In 1969 Denny Waxman founded Essene Market & Cafe, the first health-foods store in Philadelphia. In the same year he began studying with Michio Kushi (1926-2014)—renowned leader of the international macrobiotic community. (Michio died on December 28th 2014).
In the early 1980s, Denny gained international recognition by helping Dr. Anthony Sattilaro, respected physician and CEO of Philadelphia’s Methodist Hospital recover from terminal prostate cancer. Dr. Sattilaro documented his recovery in “Recalled By Life,” published in 1982.
In the 1980s Denny earned directorship of the Kushi Institute and the Community Health Foundation in London, where he led the development of public and professional educational programs in macrobiotics as well as Oriental diagnosis.
Denny has appeared on television programs including “The Incurables,” and most recently, NBC. His first book published in 1997 entitled “10 Steps To Strengthening Health” with Ruth Ann Flynn, lead to a 2002 publication of the immensely accessible “The Great Life Diet.” In December, 2014 an updated and expanded edition was published as “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet.”
In 1997, Denny founded The Strengthening Health Institute in Philadelphia. Since 2002, SHI continues to be an independent, non-profit school that integrates my teaching with the work of other like-minded macrobiotic instructors.
Do you have a company related to Macrobiotics?
The Strengthening Health Institute is a 501 c3 non-profit educational center based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the SHI, we offer educational courses for both personal study and professional training with our unique approach to Macrobiotics. I also have a personal counseling practice in both Philadelphia and New York City, and recently online via Skype. My ability is to do what medicine can’t and I help many people with serious illnesses recover and create lasting health. I also counsel healthy people to live long, productive, healthy lives.
What made you live by the rules of Macrobiotics?
I do not really consider Macrobiotic practice to be a set of rules to follow. Rather, we do have guidelines that we can use to create an orderly approach to life. These guidelines help us make healthy choices in diet, activity, and lifestyle practices. When I was younger, George Ohsawa’s message about personally creating the health and life that you want started me on the Macrobiotic path. His message was dramatically different from trying to fit yourself into a mold.
How is your way of life different now than it used to be?
Before I became Macrobiotic, I was not a happy camper. I found no satisfaction from food or life. Now I wake up each day wondering about what I can do, what I can learn, what I can discover; how I can live more and more fully each day.
Have you changed a lot about the way you live?
I have been practicing for forty-five years now. My life is now more about making conscious choices about how I want to live and being more aware of how my choices impact my family, society, and the environment.
What part of Macrobiotics do you find the hardest?
There are certain changes in lifestyle that may be perceived of as difficult, such as buying food and finding somewhere for dining out, which requires a bit more forethought. These considerations are a deterrent for some. But overall, I find many peoples’ attitude towards macrobiotics and lack of acceptance (or the unwillingness to give the practice a chance) to be the most challenging thing as a practitioner. Even though Macrobiotics is the longest-standing way of eating and lifestyle practice, it is also still the most progressive at the same time.
Do you live a 100% plant-based lifestyle? If so, does that extend to your clothing and shoes and such?
My life style is primarily plant-based, but I occasionally eat fish, and wear leather shoes and belts. Considerations such as quality and sustainability always factor into any decision.
Who was your inspiration?
Originally, my inspiration was to seek a more meaningful life. I did not want to go to Vietnam, so I began reading from various authors (such as Herman Hesse and Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi”). All of the practices and philosophies however, said that a teacher or mentor was necessary and I did not have a relationship with one, and had no way of finding one. Yet, George Ohsawa taught that we as individuals could create our own health and happiness as well as provided the guidelines to make that possible. That was a revelation for me.
What do you eat on an average day? Are there certain things you miss in particular?
I try to base all of my meals around grains and vegetables with a variety of local and indigenous foods. The most substantial meal of the day is lunch, which is more grain and vegetable based, and dinner is a lighter meal, usually with more Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, or Mexican influence. My practice is dynamic and has evolved over the years, and is usually based on the needs of our clients and students. My practice has expanded to include more choices and varieties of cuisines. My experience and observation is that eating healthy food becomes more and more satisfying over time.
How has macrobiotics changed you physically and mentally? Can you give us an example?
I still weight the same as I had when I was 16, and I am still relatively flexible. I find that as I age, my thinking has become more clear and open as the years go on, which is in contrast to the idea that as we age, our minds deteriorate.
Can you tell our readers your view on Macrobiotics?
My view on Macrobiotics is that it is the practice of expressing and living the spirit of gratitude and having an endless appreciation for all of life. The spirit of Macrobiotics is based on Nature’s model; one grain naturally produces 10,000. In practice, I find it to be the most embracing and open way of life. This is why I have dedicated my life to exploring and sharing the spirit of Macrobiotics since I was nineteen years old.
Macrobiotics had quite a hippie image for a while. Do you think that’s still the case?
Originally, Macrobiotics appealed to hippies, who helped develop the practice. I believe though that the practice appeals to innovators. In the 60s, Macrobiotics became more widely available in the West through the work of the author, William Dufty, who translated “You Are All Sanpaku” and authored “Lady Sings the Blues”. Historically, some of the world’s most prolific contributors were primarily grain and vegetable eaters, from Ben Franklin to Albert Einstein. Macrobiotics appeals to young people and to those on the cutting edge of their fields: be they scientists, musicians, architects, etc.
Are there less enjoyable side effects to Macrobiotics?
Some individuals experience uncomfortable transitional symptoms when they begin to detox. Yet others feel really good from day one.
Have you done courses in Macrobiotics? If so, where?
I offer lectures and courses around Philadelphia. We also offer all of our courses at The Strengthening Health Institute online. I have also taught throughout the United States, Eastern and Western Europe, the UK, Scandinavia, as well as in parts of Asia, mostly in Japan and Taiwan.
Are you (still) studying Macrobiotics? If so, what are your latest eye-openers?
I study Macrobiotics everyday; it is a never-ending exploration. Lately, I am excited about the recent, large-scale acceptance of the important relationship between individual food choices and overall health, even if there are no unanimous agreements on which approach is the healthiest. Scientific research has, for some years now, slowly been validating the major premises and lifestyle practices of Macrobiotics. Now, I see the potential that Macrobiotics has with verifying trends to current nutritional scientific theories.
Is there a sport that you practice? If so, can you tell me more about it?
I was never one much for sports, but I was a gymnast as a teenager. Now I find Yoga to be a good complement to my lifestyle and activities. I have not had the experience of Pilates yet.
What is your dream/goal in life? How are you going to make sure you achieve that or have you already achieved it?
My dream has always been to create and experience large-scale social change. I have been working to share and bring into the mainstream our Strengthening Health Approach to macrobiotic practice because it is open and flexible and can be combined with other approaches to a plant-based lifestyle.
I believe that the combination of our knowledge and understanding of history and tradition together with science can develop into a medicine for the future. I’m currently working on making Macrobiotic education available online to more people and trying to establish networks with like-minded, interesting individuals and groups who are constantly looking to play the game of health.
Did you write a book?
I wrote “The Great Life Diet” as the handbook for our style of macrobiotic practice. My wife Susan and I have recently updated and expanded the book to twice the length of the original. “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet” will be available in December 2014 and includes the spiritual philosophy underlying the practice as well as recipes and menu plans developed by Susan. Our hope is that “The Complete Macrobiotic Diet” helps to change the image and perception of macrobiotic practice so that it is more acceptable for the modern audience. We are very happy to have received endorsements from T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Neal Barnard (founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine), two forerunners in the medical field who have dedicated much of their career to promoting the benefits of a whole-foods, plant-based diet.
Do you own a website?
I have two websites. My personal website: www.dennywaxman.com links to my blog which explores recent studies and my perspective of current topics, and is also where I can be contacted for counseling sessions. The website www.strengthenhealth.org is for The Strengthening Health Institute, which offers our educational programs. Both are currently in the process of update and revision, yet are still available to browse.