I once heard a story of a king, who while out walking in his kingdom got a thorn in his foot. The king was so outraged that he ordered that by the next day his entire kingdom be carpeted, otherwise all of his men would be beheaded. Of course, there was not enough carpet in his kingdom to cover it completely, and even if there was, the time and manpower available was not enough to complete the task. One wise guy came up with an idea: Instead of carpeting the entire kingdom, why not cut out pieces of carpet to fit the soles of the king's feet so that everywhere he walked, he would be on carpet? The king was impressed with this idea, and the lives of his men were spared.
I can certainly relate to this story, as I have tried in my own way to create a perfect world where there is peace, health and harmony and I'm unaffected by life's "thorns." This can be quite a daunting task, as there are so many elements in life that are beyond our control. I'm not always able to control the quality of the air that I breathe or the actions of the people around me. However, there are elements that are within our control, such as the company we keep, our daily practices and the foods we consume. By educating ourselves and making healthy choices, just like the king with his carpet slippers, we can move through life protected from its thorns.
Not all of us have the luxury of living in a beautiful rural setting and eating foods grown in our own garden. I feel quite fortunate that I grew up in rural Ireland, in a natural environment, and from an early age had a connection with where my food came from. As children, we were all given our own little allotment in the garden where we were free to plant flowers, fruits or vegetables. It was always fascinating for me to plant a seed and watch it grow into something of substance and beauty. I was teaching a cooking class once and when I went to cook beans that I had soaked overnight somebody commented, "I thought beans came in cans". Sadly, this is the relationship many people have with the foods they consume.
My personal journey with food began with a health issue I had in my late teens. I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid and told I would be dependent on medication for the rest of my life. As a young person, I was not thrilled with this idea, so I decided to seek out alternatives. In the days before Google and living in rural Ireland where we were not quite up to speed with the latest in alternative medicine, I was a little challenged.
On a visit to Dublin, I came across a macrobiotic restaurant that had just opened, and I talked to a person working there about my health issue. They recommended that I cut down on dairy products, sugar and red meat and eat whole grains, beans, vegetables and seaweed, as it contained iodine, a vital nutrient for thyroid health. I persuaded them to give me a job in the restaurant and quickly embraced a whole new way of eating.
I will confess that having grown up in the Irish countryside where our milk came straight from the cow—and I was motivated to get up earlier than my siblings so I could scrape off the cream that had gathered on top of the can of milk to put on my daily bowl of porridge, which was also sprinkled with a generous helping of sugar—it was quite challenging initially to omit these foods from my diet. To this day, I miss the creamy sweetness reminiscent of my childhood and am constantly coming up with new ways to satisfy this craving without the cream and sugar, which I look forward to sharing with you.
After several months on a macrobiotic diet, I experienced such profound changes in my energy levels and general health that I knew I was on the right path. From childhood, I had been plagued with chest problems—I had pneumonia at an early age, my tonsils and adenoids removed and was constantly getting coughs, colds and chest infections. I realized after changing my diet that my favorite foods may not have loved me quite as much as I loved them. I was so excited by the dramatic changes in my health that I continued on a long and enlightening journey exploring the connection between food and health. This has taken me around the world and into the lives of many wonderful people and has evolved into a career that, coming from my humble roots in rural Ireland, I never could have dreamed possible.
Macrobiotics originated in Japan and has its roots in the ancients Taoist yin/yang philosophy. Everything in life has its complementary or antagonistic opposite. We have male and female, darkness and light, hot and cold, sweet and savory. We can observe these opposite energies at play in all of life's manifestations and in the foods we eat.
According to the macrobiotic system, yin energy is female in nature and manifests in foods that are soft and sweet and create coolness and relaxation when consumed. Foods that grow above the ground and on trees tend to be more yin. Yang foods are denser, drier, more salty and tend to grow on or below the earth, an example is root vegetables. Yang foods create more energy and focus when consumed. Everything in life, including our food, is created by the interplay of yin and yang energies, beginning with our own creation, when male and female come together to create new life.
In the early days of macrobiotics, because many of our teachers were of Japanese origin, there was a tendency to adhere to an Asian type diet and many of the ingredients we used in our cooking were imported from Japan. However, if you look at the principles of macrobiotics, it gives an understanding of the energetic properties of foods and how to create balance in our diets and lifestyle, then you can see that it really is about eating foods from our own natural environment and in as close to their natural, unadulterated state as possible.
If you observe nature, you will find that there is a perfect design in the natural order of things. For example, foods that grow in a tropical environment tend to be more yin or cooling in nature, and by consuming those foods we maintain a sense of harmony with our climate and environment. And vice versa. In more temperate or colder climates, we find foods that create more warmth when consumed. I will go into a more in-depth explanation of the principles of macrobiotics in a future post and hope to give you an understanding of how to improve your health, energy levels and inner and outer beauty by applying these simple, commonsense principles in your own life.