AVELINE KUSHI - A TRIBUTE
(read at Green Mountain College, July 2005 during The Kushi Institute Macrobiotic Summer Conference)
Two seemingly insignificant events occurred in the interval of just a few days during those early macrobiotic years at the end of the sixties which were irreversibly linked with one another both in my mind's eye and symbolically in the initial and eventual full development of macrobiotics in America .
The first event was the meeting a young man, not more than twenty years old who walked into a Yoga workshop being taught by Jean Bernard Rishi, whom I was assisting, in Los Angeles. This young man was barefoot, dressed in Khaki shorts and a white shirt and had an enormous open sore on the top of his second right toe. He appeared scattered but joyful and his hair was scraggly but he looked as though he was in the process of trying to get it together. He was of normal height, slightly overweight and wore glasses. The sore was like an unattended wound which appeared to have just erupted minutes before he entered the classroom. He caught me staring at it.
"Oh, don't worry about that. It's just discharge," he said shrugging it off as though it were nothing.
I looked at him not really understanding anything he was saying to me.
"Discharge? What do you mean discharge? It looks incredibly painful," I exclaimed trying to look away.
"No, no, it's all coming out!" he exclaimed. " I mean all the toxins are coming out through this open blister! It's all the LSD I used to take!!! I took it every day! Then I got into macrobiotics and it's coming out. It's all the LSD coming out right here, right here on my toe," he said emphatically pointing down at his foot in an effort to redirect my attention.
We got through the class without consequence, but I was terrified of hurting him and more or less avoided going over to correct his poses. What, I asked myself was he talking about! LSD coming out of his second toe???
A few days later I was going with a friend of mine to a lecture across town. On the way, he stopped to pick up a package at a nice and tidy house not far from Hollywood. I was asked to wait in the hallway. Someone told me it was a macrobiotic study house. Up until that point I had eaten only two macrobiotic meals in my life. As I was waiting for my friend to return package in hand, I couldn't help but think about biting into big ripe yellow peach and letting the juice drip down the side of my mouth. What else does one do in the summer?
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed what appeared to be a very small very formal kimono moving effortlessly from one room to another. The person inside the kimono – which was lovely - was walking slowly and deliberately. Each gesture seemed intentional and studied and I saw a shiny black braid lying smoothly on her back barely swaying with her steps, her tiny feet in white cotton slippers sliding along almost imperceptibly beneath the bottom of this silk robe. I was struck by how contained she was, how purposeful and poised, how internal and focused, how quiet and put together. Before I was able to see her face, my friend returned with his package and whisked me out of the house back into his car.
Later that day I found out that the name of this person was Aveline Kushi and that she had recently come from Japan to teach, along with her husband, Michio Kushi, the art and science of macrobiotics to people in the United States. I was also told that she was the cooking teacher of the young man with the open wound who had appeared in our class and who had made such an impression on me. I was told that she had helped him get off the drugs which were slowly destroying his body and had taught him that his open wound was a sign of healing. She encouraged him to stay on a simple diet of rice and fresh organic vegetables, sea vegetables and miso soup. He was in his third month of eating the macrobiotic diet and he had stopped taking LSD altogether. For all intents and purposes, in spite of appearances, he was getting better and better.
Without understanding too much at all, I began to sense that something very important was about to take place and that this woman would have a lot to do with it. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of Aveline's influence over thousands of young people in their early twenties wanting to get off drugs whom she would heal with her quiet and intrepid ways. It was as though from that point on she was beginning to reverse the course of history with a pressure cooker and fire, salt and brown rice.
It wasn't until four years later when Rishi and I had invited Aveline and Michio to Paris to give some classes that I was able to meet Aveline face to face for the first time. It was then that I saw how truly beautiful she was. But while my first impression of her was one of measure and a studied grace, now I began to get a glimpse of someone with a lot of spunk and feistiness. And, while we were only expecting a small group of people to attend the seminar, you can only imagine, much to my surprise how overwhelmed I was when I saw checks and registrations pour into our office in every currency imaginable and from all over Europe. The glimpse of that "something very important" I had perceived out of the corner of my eye in LA was growing into a larger than life painting in the gourmet capital of the world. With Aveline now on board, Paris and the worlds she touched would never be the same!
Again, it was two more minor events which made an indelible mark on my memory once and forever. The first was when I took Aveline shopping one sunny day in Paris before the seminar began. Our first stop was to a high end gourmet fruit and vegetable shop in the center of the 8th arrondissement on the right bank not far from the Grands Boulevards of the Champs Elysees. Walking into the store, the fragrance of abundance spilling into the aisles and its colorful array of lush and voluptuous red tomatoes, purple cabbages, thick green zucchinis, beautifully round turnips, dark green lettuces of all stripes and sizes, orange and red tropical fruits straight from the islands, was like walking with a child into a Turkish bazaar with its incense and ribbons its bangles and beads, one stand more alluring than the next. Aveline was beside herself with joy. She wanted to buy the entire store up for her cooking class! What a pleasure for me to see this lively and famous macrobiotic teacher showing me that the macrobiotic diet was not about drabness but about life itself oozing out from the belly of these wonderful foods! "Yes, Karin," she told me later. "You must eat many vegetables and many fresh vegetables and many dark leafy greens every day," Every day," she added as though she were trying to blot any thought that this was going to be an austere experience!
Our next stop was at a dress shop on the Left Bank. Aveline bought me a beautiful long red skirt and a long blue sleeveless dress. Then she bought herself a little outfit. This outfit was a bright hot pink, with matching pants and shirt. It was made of linen and the sleeves were broad and square in keeping with the fashion of the day. Surely, I thought, she would enjoy wearing this back home on the streets of New York city and Boston.
But was not exactly what she had in mind. After introducing our guest teachers of the first Kushi International Seminars to a crowd of over three hundred and fifty enthusiastic people in a large auditorium near Unesco in the 7th arrondiseement, Michio came to the microphone. There was great applause. A few minutes later, another round of applause, even greater. "And now I would like you to meet my wife who will be teaching all the cooking classes….Aveline Kushi!" Extending his arm out and looking to his left, Aveline walks in towards him on stage as slowly and deliberately as I had seen her that first time in Los Angeles, no longer in a formal kimono, but wearing her shining new hot pink matching outfit as confident and poised as ever. It is difficult to put into words the stunned look on Michio's face. Aveline's fashion statement was not to be taken lightly. She had begun to take Paris by storm!
From that year on, Aveline and Michio traveled several times a year to Europe giving Kushi International seminars and setting up Kushi Institutes all over Europe. Her wonderful cooking classes, her quiet and steady way, her innovative ideas and her childlike enthusiasm for the new inspired cooks from Amsterdam to London, Paris to Rome. As Aveline and Michio traveled from city to city, health food stores and fresh bakeries blossomed like flowers in spring. Beautiful women and men were preparing beautiful and delicious food following in the lineage of Aveline's classic cooking style based on strength, balance, variety, abundance, color and tastiness bringing all the five tastes together in wholesome and lively dishes.
Until this day it is impossible not to recognize the mark of these qualities in the cooking of all those who studied with Aveline in Europe and America the last three decades of the twentieth century. Those of us who came into macrobiotics eating this way do not like eating any other way. For this we are eternally grateful.
When I returned to the United States after a nine year stay in Paris, before moving to Boston, I spent several months with my parents in Chicago. Again, two more events imprinted themselves upon my memory in a way which was entirely unique and meaningful. The first was when I invited Aveline to come and give some cooking classes in the north part of Chicago in mid winter. It was 1976. It was bitter cold and the wind off Lake Michigan worked it's way into our bones. I had studied at Northwestern in the early sixties and was used to those merciless days when I never felt I could get warm enough, shivering my way through winter as I hurried from class to class. Now, looking back , a breakfast of donuts and coffee and a lunch of cottage cheese and canned peaches was not the cure to my problem.
No, something else was to have been demanded. I remember that Aveline had prepared a dish with burdock and seitan. She had also prepared a delicious dish of squash and kombu. The food was organized and deep and was an eating experience I had never before known in my life. It was perfect winter fare. She showed me in that one class what it meant to cook for the seasons. It was warming and tasty, intelligent and reliable. And while I cannot recall all the content of the meal, I do recall the way my body felt walking back to my car as the icy winds of the great lake thrust themselves against my flesh and bones. Gone were the shivers and the need to brace myself against the cold. Now, I too was like that food – solid and steady, deep and warm. If one meal can teach one person all of that, can you only imagine how hundreds of cooking classes Aveline gave around the world were able to teach so many thousands of people so many things?
The second event was when I invited Aveline to partake in my Yoga class during that same time period. I was giving a guest class in my parent's house. Aveline walked into the class as though she had never left it. I was teaching ardha chandrasana – half moon pose where you balance on one leg and bring the other up sideways in the air. I thought, oh, my goodness, she is a beginner. It would be difficult to teach her this pose and she might hurt herself! Yet contrary to my fears, Aveline went into the pose with the same grace and poise, steadiness and balance that were the hallmarks of her cooking. She demonstrated the most beautiful pose I had ever seen one person do the first time around! If the maxim, "You are what you eat," has any meaning, one might say here that "You are what you cook!" In my mind's eye, her Yoga poses were like her dishes – strong and deep, steady and reliable. What an amazing discovery it was for me!!!
In the early eighties when it became clear that the plight of the twentieth century HIV and AIDS epidemic was here to stay, Aveline and Michio were the first to embrace a young group of eight or ten men who came to them for counseling and help. A year later, there was a big conference on AIDS and HIV and alternative healing. I remember that Aveline was instrumental in helping to bring this program together in that both she and Michio played an enormous role in kick starting alternative ways of looking at this epidemic and in particular of working with the macrobiotic diet. I am not speaking here about their intervention at a time when it began to feel "safe" to work with people with AIDS and HIV. I am speaking about the very beginning when it began to manifest itself in our culture, when it was all new and raw and when there was tremendous panic and confusion. I wish I could recall all the details, but I want to make it clear that both Aveline and Michio were right there with all those who wanted to go in the direction of the diet. And they were right by each other's side working together to help give a different perspective to this disease inviting people into their home, working relentlessly to give them hope and courage.
I want to tell you something interesting. All of you know who Fidel Castro is. Whatever your feelings may be about him, there is an ironic story that I would like to relate. Many of you may know that he is following the macrobiotic diet. I wonder if you also know or have heard on NPR as I did only a few months ago, that he would like to give a pressure cooker to everyone of his countrymen…not a check for $400.00, not a bonus to buy a new car or put on a new roof, to dig a new well, or repair a front porch, but a pressure cooker! A regular household item which has to do with the kitchen, with cooking, with fire and with salt! Can you believe that? Is that not totally amazing? How far the circle has come! How deep the outreach, how profound the message!
In closing, I can only say how grateful I am for having lived long enough with a thoroughly healthy body and mind to be able to have the pleasure of witnessing the completion of at least one karmic circle – and there are many, so so many more – from those early sultry summer macrobiotic days in Los Angles where one tiny, graceful and poised woman helped heal a wound on the second toe of a lost young man with her pressure cooker and brown rice to a tropical island in the Caribbean where one man who almost caused the demise of our country desires to distribute pressure cookers to each and every one of his citizens!
If one can say about the new woman of the twentieth century, "You've come along way, baby," one can truly say, in a much more eloquent way and with much greater substance and meaning about the amazing life of one very small and unique woman from Japan, "You've made the world come a long way, Aveline!"
And now, as we sit here together in this auditorium tonight I hope you can hear, as you lie quietly amongst us in the depth of our memories, how it is, at last, we can fully understand the true purpose of your most fruitful and productive days on the face of this earth. May that memory never fade in our hearts and minds and may you lie peacefully with us for ever after.