We may dramatically refer to clean eating and other viral diet trends as cults, but we weren’t aware just how valid that description is. That is until last night when Italian police reported they had broken up a ‘macrobiotic sect’, which is similar to a cult, which saw followers have their diet rigidly controlled, forced to make large financial contributions and denied them access to the outside world.
The sect was run by a 73-year-old well-known guru and businessperson named Mario Pianesi, who is being investigated alongside five others including his wife Loredana Volpi, 51. According to judicial sources, the charges range from suspicion of running a criminal gang tied to slavery, to mistreatment and tax evasion.
The investigation details Pianesi and his collaborators manipulating people into following a controlled five-stage diet called ‘Ma.Pi’ (coined from Pianesi’s name) which saw one female follower weigh only 35kg having no previous weight problems. They also convinced followers to give up their jobs and renounce their former lives to work for his association, often forced to provide labour for free.
Pianesi controlled a business empire with dozens of restaurants around Italy, and was considered one of Italy’s leading experts on a macrobiotic diet- holding conferences and working with research institutes.
A macrobiotic diet is based on whole grains, vegetables and beans, aiming to reduce animal products and avoid foods containing toxins. It is based on Zen Buddhism and attempts to balance the yin and yang elements of food.
The investigators report details that Pianesi was able ‘to obtain the trust of numerous people who were in a fragile psychological condition because of personal health or family problems,’ and even convince them to abandon mainstream medicine, telling devotees ‘pharmaceutical drugs do not cure people, they just take away symptoms, medicine kills, doctors are legalized assassins,’ according to Italian news agency Ansa.
An inquiry was made into his behaviour in 2013, when police heard of his claims that he could heal incurable illnesses. He is also alleged to have forced followers to make large financial contributions in order to fund his alternative medicine clinic. According to Italian police, those who could not make the donations were tried in a self-styled court run by Pianesi and other followers, and were forced to make self-criticism.
So far, Pianesi and his organization have not responded publicly.