Live a big life!
As a young woman, Michio Kushi inspired me to live a big life. I look back now with experience and wisdom and realize how fortunate I was to be in the presence of a master. Living in New York City, I was ready to take the big apple in one bite. I ate my way through the city, savoring every nutritionally devoid dish. I grew up on the standard America diet, and eventually became a junky vegetarian. Becoming “macro” was life saving. Little did I know then, that embracing the principles of the macrobiotic diet would forever influence my path in life.
In the early 1980’s, I went to lectures at the East West Center in Manhattan and hung on to every word Michio and his disciples preached. These teachings brought order, inspiration and exploration to an exotic cuisine and an extremely different perspective of the world. To learn more, I took notes from Mr. Kushi’s senior disciples for the families of terminally ill people, who had often come to macrobiotics as a last resort to save their lives. Heart breaking as some of those sessions were, I learned about yin and yang, the five elements, nine-star ki and one peaceful world: principles that continue to guide me today.
I had never cooked a day in my life when I burned my first pot of brown rice. But something deep inside me resonated with the simplicity of this food. I learned to cook by making every possible mistake a beginner could make and by studying early macro cookbooks. The Book of Macrobiotics, one of the many books penned by Michio, remains in my library today. Eventually, I became proficient in my home kitchen. I organized potluck dinners on the rooftop of my lower Manhattan walk up apartment. My tribe of friends were healthy and celebrating this primarily plant-based diet with its Asian influence. This was a stark contrast to how “the diet” was associated with people who were ill.
Though most of us were novice cooks, we created dishes with passion, challenging each other with an arsenal of uncommon ingredients and inventive recipes. These meals were similar to competitive cooking shows popular on TV today. The spirit of these dinners and this community were of joy and celebration. We were in gratitude for what macrobiotics brought to our lives. This was a turning point in both my career path and lifestyle.
Ten years later in Beverly Hills, California I attended an event honoring Mr. Kushi to raise funds in order to archive his life’s work at the Smithsonian Institute. At the time, I was a private, macrobiotic chef who was planning to open a restaurant in Los Angeles. I engaged in an enlightening conversation with Michio, asking advice about the direction of my final menu. One of my many questions was, “should I serve fish or keep the menu fully vegan?” Without hesitation, he said, “fish, make it wider, serve fish, more people will come.” The master who had introduced teachings that had become my livelihood was once again guiding me. I pondered the decision for weeks, and in the end, it did not feel right. Fish was excluded from the menu at Real Food Daily. The menu, then and now, is centered on whole grains and vegetables. Twenty-one years later, Real Food Daily remains one of the premiere plant-based restaurants in the United States. In addition, the influence of macrobiotics remains an important tenet in the foundation of our cuisine.
Thank-you Michio Kushi for dedicating your work to teaching and sharing your big life with the world!