March 2016


Disclosure: I received a complimentary bottle of 2Toms Sport Shield for Her (and a few single use packets too!) because I am a BibRave Pro. (Per usual, all opinions are my own–you should know by now I don’t need any help with that, I’ve got plenty of ’em!) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro here. Read and write race reviews at! It’s a great way to choose between conflicting races, to help runners find the best races, and the help race directors improve each year.

Blisters are a built-in self-defense mechanism: you get them because your body is trying to protect you. Just like a million years of dripping water can carve a canyon, unchecked friction could rub your skin off. As friction works on your skin, the layers of skin tear apart from each other, creating space where there shouldn’t be any; your body creates a little pillow of fluid to fill the space as plasma or serum leaks out from the damaged cells. In outdated British slang, a “blister” is also an annoying person. Take precautions! Don’t annoy your skin!

These are my blister-free toes. I like keeping them that way.
These are my blister-free toes. I like keeping them that way.

Since friction is the cause of blisters on your feet while you’re running, the obvious solution is to eliminate the friction. So stop running! (Kidding!!) Depending on your feet and the distance you are running you may not be able to completely eliminate the friction. If that’s the case, your goal is to reduce the friction as much as possible.

Runners’ blister prevention starts with shoes that fit properly, and socks that are NOT cotton and have wicking properties to take sweat away from your body. (Damp skin is more susceptible to blistering.) I’ve found that different shoes require different socks, so I now have quite the selection of running socks. Running form is a secondary factor for some people; if you grip with your toes while you run, you’re highly likely to get blisters (eventually callouses) on the tips of your toes. For shorter runs, all I need to stay blister-free is my run shoes, running socks, and a reminder to relax my toes when I go faster.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering: blisters are annoying, but can also lead to very serious problems. Blisters can become infected with all sorts of bacteria, including MRSA. Trust me, 1.5 ounces of Sport Shield is less expensive than whatever it costs to treat an infection.)

These are my funky-shaped toes. Still, no blisters here!
These are my funky-shaped toes. Still, no blisters here!

Once I’m running longer than 10k, it’s time to up the ante. That’s because the longer the run, the more heat the body generates, and the more sweat the body uses to cool down.  Increased heat and moisture make blisters more likely. (Runner’s World points out that this is why many runners only have blisters during races.) How you hydrate during a race can also affect blister formation by affecting fluid retention. Extremely minor friction that doesn’t bug me at a mile or five could be very painful at mile 12 or 21. (Think back to that dripping water: a day probably won’t do much. Duration matters.) In addition, a longer run means more pounding on the feet, and a greater likelihood that the feet will swell up in response. My pinkie toes are pretty much triangular and slide almost entirely underneath the next toe neighbor, resulting in a bottom-of-the-toe blister that, when aggravated, can all but encapsulate that toe. Here’s where blister prevention products come in.

Prior to taking up running, my blister-prevent regimen for long walks consisted of petroleum jelly and a lot of bandaids. It was messy and inefficient. Then I started running, and was introduced to wax-based anti-chafing products like Body Glide. While I prefer those over Vaseline, I find that on cold race-mornings it can be hard to spread on, leaving me with lumps of product in some spots and not much in others. I’d never tried a liquid anti-chafing product until BibRave introduced me to 2Toms Sport Shield.

Sport Shield comes in a roller-top bottle like liquid deodorant. Sport Shield for Her, the product I tried, comes in a 1.5 ounce package, so I can easily pop it into my carry-on bag when I fly out for a race without TSA assuming I’m a terrorist. It is also available in single use packets (though I found the towellette in the single packet was good for more than one use).

Bye-Bye Blisters, Hello 2Toms!
Bye-Bye Blisters, Hello 2Toms!

The main ingredients are dimethicone and shea butter. Dimethicone is a silicone-based polymer (“polymer” just means big molecule that has several–poly–smaller units stuck together) with an oil-like feel to it. It creates a protective barrier on top of the skin, both preventing moisture that is already inside the skin from getting out, and reducing friction. Dimethicone spreads easily, which is why it is used in many types of body lotions, shampoos, and other products. It is FDA approved for use in body care products, and limited use in food products; the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database lists it as a low-risk ingredient, with all of the concerns basically related to what might, maybe, possibly happen if you eat too much of it. (Note to readers: Skin Shield isn’t food. It is an anti-friction, anti-chafing, anti-blister product you apply externally to the areas where you experience friction. The instruction specifically state it is for external use only, don’t swallow it–this isn’t a lipcare product–and don’t use it on broken skin.)

The main concern most skincare consultants seem to have about dimethicone is that using it daily–like in a body lotion–can cause your skin to become more dry because it does not sink into your skin, but sits on top of it. In Sport Shield, that effect is neutralized by shea butter. Shea butter is fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree. It is used in lots of moisturizing products like The Body Shop’s shea body butter, and in Alaffia skincare products. It melts at body temperature, sinks right into the skin, and binds with water to keep it in the skin. (Note to readers: some shea butter is edible. This product is not edible.) The other ingredients in Sport Shield for Her are also known for their skin-soothing and moisturizing properties: calendula extract, green tea extract, horsetail plant extract, aloe vera extract, Vitamin E. By the way, Sport Shield for Her is vegan–NO animal products! (The Sport Shield product–not Sport Shield for Her–is made of dimethicone, aloe vera extract, and Vitamin E. So if you’re opposed to plant extracts, or dislike shea butter, just order the dude version.)

Sport Shield delivers the goods. In my experience, the combination of dimethicone and shea butter is perfect. The shea butter keeps my skin hydrated, while the dimethicone forms a protective layer on top to prevent friction. I liked the roll-on format, as it spread thinly and evenly over my skin without any effort and I didn’t have to get my hands messy. It is unscented, or at least I didn’t detect any smell at all.

Gratuitous cat pic. Nothing to do with the review.
Gratuitous cat pic. Nothing to do with the review.

Here’s how it held up to the claims on the label:

  • “Provides 24 hour protection against rubbing & friction.” Honestly, I didn’t do anything for 24 hours during this test, but I generally don’t! It lasted through runs up to half marathon length–the longest I ran during my test drive–without any problems. Check.
  • “Sweatproof & waterproof.” It didn’t seem to wear off or rub off, even as my feet got hot and sweaty. Check. (It does wash right off with soap and water.)
  • “Creates an invisible, silky smooth protective barrier.” Once on, it’s invisible. I suppose if you look really hard you can see the difference between an area I applied it to and one that I didn’t, but I really don’t want anyone that close to me while I’m running. Check.
  • “Non-staining, non-toxic.” I mainly run in white socks. They stayed white (save for the dirt from running on unpaved surfaces)–no visible stains. My skin didn’t show any reaction (it might if you are allergic to any of the ingredients). I didn’t find any credible, science-based information anywhere stating the ingredients are toxic. Check.

Added bonus: a little really does go a long way. This bottle will last months, if not all year. By the way, there is a 100% 2Toms Guarantee. If you don’t like it, just send the unused portion and a receipt back to 2Toms, and they will issue a refund. Plus you can score a sweet 20% discount using code 2Toms20 to buy 2Toms products. The discount is good through the end of April 2016.

2Toms also makes other products, though I only tried this one. In addition to preventing blisters on my feet, I also used the product to prevent pantyhose chafing. (If you are a woman with legs of a certain length, there are no pantyhose in the universe that fit properly.) It worked well, and I went chafe-free through my day in court. Faith Fitness Fun tried out Sport Shield on some non-feet body parts. Run Wifey Run did a video review of Butt Shield, which could be a great stocking stuffer for the cyclist or triathlete in your life.

Assuming I figured out the HTML bits, here’s a video by 2Toms on how to prevent chafing:

P.S. For a ridiculously detailed guide to blisters–more than you ever need to know–check out Blister Prevention. If you have a blister in a weird location that doesn’t respond to anything you’ve tried to prevent it, the answer is probably there. (Yes, there is an entire guide to blisters by the location where they form.)

#runalltheraces #earnalltghebling
#runalltheraces #earnalltghebling

This past weekend I rocked Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas for the second year in a row. While I wasn’t originally planning to return to Dallas–even though I loved the races, spring is really busy–but it quickly became a must when Rock ‘n’ Roll announced the Lone Star Legend. (Seriously, I like my running bling.) The medal prototype debuted at the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio expo and, like the Desert Double-Down, is a cross-year challenge: first run San Antonio (typically December) and then run Dallas (typically March). The reward? A Texas-shaped, glittery medal, complete with a spinning Lone Star.

The only thing Texans love more than the shape of their state? The Texas flag.
The only thing Texans love more than the shape of their state? The Texas flag.

San Antonio 2015 was the capstone to my 2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll season: Rock ‘n’ Roll #11! For my friend Briana, it was also her tenth race, earning her the Gold Record. Briana’s friend Maria and our mutual friend, and Rock ‘n’ Blogger, Andrew joined us again, and the three of us all had the luxury of the VIP experience for the half marathon. The weekend began on Friday, with a quick bib pickup at the Expo. Well, it SHOULD have been quick, but one of the brilliant runners accidentally neglected to register for San Antonio and didn’t figure that out until after arriving at the Expo. Oops. This is the one hazard of having a Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour Pass–it’s easy to plan out your race calendar and then forget to go actually sign up for the races. Fortunately the Rock ‘n’ Roll team was quick to help me out, get me registered, and issue some bibs and shirts. There is a special bonus bib for Gold Record, and Briana was excited to pick it up.

By the time I’d fixed my “I forgot to register” problem, we didn’t have much time to explore the Expo. There was just enough time to snap a few quick pics of some of my favorite gear before the Expo closed and the runners were ushered out.

Orange Mud gear on sale at the Rock n Roll San Antonio Expo
Orange Mud gear on sale at the Rock n Roll San Antonio Expo
Cute food tastes better.
Cute food tastes better.

We then headed out to dinner. San Antonio is a good place to eat. Briana had a recommendation for dinner, and everything we ate there was amazing. Naturally we celebrated with a drink (when in a Tex-Mex restaurant, a little celebration is in order). After dinner we wandered down to see the lights on the River Walk, and run a few errands. Maria has a tradition of drinking pickle juice prior to every race in order to ward off cramps. I think pickles are gross, and find this a little disgusting, but there is science behind it. Plus I needed to pick up a few things at the drugstore. Turns out it is impossible to find jars of pickles downtown. We ended up talking a local Subway out of a little cup of pickle juice, and headed back to the hotel. I’m pretty sure we crashed instantly.

Saturday morning was the San Antonio 10k. The Rock ‘n’ Roll series has been adding 10k and 5k races in some markets, both in response to demand for shorter races (not everyone wants to run a half marathon), and to create the Remix (two races, three medals–no brainer for most of us who were going to do the half already). The 10k is sort of  sweet spot for me–I hate the first 2 miles of every race, so the 5k isn’t as much fun as the 10k. We got gorgeous weather for the run, and after many races that were hot or cold or wet or windy in 2015 I felt pretty spectacular. The 10k finishes right in front of the Alamo, where there was live music for the beer garden. Since San Antonio is the last race in the Rock ‘n’ Roll season, general shenanigans ensued.

Jimbob demonstrating how to drink like a Hall of Famer
Jimbob demonstrating how to drink like a Hall of Famer

Turns out that gigantic Hall of Fame medal makes a lovely drinking cup/shot glass. At one point a line of Hall of Famers that drank their Michelob Ultras out of the backs of their medals, but I wasn’t fast enough on the draw with my iPhone. (For those who are not aware, Michelob Ultra is the official beer sponsor for the Rock ‘n’ Roll races in the United States, so that is the only beer available at the finish line. Other beers might be available in VIP at certain locations, but since I don’t like beer, I haven’t researched that for you. If you run in Vancouver, there are local microbrews instead.)





Sometimes, I toast with java!
Sometimes, I toast with java! (Coffee over breakfast tacos.)

Smart folks that we are, we then hustled off to get breakfast tacos (and coffeeyescoffee). Between the other runners with their medals, and a group of re-enactors in period garb, it was a colorful brunch. (Also a loud one–muskets don’t come with silencers, and we started before the re-enactment ended.) I’m not sure why the rest of the country has not caught on, but it seems like the only place to get a proper breakfast taco is the part of Texas encompassing Austin and San Antonio. I’ve come close, but never quite hit perfection.

After lunch there was just enough time to shower and change, and take a quick stroll through the rest of the Expo (replenish my Nuun stash, etc.) before I had to lay down and rest my legs a bit. I had every intention of going to the Hall of Fame ceremony, awarding a special framed gold record to the runner who did the most Rock ‘n’ Roll races during the year, but I was exhausted from the prior week and suddenly it was time for dinner. Initially we attempted to meet up with a group of fellow fly-to-runners, but we had a little car issue and by the time we arrived our seats had been given to people on the wait list. Regardless, it was pasta time! (Yes, I know, most of us non-professional, not-running-to-place runners don’t need to “carb load.” I respect the science, but I also like pasta.) Dinner was delicious, and more moreso by the company of Briana and Andrew, since we’d shared various Rock ‘n’ Roll adventures since the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona in January.


Pre-race vegetarian eats
Pre-race vegetarian eats

All three of us had VIP for the half marathon (for me, as one of the perks from Rock ‘n’ Blog). We took a Lyft or an Uber over to the stadium early enough to enjoy some of the brunch amenities: bagels, peanut butter, toast, bananas, fruit platters, and I think some other stuff….I eat vegetarian, which was fine for breakfast since I typically don’t eat much before a race (but explains why I might not remember some of the breakfast food). Most important, COFFEE. The corrals were not that far from the VIP tent, so we didn’t have to rush out too soon. I actually walked to the corrals, reconsidered my clothing layers, and went back to bag check before heading back to the corral. I loved the smaller VIP-only bag check, as well as the VIP porta-potties (no lines, hand-washing station, extra paper towels and feminine hygiene supplies).

Each race’s VIP comes with different perks, so it’s important to read what the VIP experience offers for each market. In San Jose, for example, VIP was held inside a nearby restaurant, while in Dallas and Virginia Beach the VIP area was in a hotel. San Antonio also had VIP parking (close-in, included with each VIP) and a post-race massage area. The VIP tent offered shade (which I appreciate as a white girl who burns just thinking about the sun), and had table-seating. I didn’t take advantage of the post-race massages (they are first-come, first-served and I came in pretty late, plus I didn’t have ).

San Antonio has both a full marathon and a half marathon. I was completely done with marathons by the time December rolled around, plus I had the Dopey Challenge in front of me, so I ran the half. You don’t usually think of San Antonio as hilly–at least if you don’t live there, or haven’t been in awhile–but trust me, they are there! Fortunately also there were the students and faculty from Trinity University, who served as excellent cheerleaders and had some of the best signs I’ve seen. I didn’t take many pictures along the course, but again the weather was lovely and the course support was great!

Did I mention Trinity is atop a BIG HILL?
Did I mention Trinity is atop a BIG HILL?


The department-specific signs were hilarious!
The department-specific signs were hilarious!


Trinity isn't a huge school, I think every student and staff member was out cheering
Trinity isn’t a huge school, I think every student and staff member was out cheering

After the race, I met up with Andrew and Briana in the VIP tent. I’m not much of a complainer in general, but I have one HUGE complaint about the VIP tent’s post-race food: none of it was vegetarian! Yes, I understand I was in Texas, and Texas is the home of Team Beef (this is really a thing), but I was a vegetarian when I lived in Texas, and I’ve never had a problem finding things to eat. My choices at the post-race VIP food were extremely limited. I remember wilted lettuce leaves that appear to have been the serving platter decoration for something else (as the platter was empty). There may have been brown banana pieces (brown from sitting out for 5+ hours between pre-breakfast and when I finished the race), but the rest of the breakfast food was gone. There weren’t even Power Bars or potato chips (though I did eat the ones handed to me when I crossed the finish line). I was very, very upset about this–and remember, I got my VIP as a Rock ‘n’ Blog perk, so just imagine how I’d feel if I’d paid full price! I even asked the servers if there was any food without meat. Seriously, there were chicken enchiladas and beef enchiladas, but they couldn’t make cheese ones? Or haul out any breakfast leftovers? But the servers said, Nope! NO FOOD FOR YOU. This is really bizarre since on average, 10% of the population eats vegetarian outside of the home (whether they are vegetarian, vegan, limiting meat intake, keeping kosher, keeping halal, or for other reasons). This was a gross oversight. I’ve done everything in my power to bring this to the attention of management–I’ve tweeted and repeated, slathered it all over facebook, put it on my race feedback form, put it out there to the Rock ‘n’ Blog wranglers–and expect them to correct it for this year. (If not, they can expect me to have pizza delivered AND send them the bill.)

What did the VIP tent have for me post-race at San Antonio? Champagne. Let’s just say it is a bad idea to refuse to feed me but then give me champagne.

One Hall of Fame plus Three Gold Records
One Hall of Fame plus Three Gold Records

Naturally there was also an obligatory Gold Record shot. I tried to wrangle more people for a Gold Record and Hall of Fame photo, but it turns out many of those folks are gluttons for punishment and were running the full marathon. Many of them met up at the Expo for the Hall of Fame ceremony, but I was trying to pick a time when those getting their Gold Record at San Antonio could also join the photo. So I only managed to snag one Hall of Famer.

In between champagne, Nuun-tinis, and orange juice, we got to meet the third place men’s overall finisher for the marathon, Jose Roberto Zavala Calderon. Race officials were trying to explain that they were going to go get his award, but they didn’t speak any Spanish and the message was getting mangled. By that time I’d had sufficient champagne to jump in with my espanola semi-gringa and fix the situation. Jose turned out to be a super nice guy who didn’t mind my mangled Spanglish.

Check out that overall award!
Check out that overall award!


Would I do San Antonio again? Well, if I play my calendar correctly, San Antonio could be half marathon #100 for me…stay tuned for more!


P.S. I’m definitely ordering a pizza sent to VIP post-race!


Imagine a building that is about the size of a medium-sized airport, with at least as many people as you’d find in a medium-sized airport. Spread out as far as you can see (and then some) inside are more than 6,000 exhibitors, some of whom have more than one booth space. The path to the front door is backed by a stage, flanked by sampling stands, and swarmed with perky teens and twenty-something offering samples–breakfast bars, gluten-free snacks, yogurt, ice cream, fizzy fruit drinks, and more. Everyone wants to hand you something!

If you can picture that, you might come somewhere near picturing Natural Products Expo West. It filled every big ballroom in the Anaheim convention center (including the lower level and third floor), plus two giant rooms in one of the adjoining hotels–and that’s just the product and ingredient exhibitors! There were also educational sessions, meet-ups, morning yoga, and various other activities filling the area. 2016 was my first year at ExpoWest, and it gave me enough food for thought (figuratively and literally) to blog about for weeks. Lucky for you, it also gave me more than enough snacks, samples, and coupons, so I’m going to share them with you! But first, a quick word on a very important topic:

What does “natural” mean?

Even gluten-free products can rock your taste buds these days
Even gluten-free products can rock your taste buds these days

First, “natural” does not mean “organic.” Organic has a very specific meaning, and there are loads of rules about what can be labeled organic, and who can certify that something is organic. (To read more about what organic means, check out Organic things are arguably natural, but things bearing the natural label are not necessarily organic.

Second, “natural” does not automatically mean “good for you to eat.” Many, many things that you and I would both agree are natural products are also things we would both agree we do NOT want to eat! Need a few examples? Here they are: arsenic, mercury, moose feces…oh wait? You want me to limit the list to plants and animals? How about hemlock, poison ivy leaves, cyanide, dart frogs, black widow spider venom…I could go on for quite a few pages. As several comics have noted, nature is always trying to kill you. (See also, lightning, earthquakes, sunburn, poisoning from naturally occurring radiation, and food allergies.)

Third, “natural” does not mean “unprocessed.” Let’s take a peanut butter made from only peanuts (zero other ingredients). Wouldn’t you agree that is natural? How about raspberries that are picked, washed, and frozen–aren’t those natural too? Is cider made from pressed apples (and nothing else) natural? What about flour made only from ground rice? ALL of these examples are processed food. Since the term “processed” has gotten a bad rap lately and many bloggers are quick to condemn anything that comes in a package (as all of my examples do), I’d be straying from my mission if I didn’t point this out.

So…wait, what does “natural” mean? As I write this, if you see the word “natural” on a package, it means anything the product manufacturer wants it to mean. You read that right. “Natural” currently has no legal definition. If I want to make a product using meat I grew in a petri dish seasoned with chemicals cooked up in the lab next door,and add some high-fructose corn syrup, I can legally label that product “natural.” (You might find this surprising, given the level of detail given to the Code of Federal Regulations–think of it as the federal food rules–gives to the definition of “cheese” versus “cheese product” versus “cheese food.” I am not making this up–go check out Part 133, Cheeses and Related Cheese Products.)

BUT WAIT! In response to confusion from the public, the FDA (federal Food and Drug Administration) is currently considering new rules to limit the use of the term “natural” on food. You can read more about the proposed definition and limits and–much more important–provide YOUR input to the FDA, by clicking over to the “Natural” on Food Labeling page of the FDA. Seriously, this is your chance to help shape food policy in this country. Please, let your voice be heard!

So, on to Expo West!

Next, a little overview of things to come… Expo West is a trade show for the natural products industry, and covered everything from sourcing ingredients, manufacturing, and packaging through finished products to eat, wear, and use. The ingredients-focused section is known as Engredea. Since I’m not in the market for organic cane sugar syrup or hypoallergenic pouches, I took a fairly brisk walk up and down the aisles of this section without doing more than looking. I think you might be shocked at the variety of ingredients available to use in natural products. Anyway, my goal was to check out the natural foods exhibitors, and seek out the top trends in the natural food industry. Here’s what I observed:

Snackification. Holy cow, everything is a snack. New Hope Network natural media had been documenting this trend prior to the show, but I had NO idea. Whether you’re on a six mini-meals per day plan or just get hungry between meals, it turns out that Americans now get a significant number of daily calories from snacks. Apples and celery are not always at the ready, right? Expo West contained more snack bars—paleo, protein, meat-based, vegan…so many options there!—than I had ever dreamed of, plus other ways to snack: Mamma Chia squeeze pouches, cooked fruit in pouches, Cracked nut butters, Hope hummus dips in individual servings, Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods heat and eat soups, chips made from fruit or veggies or both or beans…

Who doesn't love popcorn?
Who doesn’t love popcorn?

Popcorn. It’s everywhere. There are snacks based on popcorn, like PopCorners. There are bagged popcorn snacks, like Gaslamp Popcorn in flavors from white cheddar to birthday cake, and Beer Kissed popcorn; Boulder Canyon, POP! Gourmet, Kettle Foods, and Angie’s Boomchickapop. I was happy to see Halfpops, a snack for those of us that dig the not-quite-popped kernals from the bottom of the bag—I know them from many race expos. New to me was Black Jewell Popcorn, a popcorn with almost no hull (outer shell); if you shy away from popcorn because it gets stuck in your teeth, THIS is your solution. (I tasted it myself—no joke, there is almost nothing to stick in your teeth.) Popcorn is gluten-free, FODMAPS friendly, and one of my personal favorites. Several companies were also popping popcorn in coconut oil, which reminds me how the thought on this has come full circle: first we ate popcorn at the movies popped in a butter that was mostly solid at room temperature, then we decided those fats solid at room temperature were bad so all the cinemas switched to oil, and then we discovered that hm, maybe those medium-chain triglycerides were okay after all and here we are back at popping in coconut oil. It made the expo smell delicious, and the popcorn popped in coconut oil rich in MCT (medium chain triglycerides) tasted amazing with just a tiny bit of salt. I’ll be trying this at home…

This is my jam
This is my jam

Nut butters. As a kid I was a picky eater, so I ate A LOT of peanut butter and jelly. I thought I was in heaven when I discovered macadamia nut butter as an adult (at like $12/jar!) but I have since been blown away by the amazing, nutritious, tasty goodness in today’s nut butters. I finally got to meet two of my heroines (and Shark Tank favorites), the Wild Friends nut butter founders (try the cinnamon raisin peanut butter, and you’ll understand why jam is optional). My friends from Crazy Richard’s Peanut Butter were there with their simple-ingredient, super tasty, family-owned peanut butters. Expo West gave me the opportunity to meet Bliss Nut-Butters (cinnamon chia seed peanut butter for the win!), and Cracked Nut Butter (the pouched chocolate chip cookie dough is SO going with me on my next run!) Peanut Butter & Co., Justin’s, and Once Again were also there with their tasty nut butters. Allergic to peanuts? How about a creation from San Diego-based Nuttzo, which has non-peanut options. Many of these delicious nut butters also come in individual-serving-sized pouches, perfect for hitting the trail or the road.

Tastes like butter!
Tastes like butter!

Vegan food that does not suck. If you’ve ever met me in person and talked food, you know I always say maybe I could be vegan, but I’d miss the butter and cheese. I can’t say that anymore! Expo West introduced me to Miyoko’s Kitchen, which is just up the peninsula from my home in Alameda. Miyoko’s makes a vegan butter that tastes buttery! I don’t mean “tastes like butter flavored margarine” I mean tastes just like butter! (What’s in it? Organic coconut oil, water, organic safflower oil or organic sunflower oil organic cashews, soy lechitin, sea salt, and cultures. Nothing weird.) I also tried Miyoko’s Fresh VeganMozz, Aged English Sharp Farmhouse, and a vegan pizza featuring their products. HEAVEN! I also tried some frozen pizza from Oh Yes! (vegan and non-vegan, gluten-free and non-gluten free varieties), which as a bonus also “hides” a serving of vegetables. Those were just two of the brands of vegan food you could easily slip to a meat-eater to change their opinion of vegan food.

Honestly, made from vegetables!
Honestly, made from vegetables!

Non-dairy milk. Speaking of vegan, the world of milk has gotten so much better since you first tried soy milk. While I was thrilled to meet the family behind Califia Farms—the almost milk I “discovered” at my corner grocery the week before Expo West—there are now so many more options than you imagined in the non-dairy milk section. Want a coffee creamer that tastes creamy? Califia makes that too—and a whole line of packaged coffee drinks. Milkadamia is made from macadamia nuts. Rebel Kitchen makes Mylk, a coconut milk with no refined sugar. My favorite discovery is, sadly, not-quite-yet available in the United States: Veggemo is a milk made from actual vegetables, yet it has the consistency and texture of 2% dairy milk. It even tastes milky, not vegetable-y. Trust me, you want this as soon as the nice folks in Canada let us have some!

Coffee, oh yes, please, coffee
Coffee, oh yes, please, coffee

Coffee. Oh #coffeeyescoffee and #butfirstcoffee because there were some amazing coffees at Expo West! I got to see and handle the recyclable k-cup style coffee pods by Marley Coffee (and more important, drink the coffee!). I met the folks behind Steamm, which I’ve stalked during its crowd-funding phase. Café Kreyol introduced me to the boots-on-the-ground work they are doing in Haiti and how coffee can be a force for economic growth in developing nations while still being amazing (I didn’t even put cream in that coffee). Intelligensia Coffee, another staple from my corner store, was there, along with innovative and amazing non-dairy creamers and milk-based creamers, and creamers with functional benefits. Trust me, I’m going to be writing about coffee…

But this is getting long.

So how about a giveaway? I was only able to hit Expo West for two days—the beloved day job expects me to attend—but I still want to share the love and the swag! On Saturday as I was driving to parking, a guy at the intersection gave me two sealed packs of Expo West-related goodness, and I’m giving one to you! This prize pack consists of Naturally Healthy, a special issue of Gourmet News issued just for Expo West, so you can read about innovations in the natural food space; Modern Oats 5 berry all natural oatmeal; Fig Bar in raspberry; Cosmos Creations Coconut Crunch premium puffed corn; fruit bliss organic Turkish mini figs; and a few surprises! You’ve got two weeks to enter, so don’t delay!

Some of the goodies in this giveaway
Some of the goodies in this giveaway


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received five Luvo meals to review because I am a BibRave Pro. (I had previously encountered Luvo as a sponsor of the Shape magazine Meet and Tweet event.) Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to review find and write race reviews. As always, the opinions in this post are 100% mine–read my integrity statement!

I’m really busy, and don’t enjoy cooking for one, or preparing dinner at the end of a long day. But I’m also trying hard to keep my eating habits away from food that comes in through my car window or is so processed that I don’t recognize what it is. Last fall, I was lucky enough to score an invite to Shape Magazine’s “Meet and Tweet” event, where I first heard about Luvo. Most of the samples Luvo brought to the event contained meat, but I did get to try one of the vegetarian burritos–tasty!  Luvo also sponsored the hydration stations, and gave each attendee a well-designed, super cute infuser bottle that is currently my favorite water bottle. When BibRave provided the opportunity for the Pro team to try Luvo meals, I signed up as fast as my mouse could click.

But let’s step back for a moment.

Once upon a time not that long ago, a “frozen meal” was a Swanson’s TV dinner, heated and served in the Pan Am Airlines-inspired aluminum tray. Not only did they save 1950s and 1960s housewives countless hours so they could focus on other tasks (you know, ironing the bed sheets, busting out the hot rollers to primp before the man of the house returns from his long day at work), but surely they were a sign that we were living in the future. I remember the beefed-up “Hungry Man” dinners introduced in the 1970s (can’t have those hungry manly-men going without dinner just because they hadn’t married yet or because the little lady got herself a job), and the 1980s’ “Kid Cuisine” (though I’m still not sure why kids need their own special food—can’t they just eat regular food?). For at least the last decade or two, the phrase “frozen meal” has conjured up images of overly processed, boxed food with more polysyllabic mystery ingredients than recognizable ones, the glossy packages featuring professionally styled “serving suggestions” that surely must be photos of something other than the contents of the box.

Frozen food’s reputation has taken a hit, especially among the younger, savvier generations who don’t trust “big food” to have their best interests at heart. Industry insiders have commented that consumers are increasingly skeptical (just like this BibRave Pro) of any food that comes in packages, and want products with ingredients they recognize. (Check out this article from Fortune.)

That pretty much describes me. I recognize that modern food technology enables me to have cooked food that is safe to eat directly out of my grocery store—and I like visually appealing, cootie-free food—but I don’t want to have to guess at what’s in my food, and I don’t want to have to pay restaurant prices for frozen meals. Luvo is a great compromise: I recognize the ingredients, it heats perfectly in the microwave due to the proprietary pouch, AND it tastes delicious.

This is the frittata I made--not a press shot. Doesn't it look just like the box?
This is the frittata I made–not a press shot. Doesn’t it look just like the box?

Let’s take a look at the Farmer’s Market Frittata, which was one of my favorite dishes.  It is intended as a breakfast dish, but I ate it for lunch, along with an apple and a beverage. At 250 calories and 12 grams of protein (10 grams fat, zero trans-fats; 29 grams of carbs—in case you care about the macros), the frittata plus a medium apple was enough for me to feel satisfied.

First question: What’s inside?

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Mango
  • Egg Whites
  • Apple Juice From Concentrate
  • Tomatoes (Tomatoes, Tomato Juice, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Citric Acid)
  • Mushrooms (Mushrooms, Water, Salt, Citric Acid)
  • Water
  • Poblano Chiles
  • Red Bell Peppers
  • Tomatillo
  • Milk
  • Parmesan Cheese (Cultured Milk, Enzymes, Salt)
  • Onions
  • Ricotta Cheese (Whey, Milk, Cream, Vinegar, Salt, Xanthan Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum)
  • Part-Skim Mozzarella Cheese (Pasteurized Part-Skim Milk, Cheese Culture, Salt, Enzymes)
  • Goat Cheese (Pasteurized Goat’s Milk, Salt, Cheese Culture, Vegetal Rennet)
  • Green Bell Peppers
  • Contains Less Than 2% Of:
    • Balsamic Vinegar
    • Citric Acid
    • Dehydrated Onion
    • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    • Garlic
    • Garlic Powder
    • Green Chili Pepper
    • Green Onion
    • Guar Gum
    • Jalapeno Peppers
    • Lime Juice Concentrate
    • Natural Flavor
    • Oat Fiber
    • Rice Starch
    • Roasted Tomatoes In Oil (Tomatoes, Sunflower Oil, Garlic, Salt, Oregano)
    • Seasoning (Natural Flavor, Potassium Chloride, Yeast)
    • Seasoning (Sea Salt, Potassium Chloride)
    • Spices
    • Turmeric And Annatto For Color
    • Whole Eggs
    • Xanthan Gum

Now there are probably a few things in the list you’ve heard mocked in the national TV campaign the dairy industry is waging against non-dairy milks, or targeted as evil “chemicals” by a certain food blogger who shall remain nameless. So before you get yourself tied up in knots, here’s the REAL scoop:

  • Calcium chloride is a salt, similar to sodium chloride (you know, white table salt). Similarly, potassium chloride is a salt—maybe you’ve purchased it as a commercially available salt-substitute.
  • Those “gum” ingredients… Xanthan Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum…these are all polysaccharides (a carbohydrate  with more than one monosaccharide bonded togther; monosaccharides are simple sugars like glucose). Guar gum (aka guaran) is made from ground up guar beans; the beans are dehusked, milled, and screened to obtain the guar gum. Locust bean gum does not have any insects in it, but is basically guar gum made from locust beans (carob beans) instead of guar beans. Xanthan gum is made by fermenting simple sugars (glucose, sucrose, lactose), then drying the product and grinding it into a powder. (But wait, you may ask, aren’t these “weird chemicals”? You can buy they all from Bob’s Red Mill, a trusted brand in natural foods for more than three decades. As thickening and stabilizing agents, they are commonly used in gluten-free baking.)

Second question: is this idiot-proof?

Instructions printed ON THE POUCH, not just the box.
Instructions printed ON THE POUCH, not just the box.

Um, sort of. Both the box and the pouch tell you to microwave it seam-side up. I missed that, and made a little bit of a mess with my first ravioli meal. Oops.

Side by side: the box, my meal
Side by side: the box, my meal

The food still tasted just fine, but when you heat them up, the pouches expand in the microwave. If you are like me and didn’t bother to read the actual instructions carefully, and put the seam down, you just end up with some minor leakage from the pouch at times. (When you cook them seam-side up, there might be a little steam, but the seam doesn’t always burst.)

Obligatory action shot!
Obligatory action shot!

As you can see, the pouch poofs. My kale ricotta ravioli slid right out. At first it seemed like a small amount of food (like 6 ravioli), but it gave me some much-needed perspective on portion size! The ravioli made a great light lunch or, when paired with a salad, a substantive one. One thing I liked about Luvo at the Meet ‘n’ Tweet was the handout about customizing Luvo meals, which included recipes using Luvo–like how to use the Luvo Orange Mango Chicken to make lettuce wraps.

If you haven’t figured it out, I found all of the meals I tried quite tasty. The surprise stand-out for me was the Roasted Vegetable Lasagna. Look, I grew up in a midwest “steak and potatoes” kind of family that all think it is bizarre that I no longer eat animals. We ate canned and frozen produce for most of the winter. The most adventurous options available to use were a Chinese restaurant and a Chi-Chi’s. I grew up as a bit of a picky eater, and I didn’t have a sweet potato or kale until I was over 30. So “with butternut squash, whole wheat noodles and kale” was almost a taunt about how yucky this would be.

The contents of this box won my heart. If you can cook like this and are single, call me.
The contents of this box won my heart. If you can cook like this and are single, call me.

Except it wasn’t. It was completely delicious, and I wanted a second serving. (Not because I was hungry, but because I loved the taste.)

A few more pointers about the Luvo brand:

  • Luvo has a woman CEO! Christine Day, former CEO of lululemon, is a sort of rock star. Even Fortune thinks so.
  • If you do eat animals, at least Luvo meals don’t use meat raised with hormones or antibiotics. (NOT using antibiotics is super important—read why here.)
  • Dairy products are sourced to be rBST-free.
  • Concerned about the effect of GMO crops and Monsanto on international agriculture? Luvo is committed to non-GMO soy, corn, and canola.
  • Each Luvo meal or burrito has fewer than 500 calories. Paired with a salad or a piece of fruit, it’s enough to satisfy.
  • Luvo uses organic ingridients whenever possible.
  • Frozen meals have a reputation for being high in sodium—but Luvo defies that, with fewer than 500mg sodium per serving. (No, they didn’t mess with the number of servings per package—each of the pictured meals is one serving.)
  • Protein, fiber, and nutrients come from real food.

Overall, I’m really happy with Luvo, and intend to head to the Whole Foods near my office to stock up. For other reviews on Luvo, try an omnivore’s opinion, or a meal-by-meal review.

I’m pleased that Luvo has stepped up to my plate, and can’t wait to taste more of their vegetarian dishes. (Did you see they have a quinoa and vegetables enchilada?? How about the vegetable coconut curry pilaf?)