The Dark Side of the Aajonus Vonderplanitz Legacy; How the End Came
It’s nice to hear from people who knew Aajonus Vonderplanitz, who valued his friendship and benefited from his nutritional counseling. Clearly, he did a lot of good for individuals he advised on his raw-food regimen.
That is what grieving is about for someone who did real good--lamenting how much the deceased person will be missed, and sharing revealing or humorous or insightful memories that come up in the days after his death.
At least that is what it is about for most of those departed. But Vonderplanitz was an unusual person, as a number of people have pointed out. There has been this comforting side of grieving, and then there has been something else.
I have heard from several people who knew Vonderplanitz well, but aren’t grieving, at least in the ordinary ways. They have taken me to task, for writing the obituary that was my previous post for what they thought gave Vonderplanitz too much credit for his role in the food rights movement.
James Stewart, the founder of Rawesome Food Club, was probably most upset, apparently because I seemed to give credit to Vonderplanitz for helping conceive the food club concept that was behind Rawesome. He was particularly irked because I referred to Vonderplanitz as “his old partner in arms” and said Stewart “launched the first Vonderplanitz-conceived private food club...”
In a text message, Stewart said, “I was never his partner.” As for my suggestion that Vonderplanitz helped conceive the food club idea, Stewart added: “That’s a lie...Rawesome was one hundred per cent my idea. Aajonus had nothing to do with it. I have shared that with you numerous times, so I’ve lost complete faith in your journalism truth.”
I received a detailed email from Victoria Bloch, a former assistant to farmer Sharon Palmer, and one of the “Rawesome Three” defendants with Stewart and Sharon Palmer back in 2011. She said in part, “Aajonus repeatedly claimed credit for starting Rawesome, but my experience was that he pretty much stayed in the role of customer till well after the lot was purchased (in 2003)... Eventually, AV drafted the membership agreement that was used from then on. The Rawesome name did not come from AV, either; I recall quite clearly when James was playing around with names and conducting informal polling with shoppers. Perhaps AV did come up with the idea of combining a membership club with a herdshare...”
I also heard from Sharon Palmer, who was the target of a civil suit from Vonderplanitz (and Larry Otting) alleging fraud, libel, and other offenses. She in turn filed a countersuit, alleging defamation.
I had stated in my obituary post that Vonderplanitz “abandoned the civil suit a few months ago, coming to a settlement that provided for him to take down the web site.:
Palmer stated: “I would like to let you know Aajonus did not drop the case, he lost the case. Over a period of months in superior court in Los Angeles the case brought against myself and James Stewart was dismantled by the courts for lack of evidence. When the trial date came about they had one complaint left out of 44 standing. After their attorneys stated they had no experts, or witnesses other than rumors and here say,the judge threw out their case completely. This left my counter lawsuit against Otting and Aajonus. I gave them a chance to settle, take down the slanderous web site and sign an agreement that they would not ever slander HFF or Sharon Palmer again....Why did I give them a chance to settle and not get them for the millions they cost me? David,this is a chapter in my life I wanted over. This was such evil I wanted them out of my life and the lives of my children.”
There was more. And this was to contest my designation of Vonderplanitz as the father of the food rights movement. To which Victoria Bloch asked: “Did he launch the movement for food freedom? Hardly. Did he participate? Absolutely. But there were people and organizations pushing for access to the foods of their choice – including raw milk – before he started more visibly doing so (notably Weston A. Price Foundation with their Real Milk campaign, but certainly others as well). It's a nice thing to say about him, but it distorts his image, which ultimately does both him and others who have led the vanguard a disservice.”
Now, why did I go through this tedious exercise? After all, I didn’t say anything patently inaccurate--I used shortcut statements to summarize Vonderplanitz’s role.
I went through the exercise above to illustrate the depth of hostility that exists against Vonderplanitz, and me, for having said nice things about Vonderplanitz.
But irony of ironies, Vonderplanitz was just as pissed at me as Stewart, Bloch, and Palmer for my presentation of Vonderplanitz’s accomplishments and weaknesses. In the weeks before he died, he wrote me several lengthy emails to tell me how outraged he was about my book, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights”.
“I do not understand why you favored James and Sharon so much in your book. I will never understand unless you make your reasons make sense. The testimony and accompanying photos are irrefutable.”
As for the close relationship between Stewart and Vonderplanitz in running Rawesome: “Many errors in the Stewart/Vonderplanitz partnership. You gave Stewart much more intelligence than he has....Yes, he made things happen by his charm but he was a person who had to have help with most everything and raged, screamed and defamed those people often.”
Vonderplanitz saved his best for my supposed shortchanging his accomplishments in food rights. “In your book, there was no mention that my activism in food-freedom were in 1972, 1977-78, 1984-86, 1994-2001, 2005-present when governments were aggressively trying to eradicate raw milk. There was no mention of five volunteers and I lobbying congress in 2007 for three months for raw milk and food-freedom. No mention that our 16-18-hours-daily work there was responsible for Ron Paul drafting legislation for raw milk. There was no mention of the Washington, DC meeting between Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, Jeff Slay and me in 2009 to discuss Nader supporting our raw milk legislation. The meeting in which, although it had been prearranged three months in advance and verified six times with both Nader and Paul including five days prior to scheduled date, Nader stood us up and sent an attorney negative to raw milk instead. Ron Paul went into a rage and ranted at the attorney about nanny-control of our lives.
What’s the message in all this, and what does it have to do with Vonderplanitz’s legacy and the food rights movement? Three key points stand out to me:
- Something happened to Vonderplanitz in October 2010, when he decided to go after Stewart and Palmer in what amounted to a vendetta that would continue until he died a few days ago. My theory is he snapped under the pressure of the government legal offensive that was taking shape in those days of 2010. But in the process, he put several other individuals, including Stewart, Bloch, and Palmer, under incredible pressure as well. Stewart wound up serving four months in jail because of Vonderplanitz’s antics. I could write a whole separate post on this phenomenon, but I’ve seen other activists undergo radical changes in their personalities or approaches after some amount of time fighting the government, All I can think is that the fight takes a much greater toll on those directly involved than we can ever appreciate.
- All the people I’ve quoted here became so involved in personal fights of one sort or another that they completely lost their focus on the larger food rights struggle. As you can see, all the messages I quoted from above related to individual egos and perceived reputations rather than the direction of the struggle against the government and corporate campaign to deprive us of access to nutrient-dense foods. Unfortunately, this behavior plays right into the hands of the enforcers. In the Rawesome case, the targeted individuals became so attached to their own views and their own views exclusively, that they couldn’t see that my book gave them more legitimacy and gave their views more credence than anyone ever had, and possibly ever will. (Stewart holds on so tight that he that he has no intention of even reading my book, based on my supposed inaccuracies in the previous post.)
- As for Vonderplanitz’s legacy, the positive part of that was established prior to 2010. He went a long ways toward undoing it in the three years afterwards.
I can’t personally blame any of the people involved in the Rawesome mess, because they were all up against huge forces that are designed to intimidate and destroy. The best legacy to Vonderplanitz would be for the forces of good to learn from the negative events around Rawesome, and put them to positive purposes ongoing.
P.S. It now turns out that Vonderplanitz’s death might have been preventable. Here’s an account from a close associate at his organization, Right to Choose Healthy Food:
“At the end of the week last week, Aajonus was with his girlfriend, in Thailand on a balcony on his house. He was cleaning a wound to his hand, and went to the railing to throw the rest of the washing fluid to the ground. She turned away to do something, and heard a crashing noise. The railing was broken, at least in that spot, and she heard moaning. She rushed to the ground below, and found him there.
“He broke his back quite severely, next to the first rib, and could not move his legs. He took charge of the care of his body, even in the hospital, where he had them wrap his torso to stabilize the bones. He did have one x-ray, and then would not let them do more. The doctors wanted to operate, and he refused. He had them wrap him and feed him his food, and continued so for two days. He was apparently in good spirits, but did experience what must have been severe pain, for he did let them give him at least two pain shots. This might have been necessary for him to stay awake and in control, as the body can shut down from pain. There was blood in his stomach at some point, for he did regurgitate some food with blood in it.
“On the third day of his hospital stay, he sent his girlfriend to a court proceeding in Bangkok, about 3.5 hrs away, about the land there in Thailand, over her protests. He insisted she go. While she was gone, he went into a coma, and they put an IV in him. When she returned he was ‘very bad’. At this point she emailed our Thai member, who called a few of us. The doctors say he had a kidney infection and blood infection. They continued to feed him butter and honey, as instructed, and followed his wishes as possible. They gave him oxygen as his breathing decreased, and he steadily lost blood pressure. They told us his kidneys had stopped functioning, were not producing urine. They wanted to do something, but no one had any authority to override his stated wishes. When his heart failed, they pumped his heart and tried to resuscitate him for a half hour. Our Thai member was on the phone with Aajonus' girlfriend and could hear the flatline beep of the heart monitor. ...They stopped resuscitation efforts at 2 am August 28th Thai time, Noon on August 27th Los Angeles time.”
The way I read it, Vonderplanitz may have been afraid to have rural doctors operate on him, and likely died from the effects of internal bleeding.