Macrobiotics And The Differences Between “vegan” And “vegetarian”

Jill Skeem
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest: Jill Skeem
Guest Bio: Jill Skeem teaches adult and children’s cooking classes and lectures to people at companies and organizations on health and wellness. She’s a contributing writer to various publications, hosts a talk show on, and guests frequently on television and radio. Her popular cookbook is COMFORT FOOD GETS A VEGAN MAKEOVER, featured by Robyn Spizman on The Giftionary Show.

Segment Overview
Jill Skeem talks about Macrobiotics. She also touches on the differences between “Vegan” and “Vegetarian”.


Health Professional Radio

Neal Howard: Hello. You’re listening to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host, Neal Howard. It’s our pleasure to have in studio today with us, Jill Skeem. She’s a certified macrobiotic health counsellor, educator, and chef. She’s graduated from the Strengthening Health Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also a graduate of Ohio State University. She teaches adult and children’s cooking classes, and also lectures to companies and organisations across the country. How are you doing today, Jill?

Jill Skeem: I’m doing great, Neal.  How are you?

Neal: I’m doing good.  Glad to have you here with us.  I was looking at your bio, and you talk about being able to enjoy your comfort foods without having to battle obesity.  I’ve heard that obesity is basically an epidemic.  How is it that comfort foods, you usually associate comfort foods with overweight.  How does one enjoy comfort foods and not get fat?

Jill: Well, I have been working out in Idaho.  I’ve been living here for the past 10 years, and I realised that people, they want to eat healthier, they just don’t know how.  I thought, so many people go on a diet, and then they don’t last longer than a week, two weeks, three weeks.  Very few can continue and be successful.  I thought, well, why not makeover their traditional comfort foods in a healthy way?  Because they tend to go back to those comfort foods when they feel frustrated or maybe when they’ve blown their diet, then they’re just off the hinges there.

 So I thought, well, why not make lasagne in a healthy way, without the saturated fat and cholesterol?  So all of the recipes that I’ve made are vegan, which means they don’t have any animal products in there.  But they still have the taste and feel of their traditional comfort foods.  And I found that if they could eat it in a healthier way, they’re not missing their traditional comfort food because it still has the same taste and feel, honestly.

I served my vegan lasagne to my husband’s business partners.  I didn’t tell them it was vegan.  They had no idea, and they loved it.  They thought I actually had ricotta cheese in it.  So what I do is … yeah [laughs].  And my motto is not to tell [laughs].  Because once you hear the ricotta, that you think is ricotta, is really tofu blended with kalamata olives and basil and sundried tomatoes to give it that salty flavour, they get a little freaked out.  But it honestly looks and tastes like ricotta but without the saturated fat and cholesterol, so it’s really great.

Neal: Your book is titled Comfort Food: Get the Vegan Makeover.  What’s the difference between vegan and vegetarian?  I heard you say that vegan has no animal products in it whatsoever.  Is that the basic difference between vegan and vegetarian, or is it a little bit more complex?

Jill: No.  Well, there can be different types of vegetarians.  Some people will only eat eggs or cheese.  But the main difference is vegetarians will encompass people that eat eggs or cheese, whereas vegans don’t eat any animal products at all.  So no cheese, no eggs, and that’s really the difference.  So it’s really more restrictive.  And that’s one of the reasons I did the cookbook too, because I found that a lot of people don’t know how to pull things out of a recipe.

If you start with it pulled out, they can always add cheese or other things to these recipes.  But they kind of get paralysed and they’re like, “Oh, it has cheese in it,” and they stop reading there.  So I thought, why not make it easier for them and just handle it for them.  Then they can add anything that they like if they want to.

Neal: From a health standpoint, not eating any animal products, like eggs or the animal protein, is there a shock that takes place if you’ve been used to eating meat or if you’re a vegetarian and you go vegan?  Is there some type of shock that the body goes through?

Jill: Well, besides your family or friends … but you will start to discharge different things sometimes.  The problem is that you just have to know what you’re doing.  Some people go vegetarian or vegan, and they really just don’t understand that you have to have different components in your meals.  There are so many vegetarians or vegans that I’ve met that they just will eat French fries or eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and they eat the most unhealthy things.

 I really advocate for eating whole grains, at least one of your meals a day should be a whole grain, whether it’s brown rice or millet or barley or oats.  And you should always have a bean or a bean product once during the day so you get your protein supply.  So that could be tofu, it could be tempeh, it could be any kind of bean.  And then, always have a vegetable during your meals as well.  Those three components at the minimum would be a good meal.

Then, of course, you can add soups and seaweed dishes.  Some people eat arame or hijiki or nori to get extra minerals.  So there’s things you really have to understand without just going cold turkey so you don’t get sick or weak or damage yourself.  You have to educate yourself.

Neal: So vegan and vegetarian does not automatically equate to healthy, right?

Jill: Right, right.  I’ve seen people eat some of the worst stuff and say, “I’m a vegetarian.”  It’s like, you don’t even eat a vegetable.  So yeah, you really have to pay attention because what we eat today makes tomorrow’s blood.  And I think when people start thinking that way, they’re like, “Wow, maybe I don’t want my blood to be made up of that.”

So you really have to think about what will fuel my body, what will be nourishment for my body.  And I always think about that in a meal.  I always think first, “What’s my grain?  What’s my vegetable?” at the very minimum, and then, I’ll add a soup or I’ll add beans and make sure that you’re full and satisfied.

Neal: You’re a macrobiotic health counsellor.  What exactly is macrobiotics?

Jill: Well, macrobiotics, it’s been known in the past, back in the ‘70s, more like a cancer diet.  But it’s a grain and vegetable based diet, and it’s really eating more locally.  It has different cooking styles for different seasons.  You can make vegetables, you can prepare them in a certain way that will give you a lot of strength.  They add more sea vegetables to their diet, where they’ll eat hijiki or arame and nori, so you get minerals and diet as well.  It’s really about understanding food and how it affects the body.

And when you counsel someone, foods can really destroy your health or heal your health, honestly.  And so, that’s what counselling is.  It’s based on Asian diagnosis or Oriental diagnosis – it’s known as both things – which are 5,000-year-old Chinese principles.  They use your face, your hands, your pulse, different things to indicate what’s going on with someone’s body.

Neal: Speaking of the Asian diagnosis techniques, that is exactly what piqued your interest into macrobiotics in the first place, yes?

Jill: That’s right.  I used to be a paralegal for 18 years.  Yeah, I used to work for REBA for seven and a half years as a paralegal.  Can you imagine?

Neal: That’s quite a jump.

Jill: [laughs] Talk about a leap.  I took a $10 lecture on Intro to Asian Diagnosis, and it was taught by a macrobiotic health counsellor.  Someone told me that their boyfriend was doing this lecture, and it sounded interesting to me because I started in school as a pre-med but I didn’t … my dad was a doctor, but I changed my major and stuff later on.  So it was always an interest to me, the human body, and it turned out he was a macrobiotic counsellor.

Something clicked about food and health and diet, and it was January 2001.  I start studying food, and I was living in Boston at the time.  Then I moved to Philadelphia to continue to study with Denny Waxman and the Strengthening Health Institute, and ended up working there as well.  It just was fascinating to me and totally changed my life.  And I wouldn’t be in Idaho today without the $10 lecture because I met my husband at one of the programs in Philadelphia, and he was from Idaho.

Neal: And that’s what started it all.

Jill: Can you imagine one lecture could change your life [laughs]?

Neal: Well, apparently it can, because you went from two totally different sides of the spectrum, from a paralegal to basically a health professional, being a macrobiotic educator.

Jill: Right.  It’s very interesting.

Neal: You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio.  I’m your host, Neal Howard.  It’s been our pleasure to be speaking with Jill Skeem today, certified macrobiotic health counsellor and educator, and author of the book Comfort Food: Get the Vegan Makeover.  We’ve been here talking about how Jill got into macrobiotics, and also about some of the health benefits of foregoing some of the animal proteins that we’ve grown accustomed to in our everyday diets.  It’s been great having you here with us today, Jill.

Jill: Well, thanks Neal, for having me.

Neal: Great.  And I’m looking forward to more conversations with you about macrobiotics.

Jill: I am too.  Thanks, Neal.

Neal: Transcripts of this program are available at and also at

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