Meg Wolff has been a loyal and encouraging reader of The Slow Cook and for the life of me I don’t know why. Where Meg is a spiritually enlightened lover of whole grains and macrobiotic vegetables, I am an unreformed heathen of a meat eater. Yet we share a common belief in “real” food, in other words sustenance close to the way nature intended, not the processed, industrialized, corporatized imitation of food that has insinuated itself in the American lifestyle and is making so many millions of people ill.
It wasn’t until recently that I learned just how sick Meg Wollf had once been, and how she believes macrobiotics saved her life.
To go with our terrible national diet of cheap, refined carbohydrates and industrially processed fats we have a medical establishment that too often is more interested in selling treatments for symptoms than actually healing human patients. At least that was Meg Wollf’s hard-won experience, as told in her harrowing book, Becoming Whole.
Raised in small-town Maine to be a demure, acquiescing female, she complained for years to doctors about a pain behind her left knee. They dismissed her pleas until she could barely walk and the source of her pain was revealed as bone cancer. Her leg was amputated above the knee when she was 33.
Meg was told the chances of cancer recurring were slim. But she became alarmed by lumps she found in her breast. Again, doctors told her there was nothing to worry about. The lumps were perfectly normal. And so again her intuition was thwarted until she was diagnosed with breast cancer and at age 41 underwent a radical mastectomy. Her cancer was so severe doctors gave her little hope of surviving. Meg was convinced the treatment prescribed for her would be her death. She rejectred tamoxifen and embraced vegetables instead.
I wish there were more to explain how a change of diet saved Meg Wolff’s life. But that may just be my Western way of thinking, always looking for that precise molecular mechanism behind the miraculous story of survival. Macrobiotics is more than a diet. It is a spiritual approach to nourishing mind and body, an Eastern attitude that is so unlike the uncaring way we Americans approach our food. Ritual bathing and self-awareness heal the soul while miso soup and steamed kale soothe the belly.
More than food, Meg’s story is about empowerment, about one person rejecting the tyranny of impersonal Western medicine to take control of her own life. In the process of healing herself with a new diet, new friends, new attitude, she also heals her marriage and emerges with a new sense of purpose. Can we attribute all that to food? Some people will try. But I’m certain Meg’s victory over cancer is more complicated. Perhaps our approach to life is more important to health than the precise diet we follow. People seem to do just fine eating all sorts of things.. We are all individuals–what works for one person may not work for another. Wish as we might, there’s no single bullet theory for food.
I might quibble, for instance, with Meg’s explanation of the link between food and cancer. There is a high correlation in women between obesity, insulin levels and breast cancer. That would seem to argue against a diet rich in carbohydrates. Yet the caloric foundation for macrobiotics is rice and other whole grains, with some fish for protein. Being sensitive to insulin, that would never work for me.
Macrobiotics shuns meat, dairy and animal fat in general. Yet is is rich with other foods I love–fermented soy products such as miso, tamari and tempeh, and also sauerkraut and lots of different pickles. I have my own special place for cruciferous vegetabls such as kale, collards and cabbage. Macrobiotics, along with just about every other food culture in the world, embraces these as being embued with special healing powers. Meg’s recipes for soups–squash and carrot with ginger, split pea miso, parsnip soup, mushroom barley, adzuki bean with vegetables–are a comfort to read and linger over. Reading the many other macrobiotic recipes–lots of sea vegetables in there–I want to dive back into the Japanese section of my cookbook library for an extended stay.
Meg’s battle with two different cancers at a time when she was just starting a family, the many weeks she spent away from home just trying to get a prosthetic leg fitted, her unending frustration with modern medicine, make excruciating reading. Yet a spirit of resilience and quiet courage shines through. At one point, Meg becomes a champion-level skier with her one good leg. She beat the odds and gave us not only a book, but a blog where she continues to chronicle her story of survival and help other women with cancer.
Thanks, Meg, for sharing your story.
Read more great stories about how we are taking back our food system at Fight Back Fridays.