to top it all off, a nice pile of delicious arame! ( All the way! )

004

I definitely count arame among my latest obsessions. Just a few minutes of soaking and you have yourself some very yummy seaweed! Not sure what to do with it? Please click here for your introduction, courtesy of Katie

So how did my macrobiotic meal stack up against all those guidelines I referenced above?

Let’s see: we have fire (spinach, stir-fry), soil (honey, boiling oats), water (sea vegetables) and tree (vinegar and green color). By my count, I only missed out on metal! That’s no surprise, though—raw onion doesn’t often make it onto my plate. :)

Despite its seeming complicated, simplicity is really at the heart of the macrobiotic diet. Foods are whole and unprocessed—clean as can be. And for a Japan-o-phile like myself, the condiments and flavors that appear most often are very pleasing indeed.

I’ll be back tomorrow night with Part II of Macrobiotic Week. Now it’s your turn to tell me about your experience (if any) with macrobiotic eating! What do you think about it?

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