In the 1970s, New York City was not particularly hospitable to the vegetarian or natural foods devotee. Granted, it was better than the suburbs, where anyone with such a dietary regime was regularly cross examined as to the reasons why. Vegetarianism did not have the cache it does today, where Hollywood stars adopt it as the latest fashion, like a pair of Birkenstocks or Buddhism.
Natural food stores and a handful of vegetarian restaurants existed, but outside of these outposts, natural foods did not permeate the fabric of the American culture the way is does today. Soy milk, tofu, brown rice, whole grain cereals, bottled smoothies - these items are common today in virtually every grocery shop, deli in New York City, but at that time, they were hard to come by and had to be ferreted out, tantamount to panning for gold.
There were books such as Survival Into the 21st Century (over 1 million copies sold) by Viktoras Kulvinskas and Man's Higher Consciousness by Hilton Hotema, which became nearly biblical with the vegetarian community and members of the health food movement. The authors espoused various dietary philosophies such as fruitarianism, mucusless diets, liquidarianism, sproutarianism, raw foodism, veganism and even breatharianism. On occasion, one of these gurus might visit the city for a presentation of sorts. There were health expos at the convention centers.
This environment, along with the idealism of youth and a desire for an idyllic Eden, led to my long obsession with tropical islands, where I dreamed a person might live on the fruits of nature. Stories of dietary extremists like Johnny Lovewisdom and his attempt at recreating a paradisaical life in the Andes of South America were the inspiration for many.
Cold, dreary New York City winters seemed antithetical to visions of tropical paradise, and soon I needed to claim my own Eden, even if for only 10 days at a time. However, my flavor of Eden included hot showers, air conditioning (or at least fans), and flush toilets. So, I opted for tropics close to home with some modcons - the West Indies. I visited many of these islands over several years, but none had the impact of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic). This lush island was home to rain forests, rare birds, waterfalls, daily rainbows and mountains - Morne Diablotins rises to 4,747 feet - quite dramatic for an island of only 291 square miles.
It was the botanic garden I had been searching for, and I made three visits. I had the island virtually to myself - the scarcity of beaches is one of the primary reasons that the island is little known and the least visited of the Caribbean islands (around nearly the entire island, green covered mountains plunge to the sea). You can read more about this remarkable little island gem here.
Is there a stronger connection between Dominica and New York City than my ruminations and obsession? Yes, there certainly is, but for that, you have to meet David Miller. We will do that tomorrow in Part 2 :)
Photo Note: This is a British Ordinance survey map of the island dated 1982. I purchased this large map (24 in. x 41 in.) on one of my visits to the island and, on my return, had it mounted on foam core.