The strange, sad Bay Area cult that fell apart over a pot pie - 2022-03-09
For most dieters, his shopping list on that fateful day in 1983 (chicken pot pie, chili and biscuits) would be, at worst, an embarrassment. But Brooks was no average weight-watcher. He was the founder of the spiritual and pseudoscientific movement known as Breatharianism, famous for spreading the gospel that humans could live on air alone. He claimed he hadn't eaten in 19 years. To his followers, the binge was an unforgivable sin — as if God himself had taken a bite out of the forbidden apple.
The allegation of convenience store consumption came from Lavelle Lefler, co-founder of the Breatharian Institute, then based in Larkspur. "The truth is he sneaks into 7-Elevens and fast food places and eats just like the rest of us — except worse because he has to rely on places that are open late into the night," she told United Press International in 1983. Brooks shot back that Lefler was a scorned ex-lover, but more allegations emerged, including an assistant who said he'd spotted Brooks drinking a can of Coca-Cola. A mass mutiny soon followed.
Yet that very public scandal didn't stop Breatharianism. Instead of dying out, the movement spread around the globe, fracturing over the decades into stranger, more dangerous forms. It's even helped shape health and wellness culture as we know it today.