On January 5, Santa Barbara resident Taylor Lancaster, 31, will go on a walk — a very long one. Beginning at Santa Monica beach, the Los Angeles–born Lancaster, who currently works at Yoga Soup as a desk yogi, intends to continue walking eastward, through the major cities of the desert, upward through the plains, and finally ending in Manhattan, in a transcontinental walk intended to cultivate discussions on genetically modified organisms (GMO).
Equipped with a GoPro camera, samples of organic garlic-based condiments to pass out along the way, and what he hopes will be a stroller stocked with survival materials and freeze dried organic meals, Lancaster intends for his journey to spark conversations about the nationwide lack of GMO labeling, testing his own spirit and endurance in the process. He will camp, sleep in strangers’ houses, parks, and possibly jail cells and wear through at least one pair of shoes a month, with all efforts and materials financially backed by the Omega Point Institute, a nonprofit affiliated with the Ojai- and Ventura-based Seven Oaks Farm and its Garlic Gold product line. Lancaster has allowed himself the entirety of a year to complete the walk.
A self-described lifelong adventurer, Lancaster’s decision to walk took root in his 2007 trip across New Zealand, working on organic farms. Lancaster visited the island nation to shed a Los Angeles lifestyle filled with junk food, drugs, and long, stressful work hours.
“I was just sluggish and tired and depressed, and I wondered why I was so unhappy. It wasn’t until I had gone to New Zealand and started eating fresh vegetables every day, walking a lot, exercising, and living a healthy lifestyle that I realized the food I was consuming was hurting me,” he said. While shearing sheep and planting flower bulbs, he connected with the local growers and Kiwi culture and found in their earthiness the model for a newer, better lifestyle. “I realized there was a whole life to be had around the advancement of organic food and growing methods,” he said.
Upon returning to the States in 2008, Lancaster followed his parents northward to Santa Barbara, where he started working at Fairview Gardens. There, he vowed to continue working with food in whatever capacity he could.
When he recently decided to walk across the country as a test of personal resilience, his food focus attracted the attention of his friend Orion Brutoco, the cofounder and marketing director for Garlic Gold, a Ventura-based, organic garlic condiment company. “Taylor had talked to me about walking across America, and I said, ‘Dude, you should walk for the labeling of GMO foods,’” Brutoco said. “This is a hot issue, and people need to be inspired about it. You walking across America could do a lot of work for this cause.”
It’s a matter close to the Brutoco family’s heart. Orion’s father, Rinaldo Brutoco, founded Seven Oaks Farms, a 12.5-acre organic ranch in the Ojai Valley, and began the Garlic Gold branch after Orion drafted a business plan for his father’s recipe for toasted garlic seasoning. Rinaldo also runs the Omega Point Institute, a nonprofit fund and chief sponsor for Lancaster’s walk. The Brutocos, staunch proponents of organic food, saw in Lancaster the opportunity to spread the gospel of informed food consumption.
“We’re trying to stir up a national conversation to get people to think about the fact that we aren’t allowed to know what’s in our food,” Rinaldo Brutoco said. He stressed that the walk is not meant to protest GMOs but to mandate their labeling and wider consumer choices. “What I don’t like is that companies like Monsanto are fighting to keep that info from the consumer. I don’t want any business to succeed that has to succeed by fooling the American people for intentionally misinforming or un-informing them,” Rinaldo said.
Lancaster welcomed the Brutoco family’s idea, and in a matter of months he has seen the seed of his idea grow from a solitary spiritual quest into a march for a much larger cause. Lancaster now has a publicist and a webpage through the Omega Point Institute, though he is still seeking some major contributions — namely, a stroller sturdy enough to carry his supplies and withstand the rigors of a 3,500-mile walk. Using a smartphone and social media, Lancaster hopes the cause will net support, supplies, and places to sleep. As his route will pass through Midwest regions of mass food production, Lancaster knows not everyone he meets along the way will fully support his cause, but he is fully prepared to listen.
“My main purpose is to listen to people about how they feel about the issue, what their concerns are, whether they are for or against it, and why. This walk will do no good unless I’m open and vulnerable to hearing how people really feel about the GMO issue,” he said. “Of course, I may be met with some serious antagonism, but I’m willing to go through that to support the issue.”
To be sure, the most listening he will be doing will be with his own inner dialogue. Loneliness is his chief worry, he said, but he feels the cause will be like a wind at his back. “Really it’s become bigger than myself, and I feel a lot more support to walk 3,500 miles in a year. It really has become a much more joyful exercise than I had originally intended,” he said.
Yoga Soup’s sendoff potluck last Saturday kicked off some fund- and spirit-raising for Lancaster’s undertaking. Donations can also be made through the Omega Point website.