The Macrobiotics Diet: A Whacky Prescription for Fashionable Health

Unveiling the Intriguing World of the 'Cult-Like' Zen Macrobiotic Movement and the Visionary Who Aims to Liberate Humanity from Illness

Exploring the zen macrobiotic movement and its leader’s mission to liberate people from illness.

George Ohsawa, founder of the macrobiotics diet George Ohsawa, the founder of the macrobiotics diet. (Wikimedia Commons)

You know what the world needs? More hospitals, more medication, and more diets, of course! At least, that’s what George Ohsawa, the mastermind behind the macrobiotics diet, seems to think. He came up with this whacky idea in the mid-20th century, believing that natural foods could somehow ‘free’ us all from sickness. Talk about aiming high!

According to Ohsawa, modern civilization is drowning in illness, and the solution is as simple as pie – or should I say, a balanced macrobiotic meal. In his book, aptly titled Zen Macrobiotics, Ohsawa boldly declares, “We are sick, physiologically and mentally.” Can you imagine the world’s doctors collectively shaking their heads in agreement?

But Ohsawa didn’t stop at pointing out the problem; he offered a four-part cure that sounds more like a recipe for a fashion-forward lifestyle. Natural food? Check. No medicine? Check. No surgery? Check. No inactivity? Well, we wouldn’t want to be caught dead lounging around, would we?

The man himself claimed that he cured tuberculosis with his macrobiotic diet. He gushed about how he witnessed countless incurable diseases like asthma, diabetes, and epilepsy vanish into thin air after just a few weeks of munching on whole grains, soy, and veggies. I can already picture celebrities rushing to stock up their refrigerators with these magical ingredients!

Ohsawa’s macrobiotics movement quickly gained momentum, fueling the New Age craze in the late 1960s. Two of his keenest students, Aveline and Michio Kushi, even founded a grocery chain called Erewhon (yes, you read that right) in Boston. This store became the holy grail for all things natural and organic, attracting loyal followers and fashion-forward shoppers like bees to honey.

People come and go at the high-end grocery store Erewhon during their Pasadena opening. Erewhon, a natural-food grocery chain, has amassed cult-like followings among loyal shoppers and celebrities. (Sarah Reingewirtz/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

Let’s take a step back to understand Ohsawa’s journey into cray-cray diet territory. Born into a poor samurai clan in Japan, this man had more health issues than the number of shoes in a fashionista’s closet. He turned to the Shokuiku movement, which advocated for food education and the wonders of traditional medicine. It’s no surprise that he went gaga over the idea of blasting diseases away with a plate full of veggies!

Paris became Ohsawa’s playground for spreading his food-centric philosophy. He left his old name behind and adopted “Ohsawa” because, in French, “oh ça va” means “I’m doing fine.” Oh, the stylish rebranding! But it wasn’t until 1931 that he truly waved his macrobiotic magic wand with the book The Unique Principle. This tome introduced the Western world to the fundamental law of yin and yang – something that had everyone scratching their heads and running to the nearest Feng Shui expert.

In his masterpiece, Zen Macrobiotics (clearly, the man had a naming fetish), Ohsawa made it clear that macrobiotics was not your grandma’s cough syrup. It was the biological and physiological application of Eastern philosophy (you know, the kind that uses exotic ingredients like balance and harmony). But here’s the kicker – Ohsawa insisted that only through good health could one truly be free. His vision was a utopian, almost biblical kingdom where forced labor, crime, and punishment didn’t exist. He even gave it snazzy names like “Erewhon” or “Wonderland.” Talk about high aspirations!

Yet, for all his enlightening ideas, Ohsawa didn’t shy away from making bold statements. He even went so far as to say that “sexual appetite and joyful satisfaction are an essential condition of happiness.” Say what?! According to him, if you’re not feeling the love, you’re clearly violating the yin-yang law and heading for sickness and insanity. Well, I guess we all better hop on the macrobiotic love train ASAP!

Michio Kushi and his wife Midori Hayashi Kushi, also known as Aveline, at their home in Brookline, Mass. Michio Kushi and his wife Midori Hayashi Kushi, also known as Aveline. (Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

With all these rigid rules and absolute statements, it’s no wonder some folks thought the macrobiotics movement was more like a fashion cult. The Federal Food and Drug Administration even raided an Ohsawa Foundation store in Manhattan back in 1966, labeling it a “Japanese cult diet store.” Apparently, these macrobiotic diets caused deaths and starvation – who could’ve seen that coming? But didn’t they know that fashion victims will go to great lengths for the perfect waistline?

Moving along to more recent times, we find ourselves in Italy, where the macrobiotic madness continued. In 2018, Italian authorities cracked down on what they referred to as a macrobiotic “sect” led by a man named Mario Pianesi. Turns out, Pianesi had manipulated his followers by controlling their diets, making them work for free, and coercing them into making donations. Basically, a dietician-turned-dictator! Some members even dropped to a shockingly low 77 pounds, which in fashion terms, is nothing but skin and bones.

But like all things in life, even Ohsawa’s macrobiotic empire had to come to an end. He met his maker at the not-so-tender age of 72 due to a heart attack. Rumor has it that he experimented with a macrobiotic drink that ended up being too yin for his heart – talk about a fatal fashion faux pas! In her memoir, Aveline Kushi lamented his untimely demise and reflected on the legacy he left behind.

So, my fashionable friends, the macrobiotics diet may have its quirks and its controversies, but one thing’s for sure – it’s had the world buzzing with excitement and skepticism for decades. Whether you embrace it as the holy grail of health or dismiss it as pure quackery, one thing’s certain – it’s definitely made the fashion world a little bit more interesting!

Now tell me, dear readers, have you ever tried any wacky diets or health fads in the name of fashion? Share your stories below – I can’t wait to hear them!