> AR Interviews
The Satya Interview: A
Word with Dick Gregory
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Dick Gregory has been a
humorist and social activist for over 30 years. In the mid-1960s, he
scored his first triumph as a comedian, satirizing race relations before
frozen food executives from the Deep South at the Chicago Playboy Club. It
was the first time that a Black comedian had dared to defy the convention
that race-relations was a taboo subject for humor in big-time night clubs.
A protégé and friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gregory continues the
legacy of non-violence. He protested the Vietnam War by fasting for two
years on fruit juice. During the fast he got many letters from school
children saying that they were praying for the war to end so that Gregory
could eat solid food again, rather than uncooked fruit! Gregory and his
wife Lilian have raised their 10 children as fruitarians. None has ever
tasted — or has expressed any desire to taste — cooked food.
obese himself (he tipped the scales at 288 pounds), Gregory has recently
launched a national anti-obesity campaign. Satya caught up with Gregory as
he was performing his Off-Broadway, one-man show Dick Gregory
Q: I understand that you’re a
A: The great thing is that it goes
in and out of the upper and lower colon in 22 minutes, so that in 44
minutes you get the benefits of it; whereas, with anything else, it takes
four hours in the upper colon, four hours in the lower colon, and it takes
approximately eight hours plus to digest it. One day when we really
research it, we’ll find out how much of our energy is depleted through
eating the wrong foods.
Q: So you’re a 100%
A: My whole thing is that when you
cook anything or freeze anything, you destroy the nutrients in it. If you
serve a child raw fruit and vegetables without salad dressing, they’ll go
for the fruit, and they’ll never eat anything but fruit. Salad dressing
covers up the flavor of vegetables. But you need salad dressing to slip
the vegetables past your tastebuds. That’s why there’s a trillion dollar
industry in salad dressings.
Q: With fruit on the other
hand, you don’t need flavor enhancers or dressings to sneak it past your
How did you become a rawfoodist?
A: I just
figured it out. If you put one hand in boiling water, and you put your
other hand in the deep freeze and leave it there overnight, neither one of
those hands will be any good: it must do the same thing to food. Freezing
and cooking food destroys the nutrients in it. When you get to the point
where you stop eating for taste and start eating for nutrition, you’ll
start to feel a lot better.
Q: Did Gandhi
influence you in your decision to become a
A: No, when I became vegetarian, I
didn’t know that Gandhi was a vegetarian. Ninety-nine percent of people
know that Gandhi fasted, but they don’t know he was a vegetarian. I knew
that he prayed and he fasted, but I didn’t know he was a vegetarian until
I got into it. When I got through checking out Gandhi, I realized that
Gandhi never fasted over 13 days in his life. Gandhi influenced me through
Dr. Martin Luther King, and the idea of peaceful resistance.
Q: Do you use fasting as a political
A: I think it’s a violation to use it for
that purpose. I use it for spiritual cleansing and to help me attain the
higher consciousness. When you use fasting for political ends, you violate
the universal order. But occasionally I use it for that because fasting is
one of the greatest weapons in the arsenal of non-violent resistance. I
use it to make a point: in America, we lose more people from over-eating
than from under-eating. So anytime you go on a fast, even people who
resent what you’re doing — when they sit down to eat, they have to think
you say once that America is the most obese nation on earth?
Oh, it is.
Q: Do you see any hopeful signs
that this may change?
A: I’m optimistic. One of the most hopeful
signs is the fact that America spends over $39 billion a year trying to
get slim by following the wrong diet. Eventually, they’ll get tired of
doing the wrong things, and they’ll start doing the right things. If
America would spend $39 billion on trying to stop smoking cigarettes, I’d
see that as a good sign.
Q: Your book Dick
Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Like to Eat: Cookin’ With Mother
Nature has been a perennial best-seller. Among other things, it’s a primer
on raw-foodism and vegetarianism. Has that had an impact on the eating
habits in the Black community?
A: Oh, yes! It’s
been a bestseller since 1973. It’s also had a great impact on the white
community. It’s penetrated the Black community and it’s prominently
displayed at all the Black health expos.
You were the first Black celebrity to advocate a fruitarian, raw food
diet. That was a very courageous thing to
A: But I don’t push that.
Q: Yes, I noticed that you didn’t mention it in your
A: I try to take a gradual
approach and put people in a transition period. If you were a good friend
of mine, and if you were a heavy smoker, and if you were in a very bad
accident, I would not come to the hospital and entice you to stop smoking
because the one thing that a person needs when he gets into a crisis is
his crutches. After you recovered, then I’d try to get you to stop
smoking. I remember that when I was a heavy smoker, the first time that
something happened — bad or good — I’d reach for a cigarette. When I
stopped smoking, my whole nightclub act went off. I didn’t realize it at
that time, but I’d been using the cigarette as a prop. I’d tell a joke and
the whole joke would be set to the rhythm of my smoking.
Q: Was it harder to give up eating meat or smoking
A: Cigarettes. We’re not addicted
to meat-eating the way we are to cigarettes.
Q: Do you have any religious
A: I grew up in the Baptist
Q: Do you think Christ was a
A: Sure. As a spiritual person, he
had to be. He had to have reached the conclusion that nothing with life in
it should be killed under any circumstances.
Berry is the author of Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite
Recipes and the forthcoming Food For the Gods: Vegetarianism and the
World’s Religions. Copies may be ordered from the author at $16.95 each
postpaid from 159 Eastern Parkway, Apt. 2H, Brooklyn, NY 11238.