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Locavore vs. Macrobiotics?

September 6, 2009

pirimap2People intent on eating everything local while also following macrobiotics may get confused.  Macrobiotic educators (including this one) touts eating foods from your local geographic climate and environment yet then proceeds to also recommend some foods that are made half way around the planet.  Eating local organic fresh fruits and vegetables in season seems to be consistent with the principles of local eating (even though many, in reality, come from California and elsewhere) but then there are exotic traditional foods, like miso, shoyu and sea vegetables, not to mention grains beans and other dry goods; many of which are made and/or grown half way around the world and sometimes in different climate zones. Why does this contradiction exist?

The answer is a lot simpler than you might imagine and follows this basic principle:

If you can walk with the food product from one location to the next without it spoiling  and without the use of refrigeration and/or artificial preservatives then it is fine to eat.

So, for example, if you can, hypothetically, walk from Japan to the US carrying these foods (as, allegedly,  the ancient predecessors of Native Americans once did) then whatever does not spoil when you reach your destination, you can eat!

All the macrobiotic foods recommended that come from long distances are either fermented (and will improve with age), pickled in natural salt, or are naturally dried (including grains, beans, sea vegetables and dried fruits).  We can safely enjoy these traditional foods anywhere in the world as long as they meet the above criteria .

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2009 10:23 am

    This view recommends the use of very little refrigeration, then. That is easier to say than do because of the global food system. And at times and locations it is going to be impossible. Still a good guide when you want only the best.

    However, let me point out that there is a “macro” in “macrobiotics” meaning “large” so I propose that when we discuss “macrobiotics” we don’t just boil it down to “food fundamentalism.’ It is a way of life and that is much more about food. It is about being happy! Gosh I miss the teachings of Herman Aihara! He was a really great guru of happiness. But luckily he left some really fine essays and talks.

  2. September 6, 2009 12:19 pm

    Partially agree with that, Phiya.

    Even that you use this products because you can preserve them naturally, then you can find reluctancy in the use of those products, simply because the people don’t know how to use them. And some times we can find misuse of these products, that’s what is happenning right now with soy. We can find soy by products like soy drink, soy cream, soy “etc” that maybe they are worse in terms of digestion than eating local substitutes. The reason of that misuse I think it is because they are not local.

    IMHO, there are similar products like miso, beans, grains, … that are grown in our areas, or that “were grown” (i.e: millet in Spain was very tipical 200 years ago, and now it has become only a grain for vegetarians or for animals) and they should be used more frequently, and as less frequent use or as “medicine” we can use those products you mention.

  3. Alexander Kushi-Willis permalink
    September 6, 2009 2:16 pm

    Does that include coffee and tobacco? :p

    What about people who live in Iceland? You can’t walk anything there, and there are many more isolated places.

    What if you are ethnically Scandinavian but are living in Ethiopia, should you just eat local Ethiopian food or Import food that your body has been adapted to digesting.

    I believe that we should eat what is best for ourselves guided by our intuition, with each of us having an individual interpretation of the teachings around us to fine tune our knowledge of ourselves; and in that way discerning what gives us the most positive energy, while keeping a sensitivity to whole picture and an open mind to the possibility that it may come from anywhere and anything. In the end distance and time are irrelevant and in my opinion what matters more in the energy we receive and how we receive it.

    So with food; instead of asking whether it is local or is it macrobiotic, ask yourself how did this get to be here? What went into this to get here? And I would say if this food was nurtured with each human it encountered with a desire to sustain humanity rather than the sole purpose of profit that it will surely give you positive energy.

    And even if you think it hasn’t, by changing the way you perceive it, by finding something positive about it, surely that will not harm you either.

    How can we trust one way of looking at the world when even our own can vary so much. Maybe instead of thinking in terms of good or bad, we should be discovering what sustains our peace and love and transforming what doesn’t into what does.

    In the end our unique Human ability is to transform and transcend, and this can be used in a very powerful way.

  4. September 10, 2009 9:18 am

    I feel that some of the responders to this piece are slightly missing the point Phiya was making. Either that, or I did ;)

    What I have previously understood about this topic is that the more yang a food is, the wider the radius of its “locality”. So the sea salt we use can come from anywhere (quality issues being equal), while other yang items (either naturally yang , like cereal grains, or items that we have made more yang using pressure, heat, salt and/or time) can come from a pretty wide area too.

    The point about “walking” the food from source to your home did, in the body text, contain the key qualifier “hypothetically”. The pull quote did NOT contain this word. Check it out. So the fact that you can’t walk to and from Iceland is irrelevant.

    Plus, the article does not recommend limiting refrigeration: Phiya is merely using “non-refrigeration” as another criteria for his hypothetical “can I walk this food home from where I found it without it going bad?” speculation.

    And Phyllis: I agree that macrobiotics is about happiness and freedom. But the point under discussion here was “How do I determine what “local” means in relation to food?” Why start discussing something that was not even on the map, such as joy and food fundamentalism?
    PS nice pun with “boil it down”… :)

    By the way, for your daily shot of humour, you could do worse than check out the adventures of Marlowe Spade, Food Detective, on this site…

  5. September 10, 2009 9:20 am

    Alexander: beautiful argument, elegantly put. Thank you.

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