Most people understand what the word vegan means. Less people have heard of Macrobiotics. I get asked about it a lot. Often if I'm eating out with other people, I'll say I'm vegan + occasional fish for simplicity's sake. But then I usually get asked why I eat fish, etc., and the topic of being vegan versus eating Macrobiotically comes up. In fact, it comes up enough that it's about time I wrote about the differences. Macrobiotics itself is founded on entirely different principles than veganism.
MM: Macrobiotics // Veganism
Vegan = Healthy, Right?
I have spent a lot of times in and working at health food stores. Let me tell you what the number one best sellers are: all natural pop & all natural chips. Close behind them are all the natural candies, chocolates, ice cream alternatives etc. These can be or are all vegan! And vegan means healthy, right?
Well...nope. Haha. Sure some chips once in a while, and a pop here or there, is not going to be a problem. But that doesn't mean they're healthy. They're still a treat, or an indulgence - with or without the vegan label.
I once overheard a lady in the pop/chip aisle at the health foods store I was working at, giving advice to her friend about how she could get her kids to eat better. She said "it's really easy, just give them this pop instead, and they'll drink it down like crazy, they won't even know they're drinking something much healthier. You see, it's vegan and has evaporated cane juice in it...no sugar!"
No judgements from my end, truly, only a giant sincere simple wish for more real food educating and more honest information out there, so that people can really understand what is actually in the food and drinks they are consuming.
In regards to the lady I mentioned above, she probably read somewhere that organic is healthy, vegan is healthy, and to look out for white sugar. So she really felt she was making a healthy choice. And sure, an organic cane-juice sweetened pop is fine for a treat once in awhile - life is too short to be too crazy restrictive. Sometimes a little sweetness is a good thing. But there will likely be health consequences down the road if you're guzzling down organic pops on a daily basis because you are under the impression that they are healthy.
Another thing I hear often: "didn't you know, Oreo's are vegan!?" These guys aren't organic, and have regular ol' sugar in them. But they are vegan, so they must be healthy too, right? Hey, I'm all for a bit of Oreo lovin' every once in awhile. And if you are vegan for ethical reasons alone - then it is great to know that certain products are vegan, and this will allow you to purchase things with more ease. BUT, this by no means that because a product is vegan, it is healthy. To get a label saying "vegan" slapped on a product, only means that it does not contain any animal products. It does not guarantee that it is made with high quality ingredients, or that it is good for you.
I'm simply trying to illustrate the misconception I keep seeing, that simply because something is vegan, it is healthy. This is not necessarily true.
Healthy Vegan Food
Now let's chat about the flipside: super duper healthy food that IS vegan. Apples, bananas, rice, quinoa, flax, chia, almonds, kale salad, guacamole...all these are healthy real food choices. And vegan. Much different than vegan treat foods.
So where does Macrobiotics come in?
It's pretty unlikely that you will see as many things labelled Macrobiotic as you will things labelled vegan.
Macrobiotic foods (true macrobiotic foods) will be egg, dairy, & meat free (often fish free too). That sounds kind of like most vegan foods! But Macrobiotics isn't as simple as the whole "no animal products" thing. Macrobiotics means big life, and this means choosing foods that will support you (in your given environment, life situation, age etc.) - giving you consistent stable energy, so you can be be there fully for whatever it is that you are here to do.
Where Macrobiotics & veganism differ is this: true macrobiotic food will be less processed, and will contain ingredients in their whole form as much as possible, emphasizing the nutrients found in natural foods in their natural state. These principles are fundamental to Macrobiotics. Think whole grains, seeds, veggies, healthy unprocessed oils, fruits, & nuts. Minimal natural sweeteners & natural seasonings.
So an Oreo, while being vegan, would not be considered Macrobiotic. But, an organic bean & quinoa salad, tossed in olive oil and lemon juice - that can be considered both vegan & macrobiotic. And an organic cookie made using minimal wholefood ingredients - that could count as both Macrobiotic and vegan too.
Another thing that Macrobiotics takes into consideration is using as many locally grown ingredients as possible, rather than foods grown in foreign climates. Also the nightshade veggies play a minimal role.
Now, to be fair, you can technically also subsist off of Macrobiotic granola bars, rice cakes, peanut butter, and apples...and that wouldn't leave you feeling so balanced either. Just as there is a way to make vegan unhealthy, there are also foods that could be classified as Macrobiotic, that wouldn't be the best to base your diet off of entirely. The difference, I think, is that in principle, being vegan is about abstaining from animal products, whereas Macrobiotics is about finding the big balance in your life through balanced eating. There are many ways to make vegan food healthy, but the definition of the word "vegan" alone does not necessarily guide you towards the goal of a healthy lifestyle, whereas the meaning of the word "macrobiotic" does (at least more so, in my opinion).
Both paths, vegan & Macrobiotic, can ultimately take you towards the same healthy meal and life, but I'd caution you to read the road signs carefully if you're on the vegan highway, as there are many big companies using clever labeling that are out there doing their best to guide you away from simple clean foods, and towards their packaged products.