Just back from a few days in New York where, among other things, I drank (or tried to) some of the most horrible-tasting things that have - surely - ever come to market. But they were in the name of health, and - following the metric that if it tastes horrible it's got to be good for you, I decided to try them. I think I thought that if it's being sold in cute packaging for $10 a pop they'll find a way to sneak some sugar or no, agave or local Manhattan bee honey, or Connecticut sap, into it to make it just a little fun. In a world saturated with health-food that's clearly not healthy (like those protein balls that are really just dates and chocolate rolled together, or Atkins bars made primarily of chemicals and glycerol), I just couldn't believe that these things too - billed as they were as Booster or Gravity or Solar and so on - wouldn't also be secretly consumer-friendly, i.e., sweet and/or good.
I was wrong. Consumerism in New York - always at the forefront when it comes to things people can shove in their mouths - is now so developed that customers have passed from wanting pleasure, to wanting its opposite. Or, suppliers have anticipated that - sated on what tastes nice - New Yorkers are ready for what hurts. The credo of no pain no gain - usually adopted in exercise regimes and the restriction of food in diets - has now landed on the food itself. Yuck.
My first taste of the new climate of consumer de-sovereignty (after all, would a consumer who was king really buy something this horrible?) took the form of a really sexy bottle with a really sexy - minimalistic - label in a really sexy shop that advertised its wares as raw, gluten, soy and everything else free. I marvelled at the raw coconut pie and the raw granola and the mandatory kale. Then I moved to the drinks....they all had Himalayan salt, lemon, myrtle and mint in them. Sounds good, I thought - no sugar, or any of its healthier substitutes, either. I bought one at $6 and while I like to feel that I'm being healthy, and will drink down almost anything in a neatly packaged refrigerated bottle, I was stopped in my tracks after two gulps by the strong sense that I was drinking soap. The liquid was simply not of the kind or type that constitutes the edible. It also, weirdly, managed to taste like the colour brown. Minty brown soap. I hastily switched to a Diet Coke, but later - parched as I trooped through lower Manhattan - I had no choice but to give it another go. I downed it, and that experience forced on me the expression of someone who has just drunk something so gross - cod liver oil, for instance - that regurgitation, or at least a gag or two, are real possibilities. My eyes watered, my mouth drew apart at both ends.
Later, curious about just how bad it could be, but also - secretly - on the lookout for a brew that would transform me suddenly into a sparkly paragon of slim health, I strolled into a store advertising "cold-pressed" juice. Its bottles were also in a trendy rectangular shape with a Dr Hauschka-style labelling thing going on: white background, lots of black letters. I found one with no sugar, called Gravity. It was green though somewhat translucent since, as the Lithuanian-born shop girl said, cold press means the bulk of it settles to the bottom. This bulk was something called algae-c, something very very healthy from Oregon. There was also kale (natch), celery, myrtle (again!), lemon, mint and (again!) Himalayan salt.
It cost $11.
Reader, I bought the Gravity.
And, for my money and for the sheer promise of drinking kale and algae, I was motivated to finish it.
At first, it tasted like salad dressed with lemon juice alone.
That was ok. But then you don't drink salad undressed with anything other than acid.
My mouth soon caught on to this and staged its revolt. The image of lemony kale leaves marching down my throat, heading straight to my system without the trouble of having to be broken down (as the Lithuanian girl promised) produced a strange simultaneity of self-congratulation and utter revulsion. Worried I'd gag or maybe barf in public, I stopped at half way and put the rest of the drink in my friend's fridge. She's a New Yorker so maybe she can handle these things. As of yet, I am not evolved enough to do so. Chocolate milk, please.