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Craig Sams

Craig Sams

Craig Sams: the Greenest Man in Britain (1)

HOT’s Chandra Masoliver interviews author and entrepreneur, Craig Sams who has been described as ‘the greenest man in Britain’. They talk about the genesis of the sixties counterculture, his use of LSD and his involvement with macrobiotics, health and the Soil Association, a UK based charity which developed the world’s first organic certification system.

Craig Sams was born in Nebraska, USA and now lives with his wife, Josephine Fairley in Hastings. Craig played a prominent role in the sixties countercultural movement. His book, ‘About Macrobiotics’ became a best seller in the seventies. He was chair of the Soil Association, which is the British organic food and farming charity. He is also a small-scale organic producer with a chestnut coppice and mixed fruit orchard near Hastings.

On 5 September 2016, Craig gave the keynote speech at the opening dinner for an exhibition about the 60s – ‘Revolution – Records and Rebels 1966-1970?’ – at the Victoria and Albert Museum. During this talk, he described how in April 1965 he took some Sandoz pharmaceutical grade LSD given to him by some Californian hipsters in a Sikh temple in Delhi, and soon after that he met Timothy Leary with his now famous message to ‘Turn on, tune in, and drop out.’

CM: What role did LSD play in this cultural event?

CS: It was thought that LSD would cure insanity, or it was feared that it would create insanity, but actually it was about seeing the insanity of how life was organised. People were waiting for it before it arrived. In 1962, some people broke into Kew Gardens to try the peyote cactus. And in 1964, they started eating Morning Glory seeds (which were then coated with a strychnine chemical protective covering!). The danger was only how much people took. 110 micrograms would now be thought adequate, then people took as much as 1,000 mgs., the lowest would be 250 mgs. It gave a vision of peace on earth, happiness, wellness; sharing, not isolation. Utopianism. We wanted a world like that, without needing to go to another planet in the mind.

In my keynote speech I described the effect of LSD on myself and others:

“People who took acid got religion, not the old patriarchal variety, but the quest for spiritual fulfilment. Because of acid I became health conscious and adopted a Zen macrobiotic diet. I cancelled my previous ideas of a career and in 1967, I opened a macrobiotic restaurant in London. Yoko Ono was one of the first customers. I also sold brown rice snacks at the UFO Club, where between Pink Floyd sets, we’d be talking to people about health – how good brown rice is, how bad sugar is.

“From the intense experience of nature, sharing the poetry of Keats and Blake, and their horror of the Dark Satanic Mills, was born Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. There was a feeling of oneness, of our beautiful planet, like the Move singing ‘I can hear the grass grow’, and the Small Faces with ‘It’s all too beautiful.”

Craig went on to elaborate on the social effects of this new consciousness on individuals – and the reaction of the establishment:

CS: There was a sense of community, people did not trust the state, they formed communes as a path to self-government leading to political libertarianism. People set up their own businesses, finding that they could follow their heart and make a living.

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The Beatles in their Afghan coats

We also got sexy; with all the other senses heightened, sexual experimentation led to sexual liberation. Clothes helped us identify each other. I started importing Afghan coats, Tunisian kaftans, Tibetan shoulder bags and Chinese silks that would be dyed and made into clothes. The Beatles bought some of my Afghan coats from Granny Takes a Trip and this started the craze. What we wore also helped the police identify us; they would search and arrest people in colourful clothes with long hair. We could sniff each other out by the smell of patchouli.

From the countercultural underground a small number of people started to revolutionise society, bringing about far-reaching changes, seeking to attain a better world. They helped mobilise a movement that still inspires people today. They believed in the power of peace and love. Trying to stop the Vietnam War, they faced the crushing force of the law, in Grosvenor Square, Chicago and Kent State.

CM: So the establishment cracked its whip with full force?

CS: This was about revolution, therefore it was repressed ferociously. Back then I hadn’t realized how strong the forces of the four horses of the Apocalypse were.

(We tried to remember exactly who the four horses and riders were, and later I went back to find them in the book of Revelation, where the end of the world is described: First there is the white horse, whose rider holds a bow, he is given a crown, and he rides out to conquer; secondly, the rider of a fiery red horse is given the power to take peace from the earth, and to make men slay each other; the third horse is black, and his rider holds scales, bringing famine after war; last comes the pale horse, its rider is death, with Hades close behind.)

Meanwhile Craig continued:

CS: The first rider, on the white horse, comes forth to conquer, just as the USA has picked up where Britain left off. They can’t stop those who benefit from war, nor shut down the weapons industry, so there’s a need to find somewhere to use their weapons. And war brings ill health, the domain of the pharmaceutical industry. In the 60s and 70s, there was the belief that when people saw how corrupt it was, it would stop. But it was too powerful.

CM: You have always stressed the importance of the soil. What role have governments played in its contamination?

CS: In Britain only a few farmers stood out against the Agricultural Policy when it was nationalised in the ’40s. The Agricultural Act of 1948 fixed prices and subsidised the use of heavy chemicals. People were threatened; if they didn’t cooperate, their land would be confiscated. My grandfather, who farmed in the States, opposed subsidies, but all farmers caved in; it was another form of price control. Now, Monsanto and other agri businesses control food production by ensuring you go bust if you don’t buy from them.

CM: Could you describe the origins of the Soil Association?

CS: The Soil Association was formed in 1946 by a few conscientious farmers and some scientists and nutritionists; they observed a direct connection between intensive farming systems and plant, animal, human and environmental health. It became difficult for them to sell organic crops, as there was no organic market, so my brother Greg and I started buying organic wheat. Greg milled it for flour, and I baked the bread. We sold it in markets, and in 1968, having opened ‘Seed’, a macrobiotic restaurant in Westbourne Grove, the next year we started ‘Ceres Grain’ a macrobiotic natural food shop.

CM: What about the longer term impact of the counterculture? Has it all been crushed, or are there ways in which the spirit of the sixties and seventies lives on today?

CS: We had no idea how the industries that profit from war, environmental degradation, ill health and financial manipulation would still dominate 50 years later. But now is better than then. It was underground, now it’s overground. Schopenhauer said truth is first ridiculed, then it’s violently opposed, and lastly, it’s accepted, and that has happened regarding race, sex and health.

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Gregg Sams

Last year my brother Greg gave the keynote speech at the Psychedelic Society. He asked the following questions, requesting people to put their hand up if they did yoga; were vegetarian; practiced meditation or mindfulness; had received acupuncture. Each time many people put their hands up. He pointed out that if these questions had been asked in 1967, few hands would have been raised in the whole of Britain. This spirit of the 60s and 70s has stayed and grown; an understanding of diet, health, etc. is now universal.

* * *

 

In her next article, Chandra will describe the influence of Craig Sams’ family background on his career and his work in ecology and agriculture finding ways to save the planet. 

Click here for more information: Craig Sams.

 

Posted 16:04 Wednesday, May 17, 2017 In: Home Ground

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