Balance in the Art of Cooking
Cooking is the art of creating life itself. From it arises happiness or unhappiness, success or failure, health or sickness. The quality of our diet determines whether our life is one of continuing health and development, or one of progressive decline and decay. Cooking is so vital that every person, both male and female, is encouraged to develop a good working knowledge of how to select and prepare basic daily foods. The study of cooking can begin at home as soon as a child is able to understand, and can continue throughout life. Proper cooking is essential to every aspect of our life and destiny, yet we rarely find a school or college that includes basic cooking in its curriculum.
The modern world is facing many difficulties brought on largely as a result of ignoring the importance of food and cooking. One need only refer to the statistics that record the rise of cancer, heart disease, stroke, mental illness, and other chronic disorders, together with social decline and disorder, to confirm just how widespread are the challenges that confront us as individuals and as a society. As large as these problems seem and as illusive as their solutions appear to be, each can be traced back to what takes place in the kitchen. A peaceful and healthy world will not be created at conference tables, in scientific laboratories, in college or university seminars, or through international negotiations or discussions. It will emerge as we come to understand the importance of food and begin to apply that understanding in our daily lives. In a very real sense, a healthy and peaceful world begins in the kitchen.
In the midst of the physical and social decay that confronts us, however, is the growing awareness that proper food and proper cooking is the way to reverse our modern predicament. From the steadily expanding natural foods movement, to the emerging interest among leaders in government and medicine, we see the growth of' a realistic attitude toward food and its relationship to our complete well-being.
In macrobiotic cooking, we try to make balance with our natural environment. The origin of balance is the fundamental forces found throughout the universe. In macrobiotics, we refer to these universal forces as yin and yang.
Yin represents the primary expansion of the universe, and produces such tendencies as centrifugality, expansion, low temperature, upward growth or motion, diffusion, lightness, and countless other appearances. Yang represents the primary forces of condensation or materialization that arises within the infinite depth of the universe. It produces such relative appearances centripetal force or movement, contraction, high temperature, downward growth or motion, density, heaviness, and countless other appearances.
In macrobiotic cooking, we combine the various yin and yang factors in our food and environment to create balanced meals. The more yang or contractive environmental factors include fire, pressure, salt, and time (aging); while the more yin or expansive factors are oil, water, lack of pressure, and less cooking time (freshness). Foods, like every phenomena in the universe, can be classified into two general categories, beginning with the distinction between foods that come from the vegetable kingdom (yin), and those from the animal kingdom (yang). Then, within each category of food, individual items can be identified as being either more yin or more yang.
Cooking, for the most part, is the process whereby we take yin, vegetable foods and bring them into the center by making them more yang with fire, pressure, salt, aging, and other factors. In all but the most extreme polar climates, cooked vegetable-quality foods can comprise the mainstay of our diet. Eating a plant-based diet makes balance with our biological needs. Proceeding along the scale from yang to yin, daily foods can be classified as follows: (1) salt, eggs, meat, poultry, and fish, all of which have more extreme contractive energy; (2) whole cereal grains, beans, local vegetables, seeds, nuts, and temperate fruits, which in general have more balanced energies; and (3) tropical fruits, concentrated sweeteners, refined sugar, chemical additives, and drugs and medications, all of which are extremely expansive. Among dairy foods, hard. salty cheeses are extremely yang, while milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and butter are extremely yin.
In order to create the ideal conditions for health, we need to choose foods that are centrally balanced in terms of yin and yang. Cereal grains are generally the most balanced among daily foods, and it is for that reason that they can comprise the mainstay of our diet, followed by locally grown, seasonal vegetables, beans, and sea vegetables, in addition to such supplementary foods as white meat fish, seasonal fruits, seeds and nuts, condiments and seasonings, and others that are generally within the centrally balanced range.
Through macrobiotics, we can easily maintain physical, mental, and spiritual health. However, health is not the final goal of macrobiotics, but only a means to the enjoyment of life and the realization of our dreams. Simple, natural, whole foods, when properly prepared and aesthetically served, are actually the most appealing to our taste. We should not have the feeling that we are denying ourselves any particular taste or range of foods, but need to understand that through macrobiotics, our appreciation of taste expands tremendously. The goal of macrobiotic cooking is to prepare meals that are healthful, balanced, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Once you are able to use natural and healthful ingredients to create attractive and delicious meals, you begin to understand that you are not following a particular diet but instead are eating in the way a human being was intended to. At the same time, you begin to realize that proper food is the key to a healthy, peaceful, and happy life-the secret that has been in front of us all along.
Source: This essay is from the Forward to An Introduction to Macrobiotic Cooking, East West Foundation, Boston, Mass., June, l978.
From Contemporary Macrobiotics
By Edward Esko
© 2000 Edward Esko