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Macrobiotics – Art or Science? By William Tara


I have been reading the postings on The Macrobiotic Guide for some time now and have enjoyed articles by Carlo Guglielmo, Verne Varona, Steve Acuff and others regarding nutritional studies and their relationship to the macrobiotic diet as practiced. This is a rich field of inquiry that can improve our understanding of dietary requirements and how the foods we eat affect our health. It calls to question an issue that has long been of interest to me, mainly the way we use scientific information in our teaching.

Imagine my surprise then when I came across an interview with Phiya Kushi commenting on statements in an article that I wrote some years ago (posted on this site - The New Macrobiotics). Some of his statements invite comment and his assumptions regarding me require some clarification.

The concluding paragraph in his article brought me right to my feet - wow! To my amazement I was made out to be the Darth Vader of macro-land. Not only, “didn’t I understand what science really was”, and didn’t “understand where intuition came from”. “My writing was flawed and only served to create a division where none exists.” I was “stifling the future of macrobiotics, by defining it as not having anything to do with “awareness”. I was stifling the future of macrobiotics? This is heady stuff.

At my advanced age I would have hoped for an association with Obi Wan Kanobi, not the master of the dark side, so allow me to redeem myself. First let me offer some corrections. They will be very brief. Then I want to address the more important issue concerning science and its relationship to the macrobiotic movement.

Phiya is correct in stating that my comments were generalizations. This particular article was an overview, by definition a generalization. The article was about 4,000 words long and Phiya was reacting to three short paragraphs.

If he thinks that my writing is flawed, what the hell, he might be right. He goes on to state that my views of science are “adopted and adapted” from Oshawa and Kushi (the elder) and that they are both “flawed” in their attitudes regarding science. That part made me happy. If you are going to be flawed in your thinking you might just as well have good company. As far as Oshawa and Kushi are concerned I will let their writing and teaching to speak for them.

My attitudes toward science were formed long before my exposure to either of these, seemingly discredited, teachers. Many of us did not come to macrobiotics as empty vessels. We actually had some ideas in our heads before we started chewing rice and some of those ideas may have been good ones.

One of the things that attracted me to macrobiotics was the cautionary attitude regarding the limits of science in our society. This was something that grew in me with my reading, in the 1950’s, of the work of Rachel Carson, and other voices that were raised to question the blind destruction of the environment through the corporate abuse of scientific technologies.

Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson, and my reading of the Tao Teh Ching and other books on Eastern thought were a window into my own abiding love of nature. These voices spoke to the importance of the connection between humanity and the environment - a bond that defines the best of what it is to be human. They also pointed toward a way of understanding life that was based on a more comprehensive approach than scientific analysis.

Let me be clear that I am not “against” science. I am aware of how easily it can be abused, misapplied and manipulated. This is a very valuable field of inquiry for anyone practicing, teaching or counselling macrobiotics. How we use scientifically generated information is a major issue we all face in developing a society that is healthy and ecologically responsible.

Phiya states that anything that is not science is religion. This is an interesting statement particularly since science has become such an object of faith for those practicing almost every religion. The world looks to science as offering redemption to all our problems.

Individuals may believe in Jesus, Allah, or Krishna but they also believe that science will save the day. It may be old fashioned but I feel that a macrobiotic viewpoint offers a valuable alternative. It is neither a science nor a religion no matter how much we try to make it one or the other.

Both the philosophy of science and macrobiotic philosophy (and theology as well) are simply ways of “seeing” the world. Ohsawa used that nice little metaphor, “The Magic Spectacles”, to describe the Unique Principle. What made the principle unique? It was unique because it was different from scientific materialism – it was not analytical.

There is a difference both in viewpoint and application in these “ways of seeing” and those differences have important implications for macrobiotic education.

I want to make sure that I am clear on definitions before I go any further. In English, the word science is used in two ways that are associated but not essentially the same. The first has to do with the logic or rules of something. There is a science to boxing, to driving a car, to building a house. This use is not the common use but is accurate.

Several years ago started doing some white water canoeing. There is an applied logic to approaching rapids – you read the surface of the water and it tells you what obstacles lie underneath so that you can adjust your course. It is perfectly acceptable to call this the science of canoeing.

The more accepted definition of science refers to the use of the scientific method. You focus on a particular problem, you investigate all aspects of it, you analyse the information, form a hypothesis or theory and run experiments to see if you are correct.

You have to have consistent units of measurement to do a valid experiment. Science demands consistent units of measurement. If the experiments can be replicated you have a fact on your hands. Science looks for consistency and facts. The stated purpose of science is to prove facts and increase human knowledge.

Science can provide amazing insight into the measurable universe. There is no question about that. I have friends and family that owe their lives to the intervention of applied science. This does not mean that I have lost my capacity to view the results of scientific method with caution or to recognize that there are limits to this way of seeing the world.

One of my problems with science is the apparent lack of interest in how discoveries are used. It may be unfair to expect scientists to be as excited about discovering facts as to how those facts are applied, but damn, who makes those decisions now? I am on the verge of making an easily ridiculed statement. Here it is – are you ready? I think we know enough science right now to last us for the next fifty years, maybe one hundred years.

That’s right. Everything we need to produce a happy, healthy, socially just and ecologically sustainable society now exists. It is not a question of what we know; it is a question of what we do with what we know. I truly believe that if we could have a moratorium on scientific inquiry and simply apply ourselves to the intelligent use of what we now know, we would be better in the bargain. It wouldn’t happen, I know that, but do you disagree?

We know how to prevent the majority of degenerative diseases by changes in diet, lifestyle changes and cleaning up the environment. We know how to eliminate or dramatically slow the progress of infectious diseases in the world, including AIDS. We have enough food to feed the world; no one needs to die of hunger.

The money exists to finance localized farming and industry so that people can earn a living rather than being driven into poverty and the arms of extremist religious, ethnic and political violence. I would challenge anyone to argue with the above statements. What other “facts” could possibly inform our lives? We have the information. There must be something else missing.

You all know what’s missing – it’s what Ohsawa called judgment. Judgment describes the depth and breadth of our ability to see the whole and not simply the parts. When I first studied Ohsawa I heard a clear message that macrobiotics was about developing our individual judgment, our consciousness. Judgment was and is the central issue of macrobiotic philosophy and practice.

Physical health is one of the major influences on that journey but it is not the destination. The implicit message to me was that as our judgment developed we could become more effective agents for positive change. To me macrobiotic thinking is a path toward expanded and deepened consciousness, a path that can enable us to better make a positive difference in the world.

That path is about seeing and experiencing the connectedness of the world. It is only our macrobiotic philosophy that makes us really unique. It is a way of thinking based on the development of intuition not analysis, it deals with the energetic underpinning of the world not the material surface. This process is the complimentary / antagonistic partner of science. The goal is “macro” not “micro” it deals with contradiction and paradox not reason. It deals with the development of intuition not intellect.

Since we live in a world where science is the way that health is talked about, what do we do about scientific information? I will limit myself to nutritional information here since it is in this arena that the issue of science and macrobiotics mostly occurs.

We should consider the use of anything that we can from science, to illuminate our understanding of health and our ability to communicate our philosophy and practice to the broadest audience. When we do that we must also consider scientific information that is critical of our thoughts or actions. This should be true of any other “way of seeing”, spiritual, artistic or philosophical not to mention common sense.

Our understanding of macrobiotics will be reflected in our ability to appreciate, assimilate and communicate this information in a way that is consistent with our philosophy. Doing this will demand a spirit of non-credo and flexibility. It will demand good judgment. Sometimes so-called “scientific facts” are used to justify dangerous practice and unsound thinking. Go to any bookshop and review the health and diet books – they are filled with science. They all claim scientific validity.

I think that macrobiotic counsellors such as Carlos or Verne or Steve or anyone who is interested in the study of scientific nutrition should continue to inform the community regarding their reading and research. It is good to be informed and to learn from many sources. The issue becomes how do we decide what “facts” we use, what research do we validate? It comes down to judgment.

I saw the macrobiotic community flop around like a wounded bird when research showed that some people following macrobiotic diets had a B12 deficiency. Most of the anger and panic was from those with a vested interest in being right trying to protect their reputations.

Interestingly the observations had already been made my many in the community that there were some folks that needed to broaden their diet and eat some animal food. Much of the argument revolved around nutritional studies. How could they be deficient if they were eating following a counsellor’s recommendation? The fact that there were women and children who needed nutritional assistance became secondary to the question of who was right. I understand that there are still ripples from those studies.

To me situations like this do not mean that our philosophy is faulty, it means that there is an ineffective application of it. For whatever reasons, we were constrained as a community from using our own common sense and intuition. We were trying to analyze what it meant to eat in a macrobiotic way and ended up with an inflexible dogma. The original goal of developing individual consciousness was being replaced by reliance on books and counsellors. Freedom of action was traded for slavery to concepts.

Our understanding of yin and yang can only develop through our personal experience. It arises from reflection on our diet, our activities, our relationships, our interactions with society and nature. It cannot be analysed by another. Someone else may point out the path and give useful hints for travel but it is up to each person to put one foot in front of the other. That is why the teaching of yin and yang and its application in daily life is the central issue of macrobiotics.

A person may need to advice to help them start down the path of learning if they have a health problem but if they do not learn how to use the Unique Principle in some form, using their own judgment macrobiotics, as I know it, disappears. The focus of our work may shift if we were to accept that the goal of macrobiotic practice as the development of consciousness, not adherence to a specific diet or even the establishment of “perfect balance”.

Phiya makes a point of saying that since there is a logical system of classification associated with yin and yang that it is simply another kind of science. Hold on there! That may qualify for the first meaning of science (if you stretch it) but it doesn’t qualify as scientific method and that’s the one that counts in this discussion. Macrobiotic philosophy may encompass reason and logic but only as a means of communication or as stepping-stones toward something quite different.

Simply because we classify foods according to geographical origin, climate, seasons of growth, shape and colour doesn’t mean that we can call it science. There are no consistent criteria, no consistent units of measurement. If we had a ki-ometer and could measure the yin and yang-ness of things we might be in business but alas we do not.

There are too many contradictions. To bridge paradox you need something more flexible and versatile than science. We have a description of a process, not a consistent measurement. No consistent unit of measurement, no science. When we pretend that it is science, we do a disservice to the elegance of macrobiotic theory.

Science is materialistic by definition. That is why the outer fringes of physics and field theory are held at arms length by applied science and probably will be for many, many years to come. Macrobiotics is the study of energy, whether we like it or not. That energy is not measurable by any other method than the human mind/body/spirit. We are the receptor it is our higher function. If that is embarrassing to us or if we think it is quaint primitive idea we are in real trouble.

It is responsible to study science and reflect on it but that is certainly not what we all share. The application of diet for specific problems, comprehensive diagnosis and cooking instructions are not based on science but on a process of judgment that skips across various criteria.

It involves connecting the dots even when not all the dots are obvious. These considerations don’t really matter if we are simply promoting a healthy diet. They matter very much if our goal is to introduce a new way of thinking that leads to different way of experiencing the world.

If macrobiotics is simply an exotic approach to diet, where counsellors tell people what to eat and how much gomasio to put on the rice, we don’t need to bother with how we come to our conclusions. Just get the best information you can, do no harm and get on with it.

That’s business as usual. Macrobiotics is certainly much more revolutionary than that. If we feel we have benefited from our study of yin and yang and macrobiotic philosophy we owe our clients and students those same benefits. I think the world is in great need of better judgement – how about you?

Is Macrobiotics an Art?

The mind naturally wants to curl up in a cozy corner and deal with the predictable, the consistent, and the comfortable. Some think that a macrobiotic life should be that way - placid, smooth and in control. I have never thought that myself. George Bernard Shaw once said that he didn’t want the light of his life to burn low, he wanted it to flame brightly, he wanted to be used up when he died. That sounds macrobiotic to me. Life is exciting, challenging and filled with abrupt turns and twists. To navigate these waters we need a compass, a way of aligning ourselves to the true purpose of our life.

To me macrobiotics encompasses science but is more accurately an art. Art involves discipline, focus, practice and application but the driving forces are imagination, inspiration and intuition. I have had some of the most nutritious, tasty and fulfilling meals from cooks who had no understanding of the science of nutrition. I have gained the most valuable information about living a good life from men and women who had no formal education. What they shared was experience in the art of living.

Phiya seems to be saying that instinct, intellect and intuition are the same. I say they are very different and that they describe distinct stages of development. Instinct we understand as that reactive process where information is imprinted in us at the deepest level of our biology.

In this sense it is mechanical. We know how to suck as a baby, we don’t need to be taught, and we know how to crawl and stand and walk. Phiya’s example of a child touching a hot stove and learning not to do it in the future is not an example of intuition but of conditioned response.

Intellectual or conceptual judgment is quite different since it is cultural in origin it is not innate. We are given conceptual frameworks and we accept, reject or alter them as suits us. This is the way we organize our information about how the world works. It also represents the ways we attribute values. The conceptual level of judgment is a tipping point for the development of a mature consciousness.

The first three levels of development, as both Oshawa and Michio describe them, are very inward facing. Our physical health, our sensitivity and our emotional equilibrium are all about the self. Conceptual judgment defines how and if the journey of the individual turns outward into the world.

It describes how we will either remain adolescent and self-centered or we will mature and involve ourselves with the world around us. Science is one set of paradigms - macrobiotics is another. My experience is that scientists who are humanistic and sensitive to the application of their work are those with another set of principles aside from science to serve as a compass. Those principles may be humanistic or religious but they are not science based.

Science dominates the culture of the world. It pervades economics, politics, health care, warfare, industry and agriculture. With the exception of nature, when we look around us we see the artifacts of science. If we want more of the same we should promote more of that kind of thinking.

If we have our doubts we had better embrace a different set of concepts to model our thoughts with. It may well be that the only hope for a healthy future for planet earth lies in learning from the past, learning how to think from people who attempted to replicate the processes of nature in their lives.

If our guiding concepts rationalize a human-centric vision of the world, a constant struggle to control nature and worship only what we invent our children are destined to live in a bio-engineered world that holds aggression and dominance as the most valued qualities.

If the information and technology generated by science is not guided by an ideology that values the life of the planet and the development of human consciousness as distinct from human knowledge, we are in store for a century of ecological, economic and physical degradation. So I come at last to intuition.

I believe our culture has created a way of being that cuts us off from the source of our being. We have become enchanted with our own inventions, with the static of our own drama and have lost the ability to connect with and value the messages from that source.

That is intuition, the process of being guided by a deeper source than logic, a quality that allows prescience, a taping into a flow of energy that defies logic. It is an experience we have all had. It makes us experience our integration with all things.

When we view our lives as a work of art we are giving ourselves permission to act beyond the “information”, we are aware of our immersion in the life process and not viewing it as an impartial observer. It is from that point that we can use the discoveries of science assist in the creation of something quite different. It is beyond reason, it defies logic, it celebrates paradox and it very definitely requires wearing Oshawa’s’ Magic Spectacles.

All of this just may go to show how difficult it is to define what it is we all do with macrobiotics. I am reminded of this quote from Kurt Vonnegut. “I don’t know about you, but I practice a disorganized religion. I belong to an unholy disorder. We call ourselves “Our lady of perpetual astonishment”.” Enough said.

William Tara:

For over 35 years, Bill Tara has been an advocate of a Natural approach to health care. He was vice-president of Erewhon Trading Co, one of the first major distributors of organically grown foods in America in the 1960s and was active in the Natural Foods Movement in both America and Europe. He began his educational work in the 1960s and in 1975 founded the Community Health Foundation and the East West Centre in London, England. This centre was the largest and most active alternative health centre in Europe and served as a model for other organizations worldwide. He has submitted expert testimony to the American Congress on diet and disease and is the author of several books on the Macrobiotic approach to health, including Macrobiotics and Human Behavior.

He has given seminars on natural health care in over 20 countries and served on the faculties of the
Kushi Institutes, in England and America, the Kiental Institute in Switzerland
and Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

Comments & Feedback

This is the best article that I have read in a long time, written with much clarity and authenticity.
Many thanks to Bill Tara. Without teachers like him I wouldn't be here today.

I am eternally grateful. For me, Macrobiotics was a wonderful tool to help me regain my health and to eventually trust fully in my own innate wisdom. For me Macrobiotic food was a huge part of that equation, only the beginning of this unfolding, but definitely the foundation, and for me stays the foundation. It helped me see the other problems or patterns that were moving me away from a great life-actually any life at all. It's great when science confirms parts of what I am practicing, but I don't need that anymore.

I'd rather take my chances and accept the responsibility for the outcome of my health and make my own
decisions about the way that I live my life that is free from dogma or scientifically proven evidence. I am free to live and experience my own life. Our culture puts so much trust in the hands of "others" be it scientists, physicians, or politicians when many times we "know" what is really right for us.

With the practice of Macrobiotics we become free to think for ourselves. And live the lives we were meant to live or not.

Meg Wolff


I fully understand and appreciate Bill's position with regard to the limitations of science and the value
of humanistic intuition and judgement as promoted by Ohsawa and Michio and mentioned by other
cautionary thinkers/writers like Rachel Carson.

I would like to emphasize the distinction that Bill mentions in his article when he writes:"One of my problems with science is the apparent lack of interest in how discoveries are used." I believe it is important to separate "science" from those persons and how they apply the knowledge derived from science. In my eyes they are unrelated. What people do with information is matter of their nature and has nothing to do with the information itself.

Some people, being abusive, materialistic, or whatever you would like to call them will abuse any type of
knowledge whether it is from science, religion or macrobiotics. The source of the information is irrelevant and therefore, I believe that to blame science for the degenerative state of the world is incorrect.

In other words, the relevance that Bill suggests as the distinct value of macrobiotics (with its emphasis on intuition and judgement) is, in my opinion, a moral issue and is not an expose on the limitations science. There is an underlying moral premise both in what Bill writes and in the works of Ohsawa and Michio that "living in harmony with nature" is good and being abusive and destructive to nature is bad with an implication that science with its limitations is the culprit.

I believe it is incorrect to implicate science because science is amoral and the real culprits are those individuals that are "abusive" or are ignorant (which is more often the case).

I do think, however, that there is value in the distinctions that Bill points with regard to the differences between macrobiotics and science, or rather the development of one's intuition and judgement versus the amoral approach of science. The difference in approach is as sharply contrasting (and complementary) as religion vs. science.

Another way to define science is that it seeks to find truth that is entirely objective and independent of the observer. In this way, scientific knowledge seeks to eliminate the influence of the ego by investigating the external world and recreate results that remain consistent regardless of the individual.

The eastern wisdom that is the basis for Ohsawa and Michio's teaching on intuition and judgement actually seeks to do the same by investigating our internal world. By accepting the fact that the individual cannot escape the influence of the ego in any circumstance the goal then becomes one of developing it further to the point that it becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the universe; that it disappears in complete harmony with nature.

I see these two perspectives as being complementary and ultimately the same. In this way there is no right or wrong or good or bad. There is only the subjective (appearance of the ego) vs. the objective (the disappearance of the ego).

The problem comes however, when we infuse our own value judgements of good and bad on, for example, environmental destruction, food contamination and widespread diseases and then blame science for these problems. If we accept that they are failures of science then we should also accept that they are failures of macrobiotics. In other words, the failure is neither science nor is it macrobiotics but is us and the people that are actually involved in these matters or are ignorant about them.

The difference that Bill mentions with regard to the analytical view (of science) versus the integral/ holistic view (of macrobiotics) is also, in my opinion, not accurate. Both paradigms require and involve both types of views and thought processes in order to arrive at valid objective conclusions. What is a more accurate and relevant distinction in difference between science and macrobiotics in terms of how we view the world is the difference between static and dynamic perspectives.

Science is stereotyped as being "static" in its description of the world, which is incorrect, but it has that stigma, while macrobiotics, for those that have studied it, know that it is based on the initial premise that "everything changes." In other words, macrobiotics is a dynamic view of the world. But the dynamic view of the world is not specific to macrobiotics and is found in many fields of scientific study.

What Ohsawa and Michio did was to propose a larger integral vision of everything (Unique Principle and Order of the Universe) from a dynamic perspective, which is wonderful, but I believe should not be promoted as being non-scientific or better-than science. To me they are one and the same and are of equal relevance.

So the worlds problem may, in part, be solved by creating a greater awareness of an integral and dynamic view of the universe but ultimately it is the free choice of individuals that has led us to where we are. In time, the world's problem will become so great that people will change and choose to solve them by applying the knowledge that science, macrobiotics and whatever future paradigm will have introduced. When that happens it will not be because we have put science in its place nor because we have better intuition.

No, it will be because the issues become so great that they affect us on a deeply personal level and interfere in a daily routine that we are compelled to work together collectively to develop, establish and enforce new moral/ethical codes and rules for living. Or we will become extinct by our own ignorance and arrogance, blaming things like science that have no bearing on the source of the problems

Phiya Kushi


I very much appreciated Bill's article about science and intuition. I am basically in agreement with him on this subject, and would just add a few points that I hope can be useful for the discussion..

1. When Ohsawa introduced yin-yang in the Western World, he did more than presenting an old way of experiencing reality.He tried to merge two different visions of reality. The ancient Chinese philosophy viewed the world as order: in its view, health and prosperity come from finding the correct place, moment and way to act in the universe.

The western scientific view is based on the cause and effect principle: a planet travels in its orbit /because/ some force hold it there, not because that is its correct place in the order of universe. Ohsawa explanation of yin-yang tries to take in considerations both sides of the story, using both order and cause -and-effect, systemic thinking and reductionistic thinking, intuition and intellect, at different levels. It seems to me that science was important for Ohsawa, even fascinating. He believed that we could develop a better and more advanced science, using yin-yang, and that this would have been necessary for the future of mankind.

However, it is necessary to acknowledge that Ohsawa himself ignored many things about the traditional Chinese wisdom. The most important one is that the ancient Chinese sages did not develop their system on the basis of what we now call intuition, but through the development of a special ability – we could say a special “organ” - that allows us to see the reality at a deeper level, beyond the limits of intellect and body senses.

The greatest part of the traditional Chinese sciences came essentially from the daoist
inner alchemy, that aims at the development of a “dan”, the cinnabar pill (the alchemic stone in our tradition) able to operate beyond space and time. A dan it is something that it is, at the same time, an instrument for understanding reality and for interacting with it at a subtler level.

So we, as macrobiotic people, need to be aware that we are deeply ignorant on this subject, and that what we call intuition is still a very limited ability compared to what the possibilities of the human being are, and have been explored in the ancient Indian and Chinese traditions.

2. All this does not mean that using intuition, attributing to this word the meaning that we usually give to it, and that Bill has made clear, is not a very important goal. I agree that our macrobiotic approach is essentially based on that. However, in order to develop intuition it is not enough to eat well and be active, as we sometimes naively believe. It is also necessary to use our intellect completely, until its very limits, in order to create the foundation for the birth of the intuition.

Only at that point intellect may be abandoned. Staying with the mystery, without yielding to the impulse to find an explanation at any cost for what is eluding us, after having done all the intellectual work that we needed to do, may open the way for intuition to arise. Too often we try to avoid to do our homework, and so to correctly and objectively use our intellect, hoping that our intuition can solve our problems. And if intuition spontaneously arises, it must be checked by facts anyway. Too often, what seems to be a nice intuition is only a more or less deluded opinion.

With a very “scientific” attitude, we need to prove or dispel our intuitions with facts, and also this is rarely done.

Even more important, intuition works at its best when we are completely detached by the gain or loss that can come for us from a specific situation. Now, detachment is not something that we can cultivate only in the very instant in which we need to be intuitive. Quite the contrary, only if detachment is an attitude cultivated all along our life, intuition can develop. This asks for a deep reflection about our philosophy of life, and the actual way in which we implement it.

And finally, detachment itself truly develops only when we completely stop lying. To live in the truth is a prerequisite for the real development of intuition, beyond the sporadic emergences that this ability can make in our daily life.

If we lie, even from time to time, it is very difficult to distinguish intuition from illusion. “Not lying”, if I remember well, was the highest qualification for health according to Ohsawa, but I fear that it has not been the most actively pursued in our still short macrobiotic history. We usually believe that it is an end point, after much macrobiotic practice, but it could be said just the opposite, that it is the real beginning of a macrobiotic practice.

3. While the development of intuition is the core of our macrobiotic practice, we are living in a world based on intellectual thinking and science. We need a way to communicate with this world, at least if we are interested in helping to create a future for mankind, and the scientific language is its language. Of course yin-yang cannot be fully translated in scientific terms, but at least some parts of this concept, sufficient to create a dialogue, can be conveyed.

We can learn much about our shortcomings and dogmas, in this process , and we can offer much to the modern world in terms of a fresher and holistically oriented approach. I recommend to the people interested in this discussion to read this article about the emerging field of Systems Biology in Medicine,
and think about how much we could potentially give in this field:

4. Facts must be addressed in the most direct way, first hand. This means reading the scientific studies, not articles citing the studies themselves. I've often noticed that many macrobiotic practitioners rely on information collected by others, and rarely make the effort to get to the raw data.

This is of course far more difficult to do, but reported facts are of very little use. This is a real problem, as we have little competence in the scientific fields, and the amount of data is overwhelming. However, here
should our yin-yang principle assist us, making us able to simplify and understand the complexity. In the field of nutrition, which is the one in which we are more involved, the following guidelines in interpreting the data – provided by one of the most respected epidemiologist in the world – can be useful for all the people interested in learning about the results of the scientific
research :

Carlo Guglielmo


Macrobiotic teaching largely ignores and disregards nutritional science.

This is an issue with which I have many years of experience. In my opinion macrobiotics does not go beyond science, but almost completely disregards and often disdains nutritional science. This is a tragedy and one of the biggest flaws with macrobiotics.

Nutrition is a science just like biology, biochemistry, physics, chemistry, etc. It is based on more than 100 years of careful and reproducible research. We now know, for example, that humans have basic needs for certain nutrients, such as vitamin B-12, calcium, iron, etc. Ignore these laws of nature at your peril. Violate them and your body will suffer the consequences. I ignored one of them and learned the hard, painful way.

Where in introductory macrobiotic literature does the reader learn of the importance of consuming adequate amounts of, say, calcium? Where does one learn what the RDA for calcium is? While focusing on other valuable parts of macrobiotic teaching, many beginners ignore these basics. What a shame.

Bill Shurtleff.


Bill Shurtleffs's comment above on this in-depth contribution by Bill Tara about science and macrobiotics raised an interesting point. There has indeed been a strange lack of macrobiotic curiosity about why the nutritional deficiencies have happened to people eating the macrobiotic way. The disregard for nutritional science has been a major flaw in macrobiotics over the years and caused repeated cases of deficiency, which could have been avoided.

However a problem with nutritional science is that different *experts* have different opinions. Macrobiotic intuition can help separate the wheat from the chaff. For example Walter Willet of Harvard University correctly identified trans fats as a major health threat, but he missed the point that saturated fat is actually vital to health, not a burden. Lawrence Kushi wrote in this forum that trans fats were the problem, but with all his scientific background somehow missed the harmful effect of polyunsaturated corn oil and considered it not a problem.

On the other hand Dr. Weston A. Price, Dr. Mary Enig and Dr. Ron Rosedale have given valuable scientific insight into how to eat for optimal health. Their wisdom is science at its best and provides concrete guidelines to better understand the confusing subject of healthy nutrition, which many long-time macrobiotic people still do not really grasp.

Steve Acuff

Bill I found your ideas interesting and stimulating and certainly agree with your thoughts on intuition. Whether macrobiotics is a science or art rather depends on your definitions. Reading you original letter I thought you chose a definition of science that leaned to being narrow and Newtonian.

Darwin's theory of evolution was not quantitative, it did not attempt to measure, to my knowledge after extensive and careful observation Darwin developed a theory that had an intellectual integrity that is still relevant today. Einstein with his theory of relativity claimed we live in a fluid universe full of change where nothing is static. Quantum physics is all about probabilities not certainties. Pure science teaches us that repeatable experiments are fantasy. Science accepts you can measure light as a wave or sub atomic particles moving in almost straight lines.

In its broadest form, science blurs into the philosophical aspect of art. Could it be that macrobiotics can sit comfortably somewhere in the overlap?

Carlo I was interested to read your response regarding intuition. I have found my most intuitive moments are when I'm doing something mundane that distracts my mind sufficiently to stop me thinking about the past or future.

We do not really know to what extent sages developed their intuition. Much is written about people like BODHIDHARMA meditated on the wall of a cave for nine years but not on how his intuition developed as a result. It is a constant in the teachings of Buddhism, The Tao and Zen Buddhism that belief in doctrines and concepts reduce our ability to be intuitive, which makes sense to me.

I think it might be easier to be intuitive with food than you think. We all have a lifetimes experience in eating and associating the smell, taste and texture of the food with the way we feel. We have a biological memory of food and effect. With this we experience cravings for certain foods when suffering deficiencies. Because we have so much personal experience with food and health we have a head start when it comes to choosing food intuitively.

In my observation people eat pretty well when left to eat as they feel with broad guidelines, it is when they eat according to a concept and override natural intuitive feelings that the risk of poor nutrition increase.

Your point about honesty is fundamental and is particularly relevant to macrobiotics. However, you could also argue that honesty is easier when we become less attached. If you are not attached to anything you have no reason to lie to yourself or anyone.

One of the things I like about the scientific community is that there is a level of honesty where the limitations of the work are sought out and acknowledged, especially in the source material.

I think just as you say it takes a big effort to be intuitive it also requires a special person to sift through all the experiments reading the original reports, resolving conflicting data, trying to extrapolate data
from isolated experiments into real life and coming to a sensible conclusion. We should try but not underestimate the task or be attached to the outcome.

One question that Bill's writing poses for the nutritionists is how did people manage before all this information existed? Some societies fared much better than others and to what extent was their success with food intuitive, learnt or environmental?

Simon Brown


Some Questions About Judgement
by Bill Tara -

I thank everyone for their observations on my recent article “Macrobiotics – Art or Science?” (Above) especially Carlo Guglielmo for his thoughtful remarks. Being involved with this kind of written discussion I realize why I prefer the face-to-face variety. There is so much more room for subtlety and clarity when everyone shares the same place and time. I am going to make my comments brief. Let me begin by addressing seems to be a misunderstanding about my article - the role of science in macrobiotic teaching and counselling.

This is what I said:

“We should consider the use of anything that we can from science, to illuminate our understanding of health and our ability to communicate our philosophy and practice to the broadest audience. When we do that we must also consider scientific information that is critical of our thoughts or actions. This should be true of any other “way of seeing”, spiritual, artistic or philosophical not to mention common sense.

Our understanding of macrobiotics will be reflected in our ability to appreciate, assimilate and communicate this information in a way that is consistent with our philosophy. Doing this will demand a spirit of non-credo and flexibility. It will demand good judgement.” I repeated this thought in several different ways in the article so I am at a loss as to why Bill Shurtleff or anyone else would take offence. It does appear that I may have tweaked a sacred cow.

The question as to whether we should use nutritional information is a moot point - it is being used. Even a superficial reading of articles on this web site should more than confirm that. If Bill feels that RDA’s should be listed in a Macrobiotic book he should talk to those who have written books on the diet and suggest it. I can’t think that anyone would object. Whatever the diet being suggested by a counsellor, it should be nutritionally sufficient. The question I had hoped to raise is not a valuation of science as such but rather the mentality behind science and its’ relationship to macrobiotic thought.

I fully respect Carlo’s remarks but Oshawa (as far as I can see) borrowed only what he wanted from Traditional Chinese Medicine. I suspect he never in a million years wanted to be a doctor of Oriental Medicine; he was too impatient for that. Ohsawa was a revolutionary; he wanted to stir things up. I base this on stories told to me from people who met him in his travels in Europe and America, as well as his own words. Anyway, that may not be important.

The process of intuition, self-mastery and an overwhelming love of life are not the sole domain of mystics or monks. These qualities exist in ordinary people all over the world. People totally unschooled in science and outside the contemporary information grid. Fishermen, jungle dwellers, housewives and poets all can have insights into the working of the world that are profound in their depth of understanding.

I think that Oshawa recognized this and tried to refine centuries of tradition and folk wisdom into a contemporary package. His impression was that many of these systems had calcified with time. If, on occasion, he threw the baby out with the bath water, it’s up to us to make it right.

Phiya Kushi makes several comments that I need to address here. I believe that science, as well as politics, religion and corporations need to be called to account on the way their products, research or ideas are used. Phiya says, “What people do with the information (scientific studies) is a matter of their nature and has nothing to do with the information itself.” This is one of the ways that science protects itself. It reminds me of the National Rife Association who say that, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” The British comedian Eddie Izzard has pointed out, “The gun helps.”

Science (including medicine and nutrition) is a cultural artefact that reflects held beliefs in economics, religion or politics. For example, the traditional medical systems of India, Tibet and China depend on a particular mindset reflecting their religions and social customs. It is common in early history that religion was the guiding force, Galileo found out the hard way. In contemporary society this is not the case. The primary influence of science is the corporate economy.

Research finds it’s funding under the corporate umbrella of the defence industry, the pharmaceutical industry or the food industry or any industrial application that might apply. Those forces dictate what is researched, what is looked for and how to turn that information into profit. To say that the driving force behind any enterprise is not present in its physical reality is naive at best. To pretend that scientific objectivity rules and makes science beyond ethical concerns, (Phiya uses the word “amoral” which is a funny slip), is really a recipe for disaster.

This is readily observed in Nutritional science. Nutritionists are the leading apologists and handmaidens of the food industry. They will usually say what they are paid to say. That will change when enough people stop being led astray, start using common sense and yes, intuition. The basic ideas need to be challenged if change is to come. The dangers inherent in the modern diet are a direct result of a scientific/corporate mentality.

The major positive changes in attitudes concerning food did not generate out of the scientific community. These changes have been responses to grassroots movements. The scientific community attacked organic foods, natural foods, soya foods, vegetarians and macrobiotics for years (and still do). These popular trends were pursued in spite of nutritional science, not in response to it. The fact that these influences still exist and have a degree of popular acceptance is due to philosophical, moral, and environmental and health concerns outside the bounds of science.

Of course there are brave nutritionists, Doctors and health professionals who speak against the corporate food empires but those who are in direct employ by those very industries vastly outweigh them. Steve Acuff mentions several of these early pioneers and they are to be respected. They generally did not receive respect from their professional associates. It is an illustration of my point that the consciousness of these men and women is what separates them from the pack. Should we demand a higher ethical standard from science? Absolutely.

Let me close with two quotes from Phiya and my comments on them. Here is what he says.

…the relevance that Bill suggests as the distinct value of macrobiotics (with its emphasis on intuition and judgement) is in my opinion, a moral issue and is not an expose on the limitations of science. There is an underlying moral premise both in what Bill writes and in the works of Ohsawa and Michio that “living in harmony with nature” is good and being abusive and destructive to nature is bad with an implication that science with its limitations is the culprit.” Phiya goes on to assert that, there is a problem “when we infuse our own value judgements of good and bad on, for example, environmental destruction, food contamination and widespread diseases and then blame science for these problems.”

Phiya is right about blame it serves little purpose. It is definitely a case of bad judgement from everyone involved, including all of us. It is not science that is to blame but it is often the myopic vision of scientific materialism that deflects attention from a larger vision of life on the planet.

Phiya is right in saying that it is a moral issue. We all make choices everyday even if our choice is to make no choice. I feel that macrobiotics has often fallen down by not creating a solid ethical stand on social issues. It is not enough to hide behind some pseudo Oriental non-attachment philosophy or to put ourselves above the fray.

My life decision is to constantly strive to “live in harmony with nature”. I often fail spectacularly but I admit freely that I think that is a good thing to keep pursuing. I am not ashamed to say that I believe that the destruction of the environment, economic injustice and food contamination are bad things.

Yes indeed – bad things. We can talk about egos and subjective or objective reality all we want but I will still come down firmly on the side of a healthy planet. It is the game I choose to play – an exercise of my own freedom. Of course it’s a value judgement – one that I am happy to live with.

Adios, till next time, Bill Tara

Posted: May 2006


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