I Ate 100 Power Bars

Every spring, with my friend Dale, I attend the massive Natural Products Expo West, where thousands of health food, cosmetics and supplement manufacturers compete for precious grocery store shelf space. Each year, Dale and I morph into human garbage disposals, wandering the long aisles and shoving every imaginable power bar, soy beverage and gluten free pizza sample down our gullets in order to locate for you, our dear readers, the optimal “natural” junk food snack.

But this year was different. A massive rebellion of the sales force proletariat rose up, smashed and burned the booths of their overlords, seized the means of production and declared that from this point forward there would be only one central, state approved power bar, one kombucha beverage, one gluten free pizza and one generic yoga mat.

Well, no. But let me say it was hard to head to this display of consumer excess after that interview we did with climate scientist Peter Kalmus last week. With thousands of variations of junk food all individually wrapped in plastic packages it was hard not to think that things have gone downhill since those traditional farms and medieval guilds got “disrupted.” Wouldn’t we better off with just a few unprocessed vegetables and animal products? But suggesting that makes me a crank so let’s move along and never mind those crazy ideas. What natural food trends did Dale and I discover?

  • Turmeric is in everything.
  • Kimchi has gone mainstream.
  • Whole grain has been let out of dietary prison.
  • Patagonia is selling food.
  • Crossfit bros love butter and coconut filled coffee and flavored beef jerky.
  • Bicycles are being used as a symbol of hipness in convention booth displays.
  • “Regenerative agriculture” has been appropriated as the latest buzz-phrase by large food companies.
  • Every natural food product is labeled either “pro-biotic” or “pre-biotic.”

If one could distill all those booths down to one item you’d end up with a pro-biotic turmeric, kimchi, kombucha, paleo sports bar grown “regeneratively,” whatever that means. But I’m getting cranky again. On a more positive note I met a nice Root Simple reader who works for Q Drinks, an Oakland, California based producer of tonic waters and ginger beer. I was also given an interesting cloth produce storage bag for testing by a Australian company called Swag. And Dale and I ate delicious roasted crickets in the Exo Protein booth.

But back to the crankiness. Let us collectively reflect on the fact that Amazon now owns Whole Foods and that data gathering has long since gone mainstream in the food business. With powers that would make the Stasi blush, one company I met promised to provide me with, “real-time shopper behavior intelligence” with a database that goes back, “35+ years of every UPC scanned in store.” (1) When I asked if this information is tied to me personally, the rep said that it’s all connected to my credit card information before abruptly cutting off the conversation when, I think, he noticed that I was wearing a media badge.

Speaking of that media badge my credentials were downgraded this year due to the fact that I have under 10,000 social media followers. So in addition to having every grocery purchase from the last 35 years tracked and analyzed, we now have a new popularity metric with which to evaluate our personal worth. So what happens when you combine shopping habits, credit scores and social media interactions together? You get a what’s called a “reputation system.” What could go wrong?

It’s obviously long past time to bring out those analog sledgehammers again for some social “regeneration” but you just might be able to bribe me in to compliance with those new nut butter filled Clif bars.

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4 Comments

  1. I don’t like regular Clif bars but the nut filled ones—I’ll eat ’em all!

    I watched two different people attend the Expo last week, one paleo and one vegan. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences. You are right about turmeric—I’m even seeing it in the produce section more often now.

    The one good thing about the UPC tie back, is that I get decent, actually tailored to me coupons from my grocery store these days for things I will actually buy.

    And thanks for that last podcast, it was a really good one.

    • Good point about coupons. And as to those creamy nut filled Clif bars–I could eat an entire pallet of them. But then I’d gain a hundred pounds.

  2. your comment about ‘reputation system’ immediately reminded me of the rather scary world depicted in the Back Mirror episode ‘Nosedive’.

    • I’m going to brave another look at Black Mirror just to see this episode. Thanks for the suggestion.

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