The sudden closure of one of the largest training institutions in the plant-based education sector, leaving so many students without the courses they paid for , has given me reason to reflect on my own personal journey since becoming involved in the raw food field more than ten years ago.
I believe, bound up in our plant-based lifestyle, is the underlying assumption that we have basic integrity and a common concern for humanity. Yet sometimes this supposition is very far from reality when I see in this industry how we are capable of treating each other.
My experience has been that of extreme highs and lows. I’ve formed strong friendships and deep connections. I’ve learned so much and people have been very generous with their knowledge. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing people grow and build their dream raw food businesses. People have been very kind to me, particularly when I was very ill, with unconditional offers of support and healing.
However, the shadow side of this industry, in my opinion, is the contradiction that lies within.
When Antony Strangis and Salma Melngailis embezzled hundreds of thousands of their investors’ money and left staff unpaid at Pure Food and Wine, it wasn’t the theft that appeared to have most of the industry up in arms but that they were caught because they dared to order a cheese pizza from Domino’s.
We seem to have found ourselves in a world where we are judged on the beauty of our Instagram feed and what we put into our mouths, rather than our moral compass.
I can’t help but think that I’m witnessing the plant-based industry achieve a new wave of rock and roll status, much as I saw with the alternative comedy scene in 1990s. The leaders in the field are hailed as plant-fuelled Gods assisted by the power of social media. They become untouchable and that has the danger of making them appear out of touch.
So, what of my own personal experience? In the few years I’ve worked in this sector; I’ve heard horror stories of overcrowded classes and scant content; I’ve seen my words quoted back at me on other people’s websites; I have paid for courses that have never been delivered; I have not been paid for developing products and consultancy but it was used by my client anyway; I’ve frequently heard of others not being paid for their work or their recipes being used in others books without reference; my online courses have been bought and sold on privately. I’ve seen a lot of people’s hard work and endeavours elsewhere uncredited as if it has been dropped into newsfeeds with a flash of inspiration and little or no recognition. This appears to be an industry that has attracted people who often have no respect for the creative process, creative capital or boundaries.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
None of these are victimless crimes. Not only do they have a bearing on peoples livelihoods but it does not go unnoticed. It diminishes us all.
Bernard of Chartres wrote that we are all ‘dwarfs standing on the shoulders on giants’. I owe much to the people I learned from; Jason Paul, Sean Murray, Cristina Archila, Rachel Demuth, Helen Lawrence, Richard Buckley, Naomi Devlin, Scott Wineguard, Matthew Kenney, Meredith Baird and Megan Dunn. I talk about them and refer to them often. Thank you.
Let’s not forget that as a culinary industry, we owe a debt to the people who have broken new ground such as Ferran Adria, Charlie Trotter, Harold McGee and countless others. I am still in awe of these culinary giants and owe much to them and others.
This is still an emerging sector, but I think it’s high time we matured in our approach. Isn’t it time as an industry that we put respect at the top of our agenda and held ourselves to a higher standard?
(1) CEO of Culinary School PlantLab Charged With Embezzling $2.4 Million, Entrepreneur.com accessed 7/9/2018
(2) https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2016/11/how-sarma-melngailis-became-a-runaway-fugitive Vanity Fair accessed 7/9/2018