.Big Macro

Macrobiotic cuisine is low-fat, whole-grain, and exquisitely subtle.

These days, Barbara Johnston-Brown can’t stand eating in
ordinary restaurants. Their dishes are so highly seasoned and suffused
with fats that “I can feel it in my system for days afterwards,”
shudders the former nurse turned macrobiotic cooking teacher, who will
present a workshop in the kitchen at Willard Middle School (2425
Stuart St., Berkeley) on Saturday, November 14.

Co-taught with longtime macrobiotics expert Susanne Jensen, who is
head chef at Lake Tahoe’s French Meadows Macrobiotic Summer Camp, the
hands-on “Organic Bounty of Fall Harvest Favorites” class
includes such dishes as seitan-stuffed squash, wild
rice-chestnut pilaf, and pumpkin pie with almond cream.

Hailed for its health-giving properties since ancient times but
popularized in this country during the 1950s by Japanese proponents
George Ohsawa and Michio Kushi, the macrobiotic diet focuses on whole
grains, legumes, fermented soy products, seaweeds, vegetables, and
fruits, all locally sourced.

While working as a critical-care nurse for fifteen years at San
Rafael’s Kaiser and other Bay Area hospitals, Johnston-Brown began
having serious doubts about conventional medicine: “I started to
believe that there was so much that could be done that was less harmful
than what was being done in hospitals,” says the Walnut Creek
resident. During business trips to Asia with her environmental-engineer
husband, she learned about alternate modalities such as acupuncture,
shiatsu, herbal medicine, and the merits of local, seasonal, and
organic foods: “Those felt right to me, and I had an instinct that
there was even more to find.” This instinct took on a life-or-death
importance after Johnston-Brown’s two sisters were diagnosed with
breast cancer — and then, in 2005, she was diagnosed with it

Certain that nutrition was an important key to healing, she urged
her sisters to change their diets and stop eating fast food. But she
was up against their doctors — who, she remembers, “insisted that
it didn’t matter what they ate.” After both sisters passed away, her
own diagnosis “was teaching me where I needed to go for my own

Where she needed to go, it turned out, was on a cruise.

Dubbed “A Voyage to Well-Being,” Florida-based Holistic Holiday at
Sea features vegan, vegetarian, and macrobiotic meals along with
hundreds of workshops in yoga, massage, and more. It was there that
Johnston-Brown, already an avid and semiprofessional cook and baker,
adopted the vegan-macrobiotic lifestyle and never looked back. These
days she uses only whole grains, mills her own flours, grows her own
vegetables — kale, daikon, celery, collard greens, radishes,
artichokes, and more — and makes her own pickles with
umeboshi vinegar. If she doesn’t eat collards at least three
times a week — steamed, sautéed with walnuts or lemon
zest, in tamari-spiked chickpea soup — she feels as if she’s
missing out.

“With food, you need to listen to your body,” she says. “It knows
what it wants.” 11 a.m., $60. For more information, call Johnston-Brown
at 925-286-1395 or e-mail her at [email protected].


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