The Hindu guru and mystic, Neem Karoli Baba, was acclaimed for five words that he passed on to his followers and that they in turn added to posters and sermons that traveled around the world. Baba’s “sticky message,” as one might call it, was “Love People and Feed Them.” Food is Love. Today, in the midst of a consumerist society, the words “love” and “people” are often misused and abused.
Demagogues herald “the people” even as they belittle them; advertisers promote products to consumers with the word “love” even as they engage in false advertising. Still, there’s no way to do without both.
Without meaning or aiming to sound like an advertisement, one might say “Food Is Love.”
When Neem Karoli Baba used the word “love,” he meant spiritual love, or “agape” as the Greeks called it, and, when he used the word “people,” he meant the hungry, the homeless and the harried.
As a mantra and a political slogan, “Love People and Feed Them” is appealing to me and to many others as well and not just to mystics and Hindus. Moreover, in my view, Baba’s words are as vital as Carlo Petrini’s slogan, “buono, pulito e giusto,” which has been translated into English as “Good, clean and fair,” and has since become the global rallying cry of the Slow Food Movement.
But what might the idea, “Love People and Feed Them,” actually look like and taste like. I saw it in action at a conference titled “Call of the Forest: Water, Climate & Spirit” that was held in Point Reyes Station on the vernal equinox.
For one long day, I ate delicious food, witnessed an outpouring of love, and learned a great deal about spirituality and the global environmental crisis.
First the food, that was presented three times, on Saturday March 19, 2016 — the main day of the conference. In the morning, there were pastries, along with coffee, caffeinated and decaffeinated, and tea. In the afternoon, there were three different kinds of sandwiches: veggie, ham and turkey, plus apples for everyone. And, in the evening, a feast with produce from the Point Reyes foodshed: pork tacos, chicken drumettes, crostini with ricotta and prosciutto and crostini with ricotta and beets.
Not surprisingly, there was cheese galore from the dairies and creameries in West Marin: Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company toma and baby Blue; Tomales Farmstead Creamery kenne; and estero gold from the Valley Ford Cheese Company. One could have dined on the cheese alone and been well fed.
Moreover, all of the food was presented aesthetically. It looked good as well as tasted good. For desert, there were ripe strawberries and an assortment of cookies. Pam Ferrari and her able crew from Pam Ferrari Custom Catering in Inverness did the cooking and preparation in the kitchen at the Dance Palace in Point Reyes, where the conference took place.
Almost all of the speakers were women, among them Wendy Johnson, a writer, Buddhist and long time gardener at Green Gulch Farm in Marin, who called for “real food,” which she said, “gives hope.” She also noted that, “all spiritual practice starts with the taste of food.”
Johnson reminded the audience that for thousands of years, before the arrival of Europeans, northern California was a region “deep and rich in food” including acorns, abalone and salmon that sustained Indian tribes.
“All of us here have been nourished by the kindness of the community,” she observed. “We feed and nourish one another.”
Diana Beresford-Kroeger, whose life work inspired the conference, asked the audience for an outpouring of love for her, for each other, and for the world itself.
“Love with make a blossom bloom in the waters of time,” she said. “And a flower will grow in the waters of time.”
No speaker used the words “optimism” or “pessimism,” though there was plenty of reason to feel optimistic and pessimistic about the current environmental crisis and the world wide environmental actions taking place to save the Earth.
“Yes, we are called to action and also to hold the sorrow of the world,” Wendy Johnson said. “Slow down, sit still, listen and be mindful.” Slow Food members might take her words to heart.
Jonah Raskin is a member of Slow Food Russian River and the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California.