In Search Of “Natural” Food

Attending the Natural Products Expo East, you might wonder about the definition of “natural food.” Products from ice cream and gelato to whole grains (yes, Bob’s Red Mill was there), to soda, barbeque sauce and candy were on display.

I understand that there is no officially accepted definition of “natural,” as there is for “organic,” so the companies exhibiting at the Baltimore Convention Center are free to claim the descriptor at will. And they do! Unlike the Fancy Food Show, where an air of damn-the-calories decadence dominates, most exhibitors at NPEE want to sell you on a health angle. If that healthy product happens to be super-premium ice cream, so be it!

I had a good time, of course, because the show involved eating, and some of my favorite products were there to try. Bruce Cost Ginger Ale was showcasing their 66-calorie product, called, appropriately, “66.” It uses monk fruit to replace some of the sweetener in their full-cane-sugar ginger ale. Now, I would call that both natural and delicious.

And speaking of drinks, Honest Tea was there, pushing not only tea but a book. The founders, Seth Goldman and Barry J. Nalebuff, talked engagingly about the growth of their business from five thermoses into a 100-million bottles-a-year behemoth. Their social mission has survived from founding in Seth’s Bethesda kitchen to being sold to Coca-Cola in 2011.

Honest Tea's Goldman and Nalebuff

Honest Tea’s Goldman and Nalebuff

Their book, Mission In A Bottle, tells all about it. Tea is real. Tea is in earnest.

That brass band from Bob’s Red Mill was there again. So was Bob. It was nice chatting with him again, and marveling at the large variety of grains on display. Stores never carry the full range of Bob’s products, so seeing them all at once is awesome. And definitely natural!

Bob's Band

Bob’s Band

Bob's Products

Bob’s Products

And as for the frozen treats, the friendly folks at Gelato Fiasco were spooning a delicious sampling of their exotic flavors. It’s always good to chat and taste with them!

Fiasco Folks

Fiasco Folks

And just down the aisle, I was stopped in my tracks by the Gifford’s Ice Cream booth. Could it be the locally famous company which sold the Washington, DC area’s best ice cream back in the Twentieth Century, and had a brief revival in the Twenty-Oughts? Yes and no, and it’s complicated: the folks at the show are a dairy-owning family named Gifford who have been making and selling ice cream sporadically in New England since the late 1800’s, but not under their own name. When Gifford’s of Washington went out of business in 2011, the Giffords of Maine bought the name and trademark.

And how is their product? Well, it can’t match the memory of ice cream parlors with twisted wire chairs, a marble counter and individual pitchers of hot fudge for the sundaes, but it’s pretty darned good. Indeed, it has won prizes at the World Dairy Expo and other events, so it must be superior. And all-natural flavors – there’s that word again!

ISO The Gifford's Of My Youth

ISO The Gifford’s Of My Youth

There were some folks from the heartland (North Carolina, that is), who brought their grits, cornmeal, and whole-wheat flour to the show. Bear Branch Milling Company’s slogan is “A Man Full of Grits is a Man Full of Peace.” Still, they looked rather on the fierce side – like peaceful bears, maybe.

Bears Full of Grits

Bears Full of Grits

The Montanans had a display similar to the one last year, and were just as friendly. But, wait, olive oil grown in Montana? Well, no, imported, actually; but value-added with flavors in the Big Sky State. And all-natural, of course.

Made In Montana

Made In Montana

And lastly, Marisa McClellan was signing copies of her book, Food in Jars. The latest proof of the old maxim, “everything old is new again.”  Canning, as a way of preserving food: something my grandmother would recognize.

Marisa and Book

Marisa and Book

It’s an eclectic show. There are household, heath-related, and cosmetic products as well as food, filling the Baltimore Convention Center every year – a one-stop shop for retailers, who can find products to fill their store shelves which consumers can feel good about using.

About Judy

I have been cooking and eating all my life. I help run the Olney Farmers and Artists Market in Olney, Maryland, arrange their weekly chef demos and blog from that website (olneyfarmersmarket.org) on Market matters. This personal blog is for all things foodie: cookbooks, products, restaurants, eating.
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