“Un-natural Perspective”

About a month ago I attended the Natural Products Exposition in Boston. For those of you who know me, I’m certain that you’re scratching your heads and saying “Who are you? An what have you done with Russ”. And yeah, I was kinda thinking that myself. Well, -g asked me to create a blog post about the event and I said “yeah, sure.” Well, life got in the way and I never got around to it. But tonight I am on a plane on my way to France and I just finished watching Food Inc. and I am compelled to finally write a posting for my friend and mentor in the world of the natural and organic.

First things first, -g asked me to come along with her to the NPE event. I figured why not? I’ll hang with her for a few hours and take in the freak show that was sure to unfold in front of me. Wow — was I wrong!

The shear enormity of the expo was what hit me first. The entire Boston Convention Center floor was populated with booth after booth of vendors. From Yoga clothing vendors to honey from bees apparently trained to only visit one particular plant, the place was a cornucopia of the alternate food and health industry. So much so that I have to question when it will no longer be the alternative, but that discussion will come later.

I think that there were several things that struck me. First, I felt that there were three inescapable aspects of the event: coconut, gluten-free, and beverages. So much of the show had these underpinnings that I felt that they were almost memes. I really found it quite odd. But, my shaman of the organic guided me through this trip and explained it thoroughly. While I can never do it justice, I now have a better understanding of what was behind much of these initiatives. Of these three though, I think that it was the beverage industry that struck me the most. I was (somewhat) surprised to hear that most of these companies are actually arms of major corporations like Pepsi and the like. Companies that we associate with high fructose corn syrup and empty calories.

I was also amazed to find out that much of the packaging that appears to be so friendly is actually terribly non-reusable. Multi-ply cardboards and foils that can only become waste. Quite the shame given that they are playing to a market that is trying to do good, but often doesn’t know any better. But there were also several others that were leveraging leaves to make dinnerware and silicon products that are resilient and versatile.  There were also the herbalists that were doing what they could to bring their products forward, but I also learned of the FDAs ‘controls’ and the concerns of many of the vendors in bringing their products to market. And thus all seemed to give birth to a whole slew of products aimed at our pets. Quite honestly, I was shocked at how many pet-related herbalist businesses were present.

And lastly, the people. No offense meant, but I was thinking I was going to be getting the stereotypical hippy thing going in there. I’m talking berkenstocks, dreads, gauze dresses, etc. Yup, wrong again. This was big business. People were dressed as if you were walking through just about any office. Not at all what I expected and not what I think when I hear natural and organic.

So, the bottom line is that I was VERY impressed. There’s a lot going on here and it feels like there is a revolution about to happen. It will certainly be influenced and leveraged by ‘big business’, but I don’t know that that’s a bad thing. If it’s done right, it seems like it can work very well. And the people that I talked to at the event all seem to have a perspective and drive to ‘do the right thing’. And, lastly I think that my viewing of Food Inc. helped to shed a little more light on that. (In fact, the Anaheim event was featured in the film.) It certainly prompted me to write this entry. And if -g will let me, I’d like to share my thoughts on the movie as well.

I’d like to express my gratitude and thanks to RWC for not only attending the NPE event with me but for sharing an “untrained” perspective on this industry. That perspective helps me create products, ideas and provokes thought on how to best educate the general public. Of course, I welcome his thoughts on Food, Inc. I guess that’ll be something to expect on the plane ride home from France… eh, buddy? 🙂

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