Galloping Down A Different Path

Graham Kerr tempers his `hedonist' image

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE ``Galloping Gourmet'' rides again, but he's galloping to a different drummer. Because he chopped carrots and celery on screen for an estimated 200 million viewers worldwide each week from 1969-'71, Graham Kerr laughs when he recalls that it was a near-fatal collision with a vegetable truck in 1971 that changed his life.

His recuperation from severe injuries set in motion a two-decade chain of events that has brought him and his producer-spouse Treena back to the tube with radically realigned priorities.

``I used to talk freely on air about feeding the hungry at the same time I was in full, hedonist pursuit of lobsters, fillets, and tenderloins,'' Mr. Kerr says of his earlier show. ``And it gave me Brownie points without having to make any sacrifice or think of any strategies.''

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A religious conversion from ``drifting Anglican'' to nondenominational Christian helped bring healing to him physically and emotionally, Kerr says. It also sent him to the far corners of the developing world to spread knowledge on how the hungry can help themselves.

``I became aware that I had suffered from avarice for a very long time,'' Kerr says in an interview at his Seattle TV studio. ``I was so caught up in my accumulated wealth, power, and prestige from the show that I suffered from a severe kind of spiritual indigestion.''

Sobering statistics on malnutrition in third-world countries, coupled with his growing distaste for gluttonous displays on camera, set him on a path to mitigate both. He gave up the rights and residuals to his lucrative show (worth about $4 million, he says), sold his home and many belongings, and embarked on a 15-year mission of what he calls ``basic altruism.''

After studying a French bio-agriculture method called LISA (low-input, sustainable agriculture), he formed a training school in Salem, Ore. In four years, 115 students learned micro-farming and animal husbandry, and then began to transplant their knowledge worldwide.

``LISA means you don't recreate the problem by bringing forth enormous crops in an otherwise non-verdant area,'' Kerr explains. Merely exporting machinery, fertilizer, and pesticides may result in projects that fail when such expensive means are withdrawn. ``You need to do things on a level the local people can sustain on their own,'' he says.

To finance his students in projects worldwide, Kerr formed ``cluster groups'' - congregations of supporters interested in sustaining specific projects over time. For example, 23 members of the First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma, Wash., have been supporting a student now training Indian farmers in the Brazilian Amazon. Dozens of similar projects are in place.

On his new, nationally syndicated, weekly half-hour show, ``Graham Kerr'' (MTM Television Distribution, check local listings), Kerr demonstrates the other side of his philosophy: consuming less. Gone is the omnipresent wine glass that accompanied his previous show. Gone are the spirits he sloshed liberally over fish, chicken, and beef. Gone also are high-fat, high-salt dishes: In their place are substitutes that Kerr says are rich in aroma, color, and texture.

``We once put my old cookbook through a computer at Cornell University to analyze the recipes,'' he recalls of his ``unabashed hedonist'' days when he became known for such culinary extravagances as his 2,800-calorie cannelloni. ``They say when it got to cannelloni, steam started to come out of it.''

But counting calories too closely is also a mistake, he says: ``You can become so beset by the legalisms of looking at what you eat that you take the proper spirit out of it. The '70s was a period of hedonism and I was pursuing that end to serve the people that watched. Now I'm wrestling with them for moderation.''

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