Well, it’s already the beginning of March, which means another Natural Products Expo West is just around the corner. In reflecting back on my more than two decades of having attended this event and visiting the booths of more companies than I can count, the question looms of whether we’ve actually made any progress over that period in improving the health and well-being of the planet and its inhabitants.
As much as I hate to admit it, I am sure that we have not. One reason I know we haven’t is because I can distinctly recall being on stage at a dinner sponsored by The Organic Center nine years ago to launch “Mission Organic,” the goal of which was making 10 percent of all retail food sales organic by 2010. So how close did we come? Last year, I think our actual total was less then three percent.
Meanwhile, obesity is off the charts. Adult obesity rates increased in 28 states in the past year, with 38 states having rates higher than 25 percent, according to a 2010 report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which also noted that 20 years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent. And toxic chemicals have continued to play havoc with the environment and human health. The incidence of childhood cancers, for example, “has unequivocally been going up for last 20 years, at about a one percent increase per year,” according to Dr. Richard Clapp, professor emeritus of environmental health at Boston University School of Public Health, who maintains that one component in such cancers is environmental chemical exposures, “which produce damage at the cellular level.”
But though our inability to change the world in so short a time may come as something of a disappointment, you’d never know it from the big way in which the food, health and wellness industries have gravitated to this show. I, for one, have personally been called and e-mailed by at least 15 PR firms for companies doing new product launches. But with all the hoopla and excitement surrounding this exposition, which was, after all, the original Woodstock of health and wellness, what I’d like to know is: do we really need all these new products, or would we be better off with simply a new paradigm? What if this year, all we did was work on making the existing range of organic and health and wellness items more available and affordable to the masses?
Now that would certainly be a worthy, if somewhat Utopian undertaking. But the reality is, despite our failure to realize our lofty goals, I still look forward to seeing old friends and surveying the new entrepreneurs and products with the same feeling of excitement I had over 20 years ago. So stay tuned for my “analysis” of what the upcoming show has to offer!