"Holistic Holiday at Sea" - Voyage to Well Being Sets Sail
By Joann Impallaria in Sacred Pathways, Oct/Nov 2004
If Sandy Pukel looks familiar, it may be because he has appeared many times in south Florida newspapers, natural foods magazines, and on national television. However, if you are a member of the hip generation, you may recognize him as one of the flower children who were interviewed, naked, in the film classic Woodstock. Sandy's transformation from a junk food eating hippie to one of this country's most influential advocates for healthy eating has been a spiritual quest of epic proportions.
With a $4,000 loan from his father, Sandy opened a natural food store, called Oak Feed, in the law office of a friend in Coconut Grove, Florida. Before long he moved to a larger location, and by the 1990's, Oak Feed was doing 2 million dollars in annual sales and occupied one of the swankiest addresses in South Florida. What's more, as Coconut Grove grew and became a Mecca for everything chic, the Oak Feed store became the place to rub elbows with the elite of film and sport. However, Sandy's good financial fortune and growing notoriety did not deter him from his bigger dream. With resources from his business Sandy helped to establish several macrobiotic foundations in Florida and began sponsoring conferences featuring macrobiotic world leaders such as Michio Kushi and Herman Aihara. As interest in macrobiotics, Oriental medicine, health, and food grew, Sandy's workshops and conferences expanded to include nationally known teachers and speakers who attracted thousands of attendees in Florida, California, and Colorado. Proceeds from many of these events were used to educate school children about the benefits of good nutrition. True to his ideals, Sandy refuses to sell products that have processed sugars and preservatives. Although Sandy's motto is “everything changes,” in many ways he is still the casual, friendly guy he was back in his hippie days.
Sacred Pathways: Can you talk to us about your beginning as a student of macrobiotics and the influence Michio Kushi has had in your life?
Sandy Pukel: I got into macrobiotics in New York City in 1970 while I was attending law school. I went to a lecture on macrobiotics and then went on the diet cold turkey. It had a profound influence on my life. That summer, I went to a retreat in upstate New York and Michio Kushi was one of the speakers there. Right away, I was put in touch with the main man. Since then, we’ve become beyond lasting friends. I consider him one of the few most influential men in my life. There was Michio and my father. I was fortunate to have that combination. The whole philosophy behind macrobiotics just made sense. I was always helping people and active in my life. Michio gave me even more of a direction. I just started doing things; it was my calling.< I moved to Jamaica where I was going to set up a community, but plans changed and I moved instead to Coconut Grove, Florida, with one of my friends from college. I soon realized that there were no vegetarian restaurants to eat, so I opened a natural foods store and restaurant which featured bulk grains, nuts and seeds. I continued to operate the store for 34 years. We helped a lot of people. From that, I started giving seminars, lectures and cooking classes. I put on events in hotels for 25 to 30 years, mostly in Miami Beach. I brought in speakers like Deepak Chopra, Dr. Bernie Segal, and Lindsey Wagner. I had the support of the Who’s Who of people in alternative health and they were very supportive, giving our non-profit organization resources for holding the seminars and workshops.
SP: How did the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruises later evolve?
Sandy: We tried to do cruises in the past, but no one would cooperate with the kitchen. Understanding that the main event on a cruise is the food, we decided to bring in our own cooks and food like organic grains, beans, seeds, and miso, which is unheard of in the cruise industry. There were 165 people in the kitchen working with us on the first cruise. The food was a gourmet delight, however, people also say that the most important thing is not the food itself or the teachings, but being with other people who are like-minded. During the cruise, I have an open dining room concept where people can switch tables and sit with different people. The whole event is about meeting people from all over the world. My greatest pleasure is turning people onto good things. To make the world a better place. I come up with the good ideas and I surround myself with good people to execute them. I schedule all of the 35 to 40 lectures, and I look to see what will make the program work. Those aboard don’t have to go to all the classes. They can swim, scuba dive, or go the beach. My responsibility is to have the programs and the good food available. There is nothing else like this. It is truly amazing. We offer basic yoga, cooking, Tai Chi, alternative medicine, massage and macrobiotic way of life classes, which are all geared toward the audience’s level of experience. You can always teach classes, but why not have it in a setting where people can have a good time? Yoga is held on the ship’s deck while floating on the Caribbean. The setting is incredible! At every meal, we feature a soup, an appetizer, a salad, and an entree, plus a side dish, and dessert. We make up the menus, and we always make sure that everyone can eat something on the menu. We have miso soup every morning along with hot cereal, cold cereal, veggies and greens. For lunch there might be corn chowder and nori rolls as a appetizer, in addition to salad, a noodle tempeh dish, seitan stroganoff, seitan paella, and strawberry shortcake for dessert. We use only the finest ingredients. Rice syrup or barley malt are used as sweeteners, and fruit kanten is available for people who can’t eat sweets. Every meal is different. We never see the same thing twice.
SP: What changes have you seen within the macrobiotic community as well as the influence that the diet has had on the general population?
Sandy: The biggest changes I’ve seen is that you have to go beyond the food. You must have the exercise — walking, yoga, swimming — you have to get out there. You can’t just eat brown rice and vegetables. I keep telling people, “Who cares who gets the credit, just get better, get happy, and get well.” You can be the richest or the most educated person in the world, but if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. >I encourage people to meditate and to stop feeling sorry for themselves. I’ve become a psychologist more than a nutritionist. I have to challenge people to fight for their lives. I’ve said to Michio many times, this is all great information, if you’re open to hearing it. You can tell your friends the same message one hundred times, but they can’t hear it until they’re available. I make the information more palatable to the general public. We want to go beyond the brown rice diet.
SP: What do you feel is the hope and direction of the whole foods movement and the macrobiotic approach?
Sandy: That high quality foods are readily available in natural foods stores and even supermarkets. That’s my ultimate wish list. The hardest part for people is that whole foods are not available or difficult to obtain. What brings the Macrobiotic Diet to the forefront is some earth-shattering event. My job is to put the word out and make it available. That’s what Michio is doing at the Kushi Institute. They’re just making the information available. If people want to access the material, it’s there. You can’t make it exclusive to just a few people. You have to make the whole philosophy available to serve mankind.
SP: What ultimately drives you to continue to share the philosophy with others?
Sandy: I get turned on by helping people. My ultimate thing is to turn everyone onto the Macrobiotic Diet. The ultimate goal is to be happy. Let’s get along and share together. That’s what keeps me going. People smiling and getting along together. I brought up five children. They all know about the diet and they all know to eat grains and vegetables and to eat simply. My son is a senior in law school. He’s bright as can be, but he’s not a zealot like I am. To each his own.
SP: Tell us more about this year’s cruise.
Sandy: We’ve taken what we think is the best of last year and upgraded the program. We want to try to take it to the next level. We’re always going for infinity, nirvana, so to speak, but each time we try to improve it here and there. We try to add a program and teachers that can improve or add another dimension to try to attract more people. The name of the game is to turn people on, to try to attract the people who are going to bring people. The ship this year leaves Ft. Lauderdale and remains at sea for a full day. It stops in Puerto Rico for one night. There’s dancing on board as well, and people are still getting up at 7 a.m. to go to yoga and mediation classes. We arrive in St. Thomas at 7 in the morning and leave at 5 p.m. Keynote speakers appear in the evening. Classes run from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for seven days. People can take advantage of that or get off the ship and walk around. After St. Thomas, we head for the Dominican Republic, then we’re out at sea for a day, then make stops in Nassau in the Bahamas, and return to Ft. Lauderdale. If you want to get off the boat you can, and if you don’t you can stay onboard. There will also be personal treatments and consultations available. There are always things to learn on every level.
The eco-friendly Costa Mediterranea is most noted for its extraordinary interiors with decorations representing a veritable voyage of discovery based on 17th and 18th century Italian palazzos that have been reinterpreted by the American architect Joseph Farcus. In addition to the health-oriented activities, participants will be able to take advantage of the onboard amenities, including the world-class Ischia Spa, Olympia Gym, four swimming pools, casino, disco, and jogging/walking course overlooking the Caribbean. Prices begin at $1095 per person double occupancy and include port charges of $139, specially prepared organic/natural meals, lectures, yoga classes, meditation classes, Tai Chi, Chi Kung, workshops, cooking classes, nightly entertainment, and the use of all basic spa/health club and onboard facilities.