What About Places Without Whole Grains?
by David Briscoe
In certain areas of the world there is no longer whole grain agriculture, and no modern tradition for using whole grains. And in some areas of the world people have never used whole grains. If macrobiotics encourages the use of whole grains as the principle food, what can people in these areas do? Yes, they can try to import whole grains, and yes, they could attempt to start whole grain farming in their area. But what has the actual tradition been? What helped traditional people stay healthy in these areas of the world, for generations, without whole grains? In two words: complex carbohydrate. To be more specific: complex carbohydrate with intact fiber.
“Intact fiber” is the key to healthy carbohydrate use. For example, white rice is primarily starch, and it is often surprising for many to learn that this is in fact a complex carbohydrate, but white rice has had its fiber removed in the refining process. Fiber allows for carbohydrate to be properly digested and more gradually converted to glucose before being absorbed and used as blood sugar. Complex carbohydrate foods taken with fiber intact have be proven to prevent diabetes, high cholesterol, and numerous digestive and colon problems. The healthiest carbohydrate is complex carbohydrate that comes in food with its fiber intact. Whole grains are one such food, but there are others.
At the bottom of my macrobiotic food pyramid, I used to write “Whole Grain,” but I began to realize that was too limited. Now I write, “Foods containing complex carbohydrate and intact fiber.” This makes it possible for people in every part of the world to apply macrobiotic principles based on their locally available and traditional foods. Placing complex carbohydrate foods with intact fiber at the foundation of daily eating is the healthiest choice and individual and society at large can make, in my opinion.
I was surprised to discover that Africa has had a tradition of whole grain as a principle food for thousands of years. This still exists in some isolated areas, and there are whole grains used that we have never heard of in the West. Some of these are pearl millet, fero. kam-kam, and African rice. Very unfortunately, colonization over the centuries has drastically diminished the growing of these whole grains, but there is a now a movement afoot to help restore the growing and consumption of traditional African whole grains.
Traditional people in many tropical areas have relied on tubers for their complex fiber-rich carbohydrate. Some of these we know about, but there are many we in temperate climates have never heard of. These include taro, manioc, cassava, and yam.
Today there are various movements around the world actively teaching local people about the importance of restoring the dietary traditions of their ancestors by returning to using complex carbohydrate foods with intact fiber as the foundation food for daily eating. Without realizing it, they are teaching one of the basic macrobiotic principles of healthy eating for human beings. This is very good news!
Some popular writers today advise the avoidance of complex carbohydrates, including whole grains, and they advocate the use of vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts in their place. This won’t be possible for the entire world, or even all that healthy. The world’s population cannot be sustained on vegetables and fruits, or seeds and nuts. These are already very expensive, difficult to produce, require toxic agricultural chemicals to grow on a massive scale, and are wasteful of natural resources in their requirements for storage and transportation. Besides, the land simply isn’t there for this to be a possibility.
Some write that there is no proven need for the human body to have complex carbohydrates such as whole grains as a source of nourishment. This is a misleading and myopic view, in my opinion. And it flies in the face of 50 years of scientific research supporting the multi-faceted benefits of complex carbohydrates and whole grains for our health. More than that, though, it dismisses our human dietary tradition of thousands of years.
For the future, whole grain production and consumption will be the dietary savior of humanity and the earth. In those areas of the world where whole grain production may not be possible, as discussed previously, a return to the use of local and traditional foods that contain complex carbohydrate and intact fiber will be the essential dietary foundation. This has been our human dietary tradition for thousands of years, and so it must continue to be if thousands of years forward are to be possible.
Fearless Use of Salt In Cooking by Cynthia Briscoe
Salt is a critical element in the alchemy of your cooking. Good use of salt in cooking prepares the food you eat to be aligned with human digestion and human blood quality, and thus is an important factor regarding your health. How you use salt in cooking is especially important in a plant-based diet, because when applied properly, it gives vegetable quality food a strengthening vitality or good quality yang energy.
There is a lot of fear surrounding the use of salt. There are opposing viewpoints. In this series, I would like to present some tips and understanding about the use of salt, such that you can decide for yourself what is personally appropriate for your health. As David Briscoe often advises students, “Go from the land of ‘No’ to the land of ‘Know’”. I might add in behalf of all Kitchen Commandos, “Move from ‘Fear’ to ‘Fearless’’. The first point in this series, concerns giving sea salt ample time to cook with the food.
In her cooking classes, Cornellia Aihara taught students the importance of cooking the salt into the food. In most instances of cooking with sea salt, she recommended cooking the salt in the food for 15 to 20 minutes. Following is a teaching story she shared:
George Ohsawa once gave me only 20 minutes notice that he would be coming to visit. It was lunchtime, so I thought to make polenta, as it is quick to cook. In my haste, I forgot to add the salt in the beginning of cooking the polenta. I didn’t realize I had forgotten to add the salt until I tasted it. The polenta tasted very bland, so I stirred in salt after it had finished cooking.
Mr. Ohsawa ate his lunch.
Cornellia loved Ohsawa very much. It was important to her that he enjoyed his lunch. So she asked him in her Cornellia way, “You enjoy?”
When telling the story, Cornellia imitated his voice by speaking in a low, slow voice with deep intonation, “Yes. I enjoy very much. Thank you. But you add salt too late.”
Well, you might scratch your head and ask, “Really? How could Ohsawa tell that she had added the salt after the polenta had cooked?” You can distinguish, too, once you understand the difference of raw salt versus cooked salt.
First of all, raw salt has a different taste and texture on the tongue. If you look at magnified grains of salt, you will see little cube shapes with sharp edges and corners. That’s the natural structure of how the sodium and chlorine molecules adhere to one another. This structure dissolves with water. So if Cornellia had added the salt as the water was coming to a boil, the salt crystals would have dissolved and combined very nicely with the polenta. Raw salt crystals have a strong, sharp salty blast of flavor on the tongue, almost a slight initial burning sensation. If the salt has been cooked into the food, it subtly combines with the flavors and has a different slightly sweet flavor.
Also, perhaps George was very thirsty after eating lunch; another sign of uncooked salt. Raw salt makes you very thirsty. After a meal where the salt is balanced by cooking, a single cup of tea is usually enough to satisfy thirst. That’s why fast-food meal menus such as a burger and salted fries often include a ‘Big Gulp’ of a drink.
I have experienced this kind of extreme thirst after eating refried beans in a Mexican restaurant. If you cook dried beans with salt in the water, the beans stay hard. So the restaurant cooks a large pot of dried beans without salt, drains off the liquid and mashes the beans. Then salt is added to the mashed beans for flavor. The effect is much like the polenta: the mashed beans are thick and lack enough water to dissolve the salt. Thus you are eating a lot of raw salt housed within the refried beans. The next day, you may have lower back pain in the area of the kidneys and experience some puffiness or swelling. You also might experience tight shoulders or irritability.
Just hold this salt tip in mind and test it for yourself, in your own cooking or when you eat out in a restaurant. Experience and awareness are the best teachers.
How much salt is appropriate for me?
Follow your taste buds. The amount of salt you use should bring out a delicious naturally sweet flavor. The salty taste should be soft and not sharp. When planning a meal, vary the salt content in different dishes.
Enough to bring out a sweet flavor.
Outward Impatience & Internal Digestion
by David Briscoe
“If you have no patience, you’ll become a patient.” – Herman Aihara
You’ve probably noticed: it’s become a very impatient world. Individually and collectively, patience seems to be fading. On the road, in traffic, in stores, in relationships, in politics, international relations, finances, waiting in line, fast food, fast medicine, etc., lack of patience is expressed in many ways. There can be many explanations and opinions as to why this is so.
I’d like to present one that is not commonly considered, if at all: we’ve become impatient at the physiological level; and very specifically we’ve become digestively impatient. The human digestive system has a very natural and gradual way for food to be digested, before it is absorbed into the blood and then assimilated by our cells. Let’s look at carbohydrate, for example. The way the body works is that carbohydrate digestion is supposed to begin in the mouth; that is, when the carbohydrate we are eating is the complex kind, polysaccharide. Complex carbohydrate is meant to be chewed, mixed with saliva, and through the action of the enzyme, salivary amylase, begins to be broken down to disaccharide, a simpler form of carbohydrate.
If you’ve ever chewed brown rice really well, you noticed that it starts to taste sweet. You are tasting the complex carbohydrate in the brown rice being slowly converted to simpler carbohydrate, preparing it for the next stage of digestion. The body is smart. It likes to digest slowly and patiently. Next, the complex carbohydrate that has been chewed is swallowed and goes down to the stomach. No further digestion of the carbohydrate takes place in the stomach due to stomach acid that stops the action of the salivary amylase. The chewed carbohydrate moves from the stomach to the duodenum, the passageway between the stomach and small intestine, where is stimulates the secretion of pancreatic amylase from the pancreas, further breaking down the complex carbohydrate that wasn’t broken down through chewing. This disaccharide now enters the small intestine where the enzymes lactase, sucrase and maltase, break it down into monosaccharide, single sugars, that can then be absorbed through the small intestine and released into the blood.
This is a gradual and natural process, relying on digestive patience. It’s how the body wants to digest carbohydrate, if given the chance to do it right. In today’s world the carbohydrate most widely consumed is not complex carbohydrate. It is chemically processed simple-sugar carbohydrate such as white sugar, candy, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose. Even many so-called natural sweeteners like agave syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar, evaporated cane juice, and others, are highly processed into simpler and concentrated sugars. And honey, long-considered by many to be the favored natural sweetener, is 100% simple sugar, pre-digested by the bees. All simple sugar bypasses the body’s need for natural and gradual complex carbohydrate digestion, since it has already been reduced to its simplest form. It travels quickly through to be released into the bloodstream. This impatient, hurry-up digestion has become the norm, and over decades of modern eating, the body has become habituated to it, though it doesn’t respond well to it. It is well-known that many physical and mental health problems today have their roots in the over-consumption of simple sugar.
One argument to this idea of “patient digestion” is that all sugar eventually ends up in the small intestine as simple sugar prior to absorption into the blood, and therefore it doesn’t matter if it started out as complex carbohydrate or manufactured simple sugar. But it’s the rapidity and the quantity of delivery of simple sugar to the blood that is the difference between consuming complex carbohydrate and processed simple sugar. And I would further clarify this by emphasizing “complex carbohydrate with its natural fiber intact,” such as whole grains, fresh vegetables, and beans, as the healthiest carbohydrate to for digestive patience and overall health. Also, when the simple sugar, fruit sugar or fructose, is consumed I suggest eating the whole fruit, with its fiber, rather than in the form of juices, concentrates, flavorings, syrups and powders. Fiber in food has long been proven to support natural digestive function (digestive patience).
There is a saying, “Biology precedes psychology.” I would adapt it and say, “Physiology precedes psychology.” If we hurry up our digestive physiology, demanding that it work faster through the consumption of simple sugar of various kinds, we will see a reflection of that outward in all kinds of expressions of impatience. Outward behavior is influenced by what’s happening inwardly at the physiological level. The two cannot be separated.
Inevitably, all of the body’s internal organs are made to work harder by the modern diet of excess protein, fat and sugar, ultimately causing over-stimualtion of the metabolism and nervous system, giving further rise to personal and social impatience. Re-estalishing inward physiological and digestive patience, eating in a way that supports the body’s natural stability, we see outward patience being restored over time.
© 2016 David Briscoe
In Praise of Green by David Briscoe
Yes, it’s March, but this is not about St. Patrick’s Day, though I was raised in a wonderful American-Irish family. My mother’s maiden name was Mahoney, that says it all, I’d say! No, I’m writing here about the green of life. Have you noticed how life on earth is totally beholden to green? No green, no life. So, I’m here to celebrate green, and to let green know how grateful I am.
Green of the plants allows us to have oxygen. It makes food possible, too. If the plants aren’t green, you and I are sunk. Without the green chloroplast cells in the plants there would be no whole grains, vegetables or beans. No animal meat either for the carnivores among us. No sushi in Los Angeles. No caviar for a queen’s crackers. Animals have to eat plant food before someone can eat the animals. And darn it, junk food requires green, too!
It’s funny, I grew up hating science, but now I thoroughly enjoy reading books about photosynthesis, the process by which the plants convert sunshine into stored energy, converting it into their own carbohydrates, protein and fat to feed themselves. They have no intention to feed us, we just wait around until they grow, and then we grab the plants and eat them. Thank you, plants, I happily accept my dependence on your efforts. What delicious sunshine you are! Actually, the photosynthesis books give me the feeling that I am reading something very spiritual. For what could be more life-giving than green and photosynthesis?
Now that spring is rearing its green, I’m reminded of a little poem I wrote when I was 18:
like a faint green smoke
snakes through bare trees
in the distance
It was originally an attempt at haiku, but I was never disciplined enough to pull off haiku. I’ve always been a lazy writer. But one who loves green.
Macrobiotic Principles: Front & Back by David Briscoe
Modern thinking likes big easy on the front side, but as a result we get big difficulty on the back side. For example, “easy fast food” on the front side brings the slow developing difficulty of physical and mental health deterioration on the back side. It is inescapable this natural play of front and back. Everywhere you look in the modern world, everyone is rushing toward “easy,” not seeing that difficulty is being rushed toward simultaneously. When difficulty finally appears no one wants to accept it, no one understands where it came from, no one sees that they chose it when they chose “easy” earlier. They want the difficulty to go away as quickly as possible.
The macrobiotic view is opposite of the modern view. On the front side of macrobiotics there is what appears to be “difficulty.” This is the difficulty of transforming one’s thinking and habits, the difficulty of changing one’s way of eating, and many other difficulties. But when one takes on these difficulties and move through them, one opens the door to finding ease of health, ease of mind, ease of being in the world. When many modern people first see this front side difficulty, they turn away from macrobiotics and grasp at something that offers “easy” on the front side. But when a person consciously takes on the front side difficulty of macrobiotics, in a patient and enduring way, this brings to life the possibility of ease of health and being in the world that is awaiting on the back side. This conscious acceptance of the difficulty of doing macrobiotics is the key that opens the door to a life of deep ease, completely different from the illusory “easy” of the modern view.
On My Birthday: My Parents by David Briscoe
On this my 61st birthday, I would like to give you the gift of sharing something of my parents with you. I am such a fortunate man to have had Vernon and Charlotte for my parents. Their example of how to live in the world, how to treat others, how to make one’s way through life’s challenges, and how to raise their children, my 2 bothers and 2 sisters, to become solid and decent human beings, remains to this day the firm ground beneath my feet. My father was a success through his own will and determination. Nothing was given to him to make his life easy. When he was 12 his father died, and my father started working hard at little fruit stand in Kansas City, Kansas to make money for himself and his mother. She ran a boarding house to make ends meet. My father remained with the little fruit stand for 60 years, as it decade by decade turned into a major supermarket chain in the Midwest. When he retired, he was a vice president. My father showed me that you could be successful without having to cut others down or betray them. He earned his success by very hard work, honest living, enduring great hardship, and through loyalty to his company and family. He was a fair and just man. In honor of his sense of justice, I named my first son Justin. My father passed away in 2008 at the age of 93. He still had his sharp mind, and his attitude of honor and respect for all people around him, from all walks of life, never faded.
My mother was the intellectual, artistic one. She gave her children a sense of humanity. In her home, racial slurs or putting other religions and cultures down was never heard. She came from a poor Irish- American Catholic family. Her mother died when she was 1 year old, and she was raised by her paternal grandparents until her father remarried. When she was a little girl, other kids from nicer neighborhoods would spit on her as she walked to school because she was poor and Catholic. This experience and other suffering as a child and young woman made her a deep, strong and kind mother. She loved literature and writing. When all of her 5 children were raised, my mother went back to school. She graduated from college when she was 70 years old. She passed away on her birthday, Christmas Eve 1990. She used to tell me when I was a little boy, “I’ll always be with you on Christmas Eve.” She has kept true to her word.
I am so very fortunate, so incredibly blessed that Vernon and Charlotte were my parents. On this, my birthday, September 22, 2010, I am happy to share something of them with you. I love my parents, and I understand now what they tried to show me by their example and guidance, which I often rejected in my youth, and I will do my best to live the rest of my life in honor of them. I miss them every day but their beautiful lesson of being true human beings is with me always. Peace to you, the reader of these words, on this day, my birthday, and every day of your life. – David Briscoe
Macrobiotics Beyond Food by David Briscoe
If we set aside for a moment the food aspect of macrobiotics, what is there to call macrobiotics? Anything? What is macrobiotics beyond its food and physical health benefits? Does it have anything else to offer an individual and society? When I first was introduced to macrobiotics in 1972 by a cookbook a friend had left at my apartment door, I didn’t have any interest in food, and I made no association between food and my health or any of the physical and mental challenges I was facing at the time. But reading that book changed my life. It wasn’t the recipes and the food ingredients printed there. I didn’t even know what those ingredients were, and I rarely cooked for myself. But something else in the book appealed to me. There was mention of “freedom,” self-responsibility,” “creative thinking,” “wholeness,” and other such concepts. I was surprised to find mention of these in a cookbook. Still to this day, these concepts are what fuel my on-going macrobiotic adventure. But I find this spirit of macrobiotics fading from macrobiotic teachings and consciousness today as the predominant view being promoted is that of macrobiotics as glam cooking for movie stars, gourmet recipes, and “vegan cuisine.” I understand that this is partly an attempt to make macrobiotics more appealing and to reach out to the masses who might be scared by the word “macrobiotics,” but it seems to me that promoting macrobiotics as another vegan or natural diet only, stripped of its spirit and creative principles, is missing the deeper opportunity to really help humanity and the planet.
In my opinion, the real beauty and true depth of macrobiotics is not in its food and health aspects, though some of us have experienced dramatic healing from this alone, but in the “spirit of macrobiotic living” from which the dietary aspect of macrobiotics has emerged. What is macrobiotic living between meals? How do macrobiotic principles and view of life express themselves outside of the kitchen? In our daily lives, how do we live and behave as a result of having looked at life through the macrobiotic view?
And what IS the “macrobiotic view?” I am curious to know how macrobiotics
touches your life besides the ways in which you eat. Please share this with me.
Comments or questions are welcome.
The Close-Up View & The Whole View by David Briscoe
If we look at the human body under a microscope, we see trillions of single cells. If we only knew this view we’d have to conclude that we are trillions of single cells. But if we take our eye off the microscope and step back, we see a totally different view. We don’t see individual cells. We see that the human body is one whole organism. Both views are real. The microscopic view shows us the close-up view and the macroscopic view shows us the big view. Both comprise the whole view.
In today’s world the is an ever-increasing tendency to view life only from the close-up microscopic view. From this view it appears that we are all separate individuals, separate nations, separate religions, etc. Of course, by nature’s design different geographical and climatic conditions have produced different cultures, traditions, languages, etc. But when we only live by this close-up view of the separate me and separate we, great problems and conflicts arise, individually and collectively. If the big view is missing, and we see only the close-up view, we miss the whole view.
As I see it, our challenge in today’s world is how to live with the close-up view, and its individual living circumstances of our families, personal lives, collective cultures and traditions, and at the same time have the big view in our consciousness. When the close-up view and the big view are together, our lives and actions are rooted in the whole view.
Know Your Physical Limitations: A Lesson From Herman Aihara by David Briscoe
Freedom is a wonderful thing. It is wonderful to feel unlimited. Even the prisoner in solitary confinement can be free in his imagination. Our culture teaches us to think of ourselves as free and unlimited. But we are actually free only in spirit. Physically, we are not free or unlimited. Probably one of Herman’s most powerful, simple and often repeated statements was “Know your physical limitations.” Many times this was misunderstood by his students. Some saw this statement as negative, and they didn’t pay much attention, but in this statement was contained the essence of many of Herman’s most positive teachings. In order to be in the physical world for a normal, healthy lifetime, it is important to know how the physical world works. It has rules. The body, being part of the physical world, needs to operate by the rules or it will get sick much more than it normally would, and then it will age prematurely.
We all know that we need oxygen. If we go into outer space or under the water, we must take our supply of oxygen with us. This is one of our physical limitations. We just can’t go anywhere we want, we can only go where there is oxygen. We all come to learn soon in life that the body’s temperature maintains itself at 98.6 F. It can go up a little, maybe down a little, but it can’t go up too high for too long or down too low for too long. If it does, our life is in real danger. This having to maintain a certain body temperature is another of our physical limitations. Nobody can buy their way out of this. So, knowing this, we make sure that our temperature never gets too high or goes too low. It’s become common sense.
We all have to maintain a constant blood sugar level, we all have to consume food and water. These things we understand easily. When we study more about the body, we discover that it has even more, not-so-obvious limitations. In our blood we have to maintain a certain concentration of minerals like sodium and potassium.
This concentration of minerals must be maintained constantly or we are in big trouble. Fortunately, there are automatic functions in the body that maintain this internal mineral concentration.
Perhaps one of the most important physiological limitations is pH or acid-alkaline balance. Human blood must be maintained constantly at a pH of 7.4. If it varies from this number by much, we would go into a coma or convulsions. Our lungs, kidneys and blood buffer system help the body remove acid so that the pH of 7.4 can be steadily maintained. It is a natural process going on night and day without stop.
When we select food and drink, it adds acid or alkaline-forming elements to our blood after it is digested. Protein, fat and refined carbohydrates (white sugar, white flour, white rice, alcohol, etc.) all add acid to the body. Of course, we need a certain amount of protein, fat and unrefined carbohydrate, the body can handle
them. It’s when we eat concentrated amounts of these nutrients that we create an acid blood condition. Many, many health problem have their roots in an acid blood condition. When we learn how to wisely choose foods according to macrobiotic principles, we discover that we can easily support our body in maintaining an alkaline blood condition. When we do this we are learning to live with a physical limitation, and we know how to stay healthy longer. By understanding that we do have physical limitations, and that be learning to embrace them and live with them, we become stronger and happier people. Living with our physical limitations allows us to root ourselves strongly in the reality of our biological life. When we accomplish this, our spirit is able to soar freely and without limitation. It is like a majestic tree, firmly rooted in the earth, supporting its branches in their reach to the heavens.
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