In 1982, American entrepreneur Gregory Sams launched a product that would help take vegetarianism into the mainstream in the UK. “VegeBurgers” were cheap, tasty and a deliberate attempt to provide a meat-free alternative to one of the mainstays of the fast food industry. Gregory Sams talks to Simon Watts.
I was surprised and touched by this lovely tribute from my brother Craig in his April column for the Natural Product News. We were just a couple of hippies trying to change the world and I’m still coming to grips with the realization that we did, and still are.
Photo from bottom up: Gregory, Craig, Jay Landesman, Joe Dickens.
People often think I am defending corporations when I make the point that it is usually the state that facilitates their dirty work. There is very little point in railing at corporations when they are using state-sanctioned means to suppress competition. Better to get rid of the unreal tools with which they insulate themselves from market evolution and the public’s glare. I often example those who engage military and police to evict indigenous people from assets they bought rights to from government. Here is a more easily digested example, and one involving something close to my heart.
The growth of small craft breweries in the US has been astounding. I became a beer connoisseur in the mid 1970’s and recall there then being under ten breweries in the entire USA. A decade later there were 110 and today there are 3,500.
So how has Anheuser-Busch, the world’s largest brewer, responded to the growing popularity of quality beers? No amount of advertising can lure somebody back to Bud Light when they have tasted proper beer made by beer-loving brewers. Instead, they are manipulating an outdated and irrelevant Prohibition-era law to block the brewers of craft beers from distributing them to other sellers.
As they say in the coverage of this story by Rare, “…it’s clear that what Anheuser-Busch is doing… could not take place in a truly free market…Imagine what kind of craft creativity could be unleashed for all to enjoy if the government would simply get out of the beer industry’s way altogether!”
Imagine what creativity could emerge from the market if government stopped regulating all those things that we can manage better.
I suppose my Sixties began in 1964 when I heard Bob Dylan singing The Times They Are A-Changin’. At the age of fifteen I had no idea how, but it felt like something was simmering. Within a year I had smoked my first pot, hitched to Morocco and let my hair grow. A vegetarian from ten, I embraced macrobiotics in 1965 after my brother Craig brought news of it back during his last summer break from university. My diet became what I DID eat, instead of what I did NOT.
The hotbed radical campus in America was University of California Berkeley, which is where I went in Oct 1966, as the Summer of Love gestated across the San Francisco Bay. Turned onto acid, tuned into the Universe, and at the end of the year dropped out of a tree (not high, either way), injuring my spine. Don’t think that’s what Tim had in mind.
Return to England on a stretcher in early 1967 and my ‘Summer of Love’ begins at the end of April with London’s legendary 14-Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace. The hospital (Stoke Mandeville) sent me home on trial that weekend to see how I managed life in my new wheelchair. Had a cosmic time, immersing myself in the UK’s new-born psychedelic culture with Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Pretty Things, Arthur Brown and many more.
Later that summer I was dispensing brown rice and vegetables to hippies on the Portobello Rd once a week, inspired by the Diggers in California who had been inspired by the Diggers in England a few centuries earlier. But I still planned to get back to University after a year adjusting to the wheelchair thing.
My brother Craig, finished with University, was in the process of setting up a macrobiotic restaurant in a basement near Paddington, after his short-lived illegal venue in Notting Hill Gate had been closed down. But late in 1967 he has to abruptly leave the UK for several years and it falls to me to pick up the reins, completing and opening the restaurant in early 1968.
1968 and I’m sitting in the yard behind a bustling Seed Restaurant kitchen listening to Mary Hopkins singing Those Were the Days(my friend, we thought they’d never end. We’d sing and dance forever and a day). Tears welled in my 19-year old eyes as I experienced in advance the nostalgic sadness of the day when I had gone ‘straight’ and was looking back from another world. How could you beat having the hippest restaurant in hippie London, serving organic wholefood dinners to the likes of John and Yoko and supplying free meals to those with no money. We played the latest music of the era, put together on reel-to-reel tapes by the one and only DJ Jeff Dexter. I produced a magazine called Harmony that John supported with a great cartoon. It was cool.
I was a fervent crusader for macrobiotics, intent upon changing the eating habits of the world, and thereby the world itself. At the time I felt certain that the whole world would be eating brown rice and vegetables in a decade. After all, ten years ago I had been nine, and the world seemed to have changed a lot since then! Everything seems so possible, but you don’t know what is until you try.
Halfway into the 60’s, few people had ever heard of brown rice, and the only sesame seed they were likely to encounter was on top of a hamburger bun. Sunflower seeds were strictly for the birds and the only beans in British came in a tin with tomato sauce. If you were lucky enough to find pure fruit juice on sale, it would have come from Germany in a glass bottle and probably cost as much as a bottle of decent wine. Western bread was white, except in a few places like Germany, Poland and Scandinavia. Disease was seen as a random event – the fickle finger of fate, disconnected from personal lifestyle or environmental pollution. Your doctor was wholly responsible for your health.
We named our company Yin-Yang Limited, since macrobiotics was all about balancing the yin and the yang, and taking responsibility for your own health. Our company logo was the yin-yang symbol and in 1968 our restaurant sign was probably the only place in London you would see that, now common, symbol. I remember getting excited when I first saw the yin-yang sign somewhere else – on the Korean ambassador’s car (it’s their flag).
Though against the war in Vietnam, short hair and pin-stripe suits, the main enemy I perceived in those days was the sugar industry, poisoning our youth with their evil and addictive drug. As I passed those big sugar tankers on the roads, I had visions of placing plastic explosives on them, in a subversive terrorist action for the good of society. I knew our dishwasher at Seed restaurant shot up heroin in the toilet, but when I caught her drinking Coca Cola in the kitchen she was sacked immediately.
1969 onwards… Seed restaurant took care of the Sixties for me. Customers wanted to cook at home, so Ceres natural food store was added. Next a wholesale company, Harmony Foods, so other shops could stock the food. Hippies from different cities in the UK and Europe came for supplies with which to spread the dietary revolution. Many of our early customers grew to became regional or national wholesalers.
Magazines (Harmony and Seed), cafes (Sprout and Green Genes), wholemeal bakeries (Ceres retail and wholesale), a bookstore and pop festival catering, including Glastonbury ’71, were all part of our agenda in those early years. It was full on and full of fun. 1973 arrived and I was still waiting for Mary Hopkins’ nostalgic vision to arrive.
There were plenty of others making new music, promoting free love, living in communes, selling incense and dispensing the wisdom of the East. The primary dream of the Sixties, for my brother and I, was to turn people on to natural and organic foods and the idea that diet affected health and happiness. It was so clear that this was the way forward – the right sort of food for healthy human beings. And when you know you are right you assume that eventually everybody else will come around to your way of thinking (precisely the sort of attitude that makes fundamentalist religious freaks so dangerous). It seemed like it was only a matter of time until the message got across, and it soon did.
Today, over forty years later, I admit to being surprised, delighted and proud of the strides that have been made. The whole world may not be eating natural organic foods, but for every one person who did so in the Sixties there are thousands doing so today. Whole grains and pulses and seeds are back in the human food chain along with a huge growth in sustainable agriculture. Organic natural foods are now a multi-billion dollar industry and millions are aware that the food they eat has an effect upon the health and happiness they experience in their lives. We have come a very long way.
And yet, looking at the world today, it seems like the utopia we imagined remains on the distant horizon. I am surprised, depressed, and appalled at the progress of the industrial juggernaut that tries to divorce our existence from the natural world. Trucks full of liquid sugar are the least of our problems. Though we ‘blew the whistle’ on them in the 60’s, food industry chemists have spent the years between developing countless new means to cheapen, adulterate and preserve our food. The enemies of harmony push relentlessly upon Europe’s door in their efforts to introduce genetically modified experiments into the food chain.
Though most of today’s green movements evolved from the Sixties, we have witnessed increasing pollution of our food and our environment ever since. New varieties of disease and illness have visited mankind, with the pharmaceutical companies growing fat on the back of them. Their lobbyists are well-funded.
The war on drugs continues and any substance that makes us feel good without needing a prescription from the doctor is illegal, alcohol excepted. We used to think that cannabis would be legalized within a few years and that society would soon recognize the value of LSD to our cultural evolution. Few realized how determined the status quo would be to prevent us from tasting forbidden fruit that offers knowledge and bliss. Today (2015) the war seems to be faltering, the madness of it openly acknowledged, in some nations.
And yet, as scary as the world appears to be to me, in many ways these still are “the days, my friend,” just as much as “those were the days.” Year on year I have watched the seeds that were planted in the Sixties grow into a new global consciousness. Before the Sixties you very rarely heard people talking about harmony, environment, vision, meditation, visualization, massage, yoga, aromatherapy, organic food, natural healing, conservation or personal computers (another child of the times). There were many who believed that we would all be living on convenient pills by now. They were wrong.
It turns me on to see more and more of humanity connecting to this wonder-filled world – to know how many are looking within, as well as outside of their selves. It turns me on to see how much more joy and inspiration there is in the world – gods know, we’ll need it in the times ahead. And it turns me on to continue delighting in so many of life’s features that stem from the Sixties.
Mary Hopkins, I’m still lovin’ it.
– originally written March 2007, for German publisher Werner Pieper’s book on different peoples’ Sixties experience, with a few minor updates –
And after the Sixties …
The business grew into the distribution and manufacture of natural foods (Harmony Foods and Whole Earth) until 1982, when I left to launch the first VegeBurger onto the market, creating and christening the product. It did well, added a word to the language, and I sold it in 1988, leaving the food industry behind me. Two year advance on retirement, until I discover chaos theory. 1990 open Strange Attractions, world’s only chaos shop, designing and publishing lots of fractal imagery and computer graphics, later licensing these to others and through agencies. Millions of fractals reprinted throughout the world. 1998 publish my book Uncommon Sense, the State is Out of Date, outlining the messages and lessons that chaos theory has for our lives and societies – sell 3200 copies. 2000 to 2007, writing and researching next book, published 2008 and titled Sun of gOd – Discover the Self-Organizing Consciousness That Underlies Everything. Spend my time promoting this book then in 2013 I upgrade my first book, retitled The State Is Out Of Date, We Can Do It Better. I give talks and interviews on both topics.
Volkswagen did wrong by falsifying data, crossing the line in a game where it is well know that every car maker uses canny tricks to massage their figures on emissions, fuel consumption and the like. I am glad that they were caught out, that they admitted it and that their chief executive has resigned. I suspect there will be sleepless nights across the car industry for weeks to come.
But what this accidental discovery also reveals is that Uncle Sam has not been checking actual emissions against laboratory emissions figures from Volkswagen vehicles, or any others. This has apparently been overlooked throughout some 40 years of emissions standards, with the same approach likely to have been true within the EU. I am reminded that in all my years in the food business many of my products were tested by state agencies, but never for the veracity of the ingredient listing or nutritional content.
It is ironic that the Uncle Sam Corporation, which is making a huge haul out of this ($18 Billion, possibly much more), is the same ”corporation” that hands out billions in subsidies to fossil fuel producers, the root source of the emissions in question. This same “corporation” encourages fracking, underwrites nuclear power, and uses depleted uranium in munitions that will pollute the land on which they explode for thousands of years. This collector of fines destroys entire nations overseas in pursuit of its own interests, or the interests of those pulling its strings. It doesn’t really give a damn about emissions, but has suddenly discovered a nice little earner.
It was two guys seeking to show the cleanliness of diesel that turned up this surprise, having expected Volkswagens’ performance to demonstrate their case. At the very least, the US government should be rewarding these two with a good share of their harvest in fines. Uncle Sam didn’t spend money finding this out and hasn’t personally lost anything, though many Volkswagen owners will be unable to drive vehicles made illegal overnight. Could those drivers and asthma sufferers also be calling the state to account for not doing its job over decades?
Those two guys got a surprise, as would we if our foodstuffs, body care products and many other goods were adequately vetted for damaging features.
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Here is a related extract from my book The State Is Out Of Date, We Can Do It Better, that discusses the alternatives to trusting the state to keep our foodstuffs safe, one that could be extended to motor vehicles and other consumer products. From the chapter “Way and Means” “…And we want to be sure that our food is not contaminated with heavy metals, toxic bacteria, rat droppings, radioactive particles, pesticides, unexpected forms of flesh, hormone residues, or other noxious contaminants.
Though the state would have us believe that it looks after all the above and more, today’s increasingly conscious consumers are becoming ever more aware of the flimsiness of the state’s protection—a state whose own involvement in the food chain has led to dangers far more endemic and frightening than rat droppings or even a touch of heavy metal. Typically the state will try to deny or cover up its own dangerous mistakes, assuring us that there has been no risk to human health. Occasionally, when scientists speak out about the dangers, they will suggest that consumers, if they want to be absolutely sure, should consume fewer farmed salmon, or be sure to peel their potatoes and apples, while not suggesting they be overly concerned. Then, one suspects, they will take steps to ensure that such information does not unexpectedly leak out again in the future, and wait for things to get back to abnormal.
Where consumers are unconcerned about their food quality, no amount of regulations will make much difference to the quality of their diet—a diet that has often been downgraded by government interference in the food chain. Today, as consumers increasingly appreciate the connection between their health and the foods with which they make and power themselves, a vacuum exists for a company whose remit is to provide genuine certification to food producers, incorporating regular testing of their products and verification of claims made for products. This can be done with bonded personnel able to review, among many other factors, a company’s working recipes, relative to ingredient listing. It will be in the long-term interests of the food industry to have a standard of integrity that can be trusted by the public.
If such a standard is developed and maintained by a private organization, its very existence would be threatened were integrity lost by colluding with a food company over false data. Today there is always the chance of such activity being exposed online or on Twitter, TV, or by the press. Such a certification mark adds value to the product and would be paid for by a modest charge to the company based on volume or value. There can be alternative validation schemes available so, for instance…”
Graham Hancock forRussell Brand in the New Statesman.
THE CONSCIOUSNESS REVOLUTION
Consciousness is one of the great mysteries of science – perhaps the greatest mystery. We all know we have it, when we think, when we dream, when we savour tastes and aromas, when we hear a great symphony, when we fall in love, and it is surely the most intimate, the most sapient, the most personal part of ourselves. Yet no one can really claim to have understood and explained it completely. There’s no doubt it’s associated with the brain in some way but the nature of that association is far from clear. In particular how do these three pounds of material stuff inside our skulls allow us to have experiences?
…later, he continues…
I refer here to the so-called “war on drugs” which is really better understood as a war on consciousness and which maintains, supposedly in the interests of society, that we as adults do not have the right or maturity to make sovereign decisions about our own consciousness and about the states of consciousness we wish to explore and embrace. This extraordinary imposition on adult cognitive liberty is justified by the idea that our brain activity, disturbed by drugs, will adversely impact our behaviour towards others. Yet anyone who pauses to think seriously for even a moment must realize that we already have adequate laws that govern adverse behaviour towards others and that the real purpose of the “war on drugs” must therefore be to bear down on consciousness itself.
“It seems a reasonable desire for people to find some means to get “out of their heads” from time to time—to take a totally different perspective on life. Perhaps some new perspectives are needed in the world today, and the attraction to drugs is evolution trying to happen. We should be pleased that many of today’s generation are avoiding the trap of alcohol addiction, together with the anti-social behavior, depression, trivia worship, and middle-age burnout that abusers risk. When not abused, alcohol can be an enjoyable and stimulating drug that is beneficial to our health and well-being. Alcohol has a well-earned place in our culture, but that place does not deserve to be defended by state legislation and turned into a drug monopoly.
Drugs are an integral part of our culture and, as we learned in school, they made up the core of the early international business that brought the world’s differing cultures into trade with each other. Those products of trade included tobacco, alcohol, opium, tea, coffee, chocolate, cocaine, and sugar. Tea was such a costly drug in the pre-revolutionary US that users would season and eat the dried leaves after drinking the strong tea. Prior to the discovery of sugar cane, the sweetening for Europe had been expensive honey; the intense sugar hit was once a luxury drug. Today, we are made addicts from childhood, with many seeing it as a child’s inalienable right to consume large quantities of sugary things. Yet it is clear that the effects of sugar consumption are more damaging than many illegal drugs, and that for many, sugar is a harder drug to kick. The other major items of trade were pepper and spices, products we might view as virtual drugs to the taste buds of the bland European palate of the mid-millennium. The glorious history of trade in the civilized world was firmly anchored in humanity’s desire for new and diverse drugs and sensory inputs.
People have always sought to include drugs in their life- style for many non-medical reasons: whether to stay awake longer or to fall asleep sooner; whether to drown their sorrows or to better understand them; whether to enjoy a banter in the bar with friends or have mystic communication with a tree; whether to explore their dark side or say hello to the god within. Some drugs are not an escape from “reality” but a gateway to exploring the very nature of reality. Even the humble drug tea was first discovered by Buddhist monks, who used its stimulatory qualities in their quest for higher consciousness when meditating through the night. One could imagine how dismayed they would be at the level of tea abuse taking place in modern Britain.”
I had quite a few things to say about GMO’s in The State Is Out Of Date, so was delighted to see that Dr Bronner’s soaps are in the forefront of the campaign to get GMO foodstuffs labeled as such in the state of Washington. Today, the 5th of November, is the critical day when voting takes place on what could be a historic turning point.
It’s midmorning at the hive of cheap buildings that serves as the global HQ of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, and, as usual, David Bronner isn’t working on anything to do with soap. Sure, his phone is ringing off the hook with business calls and a rep from Trader Joe’s is visiting tomorrow, but the 40-year-old CEO—who looks like a 6-foot-5 raver version of Captain Jack Sparrow—could care less. A Burning Man amulet dangles on a hemp necklace over his tie-dye shirt as he leans in toward his computer screen, staring at what really matters to him: the latest internal poll results for Washington Initiative 522, a ballot measure that would require the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.
The initiative, which Washingtonians will vote on tomorrow, is one of the costliest in state history: Its proponents have spent a little more than $7 million, while their opponents in biotech and agribusiness have poured in $22 million.* Dr. Bronner’s has donated a whopping $1.8 million to the Yes on 522 campaign. (That’s on top of $620,000 it gave in support of a similar California ballot measure last year.) At stake, Bronner says, is consumers’ right to decide what they put in their bodies. “If we don’t win the right to label and enable people to choose non-GMO, then everything is going to be GMO.” Read the full story here.
“The reason there are virtually no GMO products on sale in the European food chain is not because they are illegal but because they must be labeled as GMO, and people remain unconvinced on the benefits versus the risks.”
Why is there so much death and disease among sea life living near the west coast of North America right now? Could the hundreds of tons of highly radioactive water that are being released into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima every single day have anything to do with it?
…Polar bears, seals and walruses along the Alaska coastline are suffering from fur loss and open sores…Along the Pacific coast of Canada and the Alaska coastline, the population of sockeye salmon is at a historic low…Something is causing fish all along the west coast of Canada to bleed from their gills, bellies and eyeballs…the Vancouver Sun reported that cesium-137 was being found in a very high percentage of the fish that Japan was selling to Canada… Read full story here
We thought that the one positive spin-off of Three Mile Island was that it would be the death-knell for nuclear power. We thought the same after Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Yet the madness continues with the UK now going to China for money to build more. The risks are so unacceptable that only the disconnected thinking of a coercive state could countenance them.extract from The State of Business, chapter 20
“‘False Legitimacy’ is often extended to businesses that would otherwise have neither the means nor any reason to exist. As mentioned earlier, this is patently the case with nuclear power, a dangerous and uneconomic activity that would never merit its existence in a free economy. Unless exonerated by the state, companies have responsibility under common law for their activities. Nuclear power companies do not take responsibility for obsolete plants that will remain toxic and need minding for many tens of thousands of years beyond their thirty- to forty-year working lifespan. No insurance company is willing to cover for the incalculable potential costs of nuclear accidents, as demonstrated at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. The state will attempt to underwrite any disaster repairs, with our money. If I keep referring to nuclear, it is because nothing else on this planet matches its potential to so permanently destroy virtually all of this beautiful thing called life.” (get the full ebook online for less than a cup of coffee)
The Los Angeles times reports that “The first step in curing a sugar or fat addiction is, like with any addiction, realize you have it,” said Morley. “This is difficult because we don’t generally think of food as being biologically addictive like a drug, but it can be.”
– – – read the full story
Considering how few include alcohol in their thinking on dangerous drugs, it is, perhaps, not surprising that almost no one includes sugar (the precursor of alcohol). So I am heartened to see this mainstream US newspaper taking up the story. I touch upon it in this paragraph from The Drugs Problem – chapter 27
“Drugs are an integral part of our culture and, as we learned in school, they made up the core of the early international business that brought the world’s differing cultures into trade with each other. Those products of trade included tobacco, alcohol, opium, tea, coffee, chocolate, cocaine, and sugar. Tea was such a costly drug in the pre-revolutionary US that users would season and eat the dried leaves after drinking the strong tea. Prior to the discovery of sugar cane, the sweetening for Europe had been expensive honey; the intense sugar hit was once a luxury drug. Today, we are made addicts from childhood, with many seeing it as a child’s inalienable right to consume large quantities of sugary things. Yet it is clear that the effects of sugar consumption are more damaging than many illegal drugs, and that for many, sugar is a harder drug to kick.” (get the full ebook online for the price of a cup of herbal tea)
Just when you think there’s no winning against the biotech industry, news out of Mexico City shows that all is not lost. After years of deliberation, a Mexico judge has placed an indefinite ban on genetically-engineered corn. Effective immediately, companies like Monsanto and DuPont/Pioneer will no longer be allowed to plant or sell their corn within the country’s borders. …read more
a few words on GMO’s from The State Is Out Of Date
“Genetically modified foods are made possible by the state; each product on sale has been officially approved by the government, who thereby assume the responsibility for any downstream consequences that may arise. As Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications, concisely put it: ‘Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.’ (New York Times, October 25, 1998).”