City of Stars
My first ever visit to the west coast of the USA and the city of angels had two purposes: to visit the annual Natural Products Fair in Anaheim, 30 miles southeast of LA, and to check out what La La Land had to offer regarding sustainable hot spots. Neither disappointed, and you could easily spend several weeks here checking out this remarkable area located with sea, mountain and desert for gastronomic and cultural reasons other than Hollywood and Disneyland.
Natural Products Expo West is the world largest natural products fair, this year with more than 3,000 exhibitors and 85,000 attendees. Have you never visited a show like this before you would have to rub your eyes to believe the variety and number of organic products. Despite the fair is held nearby the story telling capital of Hollywood and yet even closer to fairytale Disneyland, this fair is for real and a reality where people from all over the world come to present and exchange ideas and products Mother Nature to some degree has helped to grow naturally.
If there is any link to the film or entertaining industry it would be the imaginative and innovative way of presenting new products. It is not only amazing to watch the titles and labeling of cans and bars, it is also the combination of how to utilize natural and organic thoughts with commercial and marketing skills. Where (we) Europeans in broad terms have stricter policies and often to some extent a more natural and organic level regarding natural commodities, the Americans on the other hand possess the ability to build a whole industry around it. They are capable to present an unimaginable, almost absurd range of commodities and subsequently to see these at shelves of groceries or cafes around is, well let’s just say it then: awesome!
With the theme song from La La Land in mind, I couldn’t help thinking of how many of the participating companies who probably asked themselves if the organic stars would be shining just for them.
Natural (Born) Killers
Are you killing it? That’s what the radio dj’s and presenters continuingly asked their listeners and participants during my two-and-a-half-hour drive to Anaheim from LA. I guess it meant somewhat connected with doing a great job. So, yes, I killed a lot of good cafes and groceries besides paving my way through the natural products jungle at the expo with my I phone loaded as a lethal weapon. My trophies are the products and spots mentioned and shown below - and they definitely were killing it!
A general new trend dominating, and rapidly is entering as a supplementary element to products, features a ground-breaking change: the utilization of plants. The healthy understanding of not just eating more vegetables, but also include these and let them replace traditional or contribute as raw products has led to a revolutionary game breaker for how to understand nutrition, diets and food in general. As an example, the company Ripple, has become extremely successful by launching a milk made on yellow peas, low on sugar and fats, but high on proteins and vitamins. I don’t think I am alone, when I say I have never even considered if milk could come from any other source than cows, or perhaps goats.
Where it some years ago were sufficient to market an organic product, simply because of its organic methods, it seems that if you want the attention or get the grasp of sustainable thinking and demanding customers you will have to take these kinds of changes seriously. According to Newhope, organizer of the NPEW, some companies deliberately use the term plant based instead of vegan, to attract new customers, who (like me?), are open for a more plant based diet, but still not willing to take the full vegan Monty.
To continue the plant trend and talk of milk, exactly this beverage and its cousins of dairy products like yogurt and chocolate milk experience a heavy bombardment of alternatives to their bastion of being the one true healthy calcium provider made of cow milk. Dairy free products have become the new black, and you see the development of freeing prisoners like cholesterol, gluten and soy too, saved by the wild bunch of the raw paleo brothers. Often the liberators are to be found in the nutty world, e.g. almonds or cashew, but as mentioned it could descend from peas. The free-movement also includes cage free or fat free egg whites.
But, does it make any difference. A clear yes, I reluctantly have to admit. I had never thought I actually should be the spokesman for and advocating vegan like products. But, there is definitely a lighter, not so inflated feeling when you have consumed a dairy free or egg (yolk) free dish or beverage.
Matcha cha d’amour
Where Kombucha, a fermented tea and what is described best as a functional beverage, over the years has played a leading role in the expanding tea universe, Matcha is beginning to take a seat at the table. Matcha is a Japanese green tea where leaves are grinded and made into powder, and predominantly has been used as a hot tea beverage. However, several companies not only market the matcha as tea, but also as a powder to be used in sauces, smoothies, and even in coffee. One of the reasons behind its popularity is to be found in the extremely high number of antioxidants, actually almost six times the value of another superfood like goji berries.
As for the teas, a lot of the inspiration due to new products is rooted in the Asian region. Kimchi is a Korean dish, mainly made of Cole, and it comes fresh or fermented. The difference between the Cole products from e.g. Germany or with German traditions behind, is that Kimchi is less acid and more salty and spicy, besides a shorter fermentation method. More Asian!
Other contributors are sea related items like sea weed and algae. As with the other trends mentioned above there are often century long traditions behind using these elements in the diet and often also a very obvious reason. I walked with an Australian producer of seaweed on our way to the breakfast Friday morning. He gave me a quick lecture on the importance of this commodity. Or merely that the healthy Japanese cuisine, including seaweed, is why Japan compared to many western countries has a remarkable low number of cancer cases.
It was amazing to see how many producers of water exist, and the endlessly interpretations of this simple liquid. But, apparently, there is no bottom or tap to stop new entrants of fuzzing out with new great ideas of water. Some focus on natural water itself often added with e.g. electrolytes (sodium, potassium) to fulfill different useful needs due to avoid dehydration, popular among athletes. What caught my attention though, was to watch and taste water made of trees or plants like cactus, maple and birch, sometimes pure and natural, and sometimes made into a mixed soda-like beverage, like this one.
La Colombe, Cafe at Santa Monica Boulevard, Beverly Hills
A coffee producer, perhaps most famous for their cold brews, and café chain I first set my eyes on at NPE East in Baltimore. Besides the coffee, their café at Santa Monica Boulevard just at the edge of the fancy Beverly Hills open shopping area was worth a visit. Unique wooden design, rustique, but still warm and inviting. The counter a diamond shaped colossus with a smiling and welcoming and not at least well informed personnel to tell about the coffee and the company.
It was really inspiring being inside, and it looked as if the crowd working or just socializing that morning enjoyed it too. With the café and its relatively new role as second office for students or busy business people, it is encouraging to see when businesses put so much effort in design and materials.
Abbott Kinney Boulevard - Oakwood/Venice
This is perhaps the coolest, diverse, sustainable area I have ever seen. A long open street in the neighborhood of Oakwood, nearby Venice and the Pacific coastline and no boring or trivial shop or café in sight. I did not try it all, but The Butcher’s Daughter stood out as one of these places and occasions where everything was right and nothing wrong. From the vegan and extremely well made Danish (of course I had to try that one) to juice flight sets, varied and good seating options, thoughtful small sugar bags to avoid waste and inspiring green plants hanging down from everywhere made an overall impression that left me almost speechless. Not that it was design wise wauw, but a long list of genuine and specific details along with the quality of the food and beverages really made it a must visit for any looking for peace, harmony and sustainable food. And it didn’t hurt that the rest of the street offered hip, funny, old school shops, but without this tendency to become hipster or arrogant as I have seen other places.
The Butcher's Daughter
Yonale - Birch Water
Califa - Cold coffee with almond milk
Don’t ask about the cost
My final remark is about price level. From the breakfast table one morning a Canadian acai provider entertained us with his experience of the price level. “Never ask what it costs – they’ll buy it at any price” referring especially to younger people having no doubts of spending between 5-10 dollars on a functional beverage like Kombucha. To me, and I guess I speak for many of my friends and relatives here, 6-7 bucks for a super market purchased beverage as mentioned, is - a lot! Still, I am impressed of the development and broad selection on the shelves, and luckily the dairy free, natural water and otherwise healthy or functional beverages are much easier to find in kiosks and groceries today. Hopefully we will see a lot more of these at a decent price range in the future. And hopefull some of the healthy food I tried inside the Convention Center of Anaheim someday manage to spread around to the rest of society. Imagine if all the brilliant stories and fairytales of the sustainable world at the end of the day would be as common as the visits to the amusement parks or reach the stardom, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling seek in La La Land.