October 17, 2010
Out there again this week, riding on a smile and shoeshine, I attended Expo East, which is the East Coast trade show for the Organic Trade Association in Boston. It was my second trade show this year, and like the first one, I was hot on the trail of swag. However, while swag at BIO involves stuff like free USB drives, notepads and the occasional stuffed e-coli plush toy, swag at OTA is mostly consumable. There’s chicken teriyaki, freshly fried up, all the yogurt you could want in every possible form, reconstituted freeze dried fruit, spices and squid, chocolate covered nuts, beans and barley and all kinds of nut butters and healthy snacks. Lots to drink, too. Everybody and his uncle has started a company selling coconut water. And then there’s the flavored fish oil which comes in both mango and creamsicle, the anti-oxidant rich elixirs like Dr. Whoosits tonic-seed, non-GMO, no-high-fructose corn sweetener, gluten-free with extra-added-hyphenated-ingredients. If you are not careful, you can consume enough flaxseed oil and secret Asian health ingredients to either keep you bound up for a week or alternatively confined to the facilities until all the potions finally finish working their magic and your system has been thoroughly cleaned of poisons, toxins and other ineffable nasties, (probably like the extra extra electrolytes and vitamins you may have consumed in the special performance enhancing jelly beans you got at another booth).
And as Dave Barry says, folks, I’m not making this up.
Aside from the stuff to put in or on your body, all the booths at this show have tote-bags to give away. I needed one, of course, which turned out to be from a company called “Nordic Naturals” which produces fish oil in a sustainable fashion. Of course, everyone at this show is producing in a sustainable fashion, which, of course, is why they are giving away all those totebags.
Of course, I’m only kidding. These totebags are all made either from organic cotton, recycled materials or belly-button lint and toe-jam harvested from a co-op of Fair Trade wheatgrass and açaí palmproducers in the Trobriand Islands and imported into the United States in the carry-on luggage of flight attendants on national airlines of non-WTO member countries. So you can feel good about taking these totebags to your local co-op, farmer’s market, health supplement or Whole Foods store, where you will be doing free advertising for Nordic Naturals, Dr. Whoosit or whoever of the 3000 exhibiters at the OTA whose totebag you happen to be schlepping around that day.
I did get one totebag I really liked, though. It was for bird-friendly coffee. It’s approved by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. I support the thought, but I mainly like the bag because it has a cool bird picture on it. And because I’ve tried that bird-aloof coffee (not to mention bird-churlish coffee) and I just can’t stand the bitter aftertaste.
People were friendly, though. When I would mention that I was a philosophy professor working on ethics issues at the Biotechnology Industry Organization trade show in May, people would stare at me open mouthed and slack-jawed. I might as well have told them that I was an açaí palm producer from the Trobriand Islands recruiting flight attendants who could smuggle belly-button lint and toe-jam in their carry-on luggage. I mean really. But at this meeting people were actually interested by the idea that there might be a professor around who was doing food ethics. They were interested, at least, as long as there was no one else to talk to who might actually help them make a buck. I was tempted to mention that if they would just give me a really cool sample, I would tout their product to thousands of eager 18-22 year-olds every year.
But I didn’t.
There’s one way that this meeting and the BIO meeting are remarkably alike, however. At both of these meetings, food sits in second place to healthcare products and applications. OTA is more into food than BIO, but health supplement and cosmetics outfits take up most of the space and get the best locations.
Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University