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 Post subject: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:10 pm 
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So Ive started an investigative series of blog posts on some of the new religious movements and cults behind various vegan and vegetarian eateries.
The first post was about Sri Chinmoy. I have eaten at one of his restaurants in SF many time and loved it but didnt know much about him and was saddened to find out some of the accusations about him.
http://skepticalvegan.wordpress.com/201 ... i-chinmoy/
Spoiler: show
The vegan and vegetarian communities are philosophically and religiously diverse and while secular veganism is growing in the west, still in the US and much of the world religious groups of one sort or another dominate the vegetarian and vegan culture. Most of us are familiar with Hindu-run curry houses or Buddhist tofu joints but there are also many other places run by devotees of smaller "new religious movements" or cults*. In the following series of posts I will be taking a deeper look into some of these businesses and the groups behind them.

[caption align=aligncenter" width=151" caption=Sri Chinmoy]Image[/caption]

Our first subject of interest is the guru Sri Chinmoy, born in India in 1931 where he spent many years studying meditation and Hindu scriptures at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. In 1964 Chinmoy moved to the US and quickly took advantage of the popular New Age and hippy movement establishing the Sri Chinmoy Centre, promoting himself as a Guru of meditation. He soon attached himself to celebrities such as John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana and set himself up as the director of the “Sri Chinmoy: Peace Meditations at the United Nations” group, often using the position for self promotion and was even accused of misusing the UN logo. His empire grew to encompass thousands of followers and boast 400 meditation centres in 60 countries along with numerous businesses devoted to "divine enterprise" including many vegetarian restaurants. As part of his practice Chinmoy also preached vegetarianism stating,
Quote:
When we eat meat, fish and so forth, the aggressive, animal consciousness enters into us. Our nerves become agitated; we unconsciously become restless and aggressive. The mild qualities of vegetables, on the other hand, help us to establish in our inner life as well as in our outer life, the qualities of sweetness, softness, simplicity and purity.

Upon visiting one his disciple's restaurants the cult of Sri Chinmoy appear innocuous. Peaceful flute music and the smell of warm curry and veggie burgers fills the air, books on meditation are made available for reading, and the guru's face adorns the walls, what could be so harmful about that? But a deeper examination uncovers accusations of manipulative behavior, sexual and emotional abuse, animal abuse, harassment of ex-devotees, homophobia, and hypocrisy. Chinmoy preached celibacy to his follows, but reportedly did not practice it himself. While Chinmoy has never been convicted of any sexual crime, a number of his ex-devotees have reported sexual impropriety and abuse. Though he preached compassion and vegetarianism he also collected exotic animals, including two monkeys, in his New York basement and used captive animals such as elephants in his stunts. Chinmoy reportedly advised followers generally against doctors and dentists as well, preferring homeopathy and meditation instead. Followers were also often advised to leave behind successful careers, dreams of college, family connections, and their native land in order to be closer to and serve Chinmoy. Despite claims of never asked for money documents reveal that Chinmoy was in fact a millionaire.
[caption align=aligncenter" width=434" caption=January 30, 1987, Sri Chinmoy allegedly lifts 7,063¾ pounds]Image[/caption]

Sri Chinmoy was quite the performer and was dubbed the "gonzo guru" for his media grabbing antics and extreme claims. Chinmoy is said to have produced at least 1200 books, 62,000 poems, 14,000 songs, 4,000,000 "peace bird" drawings and 150,000 paintings in his lifetime, though these figures vary depending on the source. Chinmoy often performed free concerts for the public and claimed to have played somewhere between 25 and 150 instrument during a single concert. He was also an avid athlete and runner and was well known for the grueling ultra-marathons he and his follows organized. Though perhaps Chinmoy is most famous for his many seemly impressive and unorthodox weight lifting stunts, including lifting elephants, hundreds of people, planes, cars, or just about anything that would look impressive in the newspaper. He claims to have once lifted 3½ tons with one arm at the age of 55 and has the pictures to prove it. Such a claim should draw immediate skepticism, this is not a simple feat of strength we are talking about but rather something which does not appear to be physically possible according to kinesiologists. Forget about having the muscle, his bone and tendons simply would not be able to handle the stress. But if there is no humanly way that Sri Chinmoy could lift as much as he claims, what are we to make of the photographs and video? Are they proof that he somehow has supernatural abilities? No, he simply cheated. Such trickery is a mainstay of professional gurus, the bed of nails and fire walking are more familiar examples, another famous trick is the levitating guru performed with the help of a special device. Chinmoy employed specially made machinery in his record breaking and media grabbing lifts that gave him considerable leverage. Beyond the use of these leverage devices Chinmoy was also reported to resort to the airbrushing of photos or outright lies, saying a video shows a successful lift where it clearly does not. While a number of professional weightlifters called Chinmoy out on his shenanigans, a few others were more interested in the inspirational quality of such huge lifts than pointing out the mechanical aids used by Chinmoy. Chinmoy's followers have also made a habit of performing extreme stunts and breaking all kinds of obscure Guinness records to impress their guru and gain media coverage. The most prolific of these stuntmen was devotee Ashrita Furman who racked up hundreds of records over the years. Chinmoy's philosophy of overcoming the psychical with the spiritual has lead some of his followers to put themselves in danger though, in 1979 one of Chinmoy's devotees drowned while practicing a stunt. Chinmoy himself eventually ssuccumbed to a heart attack at the age 76 leaving behind over 2 million dollars in property.

[caption align=aligncenter" width=372" caption=Chinmoy lifts an airplane]Image[/caption]

My purpose in writing this is not to be a cynic or to call for a boycott of all religiously associated restaurants, but we need to be wary when our dollars may serve to enrich an abusive leader or perpetuate a manipulative organization. The ethics of consumption go beyond just animal flesh and byproducts. Many of us are well aware of some of these troubling ethical issues, human rights abuses in chocolate production, the toll of palm oil, labor abuses at Wal-Mart, ect. If the working conditions at places like Wal-Mart concern us, then we need to seriously consider claims that some cult-associated restaurants withhold tips, pay employees less than minimum wage, exploit immigrant labor, and fire employees who dare criticize the organization or leader. One of Chinmoy's "divine enterprises" Ananda Fuara in San Francisco was sued in 2010 for some of these very same labor abuses. Ive actually eaten at Ananda Fuara before and they have a number of vegan options which are quite good. They serve some the best "beef" stroganoff is the best Ive had, but after doing my research for this post and reading about the lawsuit against Ananda Fuara I find myself seriously reconsidering eating there ever again.

Further Reading:How fringe religious groups helped launch the healthy eating movement. By Daniel FromsonLeaving a Cult By Jayanti Tamm
SRI CHINMOY EX-DISCIPLES FORUM
The Wild, Wacky & Questionable Claims of Sri Chinmoy at the Skeptic Tank
MO’ CHIN-UPS CHAPTER XII of Stripping the Gurus
Running Around in Circles: a Metaphor by Rebbecca Watson
Sri Chinmoy database at The Rick A. Ross Institute
Official website of Sri Chinmoy

*in this post I use the term "cult", there is no agreed upon universal definition and competing lists of characteristics but for this post the definition most in mind is that laid out by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton. The three primary criteria are as follows:

1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;
2. a process of coercive persuasion or thought reform;
3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

It is important to remember there is a wide continuum of "cultishness", not all groups fall on the Johnstown/Heavens Gate/Aum Shinrikyo extreme of the spectrum.


I also tackled Supreme Master Ching Hai and Loving Hut (among many other SMCH-associated restaurants). Was one of the most interesting research experiences Ive had, consisting of many hours watching SMTV and document hunting
http://skepticalvegan.wordpress.com/201 ... ching-hai/

Spoiler: show
The subject of the second post in my "Waiter, There’s Woo in My Food" series will be instantly recognizable to many vegans, Supreme Master Ching Hai.

Image

Supreme Master Ching Hai (SMCH) presides over a multi-million dollar empire encompassing hundreds of meditation centers, her own fashion and jewelry lines, her own line of faux meats, and hundreds of vegetarian and vegan restaurants worldwide including the largest vegan chain, Loving Hut. A teacher of the Quan Yin Method of meditation who promotes veganism to her followers, Hai is more than a mere spiritual guide. She is billed as the "Supreme Master", "god's direct contact" who can show you how too release the master within. She is venerated by her many followers who eagerly buy up her photographs, artwork, spiritual paraphernalia and other merchandise. Her magical candy can reportedly even heal people. A controversial figure to say the least, her past is fraught with questions both over her purported origins* and her actions.

A VegNews article in the October 2010 issue titled Supreme Mystery suggested Hai to be a cult** leader. Hai's followers responded quite vocally, tossing accusations of slander and bigotry on the author, Abigail Young, and the magazine. Some went so far as to allege that the article was a hit piece paid for by the meat industry or that it was an act of vengeance. Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet, also jumped into the fray lending his support to Hai and calling the article an act of violence, but of course Tuttle is no stranger to Hai. VegNews defended their decision to run the article and published letters from both sides of the controversy in a subsequent issue. Joseph Connelly, publisher of VegNews, described the resulting flood of mail, "The feedback generally fell into two different categories, those that felt the article was even-handed, almost neutral. And feedback coming almost exclusively from within the Loving Hut organization that was critical of us." I was personally not at all impressed with the content of the rebuttals offered by Tuttle or Hai's followers, though I encourage my readers to read the original article and responses themselves and decide.

One of the more damning charges against Hai in the VegNews article is that her followers destroyed a swath of protected seagrass and coastal mangrove, encroaching upon the Biscayne Bay National Park when they illegally constructed an artificial island with a 350 foot board walk leading out to it. Three comfortably stocked RVs and a 50 foot aviary were found onsite at the future retreat as well. The adjacent property owned by Hai under the alias Celestia De Lamour, one of her numerous Florida waterfront properties, was seized and resold to help partially pay for the repairs. Officials estimated the damages to exceed a million dollars but Hai was nowhere to be found. One of the laborers who was also charged in the case went missing, believed to have fled the country. Hai's followers and apologists claim that this was merely the result of a misunderstanding over property boundaries though a quick look at Florida law indicates that is likely still not an adequate defense for this illegal construction and environmental damage. If Hai did ever pay for the damages she would do herself a favor by publicizing it, perhaps a nice donation to Biscayne Bay National Park and Palmetto Bay Branch Library which now inhabits the property. This incident was not Hai's only property troubles either.***

Hai's followers like to call attention to the organizations charity work and generous donations. While admirable, such donations can often serve a double purpose as a form of advertisement for the group. Not all organizations have been so quick to accept Hai's money, in 1996 President Clinton's legal defense fund refused more than $600,000 in donations for the questionable, possibly fraudulent, way in which the funds were gathered. In 2001 UNICEF also turned down a $100,000 donation from Hai's organization after looking into the organization.

Hai's organization is adamant that it will not accept donations, claiming to fund her activities primarily through Hai's artistic work, though this has been questioned as a mere matter of semantics. The up-keep of local meditation centers is donation based and property is also sometimes donated. Follower also will donate to causes in Hai's honor buying her further credibility. The inflated price of some of her merchandise and encouragements for member to buy books to donate to others can also be seen as back door donations. It should however be noted that there is no franchise fee for opening a Loving Hut instead groups of local devotees pooling together their savings to fund their own Loving Hut location. There are just some simple rules including that the food be vegan and about the decor, Ching Hai pictures appear to be mandatory. This may make it appear that she profits very little from the vast enterprise but critics claim that this is simply a tactic that shifts the economic and legal risk onto the backs of individual followers and still allow for locations to serve as points of first contact for potential initiates and some as retail outlets for her merchandise. Loving Hut locations are also encouraged to buy faux meats from EcoVegan, Hai's own company, further sweetening the deal. A few former workers at Loving Hut have also levied various complaints including mismanagement, withholding tips, tax irregularities and utilizing underpaid and unpaid labor. In 2010 the Loving Hut in France was investigated for illegal and unethical business practices such as using undocumented & unpaid labor resulting in 9 arrests. Later that year Hai herself was arrested along with some of her followers at a posh villa in Italy. Investigators seized a luxury sports car, 40,000 euros, and at least 8 illegally imported Macaws and a veritable "Noah's Ark" of animals. I wonder if those illegal Macaws were rescues?

Image

Supreme Master Television (SMTV), Hai's own 24/7 satellite and online network, is instantly recognizable to anyone who has eaten at one of her restaurants. Said to be funded by Hai herself, SMTV uses volunteer labor and there have even been accusations of marriage fraud to retain foreign workers. SMTV was broadcast & subtitled in over 40 languages, it went off the air this year but the video archives remain available. Programing included environmental politics, vegan cooking demonstrations, self-referential human interest stories, spiritual addresses and lectures, musings about "science" and occasional teleconferences with Ching Hai herself. I am no stranger to SMTV, I discovered it a number of years ago while eating at Golden Era in San Francisco, one of Hai's many restaurants. It seems most locations associated with Hai have a TV set, often times a big screen, tuned to SMTV all day. I was first drawn in by a video demonstrating an egg-free "meringue" product that I had never seen. Imagine that, vegan baked Alaska! But after the cooking demonstration and a few feel-good stories I began to notice it getting weirder and weirder. I was already sketched out by the level of praise heaped upon this colorful guru, treating her as a god. Continuing to watch the occasional video at home over time only strengthened that feeling.

SMTV programming and Hai's lectures often have a decidedly pseudo-scientific angle. One example is the credulous reporting of Dr. Hubers unsupported claims of a dangerous “micro fungus” in glyphosate-tolerant GE crops. Hai's own lectures on genetic engineering also repeat many myths and falsehoods, for example that inserting animal derived genes into plants, setting aside the fact that no such products are on the market, will result in vegetables that cause obesity, heart disease, strokes and "have similar effects" to meat. Hai also teaches her followers that living without eating or drinking is possible and promoted the breatharian author and obvious fraud Jasmuheen, who's teachings have been linked to at least three deaths. Hai's channel has even gone so far as to promote the idea of breatharian pregnancies in its many hours spent on this dangerous nonsense. Other topics dealt with credulously include ancient astronauts, crop circles, Emoto's "Message from Water", cosmic alinements, 2012, Egyptian pyramids as lighthouses for UFOs, solar flare alarmism, hair analysis, animal communication, alternative medicine, and life on Venus. She also sometimes introduces her followers to seeming unique teachings of her own such as the existence of Spiritual Blessing Lines and portals to hell and "lower world" that may even be a cause of prolonged war.

In addition to SMTV, Hai's organization has a large internet presence and is accused of operating very much like a cyber-sect, using the internet to gain greater exposure and more followers. Utilizing numerous websites Hai's organization is able to flood search engines with positive mentions of the group. They have even branched out into smartphone apps. In addition to spreading propaganda Hai's followers are also active in monitoring criticism. Hai's Wiki page is under constant policing, [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?erasing and diluting criticisms[/url]. It also appears her followers also have a habit of [url=http://blog.angryasianman.com/2007/11/words-of-wisdom-from-supreme-master.html]stacking[/url] Amazon reviews and getting followers to game the rating system.

Image

Hai's teachings also have an apocalyptic bent to them. Her warnings about cosmic disasters, climate change, and environmental collapse go so far as to make Al Gore appear moderate. I'm not suggesting that the scientific consensus on climate change is wrong or that it is not a dire issue but I fear that the alarmism, unfounded claims, and simplistic "solutions" Hai proposes do not actually help public understanding of this important issue and may in fact be counter productive in some areas.

So once again, why am I writing these posts? My purpose is not to be a cynic or to call for a boycott of all religiously associated restaurants, but in addition to simply finding such topics interesting I feel we need to be wary when our dollars may serve to enrich an abusive or unethical leader or perpetuate a manipulative organization. The ethics of consumption go beyond just animal flesh and byproducts. We can not simply brush legitimate criticism aside because "she does so much good" or because "at least she helps spreads veganism". I can't say that the above criticisms apply to all SMCH restaurants and there are many other concerns to consider so the decision to patronize SMCH-associated businesses is a choice your going to have to make for yourself. I encourage my readers to click on the provided hyperlinks, use them as a starting point for your own research.

Further reading:
Supreme Mystery in VegNewshttp://vegnews.idigitaledition.com/images/issues/12/vn_sepoct10_low.pdfCritics Claim Supreme Master Ching Hai's Followers' Restaurants Featuring Tasty Vegan Fare Front For an Exploitive Movement. by Stephen Lemons
Why Not to Write About a Supreme Master of the Universe: A day with the disciples of Ching Hai by Nancy Rommelmann
Immaterial Girl by Rafer Guzmán
God Inc. Inner peace isn't the only thing Supreme Master Ching Hai is selling Bay Area disciples by Gordon Young
Supreme Master and the Breatharianists
Cult took my wife – now it’s funding a woodland in North Wales
Suma Ching Hai sect activities in Cambodia
Supreme Leak
A Cult I Can Live With? by Jasmin Singer
Vegan Chicago’s baloney detection guide
Global Unity: Together in Saving Lives, A collection of spiritual teachings by Supreme Master Ching Hai
The Truth about Merits: How to Gain or Lose Them by SMCH

*Suma Ching Hai's Spiritual Handbook is similar to Thakar Singh's spiritual diary, which in turn is similar to Kirpal Singh's diary. This is of note because some followers objected to Abigail Young writing that Hai is a spiritual decedent of controversial guru Thakar Singh. Further evidence appear to support this as well. Though personally I am less concerned with the genesis of her teachings and more with the content and effect, I think Hai's claim that her Master in the Himalayas was 450 years old should be evidence enough of this farce.

**in this post I use the term "cult". It is important to remember there is a wide continuum of "cultishness", not all groups fall on the Johnstown/Heavens Gate/Aum Shinrikyo extreme of the spectrum, there is no agreed upon universal definition and there are competing lists of characteristics but for this post the definition most in mind is that laid out by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton. The three primary criteria are as follows:

1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;
2. a process of coercive persuasion or thought reform;
3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

***SMCH headquarters constructed without a license in Taiwan2003 Delinquent Property Tax Statement for Regency Green Dr Northwest Harris, TX 77429
2003 Delinquent Property Tax Statement for 11420 CYPRESS NORTH H77429
2004 Delinquent Property Tax Statement Regency Green Dr Northwest Harris, TX 77429


Would love any feedback. I have future post on African Hebrew Israelite and Landmark Forum in the works as well.
Also if you know of any other organizations that might be similar please let me know.

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http://skepticalvegan.wordpress.com


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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:16 pm 
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I was totally going to ask you to research the use of the term cult, but then I unhid the text and saw that you'd already handled that. I look forward to seeing what you write.


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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:19 pm 
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Country Life and 7th Day Adventist!


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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:21 pm 
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If the African Hebrew Israelites are a cult, sign me up. Their mac n cheese is that good :)

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:28 pm 
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fupapack wrote:
Country Life and 7th Day Adventist!


Yes i was considering 7th Day Adventist, I dont know of any restaurants that they own but I know they sell health food. I know some of the research on health and longevity that vegetrians and vegans point to are from 7th Day Adventist populations and not necessarily applicable to the general veg*n population, so that would be an interesting aspect to explore. (Also been kicking around ideas about a post about Kellogg, his quackery and contribution to vegetarianism)

Have not heard of Country Life before, I did a quick search and it appear christian based. Do they have a head leader? I'll have to look into them, thanks.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:31 pm 
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linanil wrote:
If the African Hebrew Israelites are a cult, sign me up. Their mac n cheese is that good :)


well Ive only just started my research on them but the homophobia, rigid patriarchy, and racial beliefs make me uneasy. Also my own run-ins with groups of African Hebrew Israelite youths street preaching (often times with some racists signs) make me wary of the organization, many of the beliefs actually seem to mirror my fathers own white supremacist beliefs derived from British Israelism . I ate Soul Veg back in Atlanta and it was good for sure.
It should mention (as i say in my post) that these post are not saying "Boycott this place"

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Last edited by SkepticalVegan on Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:32 pm 
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I've done the core courses that Landmark offers, and they aren't a cult. They don't fit the three criteria you have outlined.

1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power - No one worships Werner Erhard or any of the course leaders.
2. a process of coercive persuasion or thought reform - the courses give you the option to look at things a different way, by shifting blame from yourself to others, but when you decide you're no longer interested, there is no coercion to stay. When I decided I wanted to do other things, no one tried to make me stay in the program. I did courses that I felt helped me grow as a person, and once I was done, I was done.
3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie - none of that. The closest thing to exploitation is that you are asked to bring guests to seminars etc. Landmark grows by students bringing in their friends etc, and I did find it annoying that you are reminded to keep inviting people, but that isn't exploitation.

I got a lot out of the selfhelp courses I did, met lots of nice people that are friends to this day, and once I was done, I was done.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:33 pm 
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I'd take issue with the definition of "cult" you have there still. I'd say Catholicism is a cult by that definition (and I remember seeing anti-cult websites that list the Roman Catholic Church as a cult).

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:34 pm 
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Country Life is run by 7 Day Adventists as far as I know. Ted N.C. Wilson is the president of the general conference which is the organizational piece of 7DA...


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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:35 pm 
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SkepticalVegan wrote:
linanil wrote:
If the African Hebrew Israelites are a cult, sign me up. Their mac n cheese is that good :)


well Ive only just started my research on them but the homophobia, rigid patriarchy, and racial beliefs make me uneasy. Also my own run-in with groups of African Hebrew Israelite youths street preaching (often times with some racists signs). I ate Soul Veg back in Atlanta and it was good for sure.
It should mention (as i say in my post) that these post are not saying "Boycott this place"


Yup, I know. I also understand what you are trying to do. Still, they have my soul with their mac n cheese :)

My overall feeling, in general, is that you will hardly ever agree 100% with any business you buy goods and services from. You might agree with certain aspects but disagree with others.

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Last edited by linanil on Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:36 pm 
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Tofulish wrote:
I've done the core courses that Landmark offers, and they aren't a cult. They don't fit the three criteria you have outlined.

1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power - No one worships Werner Erhard or any of the course leaders.
2. a process of coercive persuasion or thought reform - the courses give you the option to look at things a different way, by shifting blame from yourself to others, but when you decide you're no longer interested, there is no coercion to stay. When I decided I wanted to do other things, no one tried to make me stay in the program. I did courses that I felt helped me grow as a person, and once I was done, I was done.
3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie - none of that. The closest thing to exploitation is that you are asked to bring guests to seminars etc. Landmark grows by students bringing in their friends etc, and I did find it annoying that you are reminded to keep inviting people, but that isn't exploitation.

I got a lot out of the selfhelp courses I did, met lots of nice people that are friends to this day, and once I was done, I was done.


I wasn't saying Landmark was a cult, though I do think they are cult-like in that they meet criteria #2 & #3.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:42 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:45 pm 
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linanil wrote:
My overall feeling, in general, is that you will hardly ever agree 100% with any business you buy goods and services from. You might agree with certain aspects but disagree with others.

I'm pretty sure I eat food from christians fairly frequently and they squick me out a lot.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:46 pm 
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Shy Mox wrote:
I'd take issue with the definition of "cult" you have there still. I'd say Catholicism is a cult by that definition (and I remember seeing anti-cult websites that list the Roman Catholic Church as a cult).


I feel like that's more of an indictment of the Catholic Church than a flaw in his definition.

Also, there was a 7th day adventist restaurant in nyc I used to love called Little Lad's Basket. They had a dirt cheap lunch buffet and also offered cooking classes and so forth. It wasn't as preachy as a lot of the other culty vegan restaurants but I seem to remember there at least being some pamphlets.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:48 pm 
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dandirtyapes wrote:
linanil wrote:
My overall feeling, in general, is that you will hardly ever agree 100% with any business you buy goods and services from. You might agree with certain aspects but disagree with others.

I'm pretty sure I eat food from christians fairly frequently and they squick me out a lot.


Well not only that but who owns the company where you buy your batteries from? Where do they donate money? Who owns the company where you buy your batteries at? where do they donate money? It can get complicated because in the grand scheme of things, we can contribute to thousands of individual companies each year and those companies can further contribute to other companies.

And I don't mean this in a way to prevent a look at companies you might support but understanding that I don't think any company is perfect and it'd be difficult to live in an ideal world where every dollar you spend goes to a company that you agree with 100%.

And I'm purely anti-Loving Hut, not because they are a cult but because I got a bad stomach ache from eating there.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:58 pm 
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Shy Mox wrote:
I'd take issue with the definition of "cult" you have there still. I'd say Catholicism is a cult by that definition (and I remember seeing anti-cult websites that list the Roman Catholic Church as a cult).


yep it could be seen as being some where on the spectrum on cultishness, as could the LDS church and many many other churches. "Cult" is a descriptive term rather than evaluative (despite the common negative connotation). I actually remember a lesson in youth bible study growing up where we learned the "cult" origins (well from a believers perceptive) of Christianity and how "cult" wasn't really such a bad word.

You could actually define many things as cult either by the criteria I used or by common dictionary definitions. The point is to get past the hang up about "cult" being a label that makes a specific value judgement, or that says one thing is worse than another.
Spoiler: show
Quote:
cult
noun
1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
3. the object of such devotion.
4. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
5. Sociology . a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

Quote:

My overall feeling, in general, is that you will hardly ever agree 100% with any business you buy goods and services from. You might agree with certain aspects but disagree with others.


I agree and thats part of what got me interested in this series. A number of other vegans are always going on about "Silk is bad cause...", "boycott Earth Balance because...", "Go Max Go bar are unethical...", "Whole Foods are sell outs...", and on and on. We have no problem discussing ethical issues tangential to non-human animal rights such as worker mistreatment, environmental damage, shady business practices, ect when it comes to vegan products on the shelves, so why not restaurants.
I don't boycott every single other-wise vegan product that others say i should (I'd have nothing to eat) but I pick and choose my battles, just like the info about palm oil is out there I wanted this info to be out there as well.

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Last edited by SkepticalVegan on Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:58 pm 
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vegimator wrote:
Shy Mox wrote:
I'd take issue with the definition of "cult" you have there still. I'd say Catholicism is a cult by that definition (and I remember seeing anti-cult websites that list the Roman Catholic Church as a cult).


I feel like that's more of an indictment of the Catholic Church than a flaw in his definition.

Also, there was a 7th day adventist restaurant in nyc I used to love called Little Lad's Basket. They had a dirt cheap lunch buffet and also offered cooking classes and so forth. It wasn't as preachy as a lot of the other culty vegan restaurants but I seem to remember there at least being some pamphlets.


I heard they later opened a bed & breakfast in New England somewhere, but there was a Country Life vegan buffet in Boston's Financial District that I used to frequent back in college, too. It closed in 2001/2002 or so. I don't remember any pamphlets, but there were cookbooks.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:59 pm 
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SkepticalVegan wrote:
Tofulish wrote:
I've done the core courses that Landmark offers, and they aren't a cult. They don't fit the three criteria you have outlined.

1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power - No one worships Werner Erhard or any of the course leaders.
2. a process of coercive persuasion or thought reform - the courses give you the option to look at things a different way, by shifting blame from yourself to others, but when you decide you're no longer interested, there is no coercion to stay. When I decided I wanted to do other things, no one tried to make me stay in the program. I did courses that I felt helped me grow as a person, and once I was done, I was done.
3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie - none of that. The closest thing to exploitation is that you are asked to bring guests to seminars etc. Landmark grows by students bringing in their friends etc, and I did find it annoying that you are reminded to keep inviting people, but that isn't exploitation.

I got a lot out of the selfhelp courses I did, met lots of nice people that are friends to this day, and once I was done, I was done.


I wasn't saying Landmark was a cult, though I do think they are cult-like in that they meet criteria #2 & #3.


As some one who has actually done their courses, they really don't meet #2 or #3. I get tired of LEC being called a cult. I am grateful for the stuff I learned there, but the minute I got more value out of something else and left, there was no pressure to stay. I never felt exploited or coerced, and frankly, because there is so much out there about it being a cult people are very careful not to even use peer pressure to get people to stay. I have so many friends from courses I've done and most of them aren't actively taking classes any longer but all are grateful for what they learned.

One of the most interesting things for me, was that after doing two courses there, my therapist commented that she saw so many positive changes in me, that she thought I was able to do all the things that I had come to therapy to do - find my voice, feel self-confident, advocate for myself and manage my own anxiety. She had thought our process together would take about 5 years but we were just together for 1 year pre-Landmark and a few months after it. She said she was profoundly impressed by the development she saw in me.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:01 pm 
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vegimator wrote:
Shy Mox wrote:
I'd take issue with the definition of "cult" you have there still. I'd say Catholicism is a cult by that definition (and I remember seeing anti-cult websites that list the Roman Catholic Church as a cult).


I feel like that's more of an indictment of the Catholic Church than a flaw in his definition.

Also, there was a 7th day adventist restaurant in nyc I used to love called Little Lad's Basket. They had a dirt cheap lunch buffet and also offered cooking classes and so forth. It wasn't as preachy as a lot of the other culty vegan restaurants but I seem to remember there at least being some pamphlets.


I don't think so. Really it could be applied to a lot of religions. Buddha was a charismatic leader who people now view as holy, although there's different levels of worship, it fits. Someone could argue that its coercive because it holds that if you don't meditate and achieve enlightenment, you're stuck in samsara for eternity. If you do things considered immoral, you'll be punished through karma in this life and the next. And in some groups in the West and in several countries in Asia, one can argue Buddhism has been exploitative. I could probably do this with just about any religion that had a founder who then became canonized, and I've had quite a few atheists argue that Buddhism is an evil religion for those exact reasons.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:03 pm 
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linanil wrote:
Well not only that but who owns the company where you buy your batteries from? Where do they donate money? Who owns the company where you buy your batteries at? where do they donate money? It can get complicated because in the grand scheme of things, we can contribute to thousands of individual companies each year and those companies can further contribute to other companies.


You and DDA raise fair points, but eating at a restaurant owned by a cult leader is a bit different from eating at a restaurant owned by a rank and file Christian with little to no interest in (or aptitude for) brainwashing their staff. And the same is more or less true of your battery company. Of course large companies, especially in areas where they are the best paying opportunity for the uneducated, exploit their workers. But at the very least, the employees don't usually have to fear the wrath of their boss and a living prophet combined if they complain about lack of overtime pay or something. Usually it's just the boss.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:08 pm 
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Shy Mox wrote:
I don't think so. Really it could be applied to a lot of religions. Buddha was a charismatic leader who people now view as holy, although there's different levels of worship, it fits. Someone could argue that its coercive because it holds that if you don't meditate and achieve enlightenment, you're stuck in samsara for eternity. If you do things considered immoral, you'll be punished through karma in this life and the next. And in some groups in the West and in several countries in Asia, one can argue Buddhism has been exploitative. I could probably do this with just about any religion that had a founder who then became canonized, and I've had quite a few atheists argue that Buddhism is an evil religion for those exact reasons.


You're making my point for me. The differences between mainstream religions and cults are minor, at least if there's still a figure capable of making demands that his followers believe are demanded by God. The main difference as I see it is that cults are usually younger and possibly more demanding. If they stick around long enough and gain enough followers, they become a religion.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:12 pm 
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The second definition you use, that uses the "cult of physical fitness" as an example is so broad as to be nearly meaningless.

Quote:
2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.


But at least that definition uses the element of sacredness. There is no claim to sacredness or religion at Landmark. It sees itself as an educational company - to teach tools for being responsible for and creating your own life. You can argue with the value of the courses, but it never makes any claims even to being "spiritual."

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:13 pm 
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vegimator wrote:
Shy Mox wrote:
I don't think so. Really it could be applied to a lot of religions. Buddha was a charismatic leader who people now view as holy, although there's different levels of worship, it fits. Someone could argue that its coercive because it holds that if you don't meditate and achieve enlightenment, you're stuck in samsara for eternity. If you do things considered immoral, you'll be punished through karma in this life and the next. And in some groups in the West and in several countries in Asia, one can argue Buddhism has been exploitative. I could probably do this with just about any religion that had a founder who then became canonized, and I've had quite a few atheists argue that Buddhism is an evil religion for those exact reasons.


You're making my point for me. The differences between mainstream religions and cults are minor, at least if there's still a figure capable of making demands that his followers believe are demanded by God. The main difference as I see it is that cults are usually younger and possibly more demanding. If they stick around long enough and gain enough followers, they become a religion.


I don't think they're always more demanding. NRMs and cults can be and often are pretty harmless, but if we're taking that definition to seek out cults are that more harmful and creepy than you're average religion, it doesn't work out so well. I also think the idea of "thought reform" is too much like "brainwash", which has been debunked.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:15 pm 
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Shy Mox wrote:
vegimator wrote:
Shy Mox wrote:
I don't think so. Really it could be applied to a lot of religions. Buddha was a charismatic leader who people now view as holy, although there's different levels of worship, it fits. Someone could argue that its coercive because it holds that if you don't meditate and achieve enlightenment, you're stuck in samsara for eternity. If you do things considered immoral, you'll be punished through karma in this life and the next. And in some groups in the West and in several countries in Asia, one can argue Buddhism has been exploitative. I could probably do this with just about any religion that had a founder who then became canonized, and I've had quite a few atheists argue that Buddhism is an evil religion for those exact reasons.


You're making my point for me. The differences between mainstream religions and cults are minor, at least if there's still a figure capable of making demands that his followers believe are demanded by God. The main difference as I see it is that cults are usually younger and possibly more demanding. If they stick around long enough and gain enough followers, they become a religion.


I don't think they're always more demanding. NRMs and cults can be and often are pretty harmless, but if we're taking that definition to seek out cults are that more harmful and creepy than you're average religion, it doesn't work out so well. I also think the idea of "thought reform" is too much like "brainwash", which has been debunked.


I think we're basically in agreement here. What are you saying the definition of cult and the definition of religion should be and how am I getting it wrong?

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:22 pm 
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Tofulish wrote:
As some one who has actually done their courses, they really don't meet #2 or #3. I get tired of LEC being called a cult. I am grateful for the stuff I learned there, but the minute I got more value out of something else and left, there was no pressure to stay. I never felt exploited or coerced, and frankly, because there is so much out there about it being a cult people are very careful not to even use peer pressure to get people to stay. I have so many friends from courses I've done and most of them aren't actively taking classes any longer but all are grateful for what they learned.

One of the most interesting things for me, was that after doing two courses there, my therapist commented that she saw so many positive changes in me, that she thought I was able to do all the things that I had come to therapy to do - find my voice, feel self-confident, advocate for myself and manage my own anxiety. She had thought our process together would take about 5 years but we were just together for 1 year pre-Landmark and a few months after it. She said she was profoundly impressed by the development she saw in me.


on criteria #2, I most certainly think that some of their techniques constituent Attack Therapy (which is common in LGAT as thought coersion). Having witnessed a Landmark participant attempting to break the other down and reading other first-hand account makes me very skeptical.

on criteria #3, I'm glad you had a beneficial experience but you can easily find such defenses from members of organizations that were more blatantly destructive and exploitative as well. Unfortunately many many people's experience does not mirror you own and they did feel pressured and exploited.

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