Natural Product Expo West Is 300,000 Square Feet of Contradictions
The Anaheim Convention Center is host this weekend to Natural Product Expo West, an extravaganza of almost 2,000 exhibitors capitalizing on people’s desire to reconnect with nature and save the planet. While consumers have pure motives, the marketers and their offerings are a contradictory group.
I attended the Expo to see if the concepts of “natural” and “product” can really be married. After all, natural is from nature – that much is obvious. But a product, by definition, is manmade and saleable. So it seems a natural product would be an oxymoron.
The exhibitors with the easiest job of realizing the natural product concept were the clothing companies. Humans do need to wear clothes to survive in most climates (and avoid arrest). The range of organic cotton, hemp, and other plant fibers was heartening. Hopefully we will find more choices made from these fabrics in mainstream clothing stores.
The range of personal care and cleaning products made solely or mostly from natural ingredients (as opposed to toxic chemicals) was also encouraging. Clearly, at least some consumers are learning that commercial personal care and cleaning choices are harmful both for them and for the environment. You can help wildlife by not using chemicals that get into the water supply and poison plants and animals.
Supplements? Aisle after aisle of powders and pills beckoned. I’ve done enough research to know that, in general, supplements in no way approach the power of whole foods. Get your nutrients from eating whole plants, not artificial or unnaturally concentrated pills
that your body is not designed to handle. The unreal colors of the capsules for sale to supplement makers and the industrial machines that churn out the pills only reinforce the message that all but a couple of supplements fuel profits, not health. (If you are wondering, vitamins B12 and sometimes D are the ones to seek out.)
The food exhibitors, the largest component of the expo, had every type of edible. Some of the companies offered whole foods or minimally processed choices. Wild-gathered and organic nuts, frozen and dried organic fruit, freeze-dried organic fruit, spices, teas, and bulk whole grains and beans were the most appealing. Animal free tamales, wraps, burgers, soups, crackers, milks, and breads weren’t too shabby either.
On the next level away from natural, so many kinds of dairy-free dark chocolate filled the Expo that chocolate actually began to make me feel sick. And I’m a confirmed chocoholic. So the good news is that dairy-free chocolate, many kinds organic, is taking off. Yes!
The choices deteriorated from there. Most of the exhibitors were selling manufactured foods that have as much to do with nature as plastic grass has to do with a wild meadow. Food bars, organic candy, chips and other snacks, cookies, fake cheese, sweetened drinks.
These are highly profitable factory products that, when labeled as “natural,” are designed to make consumers feel good about eating foods with virtually no nutritional value or environmental saving grace. Animal foods, so destructive to our planet, were the mainstay of many exhibitors. Again, the Expo proved to be more about profits than promise.
The amount of packaging at the Expo was horrifying. Although signs on trash cans said the contents would be recycled, the huge mounds of trash made this hard to believe. Just about all the samples demanded plastic, paper, aluminum, toothpicks, or some combination so Expo
attendees could try out what the exhibitor was selling.
So can “natural” and “product” coexist – or even be friends? The answer is a qualified yes, but only if we are very conscious about our choices. The vast bulk of the factory foods are no more natural than supermarket junk snacks.
The message is to choose carefully. The word “natural” has a feel-good sound but no meaning. A product that at one time started out as a fruit or nut three rounds of processing ago and now has a couple of strawberry molecules hidden in it somewhere is not healthy, and won’t help either you or the planet.
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Blog by Janice Stanger, Ph.D. Janice authored The Perfect Formula Diet, a nutrition book built on sustainable food choices. Enjoy six kinds of whole foods for permanent, hunger-free weight loss and health.