Henry Esbenshade, Western Australia Regional Meeting

My life – so much has passed, but more ahead. The thought of taking “time off” for Meeting for Learning in September 2018 was readily decided upon – how nourishing and peaceful it was to spend a week in the Benedictine monastery at New Norcia! Insights from the Retreat Resource Book 2018-19 and daily sharing freed my heart and spirit for contemplation and reflection. Since retiring in late 2017 from years of landcare and native title work, my days have become increasingly filled with pursuing what had previously been onlyafter hoursefforts – carobs and Quakers.

How heartfelt the callings are within me to be here now – not distracted by efforts in carob industry development and Quaker life & service! Living my life with integrity and simplicity, being ever calm, healthy, loving and spirit-led are the way forward. Help with my evolving grasp of all this is almost daily practice in accord with ‘the father of mindfulness’ Thich Nhat Hanh’s inspiring 2015 book How to Walk (Penguin Random House, UK).

The Meeting for Learning (MfL) programme affords the opportunity for Ffriends to conceptualise a project during the first residential week, carry on with it during the year to hopefully then complete and share during the final second residential week. My project naturally grew from decades of experience with carob production and processing, contrasting with little knowledge about its main market competitor, chocolate – a long-standing centre-piece product of Quaker family businesses. The focus for this project thus narrowed to the quest for understandings about what might be learned from those English Friends in the 18th and 19th centuries that may be relevant centuries later for this Australian Quaker.

Readings began with findings in our WA Regional Meeting House library – at the outset, a biography of Barrow Cadbury and the Chocolate Wars by a Cadbury family member. Also, writings were later obtained from Quaker scholars in England as a result of fortuitous suggestions from a member of my MfL support group. Meetings gave guidance, in the traditional form of Advices, to Friends operating business from the 1600s onwards in banking, chocolate, iron, shoes, pharmacy and a range of other industries. An example:

It is earnestly desired that all friends every where be very careful to avoid all inordinate pursuit after the things of the world, by such way and means as depend too much on the uncertain probabilities of hazardous enterprises; but rather labour to content themselves with such a plain way and manner of living, as is most agreeable to the self-denying principle of truth which we profess, and which is most conducive to that tranquility of mind that is requisite to a religious conduct through this troublesome world.

Source: 1724 Printed Epistles Yearly Meeting of Friends held in London. In Extracts from the Minutes and Advices of the Yearly Meeting of Friends held in London From Its First Institution (Printed by James Phillips 1783).

A description of how Meetings were involved:

Quaker meetings then were often galvanized to monitor and help Friends to ensure Quaker principles were upheld. In other words, in a largely unregulated environment of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Quaker businesses were self-regulated like no other, with oversight and intervention at the local, regional and national level of the Quaker system of governance. The demands on Quaker businesses were enormous…expected to open their ledgers, show their receipts, reveal their bills and correspondence to satisfy their co-religionists.

Source: Burton, N & Hope, A. “What can we learn from the Quakers?”  In Ross, David R. and Snarr Michael T. (eds) 2018, Quakers, Politics and Economics (Quakers and the Disciplines, Volume 5), Friends Association for Higher Education, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

Carob trees at Geraldton, Western Australia

I have so much more to learn about this history, as well as its evolution over the years and relevance to present trends in values-led business practices. That an opportunity for opening those doors be advantaged, I quietly await. Through spirit-led writing and discourses with my MfL support group I realise that a leading may well be in the formative stages of guiding my living the Quaker Testimonies and growing the carob industry.

But now, what is it that leads to my quest for seeking a way forward based on my experience, linked with learnings from Quaker history, so that carob is more widely consumed and consequently new orchards are planted worldwide? Certainly much of the practical basis originates from years in my family’s orchards, Peace Corps work in Sierra Leone that awakened my interest to lessen soil erosion by integrating multi-purpose tree crops into farming systems, then co-founding the International Tree Crops Institute and later a PhD in agroforestry.

Ever since the late 70s I’ve focused on making farmers, governments, scientists and the public aware of the benefits of carob for its drought tolerance and its potential role as a healthy food. Carob has natural sugars, is theobromine free, lowers cholesterol, and, as it is slow to digest, manages obesity – the perfect answer to reduce risks of type 2 diabetes. Anti-carcinogenic properties have also been discovered. In the last decade alone scientists in over fifty academic articles have identified the extent to which the biochemical properties of carob are unique in the plant kingdom with potential for control of health problems. For further details, see a journal paper which I co-authored with Syed Nasar-Abbas et al. (2015) “Carob Kibble: a Bioactive-Rich Food Ingredient” in Comprehensive Review in Food Science and Food Safety 

Harvesting carob pods in Spain

The early days Quaker manufacturers in England virtuously promoted their chocolate products as a healthy alternative to alcohol, apparently unaware of how some consumers could experience health effects from processing raw cacao seeds due to the caffeine-like alkaloid theobromine (discovered in 1841), and also from adding sugar and milk to counter their natural bitterness and roughness. Chocolate became popular and consumption continues to grow with global Easter chocolate production increasing by 23 per cent since 2017. Excessive chocolate eating leading to weight gain may well be a precursor to obesity, an increasingly serious global problem. Enough is now known about health problems from sugar to lessen public consumption sooner rather than later – not yet the case for excesses in chocolate eating (whether the dark types with higher concentrations of cacao, or the more processed types). A June 2019 study in Clinical Nutrition found “There is weak evidence to suggest that chocolate consumption may be associated with favorable health outcomes.”

While learnings continue from my carob industry involvement and recent entrepreneurial research into carob food product innovation, within me is a growing awareness of the need for their integration with Quaker principles and practices. Hence, for this project’s quest, I am now discerning pathways to understand my concern for that integration – to allow for heart, mind & soul reflection about how best to draw on my inner spiritual resources to follow what may well be a “leading”. I truly believe I am called to this – it may be helpful one fine day to test whether this concern is spirit-led through the Quaker clearness process. Indeed, ethical oversight may be warranted, as was given hundreds of years ago by British Quaker Meetings.

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