The week of Labor Day has always signified to me the beginning of a new year. It’s when kids go back to school, when summer vacation ends, and when college classes start. It is also the time when many celebrate Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year. It is also the beginning of a new school year for me as I begin to prepare for the cooking classes I will be teaching this fall. Every year there are new things to learn, new skills to develop and new friends to meet.
Developing the materials for my macrobiotic and vegan cooking class reminds me of the importance of updating and refreshing what we know. Although I have been eating a macrobiotic diet for several years, I often find myself eating the same foods over and over. It’s easy to overlook all of the delicious food that I can include in my daily diet. Breakfast is so much more than miso soup, steamed kale, and boiled brown rice. Lunch can be more than last night’s leftovers. Supper can become a great meal of tempeh and exotic vegetables. Reviewing and studying the principles of macrobiotics for my upcoming classes has reminded me how important it is to keep growing and keeping aware of what foods I put into my body. Although I eat a healthy vegan diet with a macrobiotic slant, I find myself getting bored with my food. Teaching this new class has provided me with the opportunity and the motivation to reevaluate my diet and to recommit to a macrobiotic and vegan way of eating.
My students don’t want to listen to me recite a book about macrobiotics and veganism -- they want to learn the basic principles of how to cook one healthy meal at a time. There are some basic concepts and principles that I gleaned from my summer reading and that I want to keep in mind as I prepare the syllabus for my classes.
I will be teaching my students vegan recipes with a macrobiotic slant, which means no meat or fish, no dairy products, eggs or honey. There will be an emphasis on fiber-rich whole grains, organic vegetables, beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, and tempeh. I can anticipate that there will be some concern over the elimination of dairy products from the recipes. After all, milk is advertised everywhere as a health food. Until five years ago I thought of milk and cheese as my sole source for calcium. However, calcium is abundant in dark leafy greens, beans, sesame seeds, sea vegetables, and tofu. There are 119 mg of calcium per half cup of milk. A half cup of collard greens has 117 mg of calcium, a half cup of kale has 135 mg of calcium and a half cup of sea vegetables has a whopping 500-1300 mg of calcium.
We will be cooking with organic vegetables and grains in my classes. Those are foods grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. I find that whole grains and organic vegetables balance my body. Everything we eat has an effect on our body. Macrobiotics is a very individualistic way of eating. What I might need to eat to feel calm and centered might be different from what my husband would need. We will not be cooking with processed foods that are highly refined and filled with sugar and we will not be cooking with sugar. Sugar is very addictive and the average American eats over 150 pounds of sugar a year. White sugar is not even digested by our bodies. It is like a drug in that it travels directly into our bloodstream.
Food is more than something I eat to deal with hunger. My food is nutritious and beneficial to my health. Eating healthy doesn’t have to mean eating bland and uninteresting food. It doesn’t mean that I spend hours cooking strange and foreign foods. I have found that eating the macrobiotic way is a process. As our bodies change with what we consume, we adapt to new and varied foods. Specifically, macrobiotics often begins as a healing diet for many, but eventually it becomes a way of life because of its benefits of feeling great—as a matter of fact, macrobiotics means “great life.”
My students attend my classes for a variety of reasons. Some might want to learn to cook this way to lose weight, while others might eat a vegan diet out of an ethical and compassionate concern for animals. I focus on a plant-based diet because it is linked to lower rates of heart disease, blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and obesity. I hope that my students will come away with a better understanding of how to provide their bodies with nourishing foods that make them feel terrific. I hope that they will discover new and interesting grains and vegetables that have been omitted from their daily table. I hope that they will leave feeling excited about cooking wholesome meals for themselves and their families and that they have the tools needed to achieve all of this.