This major expo with more than 1,800 vendors and over 58,000 attendees confirmed the trend toward food education and activism, but with not quite the star power of the Food Network event. This 30-year-old show is a powerhouse of sights, sounds and product samples that provides an inspiring view of the types of whole foods, supplements and natural health and beauty products that consumers will see appearing in the mainstream soon.

In the food realm, product trends included the following:

  • coconut products: including coconut water, oil, butter, flakes and milk
  • healthy, unprocessed whole-food snack/energy bars
  • unprocessed, whole-food granola and cereals
  • healthy, savory “chip alternative” snacks
  • dried “superfood” fruits and fruit products
  • healthy, whole-grain or grain-alternative pastas and noodles
  • low-sodium soups
  • teas
  • nut butters
  • gluten-free, dairy-free items
  • raw food
  • hummus and alternative healthy dips
  • organic dark chocolates
  • gourmet salts, especially pink Himalayan

One particular education session, the “Future of Wellness,” provided a lively glimpse into three experts’ diverse points of view on what wellness is and how food politics, socioeconomics, cultural biases and marketing science play into it. Again, the experts pulled no punches. Moderated by Anna Soref, editor of Natural Foods Merchandiser magazine, the session unearthed these candid views from the panel:

Luis N. Pacheco, MD, FAAFP, is board-certified in family medicine, the former director of predoctoral education for the department of family medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a well-known physician in the U.S. Hispanic community. Regarding the new USDA Food Pyramid, Pachecho said: “I can’t even figure that thing out. The average person is not going to be able to figure out what it means. Rather than saying, ‘Decrease your overall cholesterol intake,’ they should be saying simply, ‘ Eat less red meat.’ At the federal level we have a major problem where the USDA—which is giving us our dietary recommendations—has a conflict of interests. Their main job is to increase the agribusiness and the beef production in this country. And they’re giving us the food recommendations? That makes no sense. I’m not saying get rid of the Food Pyramid, but make it understandable for the average person. They purposely worded it in a very vague and technical way except for the products that they wanted to push. That’s my beef with the food pyramid and the new guidelines (no pun intended).”

Robyn O’Brien, MBA, author of The Unhealthy Truth, who is also known as the food world’s Erin Brockovich and whose website, www.allergykids.com, documents her journey from ignorance to outspoken activism on kids’ food issues, had this to say about transparency in the U.S. food system: “What we all need to remember in this capitalist system we’ve inherited is that companies have responsibilities to their shareholders. Every decision they make is made to drive shareholder value. So if that means using artificial, synthetic ingredients and that helps reduce production costs, then they’re going to do it. Transparency is far beyond the food label. Transparency is in the relationships, whether they’re with federal legislators or doctors in the scientific community. Once we see that in the context of the relationship corporations have with shareholders, then we, the 300 million stakeholders in the food supply, can collectively lend our talents and our voices to creating change.

“A lot of people ask, ‘Should we wait for legislation? Should we wait for regulation?’ But we don’t need to. In other countries, companies are formulating their products differently to not contain synthetic ingredients; to not contain genetically modified ingredients—and they’ve done that in response to consumer demand. Americans like to eat. We are 300 million eaters strong. We can drive that same demand here. [Corporations] simply need to hear from us.”

Alex Bogusky, founding partner of the advertising agency Crispin Porter and Bogusky, commented on First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign: “The name shows that it’s [misguided]. Let’s Move? Really? That’s the issue? Look at the history of illness with our children. It isn’t that we suddenly have children that don’t move—I was the laziest kid ever. It’s that we have crap food in the system and it’s making them sick. On top of that they may be moving less, too. But that name really upsets me for the program.”

O’Brien layered a thought onto Bogusky’s: “I agree with everything Alex has said, but I also recognize that we are in an incredibly politically charged system and that a lot of our leaders have come to office on the bank accounts of the big food industry, big ag and big oil—that’s how our system works. It’s a system that’s broken and it speaks to the incredible importance of each and every individual to lend their talents to creating the solution that we want to see.”

What are your thoughts on these issues? What are you doing to lend your talents to the solution? What are your biggest challenges?