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A taste of gratitude

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It's not always easy finding interesting menu choices for a raw food diet, one consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts, seeds, grains and sprouts. Thus, a trip to California beckons like a journey to the Promised Land.

After checking into my hotel room recently, I headed down Shattuck Avenue to the Berkeley location of Café Gratitude, where the food is "local, sustainable, organic, vegan and raw."

There could hardly be more appropriate dining in preparation for the annual conference of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), a convocation of hundreds of the best thinkers and innovative practitioners working to build long-term economic empowerment and prosperity through local business ownership, economic justice and environmental stewardship.

The tone is set at Café Gratitude on the menu: "We invite you to step inside and enjoy being someone who chooses: loving your life, adoring yourself, accepting the world, being generous and grateful everyday, and experiencing being provided for." If that sounds hokey, you may not want to turn the page. Each item is named with an affirmation. The Caesar salad is I Am Dazzling. The samosas are I Am Insightful. And so on.

Yet the affirming spirit of Café Gratitude is irresistible. An apparently cynical New York Times reporter reviewed the café back in April. Uncomfortable saying "I am luscious" to a stranger, she reports, "I jabbed at the menu. A few minutes later, she presented me with a smoothie made with hazelnut milk, figs, dates, vanilla and raw cacao, making eye contact as she said: 'You are luscious!'" After loosening up a bit and savoring the selections, the reviewer was impressed and "can't wait to go back."

Faced with a plethora of provocative choices, I settled on the crustini. "I am bountiful," I told the server.

"You are bountiful," she echoed a few minutes later as she brought my dinner, and then "you are inspired," the affirmation accompanying the masala chai latte.

Heading to the conference, I could not help but think back on these affirmations. To feel bountiful and inspired is a great way to enter a conference in which one wants to engage fully in a robust exchange of ideas. The conference was inspired with a rich bounty of ideas and projects. The theme of the bountiful continued in an address from author Paul Hawken, who described the "rise of a movement that is a shift between a world created by and for privilege to a world created by community, [a movement with] over one million organizations around the world who address civil liberties, social justice and the environment."

Hawken spoke of a movement growing organically and decentralized, without "Promethean leaders," its organizations interconnected but independent, and global in its reach.

Later, I returned to Café Gratitude in search of a treat. "You are grace," the server said as she brought a frosty smoothie. Young coconut milk, almond butter, dates and vanilla—fantastic!

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