The really weird and delicious world of the Natural Products Expo East

If you're headed to Camden Yards this weekend, make sure you take a walk by the Convention Center and avail yourself of a few free samples of natural snack, brought to you by vendors in town for Natural Products Expo East, the largest gathering of natural food, home, and personal care products on the east coast. You can take a couple of samples, but I was lucky enough to get a personal tour of the place on Thursday afternoon with Jeff Wright, President of the Natural Products Association, one of the main sponsors of this week's gathering of over 24,000 distributors, producers, buyers, trendspotters, and yes, dreamers hoping to get their non-GMO soy-based gluten-free potato chip substitute discovered by eager investors.Our tour happily started in the New Products room where Jeff patiently watched me try out the Squatty Potty, a step stool you place in front of the toilet to prop up your hips, I think for a deeper and ostensibly healthier shit before moving on to ask a whole lot of questions about a new organic lube. I tried coffee made from coconuts, water harvested from the inside of maple trees, taco meat that used to be bread, "rice" and "noodles" made almost entirely of water with a hint of plant cellulose to hold the water together, and several new organic tumeric drinks, beet drinks, and a whole bunch of teas and tonics.Our next stop was in home and personal care, where I met Gail Hekkemen, whose line of organic beauty products, called "Sow Good," have been organic since the 1960s. She regaled us with stories of their Clean Room that keeps even a single bacteria out of their lotions and trumpeted her product line's scent layering possibilities--why shampoo with one scent, wash with another, and then put on an entirely different perfume?Gail filled my bag with samples and encouraged me to come back all weekend for more. Jeff gave me some more details about the NPA's many certification programs and completely convinced me that if had a natural product to sell, I'd start by joining his group, if only to make the pit stop list next time he travels around with a journalist. It was time for me to bid my farewell and wander aimlessly through the food wing, picking up even more samples, which I did, happy to learn the Expo will be back in Baltimore in perpetuity. It isn't open to the public, though, so I suggest getting yourself in the business of either natural products or press. If that doesn't work, check out your local health food store. There's some really weird and delicious stuff coming down the pike.

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