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Ask a hack comedian what they think of Los Angeles and it will take all of 10 seconds for them to start mocking the city’s obsession with organic food. But clichés about cruelty-free avocado toast and raw kombucha have to start somewhere, and some of the credit for LA’s transformation into a city perpetually searching for the next hip vegetable belongs to the Source. Opened in 1969 by James Edward Baker, the Source introduced celebrities like John Lennon and Marlon Brando to the trendy joys of chugging beet juice and forcing cilantro onto everything. Much of our modern obsession with vegetarian cuisine traces back to the restaurant … and its profits funded a horny jujitsuing killer’s cult-y commune.

Baker was born in 1922 and served as a Marine in the Second World War, where Baker says he won the Silver Star but official government records disagree. He moved from Cincinnati to LA with dreams of becoming a stuntman, but instead ended up opening the Aware Inn with his wife, Elaine, in 1958. Baker had also fallen in with the Nature Boys who, despite sounding like a Ric Flair society, were beatniks who espoused raw veganism. Aware’s organic menu—created well, well ahead of the organic food trend—reflected their influence, although fresh-squeezed carrot juice sat alongside organic takes on mainstream dishes, like beef stroganoff. Also, in pictures from the Aware Inn days, Baker looks like a regular dude and not, well, this: 

Father Yod doing the star exercise

via Wiki Commons

A guru AND a rock star. 

So what changed? We should first mention that, in 1955, Baker kicked his neighbor so hard he died, after the man pulled a knife on him during an argument. The self-proclaimed jujutsu expert wasn’t prosecuted, but he wasn’t as lucky in 1963, when an irate man turned up at the inn and accused Baker of kissing his wife. Baker said they only had a “spiritual attraction” fueled by their mutual interest in philosophy and healthy eating, the husband somehow didn’t buy that, and in the ensuing scuffle Baker turned the man’s own gun on him. He was convicted of manslaughter and, while he only served five months, his marriage ended and Elaine got the inn. 

Baker went full hippie upon release. He threw himself into ’60s counterculture, studied esoterism, and became a follower of Yogi Bhajan, who helped popularize yoga in America, dubiously linked yoga to astrology, and was later accused of just, like, ton of sexual abuse. He was also feeling the itch to open another restaurant, which he funded by charming $35,000 out of a random dude he met while hiking. Baker told his benefactor that his new establishment would be inspired by the “dietary wisdom found in the teachings of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Essene Gospels of Peace.” 

Essene Gospels of Peace

Audio Enlightenment

Four and a half stars on Amazon!

If you don’t recall the part of the Bible where our Lord Christ gets really into sharing hummus hacks, that’s because the Essene Gospels were a forgery by philosophy and psychology professor Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, who claimed he stumbled across ancient untranslated texts in the Vatican archives where Jesus preached vegetarianism. They were hilariously obvious fakes, but that didn’t stop his “translations” from finding an audience among people who shared Szekely’s passion for the raw food lifestyle and equated spirituality with believing everything in every book the crystal and incense store offered. A middle-aged Szekely would eventually pick up a 17-year-old at a vegetarianism conference and start a commune in California, but we were talking about Baker. Who, soon after opening the Source, began calling himself Father Yod. 

The Source debuted with a hardcore raw vegan menu, but struggled until they compromised by welcoming dairy into their ranks. They even tried the radical concept of, gasp, cooking a few dishes. And it became a hit, receiving rave newspaper reviews and reams of celebrity guests. Rebranding as Yod helped with marketing, but he was serious when he began teaching Sunday morning meditation and philosophy classes at his restaurant. And then, naturally, he bought a white Rolls Royce and an LA mansion that eventually housed 150 members of the “Source Family.” The restaurant supported the Family, and many members worked at the restaurant. 

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