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.org) 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


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If you haven’t checked out the Run Where I Live Tour, hop over to Live Run Grow and start your tour in Cape Cod, then follow the links to see where your fellow runners run. (Maybe bookmark a few for your next vacation?) Since runners love to eat, the topic of running local easily leads to eating local. So I’m dedicating my first “what I ate Wednesday” post to edibles for runners (and other athletic types). Read on to learn about my newest discoveries, and to win some of your own!

Disclaimer: I received the products reviewed in this post from Clif Bar & Company. Clif Bar did not ask me to publish a review (though they are probably hoping for at least a shout-out). Clif Bar did not ask me to use these products in a giveaway (so count yourself lucky that I’m not greedy and that I promise not to eat all the coconut-flavored samples!). All opinions are my own. Trust me, I have so many opinions I don’t need to borrow anyone else’s. 

Clif Bar & Company is headquartered in Emeryville, the “rottenest city on Earth” according to Earl Warren, about two blocks from my first California apartment. If that’s not local food, I don’t want to hear about it. Ha! The original Clif Bar in coconut chocolate chip kept the rumbly-in-my-tumbly from disturbing my classmates when I had 12-hour days in grad school. I love the relatively new Clif Mojo Bars, so I was excited to get the opportunity to try the new Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars, which debuted in April 2015.

According to the Clif website, “Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar is made for mixing it up and discovering all the good stuff the day has to offer. Combining simple and organic ingredients that are good for both our bodies and the planet, our trail mix bar comes in flavors for just about every occasion no matter where the trail takes you.” If you like Clif Mojo Bars, chances are very good you will also like the Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars. Mojo Bars inspired the Organic Trail Mix Bars, which have 95% organic ingredients (Mojo is 70% organic).

These bars? I eated them.
These bars? I eated them. (LOL. All of them.) But I have another one of each flavor just for you!

Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars are gluten free, certified kosher, and delicious! These wouldn’t be a go-to running food for me, exactly, because you have to chew them and I’ve got a talent for choking on things, but they make a great post-run snack. Or a hiking fuel snack (nuts + chocolate = protein, fat, and carbs). I have a stash in my desk so I can successfully treat myself to something healthy instead of grabbing a donut at the cafe. Each is at or under 200 calories, so it is a good size for a snack. The protein and fats from the nuts up the satiety factor (you actually feel like you ate something).

Don't you love it when you look at food, and you can tell what it is?
Don’t you love it when you look at food, and you can tell what it is?

My favorite flavor is the coconut almond peanut. (I’m still a sucker for coconut.) Just look at it, and you can tell most of what is in it. The dark chocolate almond sea salt is a close second, because it’s a little bit like a candy bar–chocolate and almonds, right?–but without the candy bar fake ingredients. Dark chocolate peanut butter rounds out the top three for my favorites, but I think dark chocolate cherry almond deserves an honorable mention; it has cherries in it, so I need it for muscle recovery, right?

Clif seems to have a flavor for everyone in the Organic Trail Mix Bar, with or without chocolate. The other flavors are cranberry almond, wild blueberry almond, and dark chocolate pomegranate raspberry. (If you enter my giveaway below, you could win a box with one of each flavor!)  Certified USDA organic, the ingredients list for my favorite illustrates what is inside:

INGREDIENTS: Organic Peanuts, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Almonds, Organic Coconut, Organic Rice Crisps (Rice Flour*, Dried Cane Syrup*, Salt, Calcium Carbonate), Organic Inulin, Organic Honey, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Coconut Oil, Sea Salt, Natural Flavors, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant). ALLERGEN STATEMENT: Contains soy, peanuts, almonds, and coconut. May contain traces of other tree nuts.

Good stuff! Clif Organic Trail Bars are available in a variety of grocery stores, sporting goods stores, Target, and online through companies like The Feed. MSRP for a single bar is $1.69-$1.79 but you might as well buy a box (it’s more cost-effective, and you know you’re going to want more than one…and if you don’t want more than one, just send me your leftovers and I will take care of them for you).

If you’ve been to any race expos in the past year, you’ve probably noticed an interesting trend in athletic fuel. While athletes have used itty-bitty pouches for years (think Gu, Clif Shots, Honey Stinger, Hammer Gel), the larger pouches have been reserved for toddlers (think Mott’s Snack & Go, GoGO Squeeze, Chobani Tots). Until now.

Pizza parlor-themed sample presentation
Pizza parlor-themed sample presentation

When I opened the box with samples of Clif Organic Energy Food I was excited, but also a little bit terrified. The pack was super cute and pizza, themed, complete with a red and white checked napkin and seeds to grow basil, oregano, and tomato.

Organic seeds to grow organic ingredients
Organic seeds to grow organic ingredients

Then I looked at the contents. Pizza Margherita? Really? My runner friends who found the pizza and the Sweet Potato with Sea Salt flavors were quick to snap a selfie and post an expression of similar skepticism. Is this for real? I love pizza as much as the next runner, but pizza squeeze? Yum or Ew? (The answer is yum, by the way, but I’m getting to that part.)

Have you seen these? Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?
That’s my hand, so you can see the size. Have you seen these? Would you eat them in a box? Would you eat them with a fox?

Clif Organic Energy Food comes in four flavors. According to the Clif website, these were inspired by recipes used by Clif athletes. The two you would thing of as “more normal” (banana mango with coconut, and banana beet with ginger) are sweet, like you expect runner food to be, and come in at 90g and 100 calories per pouch. They taste just like you’d expect them to taste (only if you expect to get a vegetable flavor from the beet, that’s not quite right.) The two savory flavors (sweet potato with sea salt, and pizza margherita) have a higher protein and fat content and are 120g per pouch, with the sweet potato at 200 calories and the pizza at 160, making them more suitable for longer activity. But let’s take a look at that freaky-sounding pizza flavor, shall we? What the heck is inside?

Organic Tomato Puree (Water, Organic Tomato Paste), Organic Carrot Puree, Water, Organic Quinoa, Organic Sunflower Seed Butter, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Olive Oil, Yeast Flakes, Sea Salt, Organic Garlic Powder, Organic Oregano, Organic Basil, Citric Acid.

What is NOT inside? GMOs, trans-fat, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, weird fake sugars, preservatives, artificial colors, and artificial flavors. Okay, so far, so good.

Since I didn’t want to try a new food on a race day, but I also didn’t want to open a pouch and risk throwing most of it away just to get a taste–with no preservatives, these foods are designed to open and eat immediately, not be served up as leftovers–I decided to make my own version of the recipe for Scott Jurek’s Long Run Pizza Bread included in the box. But first, a taste of the Clif Organic Energy Food:

Looks like baby food, no artificial colors here!
Looks like baby food, no artificial colors here!

It tastes like pizza. Not like “pizza flavor” but like you took a bite of pizza toppings and chewed it up. Most of my Instagramming and Facebooking friends doubted that they would want to consume anything tomato-based while running. This doesn’t have the acidic, sharp flavor of pureed tomatoes. Notice the second ingredient is actually carrot, which gives the Pizza Margherita a smooth, creamy texture. The starch from the carrot balances out the tart tomato. So I was happy to make myself some dinner!

Clif Organic Energy Food in Pizza Margherita, a Prezilla bun, and a little dish of cheese. (Just add wine and it's dinner!)
Clif Organic Energy Food in Pizza Margherita, a Prezilla bun, and a little dish of cheese. (Just add wine and it’s dinner!)

I sliced the Pretzilla in half and toasted it, cut side up, in the toaster oven. After it started to tan, I pulled it out and spread a generous heap of the Clif Organic Energy Food on top. (It looked really orange–not like tomato sauce.) Then I topped each half off with a sprinkle of shredded pizza cheese, and popped it back into the toaster oven until the cheese started to melt.

Yes, it's an indulgent dinner. But hey, it's actually Monday as I'm eating this.
Yes, it’s an indulgent dinner. But hey, it’s actually Monday as I’m eating this.

Moral of the story? Your parents were right: try it, you might like it. (This recipe used about half of a pouch. While you’re supposed to consume it and toss the leftovers, I’m going to take a calculated risk. I put the remaining half pouch in the refrigerator, and plan to put it on eggs and potatoes for breakfast.)

By the way, another aspect of the Clif Organic Energy Food I really approve of: the lid can be recycled, and Clif partners with Terracycle so you can upcycle the pouch itself.

Clif Organic Energy Food is available in a variety of locations. Check your local running store first, then your grocery store. MSRP for the sweet flavors (90g) is $2.29 and MSRP for the savory flavors (120g) is $2.99.

Do you want to win some Clif Organic Trail Mix Bars AND Clif Organic Energy Food? One lucky winner will get a prize pack that includes one of each flavor of bar, and one of each flavor of Organic Energy Food.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

In a marketplace evermore crowded with Big Food’s prepackaged pseudofoods, Clif Bar remains an independent, family-owned company producing bars with ingredients you can pronounce (and love). Also, I personally have to love a company that has headquarters in Emeryville, CA, once described by then-Alameda County District Attorney and future Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Earl Warren as “the rottenest city on the Pacific Coast.” Naturally I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to try the Clif Bar Mojo Dark Chocolate Trail Mix Bars and Clif Mojo Fruit & Nut Bars.  In a tag: #nomnomnom Box of Clif Mojo Bars The new bars come in Wild Blueberry Almond, Cranberry Almong, Coconut Almont Peanut, Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond, and Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt. Despite my love for chocolate, my favorite flavor is Coconut Almond Peanut. The dominant flavors are toasted coconut and nuts—NOT sugar!—and it makes a fulfilling snack.  Here are the ingredients:

Organic Peanuts, Almonds, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Coconut, Organic Rice Crisps (Organic Rice Flour, Organic Cane Sugar, Salt, Calcium Carbonate), Organic Inulin, Organic Honey, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Sea Salt, Natural Flavor, Natural Vitamin E (Antioxidant).

Two Clif Mojo barsWhile I didn’t need to eat more than one at a time to feel satiated, I certainly wanted to eat them all. Eventually I did eat them all, but I did it one at a time so I could really taste each flavor. That made it harder to pick a favorite, but I’m a sucker for a coconut bar that doesn’t taste like it was made with sugary sticky oversweet leftover Mounds or Almond Joy. Two more mojo barsBefore I even tasted the bars, I surfed around the Clif website. Because there is so much green-washing and outright lying going on in the world of Big Food, or perhaps because I practice law, I’ve been pretty skeptical of anything provided in a press release.  (To be clear, I received the Clif bars with only a single-sided postcard featuring a photo of the bars, a short phrase describing each flavor, the suggested retail price, and the Clif Bar social media links. No press release.)

I decided to ask some questions outside of what I could find on the website.  This was both to satisfy my own curiosity and desire to use this blog to only endorse products that I love and believe in.  I was not disappointed!

Here is my mini-interview with Clif Bar:

Q:  I know that the chocolate is Rainforest Alliance certified, but can you tell me about the other ingredients? Are there any specific projects or programs with a single ingredient?

A: We use USDA-certified organic palm kernel oil in many of our bars, which ensures a strong ecological approach to palm oil production. Currently, 65% of our palm kernel oil is Rainforest Alliance Certified. Our organic supplier is currently working towards 100 percent Rainforest Alliance certification. We have worked with our suppliers to understand their commitment to positive environmental and community practices.

Q: What is Clif Bar’s involvement/commitment/aspiration in the Fair Trade department?  I know that the Fair Trade label has undergone some changes, and that it has never been accessible to many small and co-op farms; I’m more interested in the principles (working with suppliers and paying a fair price to the farmers historically disadvantaged by the global market) than the official label.

A: Fair trade is an important issue and Clif Bar wants to ensure a socially just and environmentally responsible supply chain. We recognize the importance of fair labor conditions, community development and environmental sustainability. As of June 2013, all of our CLIF Bars are being made with Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa. In addition we have a responsible sourcing and supplier code of conduct that outline our minimum expectations of how our vendors do business as it relates to legal requirements, ethical practices, and labor conditions. Our code is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, and covers a full range of ethical trading issues focused on basic labor rights; including a safe working environment, the right to organize, and non-discrimination in the workplace, among many others.

Q: There is currently a certain amount of backlash in the twitterverse against “Big Food,” especially as big international conglomerates are buying up what used to be “mom and pop” organic brands.  Can you tell me more about Clif Bar’s plans for the future? Will it remain a family company for the foreseeable future?

A: We are an independent, family-owned company, continuing to make progress on our 5 Aspirations (Sustaining our Planet, Community, People, Business and Brands). To further invest in our future as an independent, family-owned company, we recently announced plans to build our own bakery in Twin Falls, Idaho, which is scheduled to open in 2016.

Afterwards, I felt even better about liking these bars, which are also gluten-free and low glycemic index. The Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt and Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond are both backed with a thin layer of dark chocolate. It’s not too much chocolate—after all, this isn’t a candy bar—but it is the kind of quality-tasting chocolate that doesn’t require snarfing down an entire bar. Ordinarily I don’t go for fruit in my bars, but the Wild Blueberry Almond and Cranberry Almond both won me over. Frankly, they are delicious.  I’d still choose the Coconut Almond Peanut any day though. One bar You can learn more about Clif Bar on their website, www.clifbar.com or by following them on Twitter (@ClifBar) or Instagram (@ClifBarCompany). Clif Mojo Fruit & Nut and Clif Mojo Dark Chocolate Trail Mix Bars are available now.

Disclosure: I was provided with a box of Clif Mojo bars, two of each flavor, to sample and discuss on social media.  I did not promise a favorable review (or any review, for that matter). Except where specifically noted above, all words used in this review are my own.