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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Letter from Publisher: Reflections on Revolutionaries and Activists

Our magazine cover subjects, Alice Waters and Rashid Nuri, are food revolutionaries.

Waters started what we now call the farm-to-table movement. Her comments about our fast-food culture are pointed: “When you have cheap food, it means someone isn’t being paid for his or her work, usually the farmer or the farmworker in the field,” Waters told a Yale interviewer in 2014. “And cheap food isn’t cheap. We are paying heavily right now—diabetes, obesity, a collapsing health system, devastation of the land. If we don’t pay up front for food, we pay at the back end.”

I so relate to her and Nuri’s brand of activism.

As a young person, I remember feeling that I was born a few years late, that I belonged on the streets with the Vietnam protestors. As a high school student, I joined my school’s ecology club as my first activist mission. And my first job out of university was with a progressive lobby organization.

Decades later, I found myself uneasy with the notion of being an activist. There are multiple reasons.

I have spoken about a hair-trigger anger issue I have around injustice. But when one is motivated to act principally by anger, the result cannot be pretty; anger almost always harms the person harboring it more than the person who is the target of it. 

Another reason is the Law of Attraction. If I focus upon all the injustices that I don’t want, the Law of Attraction tells me I’ll see even more injustice, and most probably, get even angrier. It’s a downward spiral. 

Then there’s karma, which really gives me pause. My own karma is the basis for the way I see and interpret the world. If pure minds only perceive all worlds and all beings as pure, that necessarily means that the injustice I see is due to my impure mind.

Moreover, does not others’ negative karma bring about what we would normally see as injustice being perpetrated upon innocents? Sometimes I wonder if slave owners are reincarnated as slaves, if rapists come back as rape victims, etc.

Cutting through my mixed emotions around activism are the words of Waters and Nuri.

“We can rail against this (food injustice), but I decided that I have to be part of creating an alternative,” says Nuri in his 2019 book, Growing Out Loud.

Continues Nuri: “Of all my experiences... I have found service to be supremely rewarding... If I spend too much time thinking about outcomes, I get lost... I believe the means, the process, is what’s most important, the integrity that we bring to the moment.”

Asked by interviewer Alain Elkann if she had to fight to achieve her goals, Waters replies: “I never did. Because I was looking for the place of pleasure, I was trying to win people over by good taste, by good cooking and hospitality, by friendship.” 

After reflecting upon the activism of Alice, Rashid and myself, I’ve concluded that I can be—and am—an activist. But instead of standing against injustice, I am a champion of personal awakenings.

Inasmuch as any vision of the future grows out of something undesirable in current reality, my analysis of what ails us now is no different from Alice’s or Rashid’s. Both see the values underlying our current economic system as destructive, and both believe that the system is beyond repair.

In college, while studying economics, this thought came to mind: It seems that a part of the rationale for our current economic system is that it keeps in check the worst of human nature; free-market competition prevents bad actors from abuse because competitors with better morals and ethics will win the day.

The point is this: Our economic system prioritizes individual freedom over collective welfare and assumes that individuals working only with benefit of self in mind will inadvertently benefit everyone because the invisible hand of the market will make it so. There’s no doubt this is failing.

What if the principal organizing assumption of society isn’t an economic theory that embraces self-interest first and seeks to keep in check our most negative tendencies? What if our fundamental assumption is that we all come from the same divine source? And what if, instead of restricting our negative tendencies, the system encourages our most positive traits of love and compassion and care for each other? 

So, call me a drum major for awakenings. To quote the last words of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon, The Drum Major Instinct: “Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side... not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.”
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