There are many interesting characters here in London, but one of the most interesting, inspiring and creative that I have come across has to be Gregory Sams.
I cannot say that Greg is this or that, because he is one of these individuals that seems to buck attempts at classification, partly because of his diverse accomplishments and abilities, and partly because of his open mindedness and free spirit. What I can say about him is that he is exceptional in every way: he is exceptional in his thinking, his creativity, his pioneering spirit, his play time and his general human warmth and loving-kindness which sees him treat everyone as equal.
Greg was a pioneer of the wholefood and macrobiotic industry, he invented and trademarked the VegeBurger®, and opened the first and only shop in the world dedicated to chaos theory - Strange Attractions. In fact, many of the graphic fractal images that you will see on postcards and posters have been computer-generated by him.
More recently, Gregory wrote a book called Uncommon Sense - The State is Out of Date, which basically argues that humanity can spontaneously find order out of chaos, just as nature does in so many complex areas, and that the state's meddling in the affairs of the individual is the greatest cause of unhappiness and societal degeneration. He is currently taking his ideas further in a new book which will be available shortly.Andrew P: Hi Greg, and thank you for agreeing to do an interview with EnergyGrid. It was serendipity that I ran into you again at the Natural Products health show in London, by the bee pollen stand if I remember. Natural products have played a huge part of your life, why is this?
Gregory Sams: In between my brother's birth and that of myself, western medicine gave up on my father, who was wasting away for undiagnosed reasons. A family friend in Los Angeles suggested he see the Japanese Dr. Nakadadi, who put him (and consequently our family) on a clean healthy diet, based on whole cereals, pulses, fresh vegetables and fruits, with no processed, frozen or canned foods; no sugars or soft drinks; and no meat. My dad quickly recovered and our mother, Margaret, cooked and fed the family healthily thereafter, though not so strictly, and with modest meat consumption. I became vegetarian when I was 10, on a New Year's resolution - partially inspired by my father, who was doing the same. The underlying motivated was a dislike of all the red meats and seeing this as an easy means to not eat them thenceforth.
AP: Tell me a little about your early childhood: what kind of kid where you?
GS: How can I tell you what sort of a kid I was, since that is what I was? You'd have to ask somebody else. I cannot recall any serious problems with growing up - my parents were both relatively enlightened for the 1950's and did little to suppress or redirect my natural tendencies. I was very active and interested in things, a trait encouraged by my schooling up the age of eight at the progressive St Mary's Town and Country School, near Primrose Hill. I met my first girlfriend there, who was Vicky Huxley, niece of the great man. I read her uncle's book, The Doors of Perception, at a relatively young age and found it of great interest.
AP: You were a child of the sixties, and your mind certainly reflects this in its unrestrained freedom and creativity. What happened to the new consciousness of the sixties? Is it still with us or was it whacked over the head by commercialism?
GS: The basic driver of the unrestrained freedom and creativity of the Sixties was drugs - no question about it. LSD really did open minds and a huge part of today's culture was initiated by the ingestion of acid in the Sixties. Whether we look at the colours of fashion, the natural food movement, alternative healing, or environmentalism, we will find the roots to be in the LSD and cannabis-taking culture of the Sixties.
Much of that consciousness has now become embedded in our culture. Hardly anybody knew about, let alone practiced, yoga or meditation before the Sixties. There was only Swedish massage, a few acupuncturists covering the country, and no aromatherapy, shiatsu, reflexology, t'ai chi, reiki, etc. A lot of people now earn a living doing these things, and commercialism has made that possible. Full power to all those who create wealth through organic farming, natural healing, composing uplifting music and engaging in other planet-healing activities. But there are a lot less psychedelics going down, and because of their negative legal status there is less openness about it when it does. But wherever it does, the spirit of the Sixties continues to evolve.
AP: When you were young, what is it you thought you might do when you were an adult?
GS: For one of our high school yearbooks (an American cultural phenomenon) each student was asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. I put down 'alchemist' as my selection, but they would not accept it and put something else down instead - I cannot remember what. In a way, my involvement with natural foods was a form of alchemy, which transformed people into higher and more conscious beings. In a sense, this was the human equivalent of turning lead into gold.
AP: Tell me a little about your time at university. Berkeley (California) in the sixties must have been incredible fun!
GS: We rarely realize just how special and unique are the things that we are doing at the time. Certainly though, I enjoyed what I was doing at Berkeley and realized that something big was happening. There was a lot of protest going on, and I knew local band Country Joe and the Fish before their Fish Cheer, the ultimate anti-war anthem ("Be the first one on the block, to have your kid come home in a box"). I remember the first time that I ever tried Mu Tea, a macrobiotic concoction containing ginseng, which I had never encountered but come to view as a mythical root. After drinking my first cup, I sat down to wait for it to kick in - and was somewhat disappointed. My first LSD trip, however, was spectacular beyond expectations and, in short, made me feel like a god. It was exhilarating as an eighteen-year old to be in the San Francisco Bay area 1966, in the build-up to the Summer of Love.
AP: What were you studying there?
GS: I was only in university for three months, and had chosen my 'Major' solely on the grounds of it being a subject that had the greatest flexibility in terms of what I was obliged to study. In light of the subject of my first book, Uncommon Sense - the State is Out of Date, I am just a little embarrassed to admit that my choice of major was Comparative Politics. As I have often quipped, "putting Uncommon Sense in the bookshop section on politics would be equivalent to putting a book on fasting in the cookery department."
AP: You had an accident at Berkeley that changed your life. Tell me about it and what went through your mind at the time.
GS: I lived in a communal house nicknamed Hippie House. During our New Year's Eve party I decided to have a dance on a lower branch of the tree in our front garden. My only drug intake had been a glass of wine and a joint. It was a dead branch and fell beneath me, landing me awkwardly on my back, which broke. This resulted in an immediate paralysis of my lower body - leaving me with neither feeling nor voluntary movement. The doctors told me I'd never recover, which left me quite down for a couple of days. Then, through the agency of my father, we discovered that my spine was damaged, but not sliced in two. I decided I'd be able to eat my way out of this, whether it took six weeks, months, or years. It hasn't happened and now medical science is getting closer to a fix, so we'll see whether they get there before I'll need a Zimmer frame.
AP: When accidents like this happen, it is a bit of a cliché to ask what good came out of it. But I want to ask you nonetheless.
GS: Difficult one, since there's no way to know where I would have gone without it. Maybe I would have achieved more, maybe not. I do sort of doubt that I'd have had the concentration or focus that I had when I was intensively running different and difficult enterprises from the age of 19 to 40. I used to regularly work 14-hour days and sleep 3-4 hours a night. Bless my ex-wife Sandy for putting up with this and supporting me throughout it.
AP: Today you are in a wheelchair and yet I have never seen that stop you do anything. I have even seen you doing wheelies at raves here in London. How do you maintain such a free spirit? (Leary also had that inner freedom that nobody could take from him, even when he was jailed.)
GS: Andrew, you haven't seen the half of it. The first business I ever ran after landing in the wheelchair was located in a basement, down stone steps, which my staff carried me up and down every evening. The only time they dropped me was when I cracked a joke and they all fell about laughing. Won't do that any more. I've tried to never let accessibility considerations be an issue when I'm making important decisions about what to do. Things usually work out fine when I just go for it, and the rare times it doesn't work out are more than offset by the many when it does. I've been carried up rope ladders from a rocking canoe to the deck of a dhow and piggy backed down a cliff in the dark of night. Mind you, there were truly memorable parties at the end of those trips, which has always been a strong motivation to reach a destination.
My healthier diet since conception, which became consciously macrobiotic diet at the age of seventeen have supported and maintained my own inner strength and vitality. Free spirit - it's a state of mind and it keeps me happy, which is the bottom line. My dad always told me to keep off the beaten track, and I've always followed his advice, paving new ways instead.
AP: Why did you return to England at the time? (Wasn't the US in those days more liberal than England and wouldn't that have suited you better?)
GS: I came back to England since Stoke Mandeville hospital in Aylesbury had the finest treatment center for paraplegics in the world. At the time, they were just about the only people who had any idea of what to do with spinal injuries. Then the chaos kept me here, and still does. Much as I love London, I am still in the process of looking for somewhere else to be – someplace that is less managed by the central state.
AP: What got you interested in macrobiotics and wholefoods?
GS: My brother was alerted to it in 1965, after the FBI raided the macrobiotic centre in New York and destroyed the books they had on sale - because they suggested that there was something amiss with the American diet of meat, potatoes, milk, sugar, and caffeine drinks. When Craig came back to London and enthused to me about it, I read George Ohsawa's books and immediately embraced the macrobiotic diet. I had been a vegetarian since the age of ten, and macrobiotics suddenly gave me a diet that was based upon what I did eat, not what I didn't eat. I just loved eating real food with energy in it, and felt the difference immediately.
AP: In 1967, you started the UK's first macrobiotic restaurant that even attracted individuals like John and Yoko Lennon. What was it like running such an unusual restaurant at that time and tell me of some of the other characters (famous or not) that frequented your place?
GS: When you're nineteen years old and doing something for the first time that isn't school, then it's just what you're doing. It was a joint-venture with my brother, Craig, though for various reasons he was unable to be there until Seed restaurant was over two years old. Our mother, Margaret, was invaluable during the early days - you couldn't exactly advertise for a chef familiar with cooking natural, or even vegetarian foods. I realized it was special and magic and all that, but was so up to my ears in the work of making it special that it was difficult to spend a lot of time savouring that special-ness. After a year of operation I realized what was going on and christened the place SEED.
We used to offer a free bowl of rice and vegetables to those who couldn't afford 35p for our 3-course dinner (that was cheap even then). One out-of-work musician who regularly walked half way across London to avail himself of this service was Marc Bolan. He later met his drummer Mickey Finn at Seed and brought his guitar to play for us at a few of our unscheduled 'everything is free' nights.
Another regular was someone whose fabulous and non-stop dancing would always impress me when I was at any underground music event. Years later I had a chat with him and was surprised when he told me that he'd never actually liked our macrobiotic food, but found that it was the only food that he could dance all night on. Must be all those complex slow-release carbohydrates.
Yoko Ono introduced John to macrobiotics, and the two of them became regulars at Seed. He did a great cartoon for me to help promote the magazine I published on Macrobiotics, called Harmony (three issues ensued). You can see the cartoon here.
Jeff Dexter, resident Roundhouse DJ and co-organizer of countless psychedelic events, was a regular and often brought along the well-known 60's singers and bands who were performing at the Roundhouse.
It was a great deal of fun and occasionally, when Mary Hopkins' Those Were the Days played through the reel-to-reel tape recorder, tears would well in my youthful eyes as I thought about how much I would look back at these days with nostalgia. I have smugly recalled those moments over the following decades, at all those times when I realized with delight that 'those days' were still going on.