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December 30, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, December 30, 2005

You are what you eat? You are what you eat? (December 30, 2005)

Patricia Becker offers macrobiotic class at Common Ground fundraiser

by Cyrus Hedayati

To Patricia Becker, cooking is not just a matter of what to eat, but how to live. Every ingredient in every recipe she uses comes with a deep wisdom learned in 23 years of studying macrobiotics.

She'll offer her knowledge in a special cooking class Jan. 7 at a residence in Menlo Park. The $100 entrance fee will buy three hours with Becker, including recipes, expertise and lunch, with proceeds going to Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center.

Becker, a self-proclaimed "lifetime student and lifetime teacher," has studied under professors at various universities around the country since her late twenties, trying to better her understanding of macrobiotics, the practice of eating whole grains and beans to improve health. She maintains a youthful excitement and optimism for her field, even at age 51.

Yet Becker discovered her passion by accident. Living in Boulder, Colo., she had long suffered from a poor skin condition into her late twenties, and found that the pills her dermatologist had prescribed were not only ineffective, but making her sick. After stumbling onto a book on macrobiotics that her parents unknowingly had in their house, she found that her solution might be a diet, not drugs.

"It said that what was medically impossible was macrobiotically easy," she said.

After following the guidelines in the book, she noticed an instant improvement in both her mental and physical complexion. She was happier, healthier and found life easier. She quickly immersed herself in macrobiotics, studying under professors at the University of Boulder, and three years later, one of them asked her to teach a class herself at the school's macrobiotics center. She jumped at the opportunity to share what she had learned and has been doing so ever since. She has also continued studying.

"I created my own school," she said. "I found the teachers that I liked and I would study under them."

She follows this approach even today, citing the Zen principal of maintaining a beginner's mind to gain as much knowledge in life as possible. It was this endless quest for more understanding of food and its effects on people that brought Becker to Common Ground. Moving to Harbin Hot Springs, Calif., in 1985 to work as a family's organic chef, she heard about the store from friends as a stellar resource for organic gardening. After moving to Los Altos Hills in '91, she decided to get involved.

"I wanted to be more connected to the source of the food," she said. "The quality of the soil you use affects the taste and nourishment of the food, and Common Ground best teaches people how to have healthy soil."

In addition to offering organic gardening products, Common Ground, located in Palo Alto, holds classes on biointensive gardening, which can help produce more food and improve the quality of the soil.

Becker has been acting as class coordinator and manager at Common Ground for the past five years, while teaching classes part time. In the Bay Area, she has taught at Hidden Villa, Los Gatos High School, and other places including private homes. With the Jan. 7 class, she will share her extensive knowledge of macrobiotics as well as her relatively new-found love of biointensive gardening.

"I'm combining both of my passions," she said.

In addition to discussing the advantages of cooking and gardening organic foods, Becker's class will stress the importance of a healthy lifestyle through a controlled diet.

"You're creating your body every day with what you eat, with what's on the end of your fork," said Becker. "Food is a very powerful way to make changes in your body."

She also plans on incorporating ancient, oriental knowledge into her class, providing a natural approach to cooking.

"There's basic, universal principles that we're living with everyday," she said. "We know the sun is up there everyday, the moon is up there everyday. The moon affects the growth of plants, so you want to plant when the moon is pulling the plants up."

This natural mindset means not only eating organic food, but choosing food that grows locally and in the current season. It also requires taking care of the soil and "inviting nature into the garden," said Becker. Natural products keep the soil's microorganisms alive and enrich the soil in a harmonious way, leading to healthier plants, and tasty, nourishing food, she said, adding that strong chemicals, which are common in commercial gardening, harm the soil and the food that grows in it.

With these methods, particularly emphasizing vegan foods, Becker hopes that she can improve the health of her community as well as the Earth.

"It takes an enormous amount of resources to get a pound of beef on the table as opposed to a pound of grain," she said.

She also believes that she can make the difference in the lives of others that macrobiotics made in her life more than 20 years ago.

"I think that for our society to become healthier and more sustainable, it begins with us individually," she said.

Becker applies this to herself as well, learning and improving herself everyday so that she may be of better service to others.

"In order to take care of anybody else, you need to first have a strong center," she said.

Editorial intern Cyrus Hedayati can be reached at

What: Seasonal, local cuisine class When: Saturday, Jan. 7, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Where: a home in Menlo Park Cost: $100 Info: Call Larissa Keet at (650) 948-4036 or

@12subhead:Ginger Cabbage and Squash

1 small head green cabbage, cut in quarters, cored and sliced in 1-inch pieces 1 stick celery 1 tsp. umeboshi vinegar 1 C. water 1/2 small winter squash, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces 5 large mushrooms, sliced 1/3 to 1/2 package Eden Pickled Ginger, and the liquid 2 to 3 tsp. sesame oil 1 Tbsp. black sesame seeds, toasted

Heat the oil in a large wok, then sauté the cabbage and celery with the umeboshi vinegar until tender. Set the squash on top of the cabbage and add the water. Cover, bring to a boil and simmer for about 6 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until the vegetables are tender. Remove the lid and let most the liquid cook off, then turn off the heat.

Pour the pickled ginger into a bowl and take out 1/3 of the ginger. Save the remaining ginger and liquid in a glass jar. Slice thinly and stir into the vegetables along with 1 tsp. of the liquid. Taste if you have enough ginger flavor. Add more if desired. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds.
Drop quote???? 'Food is a very powerful way to make changes in your body.' -- Patricia Becker, Common Ground manager

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