“I knew a guy that used to work in the stockyards and he used to kill cows all day long with a big sledgehammer, and then go home at night and eat dinner with his children and eat the meat that he slaughtered. Then he would go to church and read the bible, and he would say, ‘That is not killing.’ And I look at him and I say, ‘That doesn’t make any sense, what you are talking about? Then I look at the beast, and I say, ‘Who is the beast?’”-Charles Manson
The utopic spirit of the sixties in Los Angeles was epitomized by The Source, Jim Baker’s health-centered and first-ever vegetarian restaurant located on the Sunset strip. Baker went on to form his own commune in the hills, and like Baker, many people were starting or joining quasi collectives that were looking into alternative lifestyles that included things such as organic vegetarian diets, communal living, and utopian ideals. Many of these initial late sixties experiments in unconventional living turned darkly pessimistic by the early seventies with the likes of the quasi-commune leader Charles Manson and his paranoid delusional concept of Helter Skelter. And after almost fifty years, there have been many more examples and failed attempts by mostly male (and mostly white) leaders (Heaven’s Gate, The People’s Temple, Children of God, Branch Davidians, Rajneeshpuram, Buddhafield, and most recently Nxivm etc) establishing “High Demand Groups,” aka cult movements, which often end when they begin convincing their own members to make criminally deranged if not terrifyingly self-destructive choices.
Cults are often a poor expedient for many vulnerable individuals who likely have deep needs for membership, spiritual transcendence, or general life purpose and who, for whatever reason (having experienced trauma at the hands of family, being excluded by traditional institutions, failed in their perceived profession or generally feeling rejected socially) fell for the various promises that often get peddled by the predatory charisma of a self-appointed leader. But cults are also a more drastic version of what most humans need; a feeling of community, some (higher) calling outside of the self, some form of meaningful action, and a sense of personal agency. Jim Baker’s stroll down cult lane started with just such a desire for a community that was in the business of raising consciousness which started with an earnest approach to a diet where all things edible should be ethical. Of course, Baker having two separate murder charges to his name as well as the constant presence of underaged girls at his Los Feliz mansion will problematize anyone espousing food ethics but The Source and its original health mission for a diet and the raising of consciousness still very much resonate with a city like Los Angeles. We are a city where people, often in their quest for greater self-fulfillment, professionally and personally, inevitably end up knocking on the door of wellness practices that The Source, in many ways, attempted to roughly establish.
For The Source’s Special Sauce, we want to ask: when does a particular cult of a certain diet become a formalized diet of a cult? The Source and those groups living in Los Angeles during the sixties striving for their own “heaven on earth,” were wellness 1.0, where the symbiosis between stomach and spirit was just beginning. Fast forward to the Los Angeles of today; we live in a commercialized wellness buffet, picking and choosing to create our most ‘optimal’ self as a prerequisite to our greater project of self-actualization. Our wellness mysticism includes a holistic blueprint of the human with full tech-support, where biometrics are everywhere helping us sync our circadian rhythms with our food cravings. We schedule infrared light baths for when our mitochondria have the munchies all while listening to binaural beats to amplify our brains. Or maybe we are writing in our gratitude journals while drinking a collagen peptide juice smoothy to replenish ourselves after a stemcell spa day right before a long ‘Serenity Now’ weekend workshop. Or maybe we will move out to the desert and create our very own “intentional community” which are now popping up around the country, from Cedar Moon in Portland to the East Wind Community in the Ozarks, with young folks (often white) “defecting” from ‘Babylon’ (what they call urban living), to reside in a place that is literally farm to table; much of what The Source championed and practiced.
The cults are back baby! But they’ve dropped the c-word because these new organizations are shrewdly self-aware, politically sophisticated and using metadata to make digital marketing plans for their new ‘seminars of selfhood!’ So, whether it’s the self-optimization diet by the ‘biohacking’ tech bros exemplified by the Bulletproof diet founder Dave Asprey, those younger earnest millennials ‘checking out’ of capitalism to join commune 2.0 or the much murkier intentions behind self-actualization organizations like Landmark Worldwide and their Tony Robbin inspired “Executive Success Program” for the managerial class, won’t you join Los Angeles Eats Itself as we attempt the impossible and try to sincerely, but not too earnestly, build a better cult out of these activated charcoal ashes?