Food is fun, especially when it's grown by hippie Christian organic separatists!
They say the Scientologists throw a great brunch.
By "they" I mean my friend Michael, who spent the better part of two years happily scheming and scamming his way in to an introductory brunch party given by Scientologists in Los Angeles at one of their fancy "celebrity centres."
Michael is an out and proud gay guy, and L. Ron Hubbard notoriously thought gays were the grossness, so this was somewhat akin to Michael's getting a seat at the local Catholic bishop's table at IHOP: sure, there would be pancakes, but also there would be lies and shame. Which sounded like an afternoon of fun!
The grub was delicious, the company was completely weird, and the propaganda was thick with the promise of a better tomorrow because, you know, Xenu. After the brunch, which Michael attended with a brave fellow undercover operative, the Scientologists wouldn't stop calling him. They didn't harass him or anything; it was just like he'd gone on a date with a deceptively cool-seeming twink who actually revealed himself to be desperate and super-needy and who couldn't take the hint.
But anyway -- the brunch? It was glorious! Fresh fruit, fluffy pancakes, rich maple syrup, delicious fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juice. When Michael told me how awesome it was, I nodded sagely and said, "Well, you know, cults make the best food."
"Really?" he asked. "How do you know?"
"Oh," I replied mysteriously. "I know."
It started at Woodstock '99, an outdoor festival where I worked when I was a wee youth. Whilst wandering around waiting for the Dave Matthews Band to take the stage (MY LOVE FOR THEM WILL NEVER DIE), I was approached by a scruffy, crusty punk young lad who handed me a hand-drawn little zine (the '90s!)
"Me and my friends in our community make this literature to tell people more about what we do," he said, making deep, smoldering eye contact. "If you want, come by our food booth later. It's real cheap and it's all stuff we grow ourselves."
"Okay," I said, so captivated by his sweet green eyes that I managed not to gag at his significant body odor. "Sounds cool."
Later, I read the zine and learned about how he and his friends lived together on a commune where they followed the philosophies of their founder, a guy who called himself The Tiger. They grew most of their own food and made money by selling grub and handmade clothes at music festivals and street fairs.
The Tiger had a lot to say about cosmic wisdom and loyalty to friends and the importance of his leadership role and a bunch of other stuff I found less interesting than the crusty punk kid's excellent cheekbones.
I swung by the booth, aware at this point that I was visiting the business establishment of a cult, and purchased their organic cornbread. I bit into it, expecting to taste the drugs that would enable them to blindfold me and kidnap me... and instead I tasted PURE, UNADULTERATED DELICIOUSNESS!
"Holy shit," I said to the kid, who was now wearing an apron and hustling food out to the counter. "This is fucking amazing."
"I know," piped up his coworker, a middle-aged woman with grey hair down to her ass. "That's what cosmic love tastes like, baby."
"When you make food with pure intention," my future boyfriend told me, "It actually changes the molecules of the substance." Then he told me about how joining their community meant being free from loneliness forever.
At 18, I was almost young enough to believe him.
When I was 21, I found myself in a vegan restaurant for this first time. This was in Paris, where I had gone to learn how to be cosmopolitan and fancy and how to correctly pronounce "Centre Pompidou." It was the only place open on a particular streetcorner during an inconveniently-timed rainstorm, so my friends and I wandered in.
"Hello," said the host, another handsome young man with glowing eyes (but this time with a sexy French accent -- bonus!) "Welcome, American friends. It is so beautiful to offer you shelter from the storm. Come, sit and enjoy our offerings." Did I mention that he was extremely hot? He was like male model-hot, with those BJ lips that somehow remain extremely attractive to females even though they are clearly designed for up close and personal interaction with a dong.
I forget exactly what we ordered, but I think it was the best meatloaf in the world -- but meatless! -- and the best homemade blackberry soda in the world and the best carrot-ginger soup in the world and the best everything ever.
At some point during our orgy of happy consumption, I looked up and realized that the bright, cheerful restaurant was covered in photographs of an Indian fellow accomplishing various feats of strength, posing with different pop culture icons and celebrities, and driving a series of fancy cars.
"Ah," said our celestially gorgeous host. "That is the guru." It turned out that the guru was a kazillionaire businessman and, um, incarnate spiritual deity who somehow inspired thousands of people around the world to give up their jobs and families to serve him and his network of fine vegan restaurants. I don't know what line of bullshit the dude fed these people, but they were in turn feeding me the most delectable food I'd ever eaten, so I was fine with it all.
I could talk about the Hare Krishna potlucks, or the time my friend visited a Christian cult that prided itself on its peanut butter, and we could argue over whether the friendly local church bake sale is somehow connected to the cult food spectrum, but at this juncture I feel it's necessary to turn our focus to my favorite cult, the Amish. These people can cook.
I grew up within a couple of hours of Pennsylvania Dutch country, and my hometown has had a Pennsylvania Dutch farmers' market for twenty-five years. The Amish (not the super old-school types -- these folks use electricity, son) pack into trucks and cars and come on out to the market to sell everything from the tastiest pickles in the world to the finest, butteriest biscuits to big, yummy free-range turkeys to homemade candies to the alpha and the omega, the greatest culinary invention of ever, the mightiest assortment of carbohydrates and fats ever assembled: the Amish pretzel.
Maybe it's because calories weren't invented in Switzerland in 1693, but the Amish make the most addictive food on earth. They wear their funky beards or "Little House on the Prairie" drag, oodles of children playing happily nearby, and they turn vats of butter into the most perfect foodstuffs imaginable.
Sure, you risk being shunned if you want to go to college, pluck your eyebrows or, you know, put on a pair of shorts in the broiling summer heat, buuuuuuut you get to churn out sticky buns straight from heaven.
Maybe the kid from the radical collective farm wasn't exactly wrong when he claimed that when it comes to food prep, intention influences the end product. All that feverish adherence to a cause seems to somehow funnel its way into cult cuisine, with powerful results.
So if you ever see me on the side of the road hawking cake and enlightenment, just know that it's the former rather than the latter that's got my spirit on fire. For me, nothing inspires devotion like a good layer of frosting.