Everything connected

Chico couple live and teach sustainability through macrobiotics

Julia Ferré teaches a cooking class during the French Meadows Summer Camp.

Julia Ferré teaches a cooking class during the French Meadows Summer Camp.

Photo by Gerard Lum

Camp session:
The George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation will hold its 46th annual French Meadows Summer Camp July 4-12 in the Tahoe National Forest. For details and reservations, visit www.ohsawamacrobiotics.com or call 566-9765.

With crystal clarity, Carl Ferré remembers the moment that changed his life forever.

It happened during the summer of 1981, in the middle of the Tahoe National Forest, at the French Meadows Camp hosted by the George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation. Ferré had first attended the camp four years earlier; at the time, he was teaching classical guitar at a university in Texas, where he adopted the macrobiotic lifestyle he credits with freeing him from ear pain and allergies. A friend who moved from north Texas to the North State connected him to GOMF—then based in Oroville—and Ferré began working for the organization soon after.

By that summer, he was the camp’s organizer, and one of that year’s attendees caught his eye. She was 13 years his junior: a college student from Wisconsin who, it turns out, found relief from allergy symptoms (plus quit smoking) with the help of an acupuncturist who introduced her to macrobiotics. Her teachers at a macrobiotics conference in Missouri also participated in the French Meadows Camp, so she decided to travel to California.

“First time I saw her, I knew instantly—you know that story,” Carl said. “She came to work for the foundation after the summer camp ended. We had the opportunity to get to know each other, and eventually decided to get married.”

In the ensuing decades, Julia Ferré, like her husband, has remained an adherent of macrobiotics. She’s studied other alternative disciplines—hypnotherapy, hypnobirthing, Reiki and intuitive readings—which she practices locally. The couple took the reins of the Ohsawa foundation in 1998 after the passing of its founder, Herman Aihara (who’s also known for co-founding the Chico-San food company).

Carl, 67, is the foundation’s president; Julia, 54, is secretary/treasurer. They moved the headquarters to Chico, where they reside, in 2001.

In macrobiotics, the Ferrés have found an overarching philosophy and specific tools for a great life. In fact, that’s the essence of the name, derived from the Greek words “macros” (great) and “bios” (life).

“A lot of people think ‘macrobiotics’ means diet,” Julia said, “that you eat a certain way. You’re vegetarian, you don’t eat sugar, you don’t drink alcohol, or [you don’t consume] excess meat.

“But there’s more to it than just a diet. There’s also lifestyle recommendations about how to be a good person, how to have self-growth, and most of all how to learn how to think … to make clear decisions. Because of that, it reaches into all these other areas: sustainability, relationships, career, spirituality. There are lots of different applications.”

“To me,” Carl said, “macrobiotics is the study and practice of alignment with nature. There’s a natural order to life, and the more we align ourselves with that natural order, then the greater health, happiness, peace, wisdom, love, understanding and freedom we can have. It’s a matter of coming back to that alignment in all the choices people make, and there are principles that are used in order to do that.”

The principles behind macrobiotics stem from George Ohsawa, a Japanese man who was born in 1893 and developed tuberculosis at age 15. Given a poor prognosis by doctors, he sought out alternative medical practices and wound up living to 73, leaving a set of teachings on his macrobiotics philosophy as his legacy.

GOMF, established five years after his death in 1971, promotes the works of Ohsawa and Aihara, among others. The foundation publishes a journal, Macrobiotics Today, along with maintaining online resources.

“Macrobiotics is a very individualistic approach to things,” Carl said, “so if you look around at several websites, you’ll see different people explain it different ways, which is more the way they’re using the principles, which may be different from the way we’re using them.

“But the other side of it is the connectedness, where we realize we’re all connected—and connected to all of life. To quote the old song, ‘we’re in the same boat, brother.’ There’s a togetherness, in that what one of us does affects what everybody else does.

“There’s a cause-and-effect relationship within macrobiotics: What we do one day determines what we’re going to do, be and think in future days.”

This thought process has appeal to environmentally conscious individuals who see climate consequences from human activity.

The Ferrés see other links between sustainability and macrobiotics. Two key principles are ecology and economy.

The first is born out of respect for the land, a precept Carl referred to as “shin do fu ji” (which translates from Chinese to mean “our bodies and the soil are not separate—they are one”). This relates to the second principle as reflected in the core component of the macrobiotic diet.

“We prefer to eat whole foods that are locally produced,” Carl said, “thus avoiding transportation costs that affect the larger environment.”

“It’s really easy to do that in Chico,” Julia added. “The farmers’ market is just amazing; there’s just really good food here. California provides all this produce and rice.”

Macrobiotics also embraces the goal of zero waste—even striving to give back more than consumed, based on the principle “from one grain, 10,000 grains” (referring to rice). Composting is one means; another, Julia suggests, is fostering acceptance and generosity.

That goes back to mindset and decision-making.

Carl cited another maxim of macrobiotics: “Every front has a back; the bigger the front, the bigger the back.” Nuclear energy, for instance, may offer tremendous potential for generating electricity but also carries tremendous potential for damage. He sees the same duality with agribusiness.

Macrobiotics, then, is quintessentially green.

“Where we would help the most in sustainability is the adjustment of individuals’ lifestyles,” Carl added. “As people eat more unaltered foods, unchemicalized foods, and go more toward a Mediterranean diet …”

“They become healthier,” Julia interjected, “and when they become healthier they can become happier …”

“It helps the mind become more clear,” Carl continued, “and that leads to better decisions for ourselves and for the environment, and that can lead to greater success in fulfilling our purpose in life.”