Every year when I go to Anaheim, California, for Natural Products Expo West, I have a ritual: I rent a car (this year I got a cute white VW Beetle), turn on K-ROCK (106.7) real loud, get on the highway, and drive. At first, I get that happy California feeling of sunshine and palm trees. But halfway there I start to get a "smog-ache," which is a slight headache accompanied by the tingling of my upper lip that tells me I am being exposed to something Not Good. And I realize--in the middle of eight lanes of traffic--that this life out here is a little out of control and unsustainable.
As if to confirm my fear, during Expo West, we all watched the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami (followed by the meltdowns) hitting Japan, wiping out thousands of lives and any sense that our way of life is a certainty.
Meanwhile, back at the Expo, the movement to save humanity through organic food, healthy living, and alternative energy seems to be gaining momentum. And the leaders convened en masse to unite against our common foe: the deep-pocketed, morally deprived, and bullying toxic-chemical companies.
This year I brought a newbie, an Expo virgin! He's the new general manager of Rodale.com, who spent his whole previous career in the newspaper business. What was his reaction? "Everyone looks so happy!" Even he was starting to look happy. And he also remarked that the show was bigger than the Detroit car show. Imagine that! Instead of cars, the halls were filled with yummy organic food and icons of the industry--from elders like Bob from Bob's Red Mill to the rocking and rapping Gary Hirschberg, CE-Yo of Stonyfield. I even got to meet "Dr." Bronner, the third. Laurie David and Marilu Henner came to the big gala dinner, and Alicia Silverstone came to our party for Organic Gardening. Unfortunately, I missed seeing the awesome Jillian Michaels (who is a big fan of my book), and--DANG IT ALL TO HECK--I missed FABIO! Apparently, he has a protein powder "made from nature."
What made me happiest wasn't any new thing (although, Organic Valley wins the best overall booth award because of their summer sausage and because of the two full mugs of hot organic coffee they gave me when I needed it most). What made me happiest was hearing all the talk of uniting and fighting together to protect the integrity of organic and defend ourselves from toxic chemical attack. It was clear that this is a strong, growing, powerful, and united industry that has finally found its voice and learned how to prioritize the issues.
And yes, we are a happy bunch. Maybe that's one of the side effects of living an organic life, one that is much better than all those side effects they list on those pharma ads! But also, we are happy because there is no substitute for a feeling in your soul that you are doing all you can to make a positive difference in the world. And that the food you eat doesn't just feed your body, it also cultivates health and joy, from when it's a seed in rich, organic soil to when it goes back to the compost pile to be recycled and feed the next generation of seeds.
As Japan shows us, nature is the ultimate force, and will always win in the end. It's up to us to work with nature. We might try to pretend it doesn't exist. But nature always has unusual ways of reminding us. It's always better to respect it.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.