ABOUT CYNTHIA VANN: Cynthia is a respected member of the macrobiotic community. She is a dedicated long-time researcher, historian and archivist of macrobiotics. Cynthia attended the levels at the Kushi Institute and is a graduate from Macrobiotics America’s Counselor Training Program. She is currently enrolled in our Macrobiotic Chef Training Program. She is a macrobiotic counselor as well as consultant in iridology and sclerology. Cynthia compiled a 4-booklet series, Best of East West, containing many of the most popular seasonal recipes published in the East West Journal during the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. She is also an avid nature and hiking enthusiast. To contact Cynthia Vann: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Here Comes the Sun, Part 1, we looked at how we are “solar powered.” Humans can’t directly capture the sun’s energy like plants; we are dependent upon the plant world to do that for us. Plants photosynthesize sunlight and store it primarily as carbohydrate. We then ingest plants, and through digestion unlock plant sourced solar energy to fuel our very existence. Sun exposure is a different, yet essential way in which we “ingest” sunlight – not through food consumption and digestion, but through our skin. By exposing our skin to sunlight, we are nourished by transmuting the sun’s energy into Vitamin D. Here in Part 2, I present an interview with Cynthia Vann, who shares her personal experience and long-time research of Vit D.
CB: Cynthia, what first led you to study Vit D?
CV: We were camping and hiking, about 8 miles in. On the last day I was enjoying a beautiful hike up the mountainside when I slipped on some loose shale. Reflexively, I broke the fall with my hand and heard a cracking sound. My companions helped me with the climb back down to camp and put a cast on it. I slept there overnight. The next day, I walked the 8 miles out. The injury was OK as long as I didn’t move it a certain way. After 2 days, I went to the ER and they patched it up. Well, that piqued my curiosity. I hadn’t had any prior breaks for decades, really. I’d recently had a bone density test that came out great. So I was surprised.
Then I went to visit a friend, Mark Sorenson, who owns a spa. He had been studying Vit D quite extensively and had even written a book about it. He was giving lectures on the subject at hisspa. I had never considered Vit D to factor into my bone health and had never had my Vit D levels tested. He suggested that I get tested when I got home.
Also, there was a woman staying at the spa, who had been diagnosed with osteopenia. She had brittle bones and marked depression, as well as other bothersome symptoms. Her Vit D level was at 6 ng/ml and it’s supposed to be at 40. She did a series of supplemental treatments and a sunbathing regime and raised her levels up to 40. Well, I was very impressed and my curiosity drove me to do extensive reading and research.
CB: So, the lady who did the sunbathing, how much of her skin was exposed and how long was her sunbath?
CV: She went out in a bikini. The length of time for sun exposure depends on your skin type. She was fairly light skinned. For pale skin, you don’t have to be out very long, maybe 5 minutes on each side. You don’t want to burn. The danger of sun tanning is not from tanning, it’s from burning. You learn how long you can sunbathe before you start to burn. That’s generally the amount of time it’s safe.
CB: Would you say that when less skin is exposed, you should stay out longer?
CV: No, you can’t make up for skin surface. It’s better to have more skin exposed. However, if you can’t have the skin exposed, by all means, still go out and get some sun.
For babies, Dr. Jym Moon said that the cheeks and the hands are enough for a baby. Just take care not to let the baby’s skin burn.
CB: I remember after my first delivery, the baby was slightly jaundiced. It was winter, and the midwife recommended having the baby lie naked on a blanket by a window with the sun coming through. Is the liver involved in Vit D production or storage?
CV:Yes, organ-wise, the liver is crucial along the pathway of Vit D production as well as the kidneys. Vit D is currently believed to be made by all the cells of the body, and not just bone cells, as previously believed. It’s very beneficial for all the organs. Each cell in our body has a Vit D receptor. Vit D deficiency can harm the DNA function.
CB: In that case, since our body replaces 40-50 billion cells per day, Vit D is consequential for healing and cell regeneration. Simple things like bruises or cuts would take longer to heal if Vit D levels are low.
CV: Bob Pirello, had been macrobiotic for 20 years. He was very athletic, jogging daily. He broke his foot while running a marathon and also discovered that he had lumber fractures. He was very surprised to find that his bones had become very fragile, equivalent to a man in his 80’s. He wrote a book about his recovery titled Beating Osteoporosis Naturally Easily Sensibly.
CB: I recall that after that happening, he and his wife changed their diet from a long-time oil and protein restricted diet. They researched different kinds of oil, such as hemp oil and some other kinds of fat. He began including good quality oil in his diet, consuming more protein, and he fully recovered. What role does fat play in metabolizing Vit D?
CV: Fat is needed to produce and store the Vit D that our body transmutes from sunlight because it is a fat-soluble vitamin. Vit D is actually a hormone. We talk about Vit D like it’s vitamin, but it’s actually a sterol hormone that acts like a vitamin.
CB:Does it matter what kind of oil, whether plant sourced or animal sourced? Often fish oil is recommended. Does it matter?
CV: No, just as long as it’s a fat, our body can use it in conjunction with sun exposure to make and store it’s own Vit D.
CB: It is true that Vit D is almost totally absent from plant sources with the exception of mushrooms exposed to UVB light.
CV: Some amount of Vit D is present in fatty foods of animal origin, such as butter, milk, cheese, fatty fish, liver (Vit D is stored in the liver), and eggs. Even then, the amount of Vit D contained in animal foods is limited and varies depending upon how much exposure to the sun that the animal had.
To get 65 IU’s (International Units) of Vit D, you would need to consume
1 pint non-enriched whole milk
3 TBSP butter
As you can see, you would have to consume an abundance of those foods and also accept the health risks that coincide with consumption of those foods. Because of the scarcity of Vit D in foods, it appears that nature has given us another path to receive Vit D. We can simply expose our skin to the UVB rpays of sunlight and make Vit D for ourselves, independent from animal sources.
The recommended 600 IU level set by the RDA is an artificial level. It’s more like 1500 IU that we need. That’s why exposure to sunlight is so important.
CB: Now that 1500 IU, is that how much you would normally need or is that for someone who is deficient?
CV: That’s how much you would need if you are deficient.
CB: So 600 IU is the standard amount an average person would need per day?
CV: Well, it’s really kind of low. In my earlier research, I found that 800 IU is better. This can vary from person to person. It’s advisable to have a test to assess your own condition. However, receiving Vit D via sun exposure does not pose the risks of Vit D toxicity that can happen when taking Vit D supplements.
CB: Aside from a medical test, are there any markers to indicate that a person is possibly deficient?
CV: Ok. My girlfriend was macrobiotic for 25 years. She recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome by practicing macrobiotics. So she is very grateful to macrobiotics, but she still had this consistent bronchitis every year at the same time.
After studying Vit D, I looked at my friend objectively. I suggested she get tested for Vit D deficiiency. I had seen from researchers that respiratory diseases respond best to sunlight. In fact, before we had antibiotics, sunlight (heliotherapy) was the most common way to treat tuberculosis, asthma and bronchitis. Then when antibiotics came along, sunlight therapy was dropped. This was in the 1920’s.
My friend eventually got tested and her levels were at 15. I told her that number was really low and that she would benefit by increasing her Vit D levels. She decided to do the sunbathing. She did that for a year and got retested and it was over 40. So she was happy to know how much sun exposure she needed to stay healthy. And after 5-6 years, she had no more bouts of bronchitis.
CB:It’s interesting to consider this, because colds, bronchitis and pneumonia tend to occur more in the winter months when there is less sunlight.
So let’s say a person is low in Vit D and they want to expose themselves to the sun, what would you recommend in terms of how much exposure? Is it so much time per day, how many times per week and for what length of time?
CV: As far as frequency of sunbathing, it depends upon individual health needs, geographical location, time of year and age. Plus it depends upon how the person reacts to the sunlight. You want to stop before you get burned. Most people know what their limit is before they get burned. Some people can go all day in the sun and not get burned. And the nice thing to know about sunbathing and Vit D is that, unlike supplementation, you will not overdose on Vit D. When you take the sunlight in through the skin, the body automatically cuts off production with long exposure. That’s also how melanin production, resulting in skin tanning, protects you from taking in too much Vit D.
CB: So you’re also saying that the person’s skin tone and the amount of melanin the person has in their skin, would also factor in as to how much sun exposure an individual needs.
CV: Yes. For example, an African American would need to be in the sun for about 3 hours to make the same amount of VitD as a pale person would in 5 minutes, This is due to the concentration of melanin in the skin. Sunlight does not penetrate darker skin as efficiently as pale skin. A pale person can sit under an umbrella and not even have the sun directly touch them, having only reflected light, and they can make
CB: So say a person is infirm and they are in the house a lot. If they sit by a window, would that be enough to help them improve their Vit D levels?
CV: It should. Say that the window blocks some of the UVB, but if a plant can grow in a window, then you can get enough Vit D, I would think.
CB: A lot of people are afraid of sun exposure. They wear sunblock for fear of skin cancer. What would you suggest? Do you think melanoma is actually related to sun exposure or does it have its roots somewhere else in a person’s health?
CV: There are several studies out on melanoma. One study that interested me was a study of outdoor workers. They discovered that the melanoma rates for the outdoor workers was lower than the rates for the indoor workers. So what sense does that make regarding this sunlight scare?
I think it’s a real problem that people do not understand that it’s not sunlight that causes skin cancer
. It’s the internal quality of your blood that cause skin eruptions to come out. That poor quality blood condition may be hidden until you get a catalyst such as the sun to bring those things out through the skin.
CB: I know that’s true for things like age spots, freckles or those dark splotchy areas on the face or hands. From a macrobiotic perspective, those types of dark splotchy pigmentation come from consumption of sugar, excessive fruit and fruit juice, and lactose or milk sugar.
CV:That’s the “darkening effect” Dr. Lustig talks about. He really dislikes soda pop! It’s just heat and sugar causing the dark spots.
CB: Like baking cookies, huh?
CV: (Laughing) Yes.
CB: I remember as a teenager, I developed a real sensitivity to the sun. If I was out in the sun for a long time, my face and the fleshy web on my hands between the thumb and index finger would swell, become very puffy, red and itchy. I now know that this condition resulted from eating lots of sugar growing up. Every once in a while I come across someone who suffers from that condition and tell them, “Oh, stop the sugar! It will clear up.”
Sugar also plays such a detrimental role in the rise of diabetes. Studies are now indicating that low Vit D also factors into the rising rates of diabetes. Pregnant women with low Vit D levels can develop pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes. One question doctors often ask pregnant women is if they have head sweating, as head sweating can indicate low levels of Vit D.
We didn’t really talk about depression, and I also wondered if Vit D has any effect on the depression that may coincide with postpartum, menstrual cycles and menopause for women.
CV: In my experience, and of course I discovered Vit D after I was menopausal, I can say that it does help with depression, but overall the things we do with food in Macrobiotics was the most helpful, like cutting out sugar. Sugar is a real disruptor of Vit D storage. We are depleted every time we overload ourselves with extreme yin, including alcohol and caffeine. Over consumption of these extreme foods depletes Vit D, enabling a deficient state. And yes, we may experience depression as well as achiness, muscle weakness and bone deterioration – all symptoms associated with low Vit D levels.
CB: Vit D has a lot to do with how we metabolize calcium. Is that correct?
CV:Yes. If we are Vit D deficient, we are going to have bones at risk of fracture. Metabolized variants of Vit D regulate the absorption of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus needed to mineralize the bones.
CB: As people age, they are increasingly concerned about their bone health. Consequently, they load up on calcium supplements. How do you view that?
CV: Well, that would not be my way of building strong bones. I would tell the person to stop alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and excessive consumption of fruit and fruit juices. Then make sure that their Vit D levels are good and check if they need to be out in the sun more.
CB: That’s good advice. Overloading on calcium, especially with supplements, can lead to hypercalcemia. Excess calcium can harden blood vessels, damage the kidneys and precipitate stone formation.
Are there any at-home tests that you can purchase to check your Vit D levels or do you need to have a blood test done medically?
CV: You don’t need a doctor. You can find out through grassrootshealth.net. They will send you a kit every 6 months as long as you are signed up. It’s $60 per test. That’s roughly what you would pay a doctor with Medicare,
There’s a wide range of opinion by medical doctors regarding the parameters for normal and safe levels of Vit D. We’ve seen a naturopathic doctor who insists that you be at 75. I view 40 as enough. Everyone has their own opinion, and there is really no absolute right number. It also varies among individuals depending upon whether they suffer from low Vit D levels, and whether the deficiency has been prolonged, resulting in negative health issues. In the latter case, you may need 75 levels for a while to ameliorate a deficient condition.
CB: Well, Cynthia Vann, you have certainly simplified much of the confusing and often contradictory advise when it comes to Vit D. Most of us definitely can benefit from more sun exposure than the time spent going to and from our car when shopping. From what you say, it is important to spend a healthy amount of time in the sun. Skin exposure is the surest and safest way to get our Vit D since the quantity of Vit D in food is minimal. You’ve provided some great tips to remove the sun fear factor and make the sun our friend and health ally.
CV: Plants make chlorophyllfrom sunlight. We make Vit Dfrom sunlight. I guess in some sense, you could say Vit D is our “chlorophyll.”
CB: I love that! Well thank you so much, Cynthia, for your time and your studies, and for all the good information that you share. I appreciate your love for learning and research.
It’s hard to believe that less than five centuries ago, people believed that the earth was the center of the solar system. Copernicus’s heliocentric proposal was published in 1543 shortly before his death. His treatise was then somewhat shelved. It took another 100 years to “come to light” when Galileo attempted to build upon Copernican theory. A sun-centered view of God’s creation was such a radical departure from the accepted earth-centered cosmology that the very idea was considered heresy against the Church and Galileo was promptly placed under house arrest.
Scientific understanding of our solar system is still evolving today as well as our view of our place within the cosmology of newly accepted theories. Regardless of human stellar opinion, the sun shines on.
Aveline Kushi once taught us a children’s song called “Amaterasu” which translates, “the Sun is our Mother”. This concept was something I had never really considered in this way. In fact the sun, in my mind, was just there. It came up in the morning and went down at night. For my whole life, I had taken the sun for granted.
From a child’s simple perspective, I recall a visceral and aesthetic moment in the sun. In one instance, I was laying on my back in the cool green grass, looking up at the swaying rhythm of the tree canopy above. The white sunlight dancing in partnership with limbs and leaves, was brilliantly blinding white in contrast to the cool, soft leaf shadows. It caused me to squint and my eyes to tear. I remember sinking into the delicious lullaby of dancing, green-shaded notes contrasting with the staccato of blinding white light.
Squinting through the narrowest of slits, I was fascinated to see a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of rainbow orbs caught within my lashes. I don’t remember how long I stayed in that moment, but the tiny memory stuck with me all these years. Perhaps that was the moment I became so enthralled with color. If there were no sun, there would be no color.
How is it that we can even see colors? The child within me wonders. Could it be because we internalize sunlight or that our biology evolved dependent upon sunlight?
We Are Solar Powered
If you think about it, our very existence is coalescent to the sun. If the sun was removed from the equation of life, there could be no life as we know it.
We literally “eat” sunshine, perhaps not directly as we think of ingesting a meal, but further down the food chain. Unlike plants, we cannot go outside and wave our arms in the air and collect sunlight to fuel ourselves. Fortunately for us, plants can. Through photosynthesis, plants turn sunlight into various forms of carbohydrate, which is the baseline fuel source for humans and animals. Carbohydrates are converted storehouses of sun energy primarily sourced through the vegetable world.
After plants do the work of capturing sunlight and converting it into carbohydrate, we humans are able to recover the sunlight through our process of digestion in order to become useable energy. Our bodies are designed to do so as a perfect compliment to the plant world.
The Sun’s Center within Eastern Cosmology and Healing
Ancient Chinese scholars were astute observers of the natural world. They understood the world to be subject to two opposing, yet complementary forces of energy. These two forces comprising the Whole, followed orderly patterns of change. This concept became known as the Unifying Principle, or the governing laws of Yin and Yang. Yin represents upward expanding energy sourced from the earth’s rotation and magnetic forces, and Yang represents downward contracting energy of forces emitted from heavenly movement, mosy closely from the sun. The mingling of these two forces in various proportions gives rise to all phenomena. Yin/Yang Theory further evolved into The Five Transformations Theory, which is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Feng Shui and Martial Arts.
Early roots of the Five Transformations Theory depict the Five Elements representing the four cardinal directions, with the Earth Element placed in the center as a fulcrum and stabilizing force through which all energies transform. Fire and Water form a central axis as Full Yang and Full Yin respectively. Wood (rising, expanding change) and Metal (descending, contracting changes) are transitions between the two extremes.
Truly, a miracle occurs when the two primary energies collide, sparking life. This miracle occurs in the mid region or earth plane of manifested energy depicted as the Earth Element n the Five Transformations Theory.
The human body can be viewed as a miniature version of the larger macrocosm of these two main energies at play: the ascending earthly Chi and the descending heavenly Chi. The center of the torso is where these two forces along the main axis are most equally balanced in proportion.
This is the home of the Five Transformations Earth Element, representing the Stomach and Spleen/Pancreas. It is through this center that we digest our food. Digestion is the portal through which we unlock the solar energy within the food we consume and make that energy available as fuel. This process is referred to as “separating the pure from the impure”. The Stomach “cooks” the food, with digestive acids. The Spleen extracts the “pure” energy essence from the food, in contrast to the “impure” or physical food components. The Pancreas is the “brain” that signals the liver to release glycogen (stored carbohydrate) and determines how much glucose is needed to fuel the cells. You can see that Chinese Medicine views these “organs” more as an energy processesing center rather than the anatomical function of these physical organs in Western Medicine.
Further, a parallel can be drawn between the Earth Element and the solar plexus in the chakra system
. The rainbow colors of the 7 chakras depict the various vibrational waves lengths of pure sunlight. This system, too, acknowledges the sun’s significant central position within the body. The solar plexus, or sun center, represents the union of the pure non-manifest vibration of the heavens with the earthly forces of more dense physical vibration that gives us the gift of life within a physical body.
Briefly, the solar plexis rules:
1) turning food matter into energy through digestion.
2) Digesting thoughts and ideas and transforming those ideas into goals, and goals into action.
3) It represents who we are in this life, our intellectual clarity, and also our will power.
As we enter the summer season of longer days and more direct sunlight in the northern hemisphere, let us celebrate the sun both outside and inside of us for the role it plays in giving us life. When we reside in darker days remember that you are made of sunlight. Remember when you eat the food that sustains you, that you are ingesting the sun’s power. May the power of that gift activate your dreams into reality.
In Part 2 of “Here Comes the Sun”: An informative and clarifying interview with Cynthia Vann regarding a healthy relationship with the sun and Vitamin D production.
Cucumber Dill Pickles
2 lbs. small pickling cucumbers
1 quart water
3 level Tablespoons sea salt
7 cloves of garlic peeled
1 Tablespoon whole peppercorns
5 bay leaves
1 Tablespoon whole mustard seeds
16 small dried red peppers
½ gallon jar
3 umbels of dried dill
5 fresh grape leaves
. You will know when fermentation is active when a few small bubbles begin to appear in the jar and it starts to smell a little sour.
Makes 2 quarts or ½ gallon dill pickles. The proportion of salt is 3 Tablespoons sea salt to 1 quart of water. To measure how much salt water is needed to make your dill pickles, you can pack your jar with cucumbers and then fill the jar with water. Pour off the water into a measuring cup and you will know exactly how much brine to make.
The grape leaves are optional, but the tannins in the leaves make the pickles crispier. If you do not have access to grapes, wild grapes are plentiful and may be used as well. Select newer growth leaves that are more tender.
© Macrobiotics America
There’s a tiny spark, a potent intelligence that lies dormant, indestructible, despite all logic. It lies patiently coiled until the awakened moment when the serpent springs forth. I witnessed this phenomenon this spring – a lesson taught firsthand by an umeboshi.
Late winter-early spring 2017 erupted in chaos as the teeter-totter of extremes rebalanced. The past 5 years here in Northern California have been a period of extreme drought. Lake Oroville, that normally holds 3 ½ million cubic acres of water, had wasted to practically nothing. Then the drought ended with record rainfall. The 800-foot deep lake swelled to overfull, and the world’s 2nd largest earthen dam (2nd only to the Aswan Dam in Egypt) became compromised. The force of water released at 100,00 cubic feet per second tore loose the lower half of the aged main spillway. The lake filled beyond capacity and water gushed over a second, auxiliary, spillway (a non-reinforced hillside), washing away soil and threatening to unleash a 60-foot wall of water over the town below where we live.
Mandatory evacuation was ordered. Folks had a frantic one-hour notice to locate family members, load up pets, valuables and emergency supplies. Evacuation routes were clogged with crawling traffic. Some poor souls were walking, carrying a few belongings in plastic grocery bags. No government plan was in place to assist elderly or disabled persons to leave. Emergency information was disorganized, unreliable and incomplete. The town once full of activity emptied. There was a palpable, eerie atmosphere of apocalyptic abandonment. A few bewildered cats left behind meowed in alleyways. Even the sound of birds was silenced. Folks clung to any local news conferences for information as to whether their homes would be safe or not. You could leave town, but not return, as incoming roads were blocked. It was an atmosphere of fear and shock.
Unbeknownst to me, at the same time we were all caught up in the evacuation, a contrasting story of nature’s order and quiet strength was at play. Amid all the chaos, umeboshi pits were calmly swelling and sprouting, breaking free from their hard shells, in our backyard garden. These were no ordinary seeds. They had been pickled in 18% salt by weight and preserved since 1999!
…to be continued in part 2
The Seed of a Seed, Part 2
Life lessons taught by an umeboshi pit
by Cynthia Briscoe
For those readers who have never heard of an umeboshi, let me briefly explain. Umeboshi is the very salty, very sour pickled fruit from an ume tree. Ume trees are highly respected and cherished in Eastern cultures. The trees flowering in spring are celebrated with the same admiration as we view the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC.
The small apricot-looking fruit never becomes juicy or sweet. Even at its ripest, ume fruit remains very sour. Ume is harvested while still green, before it turns a blushing yellow. To make umeboshi, the fruit is layered with a whopping proportion of 18% sea salt to ume by weight for a minimum of 2 years.
The resulting pickle, called umeboshi, holds great healing power. I sometimes refer to it as a “macrobiotic medicine cabinet”, as umeboshi remedies such a broad spectrum of ailments such as indigestion, diarrhea, hangovers, arthritis, headaches, shortens cold and flu cycles, sore throats, bladder infection, insomnia – the list goes on and on. George Ohsawa called the umeboshi “the King of Alkaline” and that perhaps is one of the main chemistry factors of an umeboshi’s outstanding healing capability.
At the Vega Study Center, we had an u
me orchard. Every year Cornellia Aihara and the staff would pickle a hundred pounds or so of umeboshi. At two stages in the two-year process of making umeboshi, the umeboshi are removed from the crock and spread single layer across flat baskets or bamboo mats for three days. Each individual umeboshi is hand-turned daily to further dry and concentrate the salt before returning to the crock. If some of the fruit used was a little overripe, the umeboshi meat slides off the pit. Those pits were discarded into the garden. Even though these pits were heavily salted for anywhere from 3 months to a year, we had umeboshi seedlings coming up around the perimeter of the property that escaped the lawnmower.
Cornellia told me that these seedlings had grown from the discarded umeboshi pits. I was skeptical and cautiously withheld amazement. Was this really possible for the salty pits to sti
ll be viable? Experience has proved this to be true on two additional occasions.
I dug one of the Vega saplings and planted it at our home to honor the birth of our youngest daughter, Ana, in 1991. Cornellia told me that an ume tree grown from seed would take 15 years to bear fruit, while a grafted tree would take 8 years. I waited patiently as the years passed. The tree produced beautiful dark pink blossoms each year in early January, but has only produced a single ume fruit in 26 years.
In 2008, I began making my own umeboshi. I too, discarded the salty pits from damaged umeboshi into the compost bin. The next year after distributing the compost in various flower beds and flowerpots, many ume seedlings began to grow. Even though I had my doubts whether any of these saplings would ever produce fruit, however I gave them free reign to grow wherever they chose. This was the second time I had witnessed pickled umeboshi pits sprouting.
This year, to my great excitement, one of these 9 year-old trees flowered for the first time: a dancing petticoat of abundant white blossoms. I marveled and then forgot about it as the urgency of a flood evacuation took my attention away from ume blossoms.
Sometime after returning home, I passed by the ume tree. It was now bare of blossoms. Wait! What? Can it be true? Yes! Tiny ume fruit had formed! I was beside myself after waiting 26 years for “Ana’s ume tree” to set fruit. Yet here it was. Finally I had my own fruit-bearing ume tree. Somehow, even with all the constant rain, the bees had managed to pollinate the flowers and at last there were fruit!
I bubbled, danced and immediately called David, who was working in Texas. I sent pictures as proof. I texted group announcements to our kids like a proud parent who had just given birth, as if I had anything to do with it.
Then I noticed something else. What was that? Is it possible?
There were about a dozen baby ume sprouts. To me, they looked strong and very proud of themselves. In my imagination they were ‘flexing their muscles’ after laboring to crack open the thick, hard shell in order to be born. Half shell casings littered the ground around the small trees. The smooth interiors of their half cradles now lay like empty sockets looking up to the sky. Each tiny tree stood with half an almond-like ‘placenta’ still attached on either side like saddlebags on a Harley.
Then it dawned on me. These seedlings hatched from umeboshi made by Cornellia in 1999! Those were the only umeboshi we had eaten for the past 6 years. Someone had tossed the contents of the kitchen compost bucket over the garden fence rather than walking a few extra steps to empty the bucket into the main compost bin. This area of the garden had not been turned or worked for a few years. These particular umeboshi pits had sunbathed and baked in the hot sun during the drought.
How could it be that 18-year old umeboshi pits hold their vitality and still sprout? What is the potency of a “seed within a seed” that brings forth new life?
To be continued in Part 3.
The Seed of a Seed, Part 3
Life lessons taught by an umeboshi pit
by Cynthia Briscoe
If you have ever cracked open the hard pit from an umeboshi and eaten the small almond-like kernel inside, you know the kernel tastes salty. The salt does penetrate the hard shell casing. Evidently salt does not inhibit the fertility of the seed as these pickled pits still birthed baby ume trees.
Once Cornellia and I were in the Vega Study Center basement, arm-deep in a 20-gallon crock, coaxing out umeboshi to transport to the kitchen. This task took some care and patience as the umeboshi were pressed tightly together. One had to “tickle” them out of the crock such that the individual umeboshi remained unbroken.
Cornellia held one umeboshi up to admire it. She stated in a half whisper, “The Education God lives inside the ume pit.” For that reason, or perhaps out of respect, she advised, “That’s why we don’t eat the kernel inside the pit”.
“Oops!” I thought to myself, “Uh oh. I have cannibalized the Education God many times!”
Often I had cracked through the pit, purposefully to unlock the treasure chest secreting the tasty little jewel inside. (Which by the way, I don’t advise just for the practical reason that the shell may be harder than your tooth and you might crack a tooth!) “Besides,” I had reasoned, “Eating the pit followed Cornellia’s Golden Rule of ‘no wasting’.” So even though I had not become a close acquaintance of the Education God, I now had been introduced. Just to be on the safe side, I stopped eating the inside of the umeboshi pit.
Cornellia offered no further explanation regarding the Education God. She was never one to waste anything, including words. However, most likely at this moment, speech was impossible because the fat umeboshi she’d popped into her mouth blocked all word flow. Her puckered lips fought determinably to dam the swelling pool of saliva that a sour umeboshi draws forth. She promptly returned to fishing out more umeboshi.
What? Huh? Education God? It made absolutely no sense to me, but it did pique my curiosity. Who was this guy living inside an umeboshi pit? Why would he want to live there? And how did he get in there?
An Education God living inside an umeboshi pit was a foreign concept washed up on foreign soil. There was no match in my native cultural files. So I asked my Japanese friend, Keiko, if she knew anything about this Education God. She did a little research and said, “Yes, there is something, but I’m not sure.”
I assessed that Cornellia was certainly sincere in her statement
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The intensity on her face and the focused reverent way she handled the umeboshi housing the Education God, left me with a question mark that I filed in my memory bank for pondering later.
Then this spring when I discovered the tiny ume tree sprouted in the back yard from 18-year old umeboshi pits, I met the Education God face-to-face. I shook his hand when I touched the newborn leaves. It was an experience similar to staring at a newborn baby, being captivated by the simple rhythm of its breath, and marveling at the miracle of its pure existence.
“Ah!” I said, “Finally. It’s so nice to meet you!”
And then the question mark that had been stored in my brain, not unlike the living force encapsulated within an ume pit, began to shake and rumble and split.
One big thought wave crested and then broke upon the shore. As the water pulled back to sea, there was an inundation of memory debris cast upon the beach: Cornellia’s face and her voice, baskets of umeboshi drying, salt and pickle crocks, white blossoms and fallen-petal-snowy-ground, cracked umeboshi pit casings, tiny green fruit and the sound of children running through the ume orchard during picking time. There was an inundation of memory debris cast widely upon the beach.
The Education God participated in my thoughts. With even less words than Cornellia, in fact with no words at all, he taught. He paused my student mind to simply breathe – to arrest thought in a single inhalation of awe followed by a single exhalation of gratitude.
The Education God was my only witness as I stood rooted to the ground. The earth’s generosity swelled upward, reaching upward toward cloud barges floating above, laden with sunlight and rain. The two forces danced together.
The Education God was chuckling inside and outside at the cognizance of Intelligent Movement. I smiled back into the face of this Intelligent Being, the same who directed the encoded life spark within an 18-year-old umeboshi pit to awaken in perfect communication with the elements.
Education God, you have well-studied that invisible spark, the seed within a seed; that life force that weathers difficulty and quietly perseveres, resting within life’s cycles. Such Wisdom remains steady and fearless amid human chaos. Its patience weathers drought years, flooding and evacuation only to ignite and burst forth according to a timely intelligent plan.
Education God, you rested collecting strength from many cycles of seasons and elemental forces: the wind, the rain, the sun, soil and water all having nourished your will to express life as you travel from the infinite to my back yard. You have gained wisdom during your travels and from the generations of your ‘ume people’.
Thank you for your lesson.
Since writing this article, an updated internet search revealed the historic origin of the ‘Education God’. Sugawara no Michizane lived from 845-903AD . He died in exile. He is revered as a renowned scholar, poet, teacher and politician who was politically maligned and thus fell out of favor with the emperor and was stripped of his titles.
He is associated with the ume tree through poetry and legend. It is said that his favorite ume tree uprooted itself and flew to him in exile. Upon his death, his body was being transported by oxcart to Kyoto and the ox stopped at Tsukushi (now Hakata), refusing to travel further. This was taken as a sign that he desired to be buried there. A shrine was erected at this location to honor him as a Shinto kami, or deity, also known as Tenjin. Many students petition him for success in their studies and to pass exams.
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
Please enjoy the following funny multi-media “The Photosynthesis Song”…
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