to the future begins here," read the headline on the official
program for the National Nutritional Foods Association - Marketplace
2001. Over one hundred degrees of grueling Las Vegas heat throbbed
into every pore of my being on the short walk from my hotel to the
convention center. If you asked me to describe my odyssey, I'd surely
have mentioned something about the gates to hell's ovens and a pit
stop at Gamblers Anonymous.
The National Nutritional
Foods Association (NNFA) coordinates Marketplace every year, uniting
"natural product" manufacturers, retailers and suppliers
under one roof, ostensibly to tweak their collective marketing mojo.
Over 500 exhibitors lined up to peddle their wares to each other
and other registered contemporaries.
Sounds like fun
if you're a Grape-Nut.
I called ahead
and gleaned the unusual extent of their elite gate policies. Neither
my associates Eeyore and The Gentile nor I were part of their esoteric
club. The public was not welcome. This was no Mint 400. No health
food groupies allowed.
associates posed as Internet consultants to the nutritional food
industry, presenting clearly suspicious and somehow persuasive credentials.
I flung my trump card to the trolls in the press tent: a specious
"DirtyRag.com Press Pass". Hook, line and stinker - they
II Juicer Attack
As Vegas, conventions
and nutritional supplements have become more familiar to me than
my own backyard these past few years, it wasn't the impression of
the scantily clad spokesmodels or the imposing selection of protein
bars and energy drinks teetering uncomfortably in my head. No, it
was the resounding, unanswered, "Why am I here?"
The minions of the Samson
Juicer Company descended upon us before I could satiate the needling inquiry in my head, whirring blades and tortured pre-cut
veggies ready to strike. Unfamiliar with the archetypical convention
tactics of juice machine manufacturers, I allowed them to give me
the whole demonstration - and a four-course snack of grass and root
juice. I even snapped juicing-action pictures and agreed to write
about their great product in my article
if they'd just let
It wasn't until
much later after the fourth or fifth collection of juicer company
reps anxiously yearned to challenge my palate, explaining how their wheatgrass juice actually tasted good that I caught on to their
clandestine grifter-ish ploys.
My juicer naiveté,
somehow still whimpering after the umpteenth shot of coarse green
liquid, vanished completely that night. Wasn't it Montaigne who first
said, "Even a wise man can learn from a colon?"
III Rockefeller & Carnegie vs Natural Foods?
Though given most
Marketplace attendees weren't wearing their keen analytic writing
caps, (I bought mine at Wal-Mart for a nickel.) I thought it odd
that more folks weren't using their cell phones to consult their
personal nutritionists as they walked the convention floor. Old
feelings of uncertainty and doubt of natural foods began welling
up inside of me. I had the fear.
of the aforementioned program, with its heartening bolded seminar
titles ("How to Get More Customers Who'll Pay More Money More
Often" and "The Political Future of the Natural Products
Industry, ") and a quick reassuring glance at beguiling products
like "Diet Water" and "Testosterone Enhanced Horny
Goatweed Libido Lift Cream" quickly assuaged my concerns.
Or maybe it was
the soothing memory of that old frame tale about the Carnegie Foundation,
J. D. Rockefeller and the America Medical Association my mom used
to tell me as the Natural Foods Sandman lulled me off to sleep.
You know the one
in the early twentieth century, with compelling support and wherewithal
from the wicked wizard Rockefeller and that old sinful sorcerer
Carnegie, the evil fledgling American Medical Association, cast
a terrible spell upon the friendly flourishing homeopathic medical..
magic school, conversely protecting the soon-to-be incumbent
couldn't compete. AMA, state and federal licensing laws force physicians
to practice according to prevailing standards. (*true story)
Wise old men and
women at the local juice bar often tell the youngsters how herbal,
alternative, or otherwise natural remedies caught a bad rap in the
resulting maelstrom - guilty by association. (These are the same
oldsters I like to pester with incessant questions about the gum
and Skittles food groups.)
IV Kill a shark for the WWF
With the grains
of salt from that episode percolating through my mind, the frequent
lack of an M.D. or R.D after the resident specialists' names was
of less concern. After all, the AMA and the feds are the slackers,
who after 1968 subjectively stopped christening new vitamins after
"E" because they were lazy. (To this day nobody can explain
the baffling designation of vitamin K.)
Wiping the sweat
from my brow, I got my bearings and reunited with Eeyore and The
Gentile who had been lost in a maze of herbal teas and powdered
supplements. Their tales of the Horny Goat Weed dancing girls eased
my troubled mind as we skirted the edge of the exhibits in aisle
1500. And then the shark ladies came.
Like a swarm of
bats they were upon us. Several foreign women dressed in jeans and
World Wildlife Fund panda t-shirts eagerly placed free samples of
shark liver oil pills in our hands. In broken English they conveyed
that their panacea would indeed cure all that ailed.
I thought out
loud, "How the hell am I supposed to be able to tell which
one of the countless free sample pills I've taken is the one that
gave me the rash?"
The language barrier
held strong as the nice ladies raised their arms to the convention
center ceiling, perhaps to assure me that their product was a cure
from the heavens.
again I wondered out loud, "are you wearing WWF shirts while
pedaling oil from the livers of potentially endangered animals?"
Maybe their bewildered
looks lingered a few moments as I wandered away in a disgusted daze.
Maybe not. My mind was elsewhere. In a stupor, I wandered past the
Margo's Mixtures booth where proprietor Margo McIntosh extolled
the virtues of her scented Dead Sea Exfoliation Treatment to a curious
distributor. She snagged my arm as I walked by and proceeded to
rub in the pungent oily salt. I oohed and ahhed as she continued
to pitch her product to the mark.
I was beginning
V The Other Athens Vegas Contingent
Clarity hit me
like a corn-fed walrus when I saw the familiar logo on the Barlean's
booth. (I regularly swallow their omega 3-6-9 fatty acid pills to
stave off cancer, the consumption, bad skin and Jehovah's Witnesses.)
When I noticed Farmacy store manager Vic Kallay inspecting their
display, my lucidity was complete. (The Farmacy is a natural
foods store in our author's homeland -ed.)
Vic was not without
his convention battle wounds. The Hair-No-More woman had recently
used his forearm to showcase the amazing hair removal properties
of their organic depilator. I had him smell my oily arm as we shared
Vic told me how
he'd won a return trip to the convention while at last year's get-together.
This year he'd spent most of his time scanning the exhibits
and touring three Vegas natural foods stores, performing non-covert
surveillance of the distant competition; always ready to catch the
wave of the next healthy trend.
foods are hot this year," he explained, "Some stores devote
almost a third of their space to them."
all of these arm-related products we've found and the Horny Goat
Weed Girls?" I goaded.
and hair-rippers are nothing more than pricey vanity products,"
he replied, "there's not much of a market for them in Athens."
he continued, "the horny goat weed creams are on their way
to Athens. We just ordered some."
I asked Vic about several of the other products I'd encountered
on my odyssey. He knew of them all, and even recommended a few.
Others, he didn't.
We parted ways
with the secret Athens natural foods handshake.
Seeing Vic reminded
me that I'd promised Leslie Schaller of AceNET that I'd look into
a few of their concerns while covering Marketplace 2001. Tops on
their A-list were alternates to the two big SE Ohio distributors
(Tree of Life and United Natural Foods) and information on spirulina
food products for a promising local nutritional bar upstart.
At a near-cautious
pace I scanned through the rest of the exhibitors and my nightmarish
memories of the previous few hours - to no avail. Neither distributors
nor spirulina interests were represented.
VI Escape from Las Vegas
Though my official
report to AceNET suggested spirulina might have been too old hat
for such a progressive convention, and that distributors were perhaps
too busy recruiting exploitees to set up shop in the crowded Marketplace,
I suspect a more devious and dark design.
I snagged a few bottles of colloidal silver from an otherwise unoccupied
display on my way out the door. The huge lettering on the front
label proclaiming, "non-toxic" "harmless" and
"France's favorite colloidal silver" ameliorated the swallowing
process as I downed their contents.
Eeyore and The
Gentile were waiting by the gates, their complimentary branded canvas
bags brimming with freebies and product literature. As both rationalized
their purchasing $200 massage machines, I set myself to sink a flurry
of three-pointers into a distant trash receptacle with the now empty
colloidal silver bottles.
going to recycle those?" exclaimed Eeyore passionately, interrupting
what this whole conference is about?" he persisted in a faux-Canadian
I paused briefly
deep in thought before making only one of the three shots. 33% isn't
too bad for an unsigned amateur, I thought to myself.
it's not. This town and everything in it revolves around money.
Besides, I'm tired, I finally found proof that Geddy Lee is an alien,
it's over a hundred degrees in the shade and I've yet to see a recycle
bin in this hole. Let's shoot some craps."