The first Macrobiotic Week in Dubai took place from May 9 – 12, 2018 and was a huge success. More than 150 people participated in this landmark event, the first of its kind held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and in the Middle East as a whole. Bashar Antoun, a macrobiotic teacher based in Dubai, organized the first Macrobiotic Week. Originally from Syria, Bashar teaches cooking, publishes recipes and articles, and sponsors an Arabic-language website dedicated to macrobiotics. Bashar is also chief administrator for the International Macrobiotic Institute (IMI.) Headquartered in Massachusetts, the IMI has offices in New York and Dubai. From his office in Dubai, Bashar administrates the IMI’s popular Macrobiotic Online Course. Like many of our Middle Eastern friends, Bashar studied macrobiotics with Miriam Nour. Based in Lebanon, Miriam pioneered the introduction of macrobiotics in the region.
Bashar and his partner, Dyana Farhat, picked me up at the airport after the 11-hour flight from Boston. Dyana is originally from Lebanon, and is a graduate of the Online Course. Shereen Zayed, also an IMI graduate who is originally from Jordan, joined us for a light vegan snack and planning session. Bashar had packed my brief stay with morning and evening events. It was going to be a busy week with little time for sightseeing. Whatever sightseeing I could manage would have to be done on the run.
The first event, a lecture on Macrobiotic Diagnosis and Healing, took place the following morning. It was held at Life’n One, Dubai’s premier Wellness center, vegan café, yoga and meditation retreat, and garden oasis in the heart of this vibrant modern city. On the drive in, we went past Burj Khalifa, the recently opened mega skyscraper, which is the tallest building in the world. The iconic structure captures the up-and-coming spirit of this dynamic metropolis—surrounded by desert and ocean—that has appeared as if from out of nowhere.
Founded in 2014 by Eda Gungor, who is originally from Turkey, Life’n One sponsors lectures, classes, and retreats on a wide range of topics centered on the theme of holistic health. “Life’n One is an urban retreat, a hidden oasis in Dubai, where you can take time for yourself to relax, rejuvenate, and find balance” reads the center’s website, www.lifenone.com.
I must admit I agree with that description. We arrived at Life’n One on a beautiful spring morning. The meditation garden was calming and inviting. The menu at the café featured “Macrobiotic Inspired” Healing Millet Soup and Savory Millet Pancakes with Red Lentil Sauce and Pickles. The meditation hall was a large covered tent with an open-air entrance that faced the sunny garden. It is a beautiful, relaxing, and inspiring spot. I started the lecture by mentioning the ancient Babylonian definition of paradise as an “enclosed garden,” a definition that perfectly described the setting at Life’n One. “A beautiful natural setting, good food, and amusing, entertaining, and enlightening studies. What more could one want?” I asked. The audience nodded approvingly. The class went on for several hours and included many lively exchanges with the students.
Following a short break, we hurried off to our next event, a lecture at Sesame Restaurant in Dubai. A review of the newly opened restaurant, entitled “Plant-forward Sesame arrives in Dubai” explained the rationale behind the venture. “What exactly is ‘plant-forward food and can this restaurant do it well? It’s official: the vegetarians are winning. Not only are they healthier than most of us, they’re saving the planet, one kale bushel at a time. ‘The bottom line is that we want to share nourishing food,’ say co-founders Neha Jamani and Irina Sharma. ‘Some foods are proven to have therapeutic applications for illness prevention, recovery and optimal health, and that’s what we want to serve at Sesame.’” Information about this elegant new plant-based restaurant, including samples of dishes and menus, is available on their website at www.sesamedubai.com.
My talk was titled: “Macrobiotics—From Karma to Grace.” I introduced the concept of “dietary karma,” or the basic law of cause and effect as it applies to our diet and our state of health. I explained how the more we eat toward the extremes—for example meat and animal food (yang), and sugar and refined foods (yin), the more we experience extreme results. I cited the connection between a high meat diet and heart disease an example of a yang karmic extreme, and type 2 diabetes as an example of a yin extreme. These illnesses represent the karma, or effect, of a person’s unbalanced diet (and lifestyle), which, as we study in macrobiotics, is the underlying cause of their condition.
I then explained how the goal of macrobiotics is to move beyond negative karma to a state of grace by avoiding extremes and instead eating a centrally balanced diet. The state of grace is the condition in which we enjoy health, longevity, peace, and freedom, all supported by nature and the universe. (In religious terms, we say supported by God.) In this state, which is actually our natural state of being, our diet and way of life produce the positive karma of health and well being as opposed to the negative or challenging karma of sickness and unhappiness. Following the talk, the participants enjoyed a natural sugar free dessert prepared by the staff. Everyone felt their karma improving as they savored each guilt-free and delicious mouthful.
The next morning we presented a “Fermentation Workshop” at the Sesame Restaurant. I mentioned that, like cooking, fermentation is a form of “pre” digestion. Cooking and fermentation facilitate the smooth digestion and transformation of our foods into healthy blood and cells. They are essential for a healthy life. Moreover, fermented foods such as miso, natto, sauerkraut, tempeh, brown rice vinegar, amasake, and pickled vegetables add beneficial bacteria, especially plant-sourced lactobacillus, to our digestive tract. I then explained the important role these foods play in a plant-based macrobiotic diet. Following my talk, Bashar demonstrated how to make sauerkraut, pressed salad, and long- and short-term pickles, including miso pickled tofu, also known as “tofu cheese.” He brought samples of these foods that he had prepared at home for everyone to taste.
On the evening following the Fermentation Workshop, we presented a talk at the Organic Foods and Café market (OFC) in Dubai. The Organic Foods and Café market is the UAE’s version of Whole Foods. Started in 2004 by local entrepreneur, Nils El Accad, the venture now operates three stores in Dubai and two in neighboring Abu Dhabi. OFC currently employs 340 staff. El Accad was born in Germany to a German mother and Syrian father and raised in Dubai. He has established a solid network of organic growers and suppliers and is committed to seeing organic flourish throughout the region. An article in a local business publication describes the growth of the organic movement in the UAE and throughout the region: “In recent times, his [El Accad’s] client base has expanded dramatically from what was once almost exclusively western—helped by marketing his stores to the Emirati community. Mr. El Accad is proud to say his customers now range from royalty to an Indian bus driver, who waits for the 20 per cent sale days each month to buy his baby’s food. ‘What more could you ask for?’ he adds.”
About 60 people took seats in the café, which had been converted into a popup classroom. The topic was the role of diet in health, mind, and emotions. The lecture went on for over an hour with many questions from the group. Following the lecture, we enjoyed brown rice, fresh organic vegetables, and other foods at the café. (Visit www.organicfoodsandcafe.com for information including a catalogue of organic products and café menu.)
The last 2 days of my visit were dedicated to an intensive workshop on Macrobiotic Diagnosis and Healing. About 20 students gathered at Illuminations Yoga Studio and Wellbeing Center in Dubai for 8 hours of study on topics such as meridian, point, and chakra diagnosis; facial diagnosis, including constitution and condition; palm diagnosis; the five transformations in human form and function; the five transformations in food and cooking; creating a healthful macrobiotic diet; basic home remedies; and the new medicine for humanity. Students were delighted to learn that they were earning credits toward the Macrobiotic Online Course as a result of their 8 hours of study at the Workshop.
As the week drew to a close, I was reminded of the slogan being promoted by Emirates Air, the airline I used for the trip. The slogan reads, “Hello Tomorrow.” The people I met in Dubai were incredibly open, friendly, and eager to study macrobiotics in all its dimensions. They represent the future of the region and perhaps the world, a future that may be slightly different from that imagined by people today. That future extends beyond the technical wonders of modern civilization we see on full display in places like Dubai and toward a genuinely sustainable, healthful, and peaceful way of life for humanity and our planet.
About the Author:
Edward Esko is the Founder and President of the International Macrobiotic Institute. He is one of the world's leading teachers and counselors on the macrobiotic way of like. He studied with Michio Kushi for many years and has served as Executive Director of the East West Foundation in Boston and Director of Education and Dean of Faculty of the Kushi Institute of the Berkshires.
Edward has personally counseled and guided thousands of people toward improved health through the macrobiotic diet and way of life. He has lectured in over a dozen countries and authored or edited more than twenty books, including Holistic Health Through Macrobiotics, Natural Healing Through Macrobiotics and The Macrobiotic Approach to Cancer.
Edward co-founded the International Macrobiotic Institute in 2016 to further the dream and vision of his mentor, Michio Kushi, and to make quality macrobiotic education and guidance available to people around the world. Together with his wife, Naomi Ichikawa Esko, Edward offers a variety of personal and group services, including personal dietary and way of life counseling, lectures and online courses.
For more information on the International Macrobiotic Institute and its online classes, visit www.internationalmacrobioticinstitute.com