Located in a 36 hectare estate in Dumfries and Galloway, on the banks of the River Cree, Penninghame is a beautiful Baronial Edwardian house, steeped in history. A macrobiotic learning and training centre, it’s focused on health and understanding the effects of food on well-being. Marie and Raymond Butler, the founders and owners of Penninghame House, run several different courses with another husband-and-wife team; Bill and Marlene Watson-Tara, offering lectures on nutrition, cooking with macrobiotic ingredients, health remedies and one-to-one health assessments. Together, the two couples have more than a century of combined experience in the field.
Developed by George Ohsawa in Japan in the 1920s, macrobiotics literally means “long life” (from the Greek makro, meaning long, and bio, meaning life). It is a lifestyle choice rather than a diet. Since Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Cruise and Madonna became the advocates of macrobiotics it has become a strange, but otherworldly media fascination. The idea of macrobiotics is that you choose fresh, locally produced foods, that help to prolong your life and balance your body and mind, rather than force your organs to deal with processed food and sugars that can knock your system out of sync. “When you see how good Tom Cruise and Madonna look, you have to wonder about their diet. It’s no surprise that it’s macrobiotic. All that vitality and energy comes from somewhere” Says Marie.
A macrobiotic diet should re-ignite the body’s energy, and consists of whole grains, beans, plants, proteins, steamed vegetables, seaweeds (super rich in minerals we no longer get from land sources) and an endless supply of miso soup. It avoids all processed foods, additives, meat, dairy, caffeine and alcohol. Macrobiotics is not about being vegetarian or not allowing yourself treats. It’s about finding balance and harmony with what you eat and who you are. A six-course dinner was served on the first evening, cooked by their top residential macrobiotic chef. We dined on a delightfully creamy mushroom risotto, delicate miso soup, crispy tempura with tangy shoyu sauce, delectable adzuki bean burgers and a delicious agar chocolate mousse. We are told stories of how The Butler’s discovered their love of macrobiotics and how it has changed their lives. Even better, we’re told that everything passing our lips at the beautiful banquet is helping our bodies in some way – from our kidneys and liver to our skin and energy levels.
Each morning, after an early session of Chi ball or a yoga class and a walk through the grounds, the group head to the classroom for lectures by Bill Tara. The beauty of the Penninghame program comes from the sheer volume of education you are exposed to during your stay. Daily lectures on the why’s and wherefores of macrobiotics, advocating, sourcing fresh local seasonally appropriate produce and constant how-to cookery classes, which even novices can partake in. The NHS has begun to embrace macrobiotic philosophy, and during our stay, we met with a woman that was diagnosed with bowel cancer. The NHS said there was nothing that could be done about it, but four in ten cases of cancer could be avoided by a better diet. Ken and Marie disagreed and took her under their wing. The change, even after a few days was noteworthy, gone was the sallow skin. And there were plenty of other miracle fixes and cures. Marie herself was a long term eczema sufferer, cured only after years of anguish by changing her diet to a macrobiotic one. Furthermore, Bill claims that the country is sitting on a diabetes time bomb, unless we change our way of living and thinking, we will have a very sick nation on our hands. He tells us that in the US, 30 percent of the population is classified as obese and that the UK will have the same statistic in eight years if we continue the way we are. Following the program, I managed to lose four lbs over four days. Yes REALLY! Better still, with my Penninghame pack I could carry on the diet at home, buying the fresh produce I needed daily. I continued to lose weight following the diet, feel energized and overall healthier all-round. I will continue to follow a macrobiotic diet as much as possible, following the 80:20 rule advocated by the course leaders, allowing a little of the bad stuff in now and again, but only in moderation.
Penninghame offers a number of courses throughout the year – check the website (www.penninghame.org) for details.
Accommodation is in the main house or in various lodges in the grounds. Rooms are comfortable with cotswold-produced organic Ila bath products chosen for their health benefits. All food served fits with macrobiotic principals. A health mini-break costs from £495. Tel +44 (0)1671 401 414 for more details.
Marlene Watson-Tara’s Living with the Seasons – The Human Ecology Diet is available to buy in bookshops now.