Tuesday, May 26, 2020

What Makes Macrobiotic Cooking Unique

The key to the health and longevity of humans is to live in harmony with nature. We are part of the natural world and live in it not on it. To look at why macrobiotic cooking is so unique, we first need to take a look at why cook at all.

Homo sapiens and Neanderthals first started to use fire and cook about 400,000 years ago (some say much further back). Cooking was an incredible invention. Food was easier to digest and certain bacteria's that caused food poisoning were killed off. The heat made food softer breaking down the tough fibres so less chewing was needed. Cooking also provided much more warmth and energy. This meant that less time was needed to search for food and for eating. The extra energy from cooked food helped to fuel our huge, developing brains and as a result other ways of learning could be enjoyed. Cooked food provided stimulating aromas, and the variety of edible ingredients greatly expanded. Cooking also impacted our physical and emotional health, nourished our humanity, and improved the quality of life. 

Humans are now much more adaptable. We are able to travel and live in different climates and visit all kinds of places by simply making adjustments to what we eat and how we prepare our food. This would not have been possible if we still had to rely on raw foods in a native setting. Wild animals are bound by their environment. We cannot take a polar bear, put him in the amazon and expect him to thrive.

Macrobiotic cooking is really the study of nature. All of life is nourished by the sun, air, water and the earth and we get this directly from spending time outdoors. Indirectly, we get it from food especially when it is still living and comes straight from the fields rather than from a factory. Plant based foods also contain the sun, wind, rain, and soil but in a condensed form. Therefore, nature is reflected in our food.

In macrobiotics, we are also eating for ecology and as much as possible, choose foods that are local, native, or come from a similar climate. Ideally, any fresh produce should come from less than 500 miles away Organic foods are vital as they help the earth and nourish us. Macrobiotics doesn't support the unnecessary and cruel slaughter of animals for food which is devastating on all levels - for the animals, for the earth, and for the health of humans. Macrobiotic cooking aims to use everything with as little waste as possible.  Grains and beans are whole, oils are unrefined and salt comes straight from the sea. As much of the vegetable is used as is feasible including the skin, tops, and stems. Leftovers can be used in new and delicious ways

A  vegan diet can be extremely healthy, but could also include any kind of food (including highly processed and sugar) as long as it is not from an animal source. Macrobiotic foods are still considered living up until they are cooked or eaten. In theory, any processing can be done at home such as miso making, pickles, bread or pasta. There is as little tampering as possible.

We look to enhance both the unique qualities of the food itself and the specific nutrients by using different preparations and methods of cooking. We use different flavours, textures, aromas, colours plus seasonal produce to create a sense of harmony in our meals. The mindful way we cook and the ingredients we use are like a mirror to the grand order of nature. The small mirrored from the big. The Macrobiotic diet itself is a well balanced combination of grains, beans, vegetables, seaweeds, nuts, seeds, fermented foods, herbs, and fruits. The proportions of food can be adjusted to suit age, activity levels, work, environment, health, and culture.

Yin and Yang are tools which the cook can use to further understand nature and to broaden the potential to create meals for health, well being, and longevity. Yin and yang are complementary opposites. Each food contains a unique balance of both. Learning about yin and yang is a wonderful way to understand how food and cooking influences our energy. The use of fire, pressure, salt and time are all ways we can make our food more energised and stronger. These are considered yang aspects of cooking. We can gently adjust our cooking and cutting styles, and ingredients, tastes, and textures to meet our needs and our energy levels. 

Macrobiotic cooking also respects the quality of ingredients. This is not only the growing conditions but the actual energetic quality of the food. Just as we have our unique characters, so does every kind of food. For  example, the character of a carrot is quite different to that of chickpeas. The key is to make the most of these various characteristics through our food preparation. The energy that is produced through cooking then combines with our own energy to improve and enhance our health and well-being. Modern nutrition doesn’t look at this traditional view of food. Instead, specific nutrients are emphasised and food has become fragmented into parts where it is more important to worry about the fats, protein content or vitamin C.

Through our cooking we actually change and transform this unique energy of food. The idea is to have a variety of cooking styles to encourage free flowing energy. Quickly, blanched vegetables provide more uplifting energy, a stir fry is active, quick and lively, or a stew creates strong, long lasting energy. You can also balance a light dish with a heavy one or a longer cooked dish with a shorter cooked one. Seasonal foods help us to feel more comfortable during a particular season. In the summer we could use more cooling foods like lettuces, cucumber, celery, leafy greens, watermelon or in the winter  more warming ones like pumpkins, onions, carrots etc. We can also make simple changes to our meals depending on the weather.

The role of the cook is like an alchemist in the kitchen, changing basic ingredients into something unique and special. Macrobiotic cooking includes a reverence for all stages of the cooking experience from cleaning the kitchen to washing the rice, or placing the vegetables into the pot. Everything is necessary and important. There is also sense of gratitude for all the work that has gone into actually making our food available, such as nature, farms, weather, transportation, and all the people who have been involved in getting it to our door. 

Cooking can be a mindful experience, a chance to slow down and engage all the senses, smell, taste, touch, sound, and sight. It is an opportunity to be present and in the moment which can be grounding, calming and relaxing. We become aware of every step of the cooking process as a source of reflection,; how we move about the kitchen, how we cut vegetables or how gentle we are with the ingredients. Macrobiotic cooking is a way to create very simple dishes that taste gorgeous or ones that are more lavish and exotic. We can develop a sensitivity to seasoning foods which helps us to regain an appreciation and awareness of natural tastes.

Macrobiotic cooking uses natural flavours that each have a specific affect on our body, mind, and emotions. Through slight adjustments to these tastes, we can change how our food affects us. The five tastes are bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and umami. There is an additional taste that could be considered as no taste. This might be a very simple dish that enhances all the other dishes in the meal. The blandness actually brings all the other flavours to life.

We can also learn how and what to cook to nourish ourselves and our loved ones. We have a symbiotic relationship with our food. We could even say that the foods we are attracted to may have a similar character to us.  Through cooking we can adjust our meals to nourish our dreams and desires, such as becoming more creative, being physically active, mentally alert, more healthy, less stressed or more relaxed. Macrobiotic meals are balanced both energetically and nutritionally. Each dish has its unique kind of balance and then the whole meal comes together like an orchestra or painting, with each dish enhancing and complimenting the next. A delicate harmony of flavours, textures, colours, shapes, and energy. This is the art of cooking and the opportunity to play, have fun and create joy in the kitchen.

I hope this inspires everyone to get their cooking mojo going to create some gorgeous meals.

Love Chef Mel xx