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Disclosure: As a member of the official Blue Ridge Marathon blogger-ambassador team, I received a free entry to the Slow K. As always, all opinions are my own.

Everyone knows you shouldn’t go straight from being very active, or running long miles, to couch-potato-worthy zero. Yet that’s what most of us do the day after a race. Worse, for destination marathons that fall on a Sunday, many runners hop an airplane back home the same day. Yikes!

Another problem avid runners face is the non-running-significant-other. It’s fun to have your spouse or boyfriend or whatever come along on race weekend, but I’m not sure how much fun it is for them when the entire weekend revolves around an event they aren’t participating in.

This year, the Blue Ridge Marathon races brilliantly solved both problems with The Slow K: an untimed 5k-ish event. It was brilliant.

The Slow K started across the street from our hotel, so we thought we’d walk over. Minor issue, part of the path was shut-off by a chain-link fence, so we had a little pre-5K parkour event. Upon our arrival, we found a super chill pre-brunch scene.

We felt all the love!

Upon checking in each not-runner received their number on a flower lei (not a bib), and a coffee mug. Pre-“race” there was plenty of coffee and hot cocoa, as well as some donuts to snack on. (Don’t judge. Most of us had just done a mountainous race!) The event was fairly small–this was the first year–and there was plenty of space to mill around, chat, and meet other runners.

It was fun to see runners just as stiff and sore as I was hobbling around and trying to get the juices flowing again, while non-runner husbands and girlfriends who were not walking like zombies filled coffee mugs. There were a few strollers and plenty of walking kiddos as well. That’s the great thing about a “Slow K,” it is literally for everyone. Exactly zero people were there to race, or even run!

You had me at “mimosa”

Off to one side was a mimosa bar where, for a small donation, you could DIY your own combo with sparkling wine, juice, and fresh fruit. I’m pretty sure the idea was to grab one after the Slow K, but the mimosa cups fit inside the coffee mugs so perfectly that some of us just couldn’t help ourselves!  They also had fancier coffee (in case the more pedestrian coffee that came with the donuts wasn’t up to your standards). Through the magic of square, I made my donation (I should have taken notes, I want to say this was for an arts or music program), selected some pineapple juice, made a little more room in the cup, and added fresh strawberries. Not a bad way to start a “run” (quotes intentional, as no one was running).

The added bonus of a slow event where you’re trying to get people to move but not run, and where you hand out coffee mugs instead of medals: it’s really, really hard to run with a coffee mug in your hand and not spill all over the place. At least as the event started, most of us still had full or semi-full mugs in our hands.

The weather was slightly soggy, but not really rainy–sort of a continuation of the weekend’s theme. The loop course wound along the river, through some park areas, and back to the start. There were a bunch of cute signs close to the start/finish to cheer on the “runners” too.

Slow K instructions

The Slow K was so much fun that I’m a bit confused as to how every race isn’t doing this. It’s a brilliant way to end a weekend and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments.

Disclosure: I received advance access to the e-book version of Following Fit in exchange for my feedback and honest review. The author also graciously offered a copy of the printed book, which is the prize in this giveaway. All of the words and opinions in this post are my own.

Following Fit book cover
Available now in Kindle format, coming soon in print!

When I started to read Following Fit, I knew from the first pages of the introduction that I was going to rip through this book like college kids rip through a bag of Doritos. Like Kristen Perillo, I was a “bread thief” (and even had extra rolls and a tiny amount of butter instead of dessert in the no-fat, high-carb 90s). I also dropped athletic pursuits early. We had the same early experiences with self-imposed perfectionism and anything less than 100% meaning failure. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you’ll recognize parts of your own life in Kristen’s story, too.

Like blogs? You’ll love the book. This book evolved from Kristen’s former blog, so it is written in bite-sized pieces. Each short chapter tells part of the story, and could stand alone as an essay. I could see an English class using this book as a study in essays, one chapter each week; I could see reading one chapter each night as a light and easy read before bed. Her commentary on how popular media treat the female body in a number of contexts is particularly on point.

It’s not just about the fitness. Even if you’re not an avid reader of health and fitness books, there’s something in here for you. This book touches on the very personal meanings of concepts like commitment, worthiness, motivation, health, and failure. I particularly enjoyed that several of the sections focused on fitness myths (e.g. “women should never lift weights over five pounds”), and how even a basic non-professional knowledge of weight lifting allowed Kristen to connect with her male high school students. Ultimately this is less a book about fitness, and more a book about identity and self-knowledge.

It’s not a “how to” book. Unlike many books in the health/fitness/healthy-diet space, this is not a how-to. Kristen does not pretend she has all the answers, or dole out advice claiming it is “one size fits all.” Instead, Kristen tells HER story—not in the social media highlights-reel-only style, instead including the parts of her life that film editors would leave on the cutting room floor. The scenes of lost motivation, feelings of disconnection between mind and body, and looking back on past choices and habits and wishing they were different are all a part of life, and all included in the book. One of the chapters I found most challenging to read was about Kristen’s decision to transition away from vegetarianism (being a vegetarian myself, and being constantly told this is “just a phase” punches my buttons to this day). It’s clear that this was the very best choice for her, and as I read through her process I found myself internally finding more empathy for my friends who are ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians. (I have always maintained that it’s not my job to decide what eating pattern is best for your body; the “I was vegetarian for x years” comments feed into my annoyance with the whole “just a phase” thing.)

Author, Teacher, Certified Personal Trainer: Kristen Perillo

Kristen is not one of those “fake experts.” I also really appreciated how—unlike most fitness bloggers—Kristen consistently reminds the reader she’s not a medical professional, sticks to facts when writing about medical issues, and always consults a medical professional when it is appropriate for her. If other bloggers learned nothing else from her book but this, she’d be doing a massive service to the fitness community. If her readers learned nothing beyond “hey, this is the pattern that reliable, legitimate bloggers follow,” again, that’s a massive service to the fitness community.

It’s not all sunshine and unicorns. Throughout the book, Kristen keeps it real. As a blogger myself, I’m sure she had plenty of material to work with and had to pick and choose which posts would become book chapters and which would be omitted. Yet instead of showing only the shiny happy moments, Kristen also shares her struggles with gaining weight due to binge eating, frustrations with a post-surgery shoulder that isn’t as strong as she would like, and nerves before her first session working as a personal trainer.

Just Read It. Following Fit is a delightful departure from the books that dominate the health and fitness market. I highly recommend this book, and wouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself re-reading sections, or making notes in the margins and at the end of each chapter. Wherever YOU are in your relationship with yourself, this book will remind you that you are not alone. More important, you are fine just where you are.

Where to get it. Following Fit is on my Amazon list of books for runners (affiliate link). Once you’ve read it, why not leave a review on GoodReads? If you want to learn more about Kristen, check out her website. Or follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Win Yours Here!

Rules: This giveaway is NOT sponsored by anyone or anything. You must have a mailing address in the United States or Canada to enter. (Sorry, international readers–postage overseas is killer.) Entries will be verified, so please follow the instructions. Winner will be notified by email and have a reasonable amount of time to respond and claim the prize. Winner must be patient! The printed book has not yet been released! You’ll get it when I get it, grasshopper.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I am a proud ambassador for Represent Running, the series that brought you the Inaugural Silicon Valley Half Marathon. Race ambassadors get some sweet gear and free race entries in exchange for promoting the races. (Of course I was so excited when I first heard about the race that I immediately signed up–seriously, did you see the swag?)  OH HEY, you can already register for next year. Don’t wait CLICK AND REGISTER!

After the heat of the San Jose Food Truck 5k, I was really glad the weather cooled off a bit–especially because the race didn’t start at o’dark-thirty. I also really liked that part. There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep in a big fluffy bed, and then NOT getting up before the sun to go run the race. (Well, maybe I should have run before the sun got up…SPF 30+ is no match for my vampire-like skin’s reaction to the sun.) At any rate, I strolled from the Fairmont to the starting line, glad to have opted for the downtown San Jose experience. (Also for the CREAM sandwich I ate the night before: birthday cake ice cream on two sugar cookies. NOMNOM.)

The Starting Line

All of the medals from the Food Truck 5k and Silicon Valley Half, including the bonus bling
A full weekend of bling! Food Truck 5k, inaugural SV half, Run 2.0, and the Valley Challenge

First I realized that my bib only had one dot–but it was supposed to have two. See, this weekend was chock full o’ bonus bling: a challenge medal for running both the San Jose 408k and one of the weekend events, and another challenge medal for running both days (the Food Truck 5k on Saturday and either the SV Half Marathon or the 10k on Sunday). One of the other Represent Running ambassadors pointed me to the problem fixer-upper tent, and a minor crisis was averted. (Do NOT get between me and my bling!)

After a bunch of clowning around at the starting line, I started to pay attention to the pre-race speakers. It may be kinda nerdy of me, but I enjoyed learning a little more about the work of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, the official charity of the race and its mission to prepare every student for college and careers, with a focus on STEM. If you don’t live in the area, you probably think of Silicon Valley as full of rich white guys–and it is, but there is also a sharp contrast between that impression and reality, which is that plenty of kids need help. It’s an expensive place to live, and there is food insecurity even among people who work “good” full time jobs. You can learn more about SVEF (and throw in some bucks!) here: https://svefoundation.org/donate/  There was also plenty of local love for bringing a big run back to downtown San Jose.

Out On the Course of the Silicon Valley Half

Mile 3 mile marker sign, with technology-themed icons
Innovation-themed sign at Mile 3

Speaking of a big run, San Jose has many running events throughout the year, but the Silicon Valley Half Marathon course was NOT a copy-cat course. Sure, it had some of the same streets, but the course itself as a whole was brand new. I particularly enjoyed the areas in the neighborhoods and near parks and schools. as it was quite warm and I needed shade! Every one of the water stops was fully staffed by great volunteers–this was not the kind of race where half of the water stop spots are filled by teens glued to their iPhones.

One of the fun things about an inaugural race is that you get to create all of the race stuff from scratch. Ordinarily, I don’t care about mile markers. (Frankly at most races they all look the same and are generic.) But there are lots of runners who selfie it up at every mile. So why not make the most of those selfies (since you know they’re going on Instagram)? The Silicon Valley Half Marathon made great mile markers, themed to various aspects of life in and around San Jose. Unless it’s a Disney race–where each mile marker is themed and plays music–I don’t take mile marker pictures…yet I have almost a complete set from this race.

Mile 10 mile marker featuring art, music, photography, sculpture
Art of all kinds celebrated at Mile 10

Given that it was hot, and I was feeling tired even after luxuriating in my fluffy bed at the Fairmount, I knew I was not gunning for a PR. I started with the intent to run about half, and walk the rest. For the first few miles, I was leap-frogging with the 3:00 pace group. Around mile 4, I decided to tag along. Mad props to Too Legit Fitness for providing amazing pacers. (Seriously, go follow Too Legit Fitness on Instagram.) While I ultimately decided to slow my roll at mile 7 or so, the pace team kept me going on the 3:00 pace up to that point. I’ve only ever run with one other pacer I loved so much, but this race had a team! Like not just one runner with a sign looking at his watch. I don’t have any official scoop here, but there were two women passing off the timing stick, and their gigantic fan club/run group. It was super motivating! Also, there were a few additional people from the pack who checked in with everyone else who was running, handing off a little snack here or a sip of water there to make sure that everyone was still moving forward.

Setting The Pace: Too Legit

Too Legit Fitness team, the pacers for the half marathon
Too Legit Fitness pacers brought their A game to the race.

The pacers were so awesome that after each pace team finished, the pacers went back out onto the course to cheer in more runners. This might not matter at all to you if you’re a sub-2:00 runner, but for those of us in the “back of the pack” (you know, the ones most races ignore and forget to feed, or let the sponsors pack up and go home before we finish?) it was a really great perk. Starting about a half mile from the finish line, there were pace team members cheering and jumping around. Some took the time to walk or run for a block or more with incoming runners. It was really cool to see the pace team out there, after running a half marathon, still out there encouraging everyone.

Mad props to the entire pace team (and apologies for anyone I missed): Nando Gonzales, Fernando Loera, Randy Pangelina, Melissa Yamashita, Jill Ahearn, Eric D. Sullivan, Earl Hooks II, Jackie Silva Torres, Sylvia Loera, and Jimmy Quilenderino. You can find them all on instagram.

Post-Race Festivities

After the race, at the Silicon Valley Half Marathon
Post-race music, food trucks, vendors, and more.

After the race, runners were treated to a post-race beer (actually I used mine to get sparkling wine–even better!) and live music. Lululemon provided little totes for each runner, which made it much easier to juggle the bling, banana, snacks, and bottled water at the finish line. The park was ideal for picnicking, and there were food trucks (and not the same trucks from the 5k but an entirely different set!). Plenty of runners brought their family and friends out to enjoy the music and food and beautiful day.

1

Elizabeth and Richard at he finish line party
Me and Richard hanging out at the post-race festival. Nice sunnies, no?

Other runner perks included a long-sleeve quarter zip (instead of a race t-shirt) that I just love (it’s a teal colored Leslie Jordan brand, super soft–you can see it on some of the folks in the starting line picture above), a sweet duffel bag, and FREE race photos, courtesy of race sponsor Amazon (who also had a photo booth on site, along with free sweat towels).

The park also had booths from all of the sponsors, and from local vendors selling both running-related items and items of general interest. Sparkling wine sponsor Barefoot had a booth tasting their new canned sparklers, in addition to beer and wine for sale at the beer tent. It made for a fun and relaxing afternoon.

On the plane home I started to think about the Silicon Valley Half Marathon 2019. Since the inaugural event had zero noticeable flaws, I’m sure word will get out and there will be many more runners in 2019. You should be one of them! Come join me–I’m going to register ASAP. (Note: you can actually register right now!)

Disclosure: I am SO stinkin’ proud to represent these races as part of the Represent Running Ambassadors. Yes, I do get to run the races for free in exchange for helping to promote them, but I signed up for the inaugural Silicon Valley Half Marathon before I was asked to return to the team. All opinions are my own–and you know I have plenty of them!

I’m behind some race reviews, but I could barely wait to start writing about the inaugural Food Truck 5k and Silicon Valley Half Marathon! (Yeah, yeah, it was over a week ago–I had some blog issues.) The Food Truck 5k was Saturday afternoon. My understanding is that it was originally going to be an early evening race, but there was some sportsball thing or event that kicked the start time up to 3pm. In any case, that was perfect for me, as it allowed me just enough time to sleep in a little bit, hop a flight from Portland to San Jose, Lyft to the Fairmont Hotel, check-in, unpack, change, and head over to the festival area to pick up my stuff.

Locals did have the option to pick up packets in advance at Sports Basement, which was always a fun choice for me when I lived in Alameda. Sports Basement offers a discount for runners on the day of bib pick-up, and since I always found something there I needed (and at a great price!), it was a win-win. Now that I’m in Portland, however, going to the Sports Basement pick up would have meant a day off from work and another night in the hotel. Yeah, I know, you feel so bad for me. Anyway, there were also some other pre-race-weekend events, including a run with Meb! (Do you feel bad for me now? Because I had to miss that?)

I was going to credit this one to @pavementrunner but since he’s in the photo…

One of the great things about running in San Jose, there are a ton of hotels within walking distance of any reasonable starting line–more if you rent a car, or are willing to take a car. For Rock ‘n’ Roll San Jose 2017 I stayed at the AC Hotel, which would have been a great choice for these races too. The SV Half host hotel was the Fairmont, and they gave us a screaming deal: it actually cost less to stay there than to stay at the AC! The Fairmont is one of the aging grand dames of the hotel world, and I loved staying there. My room was gigantic, the bathroom had both a shower and a separate bath tub, and there was a separate vanity and mirror outside of the bath room. Sure, there are some signs that the hotel wasn’t built yesterday–the USB outlet in my room did not work, and the bathtub spout had a hand-held shower permanently attached (because the actual shower was not enough showers for one room?) so I couldn’t take a bath, but it’s a great place. After the races and a much-needed shower, I met a friend for snacks and cocktails in the bar.

Day-of-event packet pickup was a breeze, and I got both my Food Truck 5k and my SV Half gear at the same time. (In hindsight, I should have waited until after the 5k to get my SV Half gear, as there was no bag check, but as an ambassador I had a little help.) There was plenty of parking nearby, though I had walked from the hotel. I had some time pre-race to walk around and see the vendors and race sponsors. Amazon had free sweat towels, and I wish I had grabbed one before the 5k so I could sweat on it (instead I thought, “oh, it’s one more thing to carry.” Silly me.) Amazon also sponsored free race photos all weekend and had a photo booth, so that was fun. After clowning around for some photos in the festival area–and checking out the food trucks to plan my post-race eats–the ambassador squad headed over to the 5k starting line to take more pictures.

Actually, we all walked OVER the starting line, heard a bunch of beeps, and wondered if the timing system thought we were running…then we looked up at the starting line structure and wondered why the letters were all backwards. (Yes, a bunch of social-media-fueled runners didn’t understand the selfie-setup.) Suddenly it was about time to start, and I was WAY too close to the front, so I sidled over to the right as far as I could get, and decided to hang there until the right group started to move past. (We didn’t have corrals for the 5k, but people did a pretty good job of self-selecting–it was impressive.)

OMG it’s 80 degrees!

The course was basically an out-and-back with a bit of a loop (running on parallel paths for a portion). Most of it was on a paved path through Guadalupe River Park and Columbus Park, though a small portion was on sidewalks and a street to get to and from the start/finish area at Arena Green East. I ran most of the first mile at a very easy (read: slow!) pace, did a run-walk for the second mile, and walked all of the third mile (with the exception of the last .1, of course). The heat was brutal and unexpected! I’d flown in from Portland, where it was in the 50s. The average temperature in San Jose in mid-April is in like 50-65 degrees. This year? It was 80! I didn’t run any of that third mile because my body–descended from two long lines of pasty-white people from northern climates–was like “NOPE!” I felt great after the run anyway.

Free race photos are my favorite!

Post-run, first I went to the Barefoot wine tent to sample their “refresh” spritzers. (No, not at all like a “wine cooler,” yuck. More like “wine with bubbles.”) Then I bought a glass of sparkling wine and I hit up Cielito Lindo Mexican Street Kitchen for some tacos. (The menu on the website does NOT do them justice–I ate two different vegetarian taco types, decorated liberally with verde, roja, and molcajete sauces.) It was only after I ate all three of them and the tasty, tasty hot sauces that I realized I should have put them on Instagram. Oops. Bad blogger! Other options for Saturday included Road Dogs, Akita-sushi, BBQ Kalbi, Curry Up Now, and Treatbot (ice cream–VERY popular that day!). Everyone was clustered under the trees and in the shade, but having a great time. In addition to many food options, sponsor booths, and vendors, there was live music! Starting at 1 and lasting until 7:30 p.m. we had Bird and Willow, Israel Sanchez Music, NOIYA, Casey Wickstrom, and Love District.

Will run for tacos.

Soaked to the bone with sweat, and sated by the street tacos, I headed back to the hotel for a much-needed shower and a wee nap. Then it was dinner and a cocktail, and off to bed to be well-rested for the inaugural Silicon Valley Half Marathon!

Want to read more about the Food Truck 5k? Check out additional reviews by The Ruminator , The Running Lushes, and Stephanie.

 

Disclosure: I was able to attend Natural Products Expo West 2018 as Media Support because I am part of the New Hope Blogger Co-op. I paid the going press rate for my conference badge, and received absolutely no compensation (I paid for my hotel, meals, etc.) from New Hope 360, or any other company, in exchange for my attendance or coverage of Expo West. (I only had access to the press room for the blogger happy hour, too.) While I did receive product samples and swag from various exhibitors and companies, ALL opinions are my own. Per my integrity policy, all sponsored content or affiliate links will be clearly disclosed.

100% vegan mochi “ice cream” (and these guys supply restaurants!)

Natural Products Expo West—or Expo West as the insiders call it—is the biggest business to business trade show for consumer products in the “natural” and “organic” markets. (“Natural” is in quotes because it has no legal meaning when used to describe a product, or on a product label, in the Untied States. I opted to put “organic” in quotes because there are several organic standards including the USDA organic label and the Oregon Tilth organic certification, and I’m not necessarily referring to any specific organic protocol. Since too many quotation marks are annoying, just assume I put both in quotes from here on out.)

Attendees include grocers and retail outlets seeking the newest innovative products, marketing firms, businesses with products to sell, businesses still in the development stages, and all manner of business support services from importers and exporters to label makers to packaging companies to product formulators to third party testing laboratories and much more. At the same time, and in the same space, there is a big show called Engredea, where businesses and product manufacturers can learn and do business with the companies that make and process ingredients—literally everything that goes into a product from maple syrup to every kind of oil to stabilizers and emulsifiers and sugars and lentil flour and anything else you can imagine (as well as a bunch of stuff you only know about if you work in food production).

Excited to see this–a blend of apple juice and Gerolsteiner sparking mineral water.

The companies that attend cover the entire range of consumer packaged goods brands. There are nationally-known names like General Mills, Kashi, Bob’s Red Mill, Clif Bar, and Now Foods. There are companies you’ve likely seen on Shark Tank, including Chapul (the cricket protein people), Ice Breakers candy, Jackson’s Honest (potato chips and other chip made with coconut oil), and Brazi Bites (Brazilian cheese bread). There are companies you may not have heard of yet, such as The Nutty Gourmet (they make the very best walnut butters ever—in my least humble opinion), Petchup (nutrition supplements for pets in the form of gourmet sauces), and Frill (a creamy and delicious frozen vegan dessert). There are kombuchas, colas, and coffee; food wraps, no-FODMAPs, and maple saps; pastas, pretzels, and probiotics. The products are vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, and carnivore; fresh, frozen, shelf-stable and every other possible form. As a result, you see attendees wearing attire that ranges from full-on lawyerly suits to shorts and Birkenstocks, polyester to organic cotton, tye-die to spandex.

Pet products are an increasing aspect of ExpoWest. Pets are a $61 billion industry.

The show currently takes up all of the available convention hall, meeting room, and hotel space at the Anaheim Convention Center and surrounding hotels. There are so many attendees that on Friday night Expo West crashed the Uber app, making hundreds and maybe thousands of people late to business dinners, public relations pitches, and social events. This is despite a sophisticated network of (free) busses to transport attendees from the Convention Center to Angel Stadium (there is nowhere near enough parking at the Convention Center, so many attendees park at Angel Stadium) or to dozens of hotels in the surrounding area. Hotel space near the

Birdie is a spray hand sanitizer with wipes hiding in the bottom. Cute enough to put on your desk!

Convention Center sells out within minutes—more than 80,000 people attend the show, and companies often reserve blocks of rooms for those working the show on their behalf—and I met people staying as far away as Newport Beach because they couldn’t find any hotel or even an Air BnB that was closer (and not $1,000/night).

Expo West is broken down into several distinct sub-spaces. This year, Hot Products (meaning new or hot on the market, and not meaning “foods that you eat while they are hot” as I mistakenly believed during my first Expo West!) occupied the North Halls. The Arena, Convention Center Halls A through E, and the third floor had exhibitors, including Engredea. Thursday’s Fresh Ideas Marketplace (meaning innovative products, not salad bars and fresh produce as I thought my first year) is housed in a giant white tent near the Marriott. The main plaza between the Hilton and the Marriott had food trucks, multiple exhibitor booths, a stage with live music, and roaming promoters, while the smaller plaza near the North Halls had a few food trucks and additional seating. Finally, a section of the parking lot between the Hilton and Morton’s restaurant had food-truck style Expo exhibitors as well as a few food trucks, and more tables for lunching.

Outside of those spaces, there are also several other things going on in the Convention Center spaces. There is a pitch-slam where new products can pitch to established brands and companies (think Shark Tank, but without the made-for-reality-TV aspects). One of the medium-sized hotel ballrooms hosts a variety of speakers, including the designated keynote speakers. (This year’s speakers included Jennifer Garner.) The smaller conference rooms host educational sessions on topics from the most recent FDA regulations to the exploding market for CBD-based products, new studies regarding sleep and nutrition, and more. Some of these are sponsored by exhibitors, while others are not. In addition to these session, which are open to all attendees, there are also specialized tracks that serve as a business school crash course for entrepreneurs, and more. There is a sort of job fair too. Other on-site events include sponsored breakfasts, daily early morning yoga, private business meetings, and after-hours parties. I have no idea how much of the rest of Anaheim hosts additional, private/invitation-only events (which cover the range from happy hours to multi-course meals, and even branch out into a 5k race!).

One of my best finds: PORTLAND-based kombucha that tastes delicious! (I find 99% of kombucha tastes like old socks.)

Despite the app, website, and printed brochure, it can be overwhelming to navigate Expo West. It isn’t always obvious which hall a given booth is located in, and travel from Hall D to Hall A can take 30 minutes due to pedestrian traffic—even though they are attached to each other. The scale of this event is so enormous that even if you did nothing but walk the show floors’ spaces—something few people do, due to meals, meetings, appointments, lectures, speakers, and other events—you still couldn’t see everything in the show’s four days. This was my third year at Expo West, and I finally feel like I figured out the best way for me to cover the show as a blogger. (Which included: make appointment with brands I wanted to spend time with, make a list of priorities for booth visits, stick to my top product categories, and get to the Fresh Ideas tent BEFORE it opens.) Over the course of several posts, I’m going to share what I saw, tasted, and learned, with the goal to help YOU live YOUR best life now.

Curious about a particular type of product, a brand, or a trend? Drop a comment or shoot me a tweet, and I’ll make sure to cover it in an upcoming post.

Inspired by Jenna Blumenfeld’s article, 5 food trends that should end in 2018, I offer you Six Food Trends That Need To Die Immediately. (For the record, I’m on board with all of Jenna’s recommendations–erythritol [I would expand this to “overuse of sugar alcohols”], bottled water, protein overload, natural flavoring [at least where the flavoring ingredients can be described legally and accurately], and “pixie-dusting,” which is throwing in a dash of some ingredient like turmeric or reishi and then splashing claims about the ingredient on the packaging even though there isn’t even a single serving of the ingredient in there.)

Six Food Trends That Need To Die Immediately

“Clean Eating.” I love the idea behind clean eating–eat more produce, more whole food, fewer things that fall into the category of over-processed junk food. It pre-dates the zany blogger-amplified contemporary “clean eating” by years. See, for example, Tosca Reno’s series of books (influencer link) which started in 2007 and focus on healthy and nutritious eating, not a ton of restrictive rules. (BTW, there is LOTS of processed food that is not over-processed. A few examples: fruit that is washed, sliced, and frozen; shredded and bagged salad; simple pico de gallo in a tub.) More apples, more carrots, fewer Twinkies, fewer Fruit Loops. I really loathe the actual term, “clean eating.” It implies that anything that doesn’t fall into the approved definition is dirty or contaminated. It’s a way of letting disgust define your eating (or It’s just one step from “clean eating” to dietary snobbery and an attitude of superiority. The term is readily accepted in most circles, but it’s easy to take it too far and twist a basically fine idea into an obsession or an eating disorder such as orthorexia. In my own experience, I have a friend who became so particular about the food she was eating that when she went to visit her parents there was “nothing to eat.” That might sound normal if you grew up in a meat-and-potatoes Midwest suburb, but her parents own and operate a produce farm and orchards. I’m not the only critic of “clean eating;” check out the evaluations by Vice, Vogue UK, a variety of other publications (you can use Google to find more), and the Daily Mail UKs piece on how clean eating hurts women. There’s even a film on the subject, Clean Eating–The Dirty Truth. Let’s continue to believe in, and advocate for, healthy eating and access to nutritionally dense food like fresh produce for ALL people, but let’s quit using judge-y language to do it, eh?

All “Natural”?

“Natural.” The word natural conjures up all sorts of wholesome images, and the people marketing to you know this. The problem is that the word “natural” is susceptible to all sorts of interpretations. I don’t care if you use the word with your own definition. What I take issue with? Using the word “natural” on consumer products and food. Why? Unlike many of the words on your food and household products–words like juice, cheese, and organic–the term “natural” has no legal meaning. It’s not defined by the FDA. This means anyone can put it on any package with any intended meaning. Almost worse, it means a small group of lawyers are wasting limited judicial resources on lawsuits. There have been lawsuits challenging the use of the word natural on products that contain GMO corn, high-fructose corn syrup, types of vanilla, xanthan gum, and for products such as green tea that when tested had “trace levels” of glyphosphate, juice made from concentrate, cheese and yogurt made from milk from cows that ate GMO grains, and pita chips with B vitamins created synthetically but identical in every way to those found in nature. You can read more and find links on this Washington Post article. There are two easy solutions to this problem. One, ban the use of the word “natural” on all consumer products. (No one is going to like that solution.) Two, require any product using the word “natural” to include a footnote that states “the term natural has no legal meaning, and is not a guarantee of the quality or origin of this product.” There are other ways to resolve the “natural” dilemma, of course, but if we wait for the FDA to step in my great-great-great granddaughter will be president.

P.S. I’d like to remind you that “natural” does not have the same meaning as “healthy” or “good for you.” A few 100% natural items to consider: cyanide, crocidolite asbestos, white oleander, poison dart frogs, black widows, volcano, cobras, certain bright red mushrooms, hemlock, ticks, manure, MRSA, listeria, malaria, salmonella…and the list goes on.

It might taste good, but it’s not removing toxins or cleansing anything

Detox, tea-tox, pre-tox, cleanse. Everything marketed in this category makes me want to vomit because it is so grossly misleading that it is unconscionable. Worse, many of the recommended practices can cause health problems in healthy people. But let’s start from the top: The term “detox” is used in the medical realm to refer to medical interventions for a person who is physically dependent on a drug and treatment of the associated withdrawal symptoms. “Detox” may also used in the case of an accidental poisoning. For an actual, real detox, there is science to explain exactly what toxic substance is being removed from the body, and how it is being removed. For example in many case of poisoning, activated charcoal is used to absorb the poison (“activated” means it has been treated to make it more absorbent, allowing it to soak up more) and generate a laxative effect to help it exit the body. (There is chemistry to explain how this works, and you can go look it up.) Commercially marketed “detox” and “cleanse” products claim there are mysterious “toxins” built up in your body and if you release them from your body by taking the magic pill or drinking the special smoothie, you will improve your health. Even if they specify a scary-sounding “toxin” (heavy metals!) none of these products will explain to you which toxin(s) they allegedly remove, nor will they explain the chemical and biological means by which they allegedly remove these toxins. (Because they don’t.) There’s not a single, credible, peer-reviewed study showing any detoxes achieve the results they claim–all detox claims are 100% hype. For the amount of money going into this market, that’s beyond suspicious. Worse, some allegedly detoxing things can be dangerous. Colonic irrigation has no proven benefits, for example, and most “tea tox” products either contain ingredients that sound nice but do nothing or known laxatives (such as senna)–and of course they are marketed as “100% natural.” Ugh.

As for the term cleanse, if your kidneys and liver are functioning properly, you are “cleansing” right now. Go look at a basic human anatomy text and read about the circulatory and urinary systems. (BTW, if your kidneys and liver are NOT functioning properly, you should be under medical care–poorly functioning kidneys may require dialysis to keep waste products out of your bloodstream, for example.) If you are afraid your body has bad stuff in it that needs to get out, start by “cleansing” your kitchen of all the things containing stuff you don’t want in your body.

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Alkaline everything. Let’s go back to basics. Your body works very hard to maintain a state of equilibrium called homeostasis. Basically, your genes are pre-programmed to know what is best for your body on any given scale. Think about your body temperature; your body naturally regulates to keep you from getting too hot or too cold (you sweat in the heat, and your body sends more blood to your core in the cold, among other adaptations). In chemistry, everything has a pH based on how acidic it is. At one end of the 0 to 14 scale is 100% acid  (pH 0) and on the other end is 100% not-acid, also called alkaline (pH 14). Just like your body adapts to keep your temperature at the right place, it also adjusts to keep your pH at the right place. Different parts of your body have different needs in terms of pH, for example your stomach creates an acidic environment to help you digest food while your blood is slightly alkaline. Your body (and specifically your kidneys) works really hard to keep your blood at the right pH because allowing it to get even a little bit too acidic OR a little bit too alkaline means you will die. While I love the idea of getting Americans to eat more green vegetables, you’re never going to “alkalinize” your body by eating them. If you did, you’d die. Oh, and in case someone tries to argue that a change in urinary pH is proof in support of this unscientific nonsense, remember that urine is a waste product kept in a holding tank (the bladder) so the body can get rid of it.

Hype and confusing messaging about products is designed to keep you spending.

Profiteering via ignorance and disinformation. This is so rampant in the consumer marketplace, in every category of product. This is a sugary kid cereal advertising it is made with whole grains–even if true, that just makes it slightly better than the non-whole-grain alternative, it doesn’t turn Cap’n Crunch into health food. This is products touting that they are non-GMO when there isn’t even a GMO version of that product or its ingredients available (e.g. salt, popcorn, and EVERY product that doesn’t contain squash, cotton, soybeans, field corn, papaya, alfalfa, sugar beets, canola/rapeseed, potato, and one type of apple which are the only available GMO crops) and failing to mention that no one has so much as gotten a tummyache from a GMO. This is any product that relies on consumer ignorance or fear to help sell itself. We are better than this. Consumers deserve to be educated and know the facts, and companies should be working to make this knowledge easier to obtain, not harder.

Nutritional Imperialism. As Americans, we live in one of the richest nations on Earth, one that wields a considerable amount of political and economic power. Unfortunately, we collectively end up pillaging other nations to support our needs and wants. All of those exotically sourced ingredients? Many have a negative impact on the environment and the economy in their nations of origin. Take palm oil, for example. As demand increases, we’re threatening the orangutan population and rapidly increasing deforestation. (Details at Rainforest Action Network, Say No To Palm Oil, World Wildlife Fund, Union of Concerned Scientists.) Companies are responsive to consumer demand, so why not demand the companies that make the products you buy use sustainable palm oil or an alternative? (There’s a debate on whether palm oil can be truly sustainable, but I’ll leave you and Google to that.)  Palm oil isn’t the only bad guy, it’s just an example.

One of the alternatives to nutritional imperialism is trade that helps build and sustain the local economy while respecting the environment. This isn’t necessarily the same as Fair Trade, which is a specific third-party certification that can be cost-prohibitive for small companies. A few companies doing this type of work are Kuli Kuli, which has helped women farmers in Ghana, Haiti, and Nicaragua earn an income and support their families, and Dean’s Beans, which has relationships with each of the farmers that grow their coffee beans and actively supports the farmers and communities that grow them.

Which food trends would you like to vanish?

SAVE YOUR MONEY, SAVE YOUR MIND!

First there was Black Friday, allegedly named because it is the first day of the Christmas shopping season and when retailers’ books go from red to black. (This was eventually ruined by the appearance of Christmas stuff on store shelves in September.) Then there was Cyber Monday, when Amazon and all the other .coms of the world offer deals to relieve you of whatever money you didn’t spent on Black Friday. As Wal-mart began to displace the beloved “mom and pop” stores that were on mainstreets in towns across America, and people realized where you spend money has a direct impact on what your world looks like, the “Shop Small” and “Shop Local” movements brought us  Small Business Saturday. Sure, I appreciate the season-of-buying as well as the sales, but a ton of this spending is mindless.

Then came #GivingTuesday. I personally have plenty. I’m thankful. I’m spending some of my time going through all the things I moved and parting with the things that could help someone else, but are not really serving me. (I did a lot of this before I moved too–I even gave away a big carton of books!) With the advent of Kondo-izing and Swedish death cleaning, I hope you and your family have all of the stuff you actually need and maybe you are even living with an eye towards not acquiring more stuff you don’t. Sure, things wear out and need to be replaced, and new gadgets come out that are critical (or at least useful). It’s not like clothes now last forever or shopping is over. But let’s be thankful. For me, part of being thankful is giving back to others who are not so fortunate. I’m really lucky to work in an office that supports all kinds of community involvement. I’ve barely been here half a year, and we have fundraised for a Race for the Cure team, donated hundreds of new or gently-used coats and warm clothing to homeless teen services in Seattle, given to Hoop Camp for the developmentally disabled, contributed to Lawyers Against Hunger, supported the Campaign for Equal Justice, and more.

NOTE! IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP! Before you give, make sure the organization is what it says it is, and that it will use your money responsibly. Check out Charity Navigator, or GuideStar for more information.

If you have what you truly need, I invite you to consider giving money to an organization that is helping to make your world a better place. Last year I solicited suggestions from my friends. This year, here are my own top choices.

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SAVE THE NATION!

I couldn’t decide on the best way to organize my favorites so these are in no particular order (not alphabetical, not by how much I value the work they do, just randomly there).

Southern Poverty Law Center. It’s not just about the south. Their slogan is “Fighting Hate. Teaching Tolerance. Seeking Justice.” The SPLC documents hate crimes, provides legal services, develops educational materials for children and adults, and monitors news outlets for stories about discrimination based on race, gender (including gender identity), sexual orientation, and economic status. SPLC News This Week is a weekly email covering these topics. On Giving Tuesday, a generous donor has pledged to match the first $300,000 of donations, through midnight. For a limited time, donors who give $50 or more can send a special card about SPLC’s work to an honoree. If you select this option, may I suggest sending the card to a government official? http://www.splcenter.org

Electronic Frontier Foundation. EFF works to protect the rights of everyone on the electronic frontier through technology, activism, and legal action (also called “impact litigation”). Some of EFF’s projects this year including suing the Department of Homeland Security to challenge the escalation of warrantless device searches at the U.S. Border, fighting NSA surveillance programs and forcing disclosure of signficant documentation about mass spying (ON US, the US CITIZENS!), blocking invasive web trackers through the Privacy Badger browser extension, addressing the growing power social media companies have on speech through the OnlineCensorship.org website, and so much more. (Why yes, I did just crib that from the email asking me to renew my membership!) Like NPR, you can choose a free gift at some levels of membership, and members received discounts on EFF events and merchandise. EFF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. http://www.eff.org

College/University/School. Pick one. The cost of higher education–and that includes trade schools–has gone through the roof. There’s no reason why only rich kids should get to have a post-high-school education. The pre-K to grade 12 schools aren’t exactly well-funded either. Create a scholarship, donate to a department, sponsor a club, or find some other way to help keep education accessible to all who desire it.

ACT LOCALLY!

For every group I know about and have listed below, I am certain there is a similar group where you live. National charities are great, and sometimes being national in scope is the best way and most efficient way to accomplish goals. (We don’t need every city to have an EFF, for example.) Other times, smaller organizations can accomplish tasks more efficiently than larger ones, or a local organization can better serve the population where it operates.

The Lawyers’ Campaign for Equal Justice. CEJ funds Legal Aid, which provides civil legal services to low-income and elderly Oregonians. Legal Aid tends to the basics and can be the difference between life and death, or safety and homelessness. CEJ funds help people fight illegal evictions, secure safe housing, get access to medical services, and escape domestic violence. You can read some of the success stories on the CEJ website. (Regardless of what you think of lawyers, those who work for Legal Aid do some of the most difficult work for some of the lowest pay. Without CEJ, Oregon’s Legal Aid program wouldn’t exist.) Poverty in Oregon is on the rise, and the demand for legal services is too.  http://www.cej-oregon.org/

East Bay SPCA. Yes, I now live in Oregon, but East Bay SPCA is the group that united me with my current kitty-love, Professor Nick Sterling. The Professor started his life in another shelter, where he was adopted. At some point things went sour, however, and eight years later he was rescued from a hoarding situation and returned to that same shelter. After languishing there several months, the East Bay SPCA identified him as a cat they might have a better chance of re-homing and took him in to their Oakland shelter. Poor kittyboy was there for months before we found each other. In 2016 (when Nick and I got together), East Bay SPCA adopted out 3,417 animals and fostered another 938. He had been there so long that he was free (his adoption fee was waived) but I donated since the cost of caring for an animal before it is adopted always exceeds the adoption fee. East Bay SPCA has multiple programs to help people keep their pets, including help finding pet-friendly housing, behavior resources, a pet food pantry, free wellness clinics and medical care assistance programs for those who need financial help, and a pet survivor placement program (to help fluffy find a home if you die first). They even have a special Second Chance Fund to help older animals find new homes. East Bay SPCA is a nonprofit funded by fees and charitable donations. http://www.eastbayspca.org 

Oregon Food Bank. Even in relatively prosperous-looking areas, food insecurity runs rampant. It’s not just rural Oregon that needs the food bank pantry shelves stocked–it’s Portland, too. You can read more about how hunger devastates children here. Delta Air Lines will match any gift of $25 or more, up to a maximum of $15,000. https://www.oregonfoodbank.org/

With Love,. Their mission statement: “With Love, exists to support foster families by providing safe, clean and quality clothing and supplies to children ages 0-5, while exuding love and honor.” Foster care for young kids is expensive–they outgrow clothes quickly and need developmentally appropriate toys–and it generally isn’t the rich people who take in foster kids. This year I’m participating in “Stockings With Love,” a stocking stuffer program for kids in foster care. All I have to do is buy 8-10+ items for either the 0-24 months group or the ages 2-6 group, put them in a bag, and label them with the appropriate gender and age. With Love, asked that donors NOT choose candy or food, and provided a list of suggestions. You can lazy-web it by going to http://www.withloveoregon.org/amazon to buy suggested items and have them sent right to the organization. Learn more at http://www.withloveoregon.org

SAVE THE WORLD!

Pencils of Promise. Education is something we take for granted in the United States, where state and federal laws protect every child’s right to an education. For $75, you can fund a kid’s education for the entire year. PoP promises that 100% of your online donation will directly support their education programs. (Read: NONE of your donation will pay for the costs of fundraising, administration, etc.) Donations build schools, train and support teachers, and keep kids in school supplies. PoP also has a handwashing initiative, WASH, which teaches kids about water, sanitation, and hygiene. You would be absolutely shocked at the amount of death and disease that could be prevented by a bar of soap and knowing how to use it (and equally shocked at how few of us have the luxury of soap-on-demand with clean water).  https://pencilsofpromise.org/

Gazelle Foundation. Access to clean, healthy, safe water should be a human right–but it’s not. In Burundi, people can spend four or more hours every day just to get clean water. This is a huge waste of potential for children (who should be in school), and for adults (who should be with their families). The Gazelle Foundation has nine water projects scheduled in Burundi for 2018, each of which will change the lives of people by reducing the 3+ mile trek now required to get water to 250-400 meters. That’s huge. Why Burundi? Burundi has a very high child mortality rate, largely due to lack of water. Waterborne contaminants are the leading cause of death in Burundi. To date, Gazelle Foundation has provided 80,660 people clean water FOR LIFE. That includes 24 schools, churches, and hospitals, 126 miles of clean water pipe, and the creation of 4,200 new jobs in Burundi.  https://www.gazellefoundation.org/

Back on My Feet. Homelessness isn’t an intrinsic part of anyone’s identity–it’s a condition some people experience, many through no fault of their own. BoMF combats homelessness through the power of running, community support, and essential housing and employment resources. It operates in 12 major cities. As runners know, running builds confidence, strength (including mental!), and self-esteem. These are all qualities you need to succeed, and come back from a major blow to your self-worth and identity. Changing the way we think about and address homelessness is revolutionary–which is why I put this in the Save the World category. On Giving Tuesday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is matching all donations. https://www.backonmyfeet.org/

Finally…SHARE?

There are a million ways you can help others with just a few dollars. If you have other charities you support, please leave a comment and share that information with others?

If you found this useful, would you please share it?

It’s that season again! No, I don’t mean the season of shopping for holidays (that’s another post for another time), but the season for Ambassadorship Applications! Before you open every browser window and apply to all the things, pause; should you really apply to that program?

Disclosure: I participate in several ambassador programs, and have worked with others in the past. (You can see them all on my Integrity First page.) No brands, races, or ambassador programs have asked me to write about them. In fact, no one knows I’m writing this post except the people quoted/shown below–they got a preview. Everything here is 100% my opinion–but I’d love to hear yours, too!

What’s an “Ambassador”? If you grew up in the 1970s (or before), you remember tons of television commercial celebrity product endorsements. For some reason, people tended to have a better opinion of something if it had a celebrity endorsement–regardless of the quality of the product. While that is still the truth in some cases, celebrity endorsements are expensive and only available to brands with big dollars to spend. Also, most of us have grown a little jaded. First, we all know that the big brands are paying for “product placement” in movies and on TV (e.g. the Coca-Cola cups on American Idol, always set perfectly so you can read them). Second, many celebrities have started to endorse products and concepts that are not only disproven by science (e.g. that vaccines are a direct cause of autism) but also are potentially dangerous (e.g. pretty much anything any celebrity has recommended you put in your vagina). In recent years, brands and events have turned to their fans to help spread the word about their products and services. In a world where people rely on their friends and social media for information, this makes total sense–aren’t you more likely to try something you know your friend just loves?

While every ambassador program is different, in general ambassadors have specific duties they perform in exchange for free product, a free race entry, swag, and/or other perks. The majority of the ambassador programs I have seen refer to their ambassadors as the ambassador team, but many also have special names for their ambassadors that are associated with their products. For example, the Honey Stinger ambassador team is called The Hive, and the Tailwind ambassadors are Tailwind Trailblazers. Most product ambassadorships last for a calendar year, so November and December have a lot of application deadlines. (Race ambassadorships may follow the race’s “calendar year,” starting a few months after the race and ending on race day.) Some programs continue from year-to-year so once you’re “in” you’re in, though the majority don’t auto-renew–you have to reapply every year.

An ambassador program connected me to everyone here in one way or another

Should You Apply?

Do I love the product/event? If you don’t love it, don’t apply. Period. Ambassador programs only work well if the participants legitimately like (and use!) the product, or are genuinely excited about the race or event (which doesn’t necessarily mean you are a past participant). It’s not just about what the company gets out of it though: it reflects poorly on you to promote a product you’ve never used, or to promote an event you have no intention of doing.

Do I have realistic expectations? Do you know what also reflects poorly on you? Sour grapes if you’re not accepted! Every year I’m shocked to see tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts to the tune of “XYZ didn’t pick me to be an ambassador. Again. They always pick the same people. Whine, whine, gripe. I’m never using XYZ product/running XYZ race again!” While these comments don’t reflect poorly on the product/event/brand, they DO reflect poorly on the post-er.  The majority of ambassador programs have a limited number of spots and far more applications than they have places. If you apply to a program and are not accepted, you have no idea why–and it might not have anything to do with you! Maybe there were a large number of applications from your geographic area, and preference goes to people in other areas. Maybe your strength is on your blog, but they really needed a Snap maven. Maybe your main sport is running, but the brand wants to branch out into other sports. Maybe it just wasn’t a good fit from the team’s perspective. Just like colleges, and jobs, and awards, you don’t get everything you apply to. You’re not entitled to anything 🙂

Am I willing to commit to that product/event for the year? There are really two parts to this. One, it should go without saying that as an ambassador, you do not promote competing products or events. If you are an ambassador for Pro Compression, for example, you should be perfectly happy to NOT be on social media or at events wearing any competing brand (and even give a thought to giving away those other socks). I wrote “it should go without saying,” but I’m saying it because while it SHOULD, it’s one of those “common sense isn’t very common” things. Are you really serving Health Warrior if your social media is filled with Trader Joe’s chia bars?  Two, if you apply for an ambassador program you should be willing and able to fulfill all of the requirements for that program. Detroit Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon Ambassadors, for example, are required to work a shift at the information booth during the race expo; Represent Running Ambassadors are required to work a packet pickup (unless they are remote ambassadors). If you’re unwilling or unable, don’t apply.

What are the ambassador program’s requirements? Every program has different requirements. You might be required to post a badge on your blog (if you have one), or to make announcements on social media channels to promote the product/event; create content for the brand’s website such as a photograph, review, or blog post; wear branded gear to events you attend/compete in; work at an expo booth to promote the race; create a post-event review; serve as a leader for a warm-up run; work at the event itself to ensure it runs smoothly; or any number of other things. Sure, life happens, and maybe you committed to an event before you knew you would be seven months pregnant and on bed rest, or nursing a leg broken in a skiing accident, or taking in your brother’s kids for the year, or laid off from your job and unable to travel to the event. Everyone gets that there are unforeseeables that might prevent you from fulfilling your duties and most programs will give you a pass if that’s your situation. As a general rule, you should be confident you can do what the program requires. Read the program description carefully, and make sure you understand the requirements.

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Can I live with all of the ambassador program’s restrictions? Again, it should be a no-brainer that you can agree to not promote competing products. Other restrictions vary widely by program. For example, the Bib Rave Pro Team members can only have a limited number of other ambassadorships. If the event’s sponsor is Adidas, you might be asked to avoid wearing gear with competing logos while you work at the expo. Again, read the program description carefully, and make sure you understand what you can and can’t do. If you can’t abide by the program’s restrictions, don’t apply.

Do I have the time/resources/bandwidth to fulfill the requirements and do a great job? If you have a full-time job and a full life, consider how much time and energy you have to devote to each of the programs you are considering. Even if you can wrap your head around 12 different ambassadorships at once, and somehow not give your blog more badges than a Girl Scout, most of us do not have the time to put into that many ambassador projects in a single year. Be realistic about what your other commitments are and how you will balance them with the programs you hope to work with this year.

Briana (of mat.miles.medals) met Dani, Libby, and Brandi through the Sparkly Soul ambassador program. New friends are one of the benefits of being an ambassador–and you already have something in common.

You WANT to apply, but will you do an awesome job?

Five guaranteed tips to be a rockstar ambassador!

First, Do All The Things. A great ambassador fulfills all of their requirements. Make a checklist and get it done! If you are required to work an expo shift or a promo booth, do the whole shift–seriously, sneaking out early isn’t cool–and if the event is really hard-up for help, consider offering to do another shift. Some things don’t have specifications, such as “help promote the race.” At a minimum, you should help spread the word for the big events (such as pre-registration specials, discount days, etc.), but think of that minimum as a floor, not a ceiling. The ambassadors might only be required to post one Instagram post, but creating two or three wouldn’t be that much more work. Just like in a team sport, as an ambassador you should strive to be an asset to your team.

I have had the honor to be a part of the Represent family for two years. The first year I was a posting fanatic and helped at as many packet pickup as I could. This second year life got in the way and I was only able to volunteer once (as per the requirements) but I felt guilty for not posting about the race events as avidly as I did the prior year. — Ashley of Every Runner Counts

Second, support your teammates! Lots of ambassador programs have some kind of forum they use to communicate. It might be a private Facebook group, a Slack channel, or a dedicated members-only website. Some are chatty, others are quiet, but all exist to help the ambassadors help each other. Every ambassador group has a wide range of people in it who differ in beliefs, sizes, preferences, and experience. When a new runner posts their new 5k PR, don’t ask if they crawled–congratulate them and encourage them to beat it. When someone is disappointed with a race result, don’t roll your eyes and tell them to get over it–say something kind, or keep your mouth (keyboard?) shut. Kindness is FREE, spread that sh*t everywhere.

Third, view every bit of swag and every perk as a gift. Many ambassador programs provide little extras, such as extra products, or gifts from race sponsors. Chances are that you’re not going to like everything–and you don’t have to–but think of everything as a gift and mind your manners. I’m a vegetarian, for example, so I really have no use at all for a bag of KRAVE jerky. I’m not going to eat it (it’s meat), and it’s not authentic for me to give a shout-out or otherwise promote it. If one of my ambassador programs mailed me a box of KRAVE, I wouldn’t mark the box “refused, return to sender” or make a big stink about how inappropriate it was in the ambassador chat group. Instead, I would ask the ambassador wrangler if it would be okay to pass the jerky on to a friend, if I should pass it on to another ambassador, or if the donor/sponsor/brand would prefer I return the package. Bottom line, you don’t have to love and adore every race sponsor or every bit of swag offered to you, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it either.

Remember that it’s an honor to be chosen, and use this opportunity to better get to know the people working for your brand and your fellow ambassadors. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had with the brands (trying new products, etc.). The experience with the people was a perk I didn’t expect going in, and I’ve made some wonderful friendships along the way that will stay with me beyond my time as an ambassador. —Briana of mat.miles.medals.

Fourth, stay positive. Nothing says “bad ambassador” more than talking smack about the brand you’re supposed to be representing! Be honest, but don’t trash the product/event. It’s okay to say you’re disappointed about ABC, or that a new product offering isn’t right for you. Frankly it can seem fake if you always absolutely adore every aspect of the brand/company/race you are representing.

Fifth, give honest feedback. (About the race, or brand, and about the ambassador program.) As an ambassador, you are in a position to hear feedback that the race director or brand does not. As Briana points out, “some brands tap into their ambassadors to get a temperature check of how a concept or idea might be received. Depending on the group, and your comfort level, you can elevate feedback to people who can do something with it. But remember to keep it constructive.” Finally, ambassador programs evolve each year, and the program managers are generally open to hearing about your experiences. What worked and what didn’t? I was frustrated when one race sent us flyers and posters to distribute–two weeks before the race. I loved it when another group moved from Facebook groups to Slack. Sharing your positive experiences, and providing constructive feedback about the not-so-positive ones, will help support the race or the brand by making next year’s program even better.

 

So…Should You Apply?

What’s your experience as a brand ambassador?

Which ambassador programs are currently accepting applications?

Disclosure: The fine folks at Click sent me a canister of CLICK All-In-One Coffee and Protein Drink Mix (caramel, nomnom!), a canister of CLICK Active All-In-One Coffee and Protein Drink Mix, two sample packets of other flavors, and a CLICK logo Blender Bottle. They are also generously providing a giveaway prize! As always, this review is my work, and contains my opinions. I wrote this–there is no ghost-written or “sponsored” content in this post.

Ice, shaker, CLICK, water, GO!

#CoffeeYesCoffee #ButFirstCoffee

Coffee is one of the greatest things on Earth. (If you disagree, you might be reading the wrong blog.) I love, love, love coffee. The best part of my Saturday (after sleeping in!) is grinding whole beans and making a fresh pot, then settling in for a mini-staycation. Coffee, however, is not breakfast. Even with milk and “fixin’s” coffee just doesn’t have the staying power I wish it did, and it definitely doesn’t have the nutrition to be a meal–if you’re drinking a coffeehouse coffee in the morning, it’s basically a sugar-bomb; if you’re drinking it non-fat to “save calories” you’re removing part of what could help your tummy feel satisfied even if I do get that you don’t need your mocha to have 450 calories (that’s a venti Starbucks mocha with 2% milk and whipped cream).

Right before I moved from Oakland to Portland, a friend told me about CLICK, a new drink mix that is real coffee with protein. Not coffee-flavored protein, but coffee with protein. Actual coffee, not faux-coffee. Protein is an important part of breakfast because it helps you feel full. Intrigued, I dashed off an email to the founders to learn more. Naturally the box with the goodies arrived right as I was moving and everything was in chaos, so I set it aside instead of tearing into it immediately. (This was not easy. I love opening boxes!)  I decided to wait until the road trip part of the move, for two reasons. One, taking CLICK with me meant I would have an easy breakfast every day. (Important when you are driving hundreds of miles with a cat and his many accessories.) Two, there is some data that starting a new habit while away from home will help you carry that habit over when you get home. (If you’ve read any books about habits and willpower, I’m sure you already know a few things about habit change. If you haven’t, I highly recommend Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney, The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonical, and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. They tread some of the same ground, but approach the topic from different angles.)

With traffic at a dead-stop for the visible mile ahead, so glad I had breakfast with me!

As an adult, I’ve become a serial breakfast skipper. (Or should that be cereal? I snap, crackle, pop myself up!) I know my body pretty well, and I can definitely feel my work and workouts suffer when I skip breakfast or just have coffee. When I skip breakfast, I am generally super ravenous by the time lunch rolls around, ready to stuff All The Foods into my face. As annoying as moving is–don’t ever move, ever–I decided to leverage the move as a life re-set. In “my new life” I have enough breakfast to make my body happy until lunch. While I doubted the CLICK literature asking if my coffee pot felt neglected (because no way am I giving up coffee!), I was game to try it.

Wait, what’s in CLICK? CLICK is an instant drink mix made from real coffee. (I promise, it tastes NOTHING like that bland “instant coffee” or “freeze dried coffee” stuff your parents had in the 1970s.) CLICK is intended to be a breakfast (or other meal or snack) replacement, though you can drink it in place of any regular coffee drink (saving calories and adding nutrition). In addition to two shots of espresso, CLICK has protein and 23 essential vitamins and minerals. Yes, it has sugar, but not much (5g per serving). If you make it with water, a serving is 110 or 120 calories, depending on which flavor you choose and how much you use. (If two scoops is too much flavor for you, try using just one scoop. My sweet spot is around one and a half scoops.) To make CLICK, you put CLICK in water and shake/stir. You can make it with milk or a milk substitute. You can make it hot or cold. You can make it fancier in a blender. You can make it in a box, you can make it with a fox! Oh, wait. Wrong story. Carrying on… CLICK is NOT for you if: One, you are vegan. CLICK contains milk. (If you’re interested and enough other people pester them too, I bet a vegan CLICK could be in the works.) Two, you are allergic to soy. CLICK contains soy-based ingredients. Three, you hate coffee. CLICK is coffee. If you hate coffee, can we even be friends?!?

The first taste test: cold-ish. It sounds silly now, but the first time I mixed CLICK I panicked. What if I don’t like it? What if it tastes weird? It sounds silly for many reasons, but at that moment I was on a very tight budget and this is what I had planned for breakfast. (Plus I had agreed to write an honest review, and no one likes to have to tell someone “hey I tried your product and it was icky.”) To me, a yucky breakfast is almost worse than no breakfast at all. The number one thing I fear in a drink mix is grittiness, and most drinks mix better in warmer rather than colder water, so I started with cold-ish water. I was particularly worried  because I was using water as a base, which would make any grit even grittier. If you’ve ever had protein powder, I’m sure you know what I mean–there’s nothing like drinking a glass of sand. Cautiously, I put the shaker ball into the Blender Bottle, added CLICK, added water, closed the lid (very important step!), and gave it a few shakes. It quickly dissolved. I took a deep breath, followed by an itty-bitty baby sip and…

IT WAS DELICIOUS!

First, the flavor was delicious. The caramel tasted like a fancy cold coffee drink treat. Second, CLICK dissolved completely. The resulting drink had a 100% smooth, completely liquid consistency without any lumps. There was NO grittiness at all, not even a little bit, and no weird crunchy bits left at the bottom (you know, those weird protein powder dregs). I quickly hoovered the remainder. Afterwards I felt like I’d had a coffee drink, and a little breakfast. My tummy was happy until lunch.

Icy cold coffee! The next day, I decided to try iced CLICK. The container said I could ice it, but I wasn’t sure I believed (yet). Also, some drinks are much better if you make them hot and ice them later. Since this was a test, I put the mixer ball in the Blender Bottle, filled the cup with ice, added CLICK, and then filled the cup with water (as cold as the tap would allow). After putting on the lid and shaking, I was shocked that CLICK dissolved completely! Even though it dissolved well at room temperature, I honestly thought it would be a little sandy-tasting when iced. Nope! I really like CLICK icy cold, so this is how I have been making it ever since. I’m still amazed that a powdered drink mix with protein dissolves this well without using an electric blender.

How much do I love CLICK?

Portability is key for breakfast on the go

For starters, I’ve continued to start every work day with iced CLICK (except the days I have been out of town–I need to get some little containers to put single servings in so I’m not relying on single-serve packets or plastic bags). I had planned to try making a hot CLICK, but Portland has been pretty warm since I moved and the thought of commuting on MAX with a hot beverage is not appealing. (That will change, I know!) When I reached the bottom of the canister, I hustled over to the website for more. As a result, I’m happy to report the vanilla latte flavor is also very yummy. (I haven’t opened the chocolate yet, as it seems overly decadent to have three canisters open at once.) Not only did I spend my own money on this–no special discount code or anything–I opted to buy the four-pack of canisters (and it comes with a cute hot drink mug). This is not a fling, my friends, this is a long-term relationship. I might need to go change my Facebook status. (My coffee pot is super jealous. I haven’t purchased a single bag of coffee beans since I moved.)

CLICK Active is another super yummy coffee-based drink mix with protein. CLICK Active is designed to take advantage of that magical post-workout “window of opportunity” when your (now worked-out and tired) muscles are extra-ready to suck in the nutrition to help repair and build muscle. You can read more about post-workout nutrition in general on my favorite nutrition site, Precision Nutrition. In a a nutshell, in a post-workout situation, nutrition helps the body to replenish glycogen, decrease protein breakdown, and increase protein synthesis. That’s what CLICK Active aims to do–and it’s still a better plan nutritionally than a venti mocha. CLICK Active has protein plus branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are the building blocks of protein, and therefore also of muscles. BCAAs are more easily digested than protein (which your body has to work to break down into amino acids before your body can use them).

The difference between CLICK and CLICK Active is basically the difference between a meal replacement drink and a recovery drink. No, the two are NOT the same thing! Think of CLICK as a low calorie breakfast or snack to help keep you on track nutritionally, and CLICK Active as a post-workout drink that helps your muscles recover. You can read more about the difference on the CLICK website’s blog. The CLICK website has all sorts of useful information, including a weight-loss plan (focused on portion sizes, making good choices, and exercise!) and recipes for shakes and snacks (coffee protein CLICK pop, anyone?).

My cat observed, “She haz a sad.”

How much do YOU love CLICK?

You won’t know until you try it, right? So you should enter to win it!

My new friends at CLICK are offering one prize: your choice of a canister of CLICK or CLICK Active, in the flavor of your choice (assuming availability) and a snazzy purple CLICK branded Blender Bottle to go with it.

Since I practice law and all, here are the rules: (1) this contest is not sponsored or endorsed or in any way affiliated with any social media outlet (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap, Tumblr, Pinterest, mySpace, Livejournal, or anything else you can name); (2) there is no purchase necessary to enter; (3) entrants must be 18 or older because I don’t want to violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and because in the U.S. minors can’t enter into a binding contract, and because teenagers don’t need to start the day with two shots of espresso; (4) there is one prize and will be one winner, who will be required to submit their shipping address for prize delivery purposes; (5) the winning entrant will be contacted by email, and must respond to that email within three days or a new winner will be selected; (6) this contest is void where prohibited (I’m pretty sure that still includes Quebec, sorry!); (7) if I missed any major legal points I reserve the right to add them here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I attended Natural Products Expo West on a Press pass. This post is not sponsored, endorsed, written, paid-for, etc. by Expo West (or any related entity) or any of the companies and products discussed below. The giveaway prize consists of samples I picked up at the Expo or purchased. Per usual, the topic was my idea and the opinions are all mine. Happy reading!

Chickpeas are everywhere this year. (Beets too, but that’s another post.) At Expo West I saw chickpeas in soups, ready-to-eat meals, baked goods, flour, chips, puffed snack foods, frozen snacks and entrees, and pretty much every category (other than beverages–maybe next year?). I’m not sure if I’m obsessed with chickpeas because I never ate them as a kid, so as an adult they are still a novelty, or because I know they are packed with protein and fiber, making them a great addition to my eating plan.

These are my favorites:

Vana Green Chickpea Superfood Bowls

Vegan, certified gluten-free, soy-free, non-GMO

There are so many good things to say about these that I don’t want to forget the most important: they are yummy! Vana Life Foods makes four varieties, each featuring green chickpeas: chipotle, black beans, and sweet corn; chimichurri, coconut, and butternut squash; kale, potato, rosemary, tomato; coconut, lime, cilantro, bell pepper, sweet potato. I’m not going to lie, I took lousy notes as I tasted my way across the expo, so I can’t remember which one was my favorite. The kale/potato/rosemary/tomato was sort of Italian-food inspired, not too zesty, with the kale sufficiently hidden that I didn’t feel like I was chewing on the lawn. The coconut/lime/cilantro/bell pepper/sweet potato also has lemongrass in it, and the flavor reminded me a little bit of Thai food. The chipotle/black bean/sweet corn has a vaguely Cuban flavor about it, zippy but not so spicy that it puts your mouth on fire. Finally, the chimichurri/coconut/butternut squash has to be South-American-inspired (as google tells me chimichurri sauce comes from Argentina).

If you open the package at the notches and microwave it, the bottom part of the package serves as a bowl.

Don’t fear the green chickpea. If you’ve never eaten one, pretend it’s like the first time you ate green pasta, or colored frosting. Why are they green? As Vana’s website explains:

A green chickpea is a garbanzo bean harvested from the vine in its optimal nutritional state that is immediately blanched and flash frozen to preserve all its inherent goodness. That’s because when it’s green, the flavorful young legume is packed with protein, fiber, A, B, and C vitamins, and minerals—while being low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Basically, it’s a superfood at its best.

Seattle-based Vana won the Expo West NEXTY (sort of like an Oscar for natural food) for Best New Packaged Food. The shelf-stable pouch has two places you can tear across the top to open (little notches help you tear it properly). Tear at the top line to pour out into a bowl, pan, etc. Tear at the bottom line if you want to keep the food in the package and microwave it–it turns into a bowl! (This is really a pretty cool trick.) There is no BPA in the packaging, and it is recyclable.)

When I left the booth, I told the great folks at Vana that there were only two things wrong with their product: (1) there are only four flavors (for now–looking forward to next year!), and (2) there aren’t any in my office desk drawer. The website has a store locator. You can also buy these green chickpea pouches through the Vana website, or via various other online vendors (e.g. Jet, Amazon). The price varies, but is generally $4-5; on the Vana website, a single pouch is $4.99 while a six pack of the same flavor is $26.94 (cheap compared to eating lunch out, even if you factor in the additional cost of a piece of fruit or side and a drink).

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Banza: Pasta Made From Chickpeas

Gluten-free, kosher, soy-free, allergy-friendly, produced in a nut-free facility, vegan (except for the mac n cheese varieties)

Technically this one is “cheating” since I first met Banza at IDEA last summer, but they were at Expo West this year.  (In 2015 Banza won the “People’s Choice” NEXTY at Natural Products Expo East.) You know how when you make traditional pasta you can eat a bowl the size of your butt, and then you still want seconds? So you love pasta, but maybe think you shouldn’t eat it so often? Banza is your dream, baby. Over 90% of the pasta is chickpeas, and the protein and fiber ensure that not only do you have to eat a smaller portion, you aren’t going to be starving and go back for seconds (or thirds). Banza cooks like regular pasta, though the water might foam up a tiny bit more (because hey, chickpeas). Just like regular pasta, you have to keep an eye on it towards the end to make sure it comes out al dente and not all mushy.

My personal favorite is the rotini shape, which I douse in warm italian spaghetti sauce mixed with Beyond Beef crumbles and then top with grated parmesean or mozarella shreds. (The ridges on the rotini help hold the saucey goodness.) Banza also make macaroni/elbows, spaghetti, penne, and shell shapes, and offers four varieties of mac and cheese. My favorite thing about Banza is that unlike several other non-wheat pastas I have tried, this one has the right toothiness to it, so when you chew it is just like chewing regular pasta.

Banza started in Detroit in 2013 with a non-cook 23-year-old kid messing with his food (or so the legend goes). I love a scrappy start-up with a great product, but I’m not sure you can call Banza a start-up anymore, since you can buy their pasta in Target and they are part of the inaugural class of the Chobani Food Incubator. At any rate, you can find Banza in 2,700+ stores in the US and Canada, including Shop Rite, meijer, HEB, Wegmans, Sprouts, Fairway, Marianos, Whole Foods (select regions–but if you bug the manager at your local store you can probably get it too), and Eataly. You can also buy from various online sellers such as Thrive Market ($2.95/box), where prices are $3-5, or buy directly from the Banza website (6 boxes for $30 though if you choose the subscription option, you also save 20%).

Hippeas: the vegan improvement on cheese puffs

Certified gluten-free, vegan, corn-free, and have no added MSG, trans-fats, or artificial preservatives

Clear, clean, consistent messaging from Hippeas

If you were at Expo West, it was really hard to miss the cute Hippeas swag themed to match their packaging. The Hippeas booth was strategically located at the corner of the room closest to the door, so a ton of people hit it up immediately when the Expo opened for the day, meaning tons of bright yellow bags with smiles on them (the eye is a chickpea, of course). If you weren’t at Expo West, you may have seen Hippeas at Starbucks and wondered what’s inside those yellow bags. The best I can put it, it’s a crunchy snack with the texture of those cheap cheesy puffs but with unusual flavors and a MUCH better nutrition profile.

Hippeas flavors include far out fajita, sriracha sunshine, vegan white cheddar, maple haze, pepper power, and happenin’ hickory. Far out fajita–the flavor I’m putting in the prize pack–is described as “A fiery stash of chilli, paprika and cumin puffs to take on your journey to self-discovery” on the website. They are definitely flavorful, so you might want to watch out what you pair them with! A single serving has 4g protein and 3g dietary fiber. It’s not the same as eating the chickpea, but it’s a definite snack improvement.

Hippeas also gives back. You can head to their website and read about current initiatives, including their support for Farm Africa. Oh, and they are hiring.

Chickpeatos: a crunchable munchable

Organic, kosher, gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO

When I tasted these in the fresh ideas pavilion, I was trying to describe the new Popped Chickpeatos to the guy working the booth. “They are like a Cheeto but made of chickpeas!” Um, duh, that’s why they are called ch-ickpea-tos. I immediately felt stupid and stuffed some more chickpeatos into my mouth so I had to stop talking.

Popped Chickpeatos

The non-popped Chickpeatos are roasted–NOT deep fried–in olive oil (except for the cinnamon toast flavor, which is roasted in coconut oil). Right now you can buy rosemary, spicy cayenne, and tomato basil (and cinnamon toast). They don’t have a lot of fussy ingredients; for example, here’s what’s on the ingredients list for rosemary chickpeatos: chickpeas, olive oil, rosemary, salt, garlic powder. Most of the ingredients are organic.

the not-popped Chickpeatos

Chickpeatos are great by themselves (I know, I tried them all!) but the company that makes them, Watusee, also has great recipes on the blog. How about chickpeatos instead of croutons? How about a recipe to use up the spices and crumbs that remain in the bag when you’re done? Check the blog. They have you covered. Watusee also makes a one-ingredient bread crumb substitute: chickpea crumbs! Anything you would use bread crumbs or panko on, you can use chickpea crumbs. It’s a sneaky way to add a wee bit of protein and fiber to any dish. Watusee also works to fight food insecurity–a huge problem in the United States–by donating products and supporting the Capitol Area Food Bank and D.C. Central Kitchen.

Chickpeatos have some nutritional punch that makes them better than your average chip. One serving has 6g protein and 5g fiber. A case of 12 bags (5 oz, 5 servings per container) purchased directly from Watusee is currently $45. They charge a flat $5 to ship.

 

 

But Wait! There’s More!

Chef Soraya can make my lunch any day–great to stash at work!

I could literally go on for another two blog posts on all the ways I saw chickpeas at Expo West. For example, I haven’t even mentioned hummus yet! Truitt Family Foods is a brand I knew before Expo West, as they were a BlogFest sponsor. I am a huge fan of the Fiesta Chili Lime hummus in go-cups (which I eat completely, then rinse the container to recycle it). Technically that flavor isn’t a chickpea product (the base is white beans and Greek yogurt, but the go-cups don’t require refrigeration), but I love it so much I had to mention it. I also visited Hope Foods, who I first met at Expo West last year and have subsequently seen at various race expos. If you haven’t tried the coconut curry hummus (or the frozen dessert hummus–yes! it’s a think!), try them at your first opportunity. Their booth always has so much energy, and they make all sorts of unusual flavors (lemon peppercorn, kale pesto, spicy avocado, to name a few).

Lilly’s hummus to go packs

This year I tried Lilly’s Hummus for the first time. Super smooth, based in Oregon, what’s not to love? My favorite is the roasted red pepper, and I just learned Lilly used hazelnut briquets (not the nuts, just the shells) to do the roasting. Great re-use of what is otherwise a “waste” product.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hummus Pods are a brilliant way to enjoy hummus warm (and with tidy fingers)

But instead of going on and on, how about a giveaway?

Crunchy chickpeas! (Not in the prize pack, but I had a picture…)

Chickpeas Prize Pack! The prize pack includes a full-sized box of Banza penne, Hippeas swag (tote and buttons), Hippeas 4oz bag in far out fajita, Maya Kaimal chickpea chips in lightly salted flavor, Biena foods chickpeas in sea salt, information on Watuse Chickpeatos and Vana Life Foods, and misc. other Expo West goodies (to fill the box, because partially empty boxes are sad). Again, this prize is NOT sponsored, endorsed, whatever by any of the companies included. There is one Chickpeas Prize Pack. Open to mailing addresses in the United States and Canada only (sorry everyone else, but postage…)

Runner-up Prize Pack! This prize pack will consist of a selection of snacks and goodies from the Expo West show. It’s a pot-luck assortment, and will likely include some exotic chips, nuts, and fruit snacks. Again, there is one Runner-up Prize Pack. Again, open to mailing addresses in the United States and Canada only.

 

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