In October 1966 I arrived in England, with
plans to open a macrobiotic restaurant similar to the
Paradox, a restaurant in New Yorks East Village
that was the first macrobiotic restaurant in the US.
I visited it the same day I visited the macrobiotic
bookshop the day it was investigated by the FBI
and told not to sell any books until they had reviewed
their content (they contained illegal statements such
as that poor diet could cause cancer and healthy diet
could help cure cancer).
Eventually all the books were taken away and
burned and Prof. Frederick Stare of Harvard University
wrote and article in Readers Digest calling macrobiotics
the hippie diet thats killing our kids.
I was graduating from university in June, my mother
lived in London, so I came here to start a restaurant.
I prepared macrobiotic food at home and then sold
it through the snack bar at the UFO club in Tottenham
Court Road, where the Pink Floyd, the Soft Machine and
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown all played.
I also imported the books and pamphlets published
by The Ohsawa Foundation in Los Angeles and sold them
through the Indica Bookshop (part owned by Paul McCartney
and also by Barry Miles, who wrote the definitive McCartney
biography a few years ago). The books sold well and
I had an insert in them with my phone number so that
gradually a small core developed.
In 1966 the only people in London (apart from
Mrs. Takagi) who had heard of macrobiotics were a lady
called Diana who had studied in Boston and Yoko Ono,
who had been macrobiotic in Japan. However, we formed
a group who promoted the ideas at the UFO club and other
In February 1967 I opened a small restaurant
in the basement of The Centre House at 10a Airlie Gardens
and it was an overnight success. Our supplies came from
Mikadoya, a Japanese foods distributor that operated
from a house in Crystal Palace, from Katsouris, the
Greek foods wholesaler and from Prewetts who supplied
wholewheat flour for our unleavened bread and erratic
quality brown rice, which was cargo rice,
i.e. rice that was bought from Thames Rice mills before
it could be turned into white rice.
The restaurant only lasted for 3 months; the
Centre House was in a residential neighbourhood and
the comings and goings aroused the neighbours and the
owner of Centre House received a solicitors letter
about what appeared to be a commercial activity and
so we had to close down. However, we had solid group
of customers who wanted us to open another place.
I went to Belgium a month later to visit Lima,
where I met Pierre Gevaert and his sister Marie (Mimi).
There were a few macrobiotic restaurants in Paris which
I also visited I was a bit surprised to see chicken
with brown rice as the most popular dish at the Guen
Mai restaurant. The owner scolded me for arriving at
8 Nous sommes macrobiotiques et nous dormons tot
(We are macrobiotic and we go to bed early).
No great feelings of solidarity there I looked
much too young and long-haired to these serious practitioners
of the art.
In August I found new premises, in the basement
of the Gloucester Hotel on Westbourne Terrace. My brother
Gregory joined me in the business and the restaurant,
known as Seed was opened in early 1968.
Seed had two rooms, in a big rambling basement
of the hotel. One had cushions on the floor set around
tables made out of the 4-5 ft diameter reels that mains
electrical cable was wound around, so customers met
one another as there were no reservations and no exclusivity
of tables in that room. In the other room there was
a tent style hanging from the ceiling and normal square
wooden tables with bentwood chairs.
The kitchen was small, but we had an outside
yard where we stored organic vegetables that were delivered
by Ivan Seruya or Michael van Straten, both of whom
also supplied Wholefood, the Soil Associations
shop in Baker Street. Gregory struck up a good relationship
with Lilian Schofield, who managed Wholefood and we
regularly took their surpluses of vegetables to use
in the restaurant.
Mary Langman, one of the Soil Associations
founders, grew vegetables for Wholefood on a smallholding
in Beckenham, Kent but anyone who was a Soil Association
member felt they could just put a few boxes of organic
cabbages on the train to Paddington, tell Wholefood
it was on the way and that it would be dealt with. Gregory
also found a supplier of fresh laver (nori) from Wales
and we would collect it once a week from Paddington
and use it to make laver bread.
Our basis menu (called Tomorrows
You) was Rice and Vegetables for 4 shillings (20p).
Then there were two specials, differentiated by the
size of the earthenware bowl it was served in. Light
Special (7/6) and a Heavy Special (10/- or 50p), which
was brown rice, vegetables nituke, and then two other
portions that might be vegetable tempura, a bean dish,
felafel, tabouli, hummus or whatever was special that
We also supplied, as part of our outreach and
education mission, a free meal, which comprised the
Brown Rice and vegetables plus a cup of kukicha from
the always-on-help-yourself tea boiler. You could order
an umeboshi plum, a mu tea, a seaweed dish or vegetable
tempura as side orders. The tape recorder belted out
the latest sounds and grooves from a wide variety of
rock genres, but mostly psychedelic rock and mellow
Marc Bolan of Tyrannosaurus Rex walked to Seed
to get the free meal and it was at Seed that he met
Mickey Finn, an event that rock historians cited when
calling for a blue plaque for historical buildings to
be put up on the site many years later. Regular visitors
included John and Yoko, Terence Stamp, most of the Stones
as well as vegetarian/macrobiotic activists and enthusiasts
and most of the denizens of the Underground alternative
culture that was springing up all over the country.
Eventually the free meal became an embarrassment
as some people would ask for it, then order dessert,
which was not part of the free meal and then offer to
pay for the dessert with a five pound note (which was
a lot of money in those days). It had become a tourist
thing, and we were in a lot of guidebooks to swinging
or alternative London. Gregory also published
a magazine called Harmony, which was printed on the
old Gestetner mimeographing machine on which we also
printed our daily menus. It saw 3 editions and is a
In 1969 we opened shop called Ceres Grain Shop
in All Saints Road, Notting Hill, that set the pattern
for the new generation of natural food stores. It was
an instant success, despite selling none of the health
food lines such as vitamins, brown sugar, honey, dairy
products or anything made with sugar or refined flour.
We provided a mail order service across the UK and were
open on Sunday mornings for people who had to come from
Norfolk, Wales, Cornwall and other far-flung places.
In 1970 we decided to move to Wales and buy
a 27 acre farm in the hills near Welshpool. Unfortunately
I was outbid at the auction (it sold for £4400
and we only had £4250) so we decided to set up
a wholefood wholesale business instead. Gregory produced
packaging using Letraset paste down black lettering,
different coloured papers, duplicated and heat sealed
into plastic bags. We splashed out and printed Harmony
Whole Rice 2 lb paper bags this was our flagship
product, but we also had buckwheat, millet, aduki beans,
tamari, tahini, hiziki, umeboshi, Dentie, miso and patchouli
oil on our first price list.
The Harmony trademark that an artist friend
of Gregorys had designed showed a yin-yang symbol
with two stylised leaves on the upward side and a two
roots on the downward side. By now there were half a
dozen shops modelled on Ceres (Infinity, Arjuna, Community,
Harvest, Acorn, On The Eighth Day and Sesame) and we
also sold into the conventional health food shops.
Jay Landesman, who first published the works
of Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg and John Clelland
Holmes in 1948 in the ground-breaking periodical Neurotica
and subsequently ran a beat night club in St. Louis
and produced The Nervous Set which contained songs by
his wife Fran which are still jazz standards, was our
salesman. Under the monicker Stan Stunning
he would telephone health food shops (there was a long
running postal strike at the time) and sell them either
the Down to Earth or Traditional
package which were bundles of our range that enabled
a health food shop to have an instant macrobiotic offering.
His opening line would run along the lines of
Good afternoon, this is Stan Stunning of Harmony
Foods, have you heard of us, no?, well, tell me, do
you get young people coming into your shop asking for
things like miso, tamari, brown rice and aduki beans?
You do? Well, we have the answer in our range of prepacked
foods. He would then run through the list and make a
sale at least 50% of the time. As the products sold
through, we got reorders and the business was up and
running. In the meantime we had moved Ceres Grain Shop
to much larger premises on the Portobello Road, where
it thrived and represented nearly half the turnover
of Harmony Foods.
In 1971 we worked with Andrew Kerr and Arabella
Churchill on the first Glastonbury Festival. We did
all the food and invited Infinity Foods to join us.
We had garnered some experience of catering at rock
festivals the previous year at Plumpton (National Jazz
and Blues Festival) and at the Isle of Wight Festival.
We were the only food suppliers at Glastonbury and all
the festivalgoers either ate our food (muesli, brown
rice, red bean stew, porridge, unleavened bread with
tahini/miso spread) or brought their own. We also supplied
some food to Sid Rawles, who led the Diggers, who gave
out free food from the cowshed near the farmhouse up
on the hill.
On the Sunday afternoon the local hot dog and
ice cream vendors discovered there was a crowd at the
farm and drove down to the site. They were met by the
festivalgoers who blocked their route and rocked their
vans, shouting Out, Out Out until they turned
around and disappeared.
Also in 1971 my father Kenneth started Seed
The Journal of Organic Living which was a thinly-disguised
macrobiotic monthly of 32 pages that was humourous,
witty, energetic and pushed a broad macrobiotic/ecological/vegetarian/natural
lifestyle message. It was way ahead of its time, had
a healthy circulation and still reads well all these
It ran until 1977, monthly, a total of 74 issues.
Michio Kushi made the cover in 1975 and Terence Stamp
was on the cover of Issue No 2 in 1971. We interviewed
rock stars, actors and other people who had interesting
and healthy lifestyles and sold a lot of ginseng, grain
mills and water filters through our mail order pages.
It was supported by monthly ads from Harmony, Ceres
Grain Shop and Ceres Bakery that covered the basic costs
and Kenneth gave his time for free. He had publishing
experience and this was an ideal way to spend his retirement.
In 1970 we also had the first visitors from
Boston, who included Eric Utne (later founded Utne Reader),
his girl friend Peggy Taylor (later founded New Age
Journal), the ex-editor of the Boston macrobiotic newspaper
Ron Dobrin, Bill Tara and his wife Renée and
Paul Petrofsky (who founded Baldwin Hill Bakery).
We rented them a house in Lancaster Road, just
off Ladbroke Grove, where they had cooking classes,
shiatsu classes and other activities. We were very busy
with Harmony Foods and Ceres and the restaurant was
becoming a managerial burden on Gregorys and my
limited resources. So we suggested that they take over
and run the restaurant and use it to leverage interest
in macrobiotics and the cookery classes and other activites
at the house.
We gave them a few thousand pounds to refurbish the
place and it reopened after being closed for 5 weeks.
Gone were the low tables, cushions on the floor, bedouin
tent atmospherics and in were bare floors and tables,
white walls and a serene, clean atmosphere.
The food was more austere but well prepared
and presented. But the lively vibes of the old Seed
were gone. When people laughed or talked too loudly
a member of staff would approach them and suggest they
tone it down and the whole atmosphere became reverential
and studious compared to the rather carefree and raucous
atmosphere that had prevailed.
I remembered Paul Petrofsky once saying that he felt,
on entering Seed, that he might get stabbed or
something but had taken it as a joke. Gregory
and I got personal phone calls from friends and long-standing
customers complaining about the changes but we were
both very busy on our other businesses and couldnt
turn back the clock.
After about 6 weeks sales were down to 1/3 of
what they had been and we had to close the place to
stem the losses. We handed it over to a guy who renamed
it Magic Carpet, broadened the menu away
from macrobiotics but kept it vegetarian. After 4 months
he gave it to a garage owner in payment of the restoration
bill on his Jaguar S type and it then reopened as Pasture.
A few months later we opened a macrobiotic workingmans
café called Green Genes in the old Ceres
premises in All Saints Road it was smaller than
Seed but recaptured the friendly and slightly rambunctious
atmosphere of the original
Because Harmony Foods was growing fast we needed
larger premises to pack and store our produce and we
were about to sign a lease on a building near Ladbroke
Grove when Bill Tara sat with me and Gregory in a car
in Bayswater and broke the bad news to us.
He had been Vice President of Erewhon Foods and he felt
he should tell us, before we signed the lease, that
Michio and Paul Hawken had sent him over to England
to set up Erewhon Europe, there would be no role for
us in that business (we hadnt asked) and that
we should consider carefully as he would be sorry to
see us in financial trouble because we hadnt realised
what was happening.
Gregory found a great greeting card with a picture
of a sword-waving Samurai on a horse being speared by
a samurai on the ground, stuck the Harmony logo on the
samurai on the ground and the Erewhon logo on the horseman
and sent it to Paul Hawken. As it happened, Erewhon
hit one of its first cash flow crises and couldnt
even offer Bill a ticket home.
In May 1972 we offered him the opportunity to manage
our shop, Ceres I had been managing it since
the manager, Pam Donaldson, had fallen ill with brucellosis
from drinking the milk on Michael Eavis farm in
Glastonbury and now I was opening a bakery in the premises
next door to the shop.
Bill Tara and Peter Bradford then did a complete
refit and redesign of the shop, opening it up in the
back and putting in a herbs and specialities section
in a little space in the middle. It was an ambitious
redesign, cost us £7000, but we now had the spraunciest
and most well-appointed shop in Europe.
However, it required a lot of people to keep it all
going, we packed lots of stuff in premises rented from
a nearby church, stock was all over the place, shoplifting
got out of hand as there were lots of blind spots and
we had to hire private security people and the ultimate
indignity was that one of the staff, a member of the
English (Maoist) Communist Party organised a group of
staff and threatened to take the business over and run
it as a workers commune.
So we had to fire most of the staff after a
rather acrimonious meeting in which we explained that
property law and the lease on the property all stood
in our favour and we also told Bill that we would have
to get in a manager who could run the shop more effectively
and with less revolutionary activity going on.
We got a burly Irishman who had managed a delicatessen
in Dun Laoghaire and he closed down the back section
of the shop and squeezed all the activity into the front,
put in a counter and reduced the staff while keeping
Bill and Peter had, meanwhile, found premises
in Old Street for the Community Health Foundation, which
was to be the macrobiotic centre par excellence. I urged
them not to move out of Notting Hill as that was still
where the concentrated core population who understood
macrobiotics lived, but they were seduced by the size
and cheapness of the building and moved there, despite
the availability of smaller and more easily manageable
premises in Notting Hill.
The CHF was a success, but was dogged by management
and financial problems, became the East West Centre
and also the home of Peter Bradfords Freshlands
shop that became the Fresh in Fresh
Harmony Foods continued (and continues) to prosper
and its peanut butter became the number 2 brand in the
UK, now known as Whole Earth, a name change we brought
in in 1982 as we found that Harmony didnt work
for our export business as the trademark belonged to
other people in Denmark and in Germany.
In 1990 my kids launched Gusto, the worlds
first energy drink, based on guarana, ginseng, Siberian
ginseng and Free and Easy Wanderer, a Taoist
herbal formula dating back to the 12th C. It was the
spiritual descendant of the macrobiotic beer
that Ohsawa was working on for the 1966 Spiritual Olympics
and which his wife Lima thought reactivated the filiarisis
he contracted at Albert Schweitzers Lambarene
institute and killed him.
In 1991 my partner (now wife) and I founded
Green & Blacks chocolate. We were looking
for organic peanuts for the peanut butter and found
some from Togo, West Africa, but they failed our aflatoxin
tests. The same organic growers also produced cocoa
beans and we made a 70% solids chocolate from them that
led to a very successful chocolate brand.
The 70% is still the best seller but the rest
of the range all do well. I eat the others rather sparingly
but have outgrown the illusion that there is a difference
between brown rice glucose, apple juice glucose and
sugar cane glucose theres no escape from
simple sugars, so might as well be realistic and keep
all forms of intake as low as possible.
People ask how we managed to create a new confectionery
brand in a sector where there have been no new brands
in decades and I often think its because of being
macrobiotic I understand guilt about sugar consumption
so know how to market a product that addresses that
in a mature way.
Our earliest packs contained a sugar warning
on the wrapper: Please note: This chocolate contains
29% brown cane sugar, processed without refining agents.
Ample evidence exists that consumption of sugar can
increase the likelihood of tooth decay, obesity and
obesity-related health problems.
If you enjoy good chocolate, make sure you keep
your sugar intake as low as possible by always choosing
Green & Blacks, the chocolate with the least
sugar, the most cocoa solids, and organic too!
Nobody in their right mind in the sugar confectionery
business would ever put something like that on their
labels, but it worked and we have 5% of the chocolate
bar market in the UK to prove it!
Whole Earth and Gusto were sold to Kallo Foods
in 2002 I have since bought back the Gusto brand
from Kallo and it was relaunched as a fully organic
energy drink in April 2004.
I am also working, with my son Karim (who produces
Soma organic smoothies) on a new range of unique and
yummy macrobiotic products so I hope there are still
a lot of macrobiotics out there watch the -The
Macrobiotic Guide www.macrobiotics.co.uk website for