When I say “love”, what I mean is “am intensely fascinated by”. Like how people love murder (I also love murder) – we don’t actually LOVE it like “please more people, get murdered”, we just need to know everything and want to know it all from a distance. Once I had a boyfriend who used to get really weird when I would say I loved murder and that’s maybe/probably why he eventually dumped me? Hmm..

Anyway! Cults, they’re interesting. They’re also not all murdery. There are plenty of non-murderous, functional-in-society cults out there – I mean, aside from Sheela the Rajneeshi’s were pretty okay, right! RIGHT. Then there are the questionable ones that don’t break the LAW or KILL PEOPLE, but still adopt some kind of suss practices and maybe brainwash their members.

One of the operating cults in Australia is the Twelve Tribes. They’re not… great. I’d put them in the “questionable” camp for sure. Their leader, Gene Spriggs (who now goes by Yoniq) has said some extremely off shit in the past, and the cult has been called out for using a plastic “rod” when punishing children. There’s also the fact that a New York State faction was allegedly enforcing child labour.

The cult was founded in 1972 in the States, with the Aussie branch starting up in the 90’s. There’s a base in Picton, NSW, one on the South Coast, and one in Katoomba – the latter of which also runs The Yellow Deli, one of the most popular eateries in the Blue Mountains.

Like the LA-based Source Family from the 70’s (absolutely Google them, their story is WILD), who owned and operated a series of vegetarian restaurants on Sunset Strip that were so well-loved even celebrities went and ate there, The Yellow Deli is renowned for it’s excellent food. It’s healthy, it’s dirt-cheap, and it’s got a bit of a 70’s-Americana vibe to it. Think pickles with everything and cubes of cheese in your salad. While on a road trip through the Blue Mountains, we stopped by for a visit.

From the get-go it’s all SUPER culty and 70’s. Look at their sign, for example.

looks modern

The queue is out the door and around the block for a table, and you have to put your name down. All the wait staff, chefs, everyone who works there – they’re all from the Twelve Tribes and they all work for free, as part of living and working for the cult. Also, they all look exactly like cult members – long hair, those weird woven t-shirt-cross-button-up tops in multicolour muted patterns, velcro Jesus sandals. All of it. The guy who takes our names is no exception, and he tells us there will be a 40 minute wait. EXTREME. But given the crowd we assume it’s worth it.

10/10 wanted to steal a menu

We use the time to choose our meals from the menu.

mmmm green chai NOT

It’s simple but delicious-sounding for the most part – you’re basically limited to sangas, soup, chili and salads. Eventually we’re led to an amazing all-wood table in a room that looked like it was straight out of Hobbiton in Middle Earth. The entire building has a Hobbit vibe to it – it’s like being inside a large treehouse with a fireplace.

Straight outta 1975

There’s also plenty of inspirational shit on the walls.

I still don’t understand this entirely

Food time – I decide on the Chef’s Salad, which involves smoked chicken (!!! So 70’s!), havarti cheese and pimento olives. My mate Ash orders a tofu burger which I don’t have a photo of because she immediately started inhaling it (rude).

The drinks are amazing. The cult froths Yerba Mate, this Brazilian tea that’s in a serious amount of their drinks. There’s “Green Drink“, which is essentially a green juice (with yerba mate in it), “Iced Green Mate Tea“, which I’m told is more of a fruit cocktail, a bunch of different teas based on Yerba Mate, and straight-up hot Yerba Mate. I go for the latter because hey, I’m going method here and I’ve gotta try THE tea, right?

why didn’t I take a litre home

Our waiter got really excited that I was ordering the tea, telling me I’d feel “really energised” and that he drinks it every morning. It was surprisingly OK, it tasted like green tea. I didn’t have HEAPS because the half-cup I drank made me feel like you do when you take cold and flu daytime tablets, that weird, kind-of-on-drugs-but-not energy.

mmmm, cult tea

Meanwhile Ash ordered the green chai which sounded revolting but did come in this zesty mug:

you can see the sheer joy in my eyes vs. the passive acceptance in Ash

We also Shazamed the music for you because why the hell not.

love that bluegrass (i think)

My salad was unreal. The dressing was one of those home-made types where you have no idea what they’ve done but you WANT TO DRINK IT. It was super fresh but had that retro cheese cube/pimento olive thing going on that I’m really about. More of that weird 70’s food please thanks.

100/10 would eat again

When we were leaving I bought a mug (of course) and also a “green bar”. These were advertised on the table alongside the “green drink”.

Instagram needed to know about it

Essentially a health bar stuffed with the ubiquitous Yerba Mate, it was kind of delicious? IDK it’s GREEN and I couldn’t get around that, but if you just fed it to me blindfolded I reckon I’d say it tasted like nuts.

100/10 would go again, tbh.

Image: Melissa Mason