Many of you may know that my professional foodie career started in 1992 when I went to work with John Robbins (author of Diet For A New America), and now the founder of The Food Revolution Network. I worked with John and a great team during the 90's to direct the Healthy School Lunch Program for EarthSave International. The coolest thing about my work with EarthSave was how it came to be. In my new book, Eating As A Spiritual Practice, I tell my story about my work in schools, along with all the other challenges that go along with a dynamic life. Since the Food Revolution just finished another fabulous summit, I thought I would share with you the part of my story of how I magically landed in a job I had been dreaming about for years. It may leave you wholeheartedly believing in the law of attraction. Enjoy!
This story picks up at the end of my first Rainbow Gathering - 1992. Todd was my good friend that turned into my partner and co-director of the Healthy School Lunch Program with me.
Changing Me and My Life Forever
The Rainbow Gathering was full of challenging surprises and gifts: rainy cold weather, new friends, drumming circles, walks in the night, cooking outdoors, and beautiful lovemaking. Todd and I were together constantly, discovering what it was like to love your best friend. We had so much in common, sharing a deep love for the Earth, the Black Hills, our friends, and the camaraderie that flourished as we built, played, and worked together as a tribe in the forest. Living in the forest was another lesson. Each night, while driving down the dirt road to our tent, a white owl flew across our path, signifying to us that we were breaking the veil of illusion that pervaded our prior understanding and reuniting with the natural world and its order.
After seven days, the gathering was coming to an end. Todd and I left the Black Hills, our new buddies, and campsite to spend a few days adventuring together through the reservations, teaching what we could about “food as medicine.” We laughed, dreamed, and visioned. Then we decided to “impulse” for a couple of days throughout the Bad Lands. “Impulsing” was the term we used when we would let our spirits live in the moment and see where our unseen selves would take us.We were falling in love. The euphoria of our feelings grew deeper in me by the day, building by the moment. Aligning with Todd’s integrity, purpose, and passion had planted a seed in me that was more than gratifying. It permeated my entire being with an emotion that reached far beyond my mortal self, as I knew me. It was so comfortable and seemed mutually enhancing, as parts of me awakened while other parts died. Even though we were fifteen years apart in age, we were like teenagers, loving with total abandonment, no boundaries, no fear, and free to adventure into the unknown with authentic trust. His youthfulness inspired an aliveness and playfulness in me that had lain dormant for years, and my wisdom and experience in the world satisfied his hunger for knowledge and maturity. We met each other somewhere in the middle, creating a powerful synergy. We experienced the finest kind of intimacy, beginning with the mind, traveling through the core of our bodies, and reaching our hearts with an explosion. It’s the kind of love that cannot be felt by one alone, it comes only from two.
Journeying with Buffalo Medicine
Late one afternoon, we ventured into Bad Lands National Park in South Dakota, driving all the way down to the end of the park, where a small camping area awaited us. It was about 5 p.m., when the sun and moon began dancing together as their light intertwined. Acting like rebels and wanting to be alone, we sneaked past the small camp area, carrying our tent and gear down into the ravine along the river, where the large cottonwoods provided shade, privacy, and beauty. We hustled to set up our tent and get back up to the top of the mountain crest where a golden grass trail awaited visitors.
A handful of people walked in silence along the top of a knoll. Free from trees, a wide and expansive view of the canyons surrounded us and enlivened all our senses. The serene beauty called for nothing more than visceral submersion. Excitedly, little squirrels and marmots poked their heads out of the earth to get a glimpse as well. We found a place and sat for a while, with our dinner of nuts, seeds, and dried and fresh fruits. Backpacking and camping calls for such simplicity. I had never felt so nourished and whole.
Later, as the sun set and the moon rose, we got into the car with a plan to find a cool place in the park where we could play and dream for hours into the night. We ventured off the main road, onto a little dirt road that beckoned us. With the moonlight as our guide, we parked and hiked out onto a high knoll that reached deep into the canyon. With blankets, water, and a little tequila, we settled in for the evening, talking, loving, and visioning for what seemed like hours. We were definitely in our own world.
Feeling quit serious and passionate about reversing the rising epidemic of diseases throughout the Native American culture, and feeling empowered by our knowledge, Todd and I asked ourselves, “If we were to dedicate our lives to help shift this situation, what would be the single most powerful thing we could do to make a difference?” The government not only subsidizes our nation’s Native American reservations, but also our National School Lunch Program (NSLP). These programs share another similarity: They are both equally ineffective. While not naïve enough to think the NSLP was solely to blame for the escalating problems our school-aged children were facing, Todd and I acknowledged that our children receive the majority of their nutrition education in our public schools, along with meals that are incongruent with that education and their lifestyles. “This has just got to change,” we claimed with naïve inspiration.
As the health of our nation’s children rapidly declines (with diseases like diabetes, obesity, and ADHD), fast food has replaced cafeterias in about 30 percent of our nation’s schools! Our students are offered an arsenal of cheap and readily available junk foods within their own schools’ walls, all for the quick and easy taking. While we thought it disgusting, others thought it was great.
That night in the Bad Lands of South Dakota, out on the top of a canyon knoll, under the light of the full moon, Todd and I made a pact to dedicate the next phase of our lives to heralding a new message of diet and nutrition in our schools to change meal offerings. With passion, conviction, naiveté, and laughter over the daunting task, we said, “Let’s revolutionize the National School Lunch Program.” And, with that, we shook on it like two kids on a secret escapade with the breath of the mountain beneath us. You know what they say—“where two or more are gathered”—even if they are a little tipsy on tequila.
As the moon moved across the sky toward the end of its nighttime journey, we packed up and walked to the car to drive the dirt road back to our tent. Suddenly, we spotted a buffalo, lingering on the side of the road. Stopping with ease and tenderness, we got out of the car and Todd played a song on the flute; then we sat quietly with him for a while. He seemed to enjoy our company.
Later, about 4 a.m., back at the tent while getting ready to sleep, we heard a loud rustling in the bushes. Todd said, “Quick, turn off the lantern.” With our tent black, Todd peeked through the sides, then turned to me in a whisper, “It’s the buffalo, and he is not alone.” Several buffalo circled our tent and proceeded to lie down around us. For the rest of the dark night, we slept and dreamed to the rhythm of the buffalo, who were breathing deeply in slumber with us.
When we woke up, they were gone, but the grass from their earthly beds still lay flat with the warmth and essence of their bodies.This experience of profound connection to the animal kingdom signaled to us that we were on the right path with our vision and intentions. Already unstoppable, we felt even more fueled by the buffalo’s medicine of strength. We were humbled and our commitment was imbued with deep conviction. We sat by the river, the sun sparkling on the water as we cast a sunrise prayer for guidance. We bathed, ate breakfast, packed our tent, and headed back to our camp and straight into our vision.
Within two days, I was scheduled to fly back to work at the spa. I felt ready since I don’t think I could have processed much more than what had already transpired. Again, I was, as Abraham (Esther Hicks) would say, “tuned in, tapped in, turned on.” Love that feeling. I believe now that if you truly surrender long enough, you will make enough space for the magic to seep into your life. Wide open trust must accompany surrender.
Synchronicity and Becoming Aligned
Two days later, I flew back to New York to return to my job at the spa. Todd remained in the Black Hills for a few days and was then on his way to Arizona. It was 7 a.m. as I drove up the long driveway, and 8 a.m. by the time I entered my office. With my handbag still on my shoulder, I answered the persistent phone. My friend from Los Angeles, Claire Townsend, said, “Hi, Susan. I don’t know if you know it or not, but I sit on the board of EarthSave International, the organization founded by John Robbins, author of Diet for a New America.”
Claire was one of my most treasured friends from my days in the film industry. Mutual friends had hooked us up, knowing we would connect because of our shared passions. However, I had not spoken to Claire since I had moved to New York. She went on, “Do you know of EarthSave?” I exclaimed, “Yes, yes, I have been handing out their materials all over the Black Hills of South Dakota!” Claire continued, “We have been looking for someone to head up a program to get healthier food into schools, and we haven’t been able to find the right person. While I was meditating on finding someone, your name kept popping into my head. Would this interest you at all?” I exploded with excitement!
Several months earlier, I had purchased a plane ticket to California. Whether mere coincidence or serendipity, the ticket shared the exact dates that EarthSave would hold its next board meeting. Both Todd and I arrived, met John Robbins and his staff, and immediately joined them as the co-directors of the Healthy School Lunch Program. We could barely believe it.
The Dawning of a New Life
For the next several years, I inhabited a world previously foreign to me and extremely humbling. I was naïve and quite idealistic before starting my new job (and even several years into it). Unfortunately, there were problems looming within our food system beyond the fast-food burger. Although we made great changes in the schools where we worked, school food systems worsened overall, and the epidemic of youth-related diseases continued to escalate to alarming proportions.
I learned from experience that most people know what healthy food is, and they know that junk food is junk. But many do not realize just how profoundly their junky food choices affect their health and the health of our youth. They are confused about dietary choices and simply lack the skills, the time, or the resources to prepare their own nourishing food. If we were to put our focus on growing our own “human garden,” we would make great strides in healing our communities, our eco-systems, and ourselves. Our children are the seeds of our future. We, their parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, must become model stewards, for our own sake, so we can lead them toward the way of wellness, connection, and excellence.
Want to know more? Pre-order the book HERE with a worthy BONUS (my course on how to make easy and delicious veggies with herbs and spices (currently call "Healing Foods Ayurvedic")