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Hey! That's fruitarian, not fruit cake

Published May 21, 2006

In the 1970s I ran the Environmental Demonstration Center in Miami. Built beside a lake on Miami Dade College's Kendall Campus, the center's purpose was to demonstrate all the ways, if you were willing to give up a few creature comforts like air conditioning, you could help the Earth.

The 12-volt lights were powered by solar panels on the roof, aided by a farmer's windmill. Gray water from the sinks irrigated the garden, and all bathroom-going was done in an enormous homemade composting toilet, an odoriferous affair that I was elected to clean because I could not smell.

The entire structure was made of 4 by 8 plywood panels around a core of insulating Styrofoam. Like a giant ice chest. The panels were bolted together to form the floor, walls and roof. The walls were hinged, and side panels could be raised to let in air off the lake.

The idea was to have a flexible house. When your kid grew up and left home, he could unbolt his room and take it with him.

As you might guess, or perhaps not, being on the cusp of sustainable technology attracted every eccentric in three counties.

There was Laurie, a small tan man clad in a loincloth. I'm exaggerating - he wore shorts - but he was a loincloth-Gandhi-diaper-wearing kind of guy.

Laurie was a fruitarian, and any diet not equally rigorous was beneath his contempt. I taught a nutrition class. He'd sit in the back and lob insults. I'd say, "Add half a cup of honey."

He'd say, in a loud voice: "Bee vomit."

I'd say, "Beat two eggs."

He'd say, "Chicken menses."

If anything failed in our organic garden, I'd arrive Monday morning to find small white crosses erected, each one inscribed: Death by Neglect.

"Only fruit and only what's in season," Laurie told us. He sat on the floor in full lotus position devouring a pile of mangos, peeling them with his broken teeth, letting the juice run through his sparse beard and down his bare chest.

"You'd better see somebody about your teeth," we told him.

"I'm looking for the right dentist," he said.

He never quit trying to convert us.

"If you don't believe this diet is healthy, go over there in the woods and take a look at my output."

Looking back, I can't believe I did this, but I trotted right down the path and took a look: massive feces the color of butterscotch, all but steaming and probably reeking, but I was spared that. Truly impressive. A couple of green bottle flies thought so, too.

Laurie told us that spiritual progression moved from carnivore to vegetarian, from vegetarian to fruitarian and, finally, to breatharian. If you became pure enough, you would absorb all the nutrients you needed from the air alone. He boasted of a friend who had achieved this final, highest step.

We were mightily impressed until we read in the paper one morning that the young man's body had been found in a South Dade avocado grove. Cause of death: starvation.

I don't know what became of Laurie. No longer able to stand the abuse, we sent him on his way. He left, cursing and calling environmental wrath down upon us.

Someone saw him on Miami Beach a year or so later. He'd lost the rest of his teeth. Said he was never able to find a dentist who understood.

Norma Watkins is a frequent contributor to Sunday Journal.

[Last modified May 19, 2006, 09:42:58]

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