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Global Food Crisis
The Very Nature of Hunger

by Jeffrey Reel


I first learned about Macrobiotics when I lived in San Francisco and was volunteering for Francis’ organization as a researcher for a book on the ownership of the tools of agricultural production (from seeds to equipment to feed mills) – the Institute for Food & Development Policy (now known as Food First).

Francis’ first edition of her groundbreaking book – Diet for a Small Planet – contained one glaring error, which she corrected in subsequent editions.. Of all the alternatives to the Standard American Diet, she warned readers away from the Macrobiotic diet because it discouraged the consumption of dairy products.

Ironically, it was that reference in her book that introduced me to Macrobiotics, and inaugurated my journey back to the New York City to attend regular lectures at the Doral Inn given by senior teacher Murray Snyder.

Bill’s piece stands on its own firm feet, but I would simply like to add a few points to buttress it.

The Very Nature of Hunger:

Consider the nature of hunger. The reason we eat is to sustain life, and, so, the sensation of hunger is simply the life-sustaining desire to eat, which makes hunger a positive force in our lives. This is to say that the sensation of hunger is not some cosmic mistake in the grand scheme of things. At birth, we are endowed with two senses of hunger: one for food, which ensures our survival as individuals, and a hunger (or “thirst”) for knowledge, which ensures our survival and growth as a species. Both are forms of sustenance in a very real sense, and Macrobiotics alone supports this point of view.

As a social effort, it can be difficult to galvanize support around ending hunger – or ending anything for that matter – because wanting to simply end something envisions just that: nothing! How do we work toward creating something we do not want? The absence of something is hard to create. Instead, it would be more productive to think and speak about satisfying people’s hunger, just as we satisfy our own.

How does one end hunger?

Nothing short of death does that. During the course of our lives, we merely keep hunger at bay every few hours. How does one satisfy hunger? Begin in the home. We can learn to choose foods more appropriate for our well-being, and not eating to the point of dullness. Illnesses attributed to people of the poorer nations are due chiefly from want. Those of us living within developed countries suffer chiefly from excess in one form or another.

On a national level, we can encourage our representatives to sponsor or support legislation, such as the foreign aid appropriations bills, which have allowed the United States to forgive billions of dollars of debt 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. (A UNICEF report noted that as many as a half million children die each year as a direct result of debt and recession alone.) On an international level, we can support relief organizations such as Oxfam America.

Oxfam not only provides emergency food relief but emphasizes self-sustaining agriculture throughout the world in order to lessens people’s dependence upon shifting political winds and handouts.

For those who believe that there is simply not enough food to go around, consider that planting one single grain of rice will yield, after only 10 harvests, 26 sextillion, 321 quintillion, 583 quadrillion, 711 trillion, 527 billion, 1 million, 953 thousand and 125 grains of rice (give or take a handful).

Those who fear that ensuring survival for so many people only ensures the growth of a world population already difficult to feed should consider this: Demographers are discovering that the best way to slow, and even halt, population growth is not through starvation but through an adequate food supply. Reproduction levels taper off the better fed the nation. Ironically, bread becomes an effective means of stabilizing our world family.

Is this idea of satisfying – as opposed to ending – hunger a mere play on words? I think not. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “Playing with mere words is like playing with mere dynamite.” Words reveal our perceptions. Perceptions guide our actions. We are fortunate in having the food security in this country to the extent that we do.

Without it, we could not enjoy the privilege of pursuing our higher personal, social and cultural aspirations. It would be ideal to incorporate those aspirations with the most fundamental and immediate need we all share: sustenance. Among all the challenges set squarely before us today, there is none quite so fundamental and beneficent as ensuring survival. It is one of the most life-affirming statements we can make. In a word: Macrobiotics.

2. The Influence of Sir Albert Howard, and How His Message Has Gotten Lost.

Health From the Ground Up

Discussion of diet and health usually begins with the quality of the food on our plate, but we need to back up one step to understand the foundation of health: living soil.

During the first half of this century, soil scientists Albert Howard discovered a secret to health through trial and error in his agricultural work for the Crown throughout India and Singapore. He was later knighted for his work, which is summed up in his two books, The Soil and Health and An Agricultural Testament. Sir Howard discovered, and confirmed through his fieldwork, the disease-resisting power of natural living soil. Observing that untouched forest and field required neither heavy dressings of fertilizer nor blankets of chemical sprays to maintain their health and fertility, Sir Howard fashioned a soil composting system based upon the grades of soil found on a typical forest floor.

The Forest Floor

Broken by the canopy of leaves overhead, oxygen-rich rainwater falls and percolates down through the soil – highly charged water, unlike the flat chemicalized tap water we pour onto our houseplants. Lifting up the mantle of last year’s leaves, you will discover a cool, moist and vibrant world beneath. Suddenly exposed to bright light and dry air, small visible animals scurry for cover, as earthworms slip back into their holes. This soil pulsates with life. Do you know that once ounce of fertile soil contains over one mile of protein-rich fungus and 20 times as many microbes as there are men, women, and children on our planet? Or that a single rye plant grown in fertile soil was found to have over 14 miles of roots and root hairs? That worms leave one ton of nitrogen-rich castings in every acre of living soil?

The dynamics, or “ki,” of living soil is a world unto itself. Moist, rich and sweet-smelling soil crumbs composed of minerals and clay, “glued” together by specks of decaying organic matter and animal protein… the stuff of food for plants. Plants cultivated in such soil naturally resist disease. Sir Howard confirmed this time and again by introducing numerous infectious diseases into his plant populations. The diseases wouldn’t take. He then experimented with animals that had fed upon plants grown in this living soil. He exposed cattle to the most highly infectious diseases plaguing cattle in India at the time: septicemia, rinderpest, and foot-and-mouth disease. Again, the diseases wouldn’t take and his cattle remained healthy and strong while surrounding populations of cattle were decimated by these same diseases. He then observed that his workers, who also lived off food grown in this soil, lived free of illnesses.

Sir Howard classified soil diseases into two broad categories: overly acidic soil and overly alkaline soil. Employing the art of physiogamy, or, visual diagnosis (he would have preferred to call it simply the art of observation), he could determine, from the symptoms displayed by each plant, the specific causes of illness, relating it always to the diet… of the plant! He would readjust the diet by amending the soil naturally in order to reestablish its health and natural resistance.

The Nature of Disease

Soil and Health concludes with a chapter titled “The Nature of Disease.” Howard reflects on what he had observed regarding diseases of the soil, animals and humans. He asks the question, “Is there any underlying cause for all this disease?” He finds an answer in a book written by Dr. J.E.R. McDonagh, The Universe Through Medicine, published in 1940. Sir Howard asked Dr. McDonagh to sum up his philosophy detailed inn that book. Dr. McDonagh contributed the following passage to Sir Howard’s book:

“The Nature of Disease. Every body in the universe is a condensation product of activity [energy]. Every body pulsates; that is to say it undergoes alternate expansion and contraction. The rhythm is actuated by climate. Protein in the sap of plants and in the food of animals is such a body, and it is also the matrix of the structures of the former, and of the organs and tissues of the latter..

“If the sap in the plant does not obtain from the soil the quality of nourishment it requires, the protein over-expands. This over expansion renders the action of climate an invader; that is to say climate, instead of regulating the pulsation, adds to the expansion.”

Dr. McDonagh goes on to explain how this over-expansion of the plant protein gives rise to the creation of viruses and the gradual degeneration of health, first in the plants feeding from the deficient soil, progressing to the animals and people consuming the plants.

Sir Howard’s work provided the inspiration for J. I. Rodale, the founding of Rodale Press and the beginning of organized organic agriculture throughout the Americas, Europe and the Far East, but I believe there is a fundamental difference between macrobiotic-quality soil and today’s organic movement. I spoke with a grandson of J.I. Rodale who is actively involved in the organic agriculture movement in the United States. While acknowledging Howard’s influence on his grandfather and the organic movement worldwide, he was himself was personally unaware of the startling discoveries Sir Howard made regarding the health of the soil and natural resistance. That message, which undoubtedly inspired the original Rodale, has been lost. It’s significance as it relates to agriculture and animal and human health has been – for the most part – lost, including even within the organic movement.

Nature’s Answer to GMO Crops.

Because of changing climate conditions, and the movement of the Sahara south each year, soil scientists and engineers are looking for ways to introduce genetically modified food crops that can withstand drought and arid growing conditions. I was involved in a United Nations-sponsored online dialogue with these advocates throughout the world. What became clear to me is that these men (yes, they were all males) were highly specialized engineers. They had a superior understanding of plant genomes but lacked almost complete understanding of the interconnectedness of living systems, and no appreciation for the cultural history that has led to deprivation throughout arid climates.

Very briefly: After conquering areas of South America during the 1700s, the Portuguese exported cassava and introduced it to their colonies throughout Africa. This nutritionally inferior plant became a mainstay in the African diet, where it remains to this day. It is also ill-suited to the climates of northern Africa. I simply refer readers to several United nations publications – including The Lost Crops of Africa and The Lost Crops of Peru – for an in-depth look at the hundreds of varieties of nutritionally superior native grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds that evolved in arid climates, but that were displaced by the European colonists over the past three centuries. There is absolutely no need to genetically modify plants when nature has done that over the millennia. We simply need to reintroduce them. In a word: Macrobiotics.

Jeffrey Reel
Sustainability Coordinator
Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

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Posted: May 2008


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