Natural Products Expo West: The Good and the Ugly


The Natural Products Expo West, which took place this past week, is one of the largest conventions in the US. It’s a high stakes dating game between retailers and food, cosmetic and supplement producers. This year I promised myself that I would not sample every power bar and gluten free pizza thrust into my hands. I failed and paid unmentionable consequences later. Imagine the center snack aisles of Whole Foods dumped into a funnel and shoved down your throat.

It will be no surprise to most readers of this blog that the “natural” (whatever that means) food industry suffers from the same problems that plague our food system as a whole. Most of the products at the expo are highly processed and high in sugar.¬†Just because something is labeled “gluten free” or “GMO free” does not make it healthy.¬†Getting beyond the nutrition issues most of these “natural” processed foods also taste, frankly, terrible.

Out of the hundreds of products I tasted and reviewed at the expo there were a only a few interesting items–literally one out of a thousand. Most were made by small independent entrepreneurs willing to take a risk on something new.


Genki-su Japanese drinking vinegar
A tasty and healthy alternative to soda. Basically a shrub, Genki-su sells drinking vinegar in concentrated and ready to drink versions. You could homebrew this, of course, but Genki-su is well made.


Moringa Mania
Popular in the Philippines, the Moringa tree produces a delicious, edible seedpod. The leaves are also useful as a vegetable, tea and are being marketed as a nutritional supplement. Will moringa be the new kale? That’s the hope of the Philippine Moringa and More Corporation. They sell morniga in tea and powdered forms. Easy to grow, they hope to find a larger market for moringa in order to support farmers in the Philippines. Right now you can find it in Filipino markets in the States. Californians take note–morniga is a drought tolerant tree that thrives on neglect. Plant one, like we did.

Pemmican is a Native American food made with protein (often buffalo) and some kind of fruit or berry. Tanka is a Native American owned company that markets a power bar version of pemmican made from buffalo and cranberries. Tanka can be found at health food stores and some REIs. It’s a snack that would work well on a camping trip.

Lastly, the farro vs. spelt issue I blogged about last year has been solved. Bob’s Red Mill’s “farro” is spelt that has been scarified. Sorry Bob, but farro is not spelt.

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  1. Hey guys, This has nothing to do with this post, but I was just wondering how long were you guys gardening before you integrated the chickens and bees into your garden? Thanks.

    • Hmmm. Well, we moved into our house in 1998 and started our first veg bed pretty soon after that. Though we’d grown in pots in our apartment before then. The chickens came in 2007, and I think the bees came in 2009. So there was a bit of gap before we took the livestock plunge. Interesting question. Why do you ask?

    • We have been gardening with vegetables for two years. We’ve been gardening with flowers forever. it’s just that there are many conflicting sides to the desition to get chickens or not.

    • Sometimes you just have to make the jump. I was reluctant to get chickens and Mrs. Homegrown was in favor. I’m glad she overcame my initial resistance. I really like the chickens and the eggs they provide. The main issue is building the coop and keeping them out of the vegetable garden. That took awhile to figure out.

  2. We live in SW Fl and have 2 moringa trees in our back yard. We use the leaves in salad. It also is known as the Horseradish Tree. Attached is a link with more info. ECHO farm in N. Ft. Myers is where we purchased ours – they are a big proponent of the moringa for under developed countries.

  3. Another problem with bringing an animal to the garden is that I am highly overpowered as a result of me being a kid (and yes, how surprising that you have a young reader amidst your blog), its just that “work” and school seem to be an excuse against the idea of gardening.

    • It’s ok just to tend a very small garden even just a pot. We have the same problem–sometimes other priorities, like writing books take away from time we need to spend in the garden. You can also plant fruit trees and perennial plants that don’t take as much time to care for. And chickens definitely need some time–at least in the morning and evening.

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