Regen Ag ingredients, products, supply chains and more at this year’s Natural Products Expo West

At last year’s National Product Expo West, after a two year hiatus due to Covid-19, attendance had been down. I’d guesstimate that attendance last year was down 40% or so. But this year, everything was pretty much back to normal and this was event packed full of vendors and people, very few of whom wore masks.

This year I also had a very specific floor strategy in mind. I was looking for vendors with products and or supply lines that fell into the following overlapping categories:

  • Ingredients and products with regenerative supply chains
  • Minimally processed plant based products with well sourced minimally processed ingredients
  • Ingredients and products sourced and derived from forests and grasslands that didn’t destroy these ecosystems
  • Products that provided solutions for other environmental problems
  • Minimally processed ingredients and products that work within my LCHF dietary pattern

Below, I’m going to briefly go over each of these categories. I will provide an example or two in each category. In forthcoming blogs, I will go over some of these categories separately in more detail. In these forthcoming blogs, I will also provide more examples and details.

The first exhibit area to open this year was the white tent next to the Marriott Hotel. To my surprise this tent had a number of Regenerative Organic Certified [ROC] producers exhibiting their ingredients and or products. They were all easily identified by their ROC plaques they displayed on their tables.

Too often, it seems, people unfamiliar with Regen Ag are under the misimpression that Regen Ag is solely about holistic planned grazing [HPG] or just the production of meat. But Regen Ag really applies to all forms of food production. Regen Ag is an umbrella term that includes a wide array of practices that in terrestrial applications are all about regenerating and restoring soil and ecosystem health that’s been degraded by bad prior land management practices. That’s why these context appropriate practices are regenerative rather than simply sustainable. As Gabe Brown has frequently stated, what’s the point in sustaining a degraded resource?

With that noted, this year’s Expo had regenerative ingredient suppliers and products providing and or using a wide range of items including almonds, cacao, coffee, palm oil, rice, quinoa, Sacha inchi nuts, teas, herbs, etc. Some suppliers and products I was familiar with. Many others were new to me. For example, my friends from Burroughs Family Farms were there discussing their ROC almond orchard, the only existing almond orchard that is currently Regeneratively Organic Certified. So too were several ROC users of their almonds in the White Tent and in the main exhibition hall including nut butter maker The Philosopher’s Stoneground and almond milk maker New Barn Organics

Regenerative organic almond growers eliminate all synthetic fertilizers and pesticides plus improve the health of the soil under the trees through the use of cover crops, and integrated grazers. This also increases soil organic matter which, in turn, improves water infiltration and retention. Thus water use is reduced. Other benefits include increased biodiversity especially of insects and birds.

Once again, most of the plant based products on display were the usual ultra-processed facsimiles of meats, cheese or milk made from industrially sourced and produced isolated proteins, seed oils and numerous other ingredients. So these weren’t in anyway regenerative or even sustainable. These mock meat and dairy items generally were trying to mimic the texture and flavors of the foods these products wanted to replace. Though, there were a few exceptions of plant based products with well sourced ingredients and cleaner labels. These included the just mentioned New Barn’s Unsweetened Almond Milk. (A cleaner label in this instance is a shorter list of more minimally processed recognizable ingredients as well as one excluding industrial seed oils). Several others well sourced plant based options with cleaner labels weren’t trying to be facsimiles. They were instead providing unique flavor profiles. There were a handful of these products scattered across the different exhibition floors including two different kelp based burgers, one from akua and another directly from Atlantic Sea Farms where akua also sources its kelp from.

CHi Foods‘ ingredients label still included high oleic organic sunflower oil, though aside from that ingredient I’d normally avoid, its plant based pork products also had clean labels with well sourced ingredients including organic protein from Sacha inchi nuts grown in dynamic agroforestry systems in Southeast Asia. Sacha inchi nuts can grow in the oxalic (acidic) soils common to tropical rain forests. So they don’t require land to be clear and soil to be limed and treated with phosphate like what’s needed for soya. Though Sacha inchi nuts have a similar amino acid profile of soya. Sacha inchi nuts’ oil also has a very good Omega 3 to 6 fatty acid ratio.

So CHi Foods was also one of a number of food products providing income and livelihood to people in rain forest or grasslands ecosystems that not only don’t destroy but help to regenerate those ecosystems. Some other products included in this category were chocolate (cacao) from Dr. Bronner’s and Alter Eco, baraku nuts and fruit from Barukas trees grown in the Cerrado, Sacha inchi proteins and oils from Starseed, bison from Force of Nature Meats and palm oil from Palm Done Right. All of these products could also be grouped in my first category of Regen Ag products and/or supply chains.

And that’s the thing, the way you preserve such places is not by roping them off from all uses and treating every single acre like it’s some mythical land that should have never been touched by mankind. Rain forests like the Amazon, as research indicates, were actually food forests created and nurtured by man. Indigenous people also used fire to maintain open grasslands after the large megafauna that made savannas went extinct. Regenerated and sustained land in such regenerative Ag systems can be shared with other wildlife even where livestock are also part of these systems. This is especially true with dynamic agroforestry systems producing palm oil, coconuts, cacao, coffee, acai, Yerba mate, Brazil nuts, rubber, bananas, and a myriad of other items including nutraceutical ingredients. Many of these agroforestry system occur on land that had been previously cleared and abandoned for industrial or other forms of degenerative agriculture.

So there’s nothing intrinsically “bad” or “good” about any of these foods even palm oil. The real issue with any food is the system of production. Therefore, we need to stop demonizing foods and focus on the best methods of production whether that’s for producing rice, beef, quinoa, coffee, etc.  

A few other items that also addressed environmental issues and concerns that you didn’t eat or drink were also on display from several suppliers. These included one company Bagito recycling single use plastic salvaged from the ocean for a wide variety of re-usable bags, and utensils. Another product on display from several vendors (who gives a crap, reel, and caboo) was toilet paper made from bamboo. One of many advantages of bamboo toilet paper over conventional toilet paper is that bamboo is a very fast growing grass unlike the trees traditionally used for toilet paper. Bamboo also requires a lot less water than the trees used for conventional toilet paper. According to one source, assuming half the world is using conventional toilet paper, nearly two million trees are cut down daily just to meet the global demand for toilet paper. Both of these brands of toilet paper can be purchase online via Amazon along with a number of other bamboo toilet paper brands

Finally, my last category is always somewhat ironic for me at this Expo. Why? I almost exclusively eat fresh whole foods and do 90 to 95% of my own cooking. So I rarely eat any consumer packaged goods and pretty much never eat any ultra-processed food. And even though this expo uses the word “Natural” in its title, the majority of the food products at this show I’d never put in my mouth. This is especially true of many of the “plant based” products using a green halo. Most of these are just more ultra-processed garbage, horrible for one’s health, and horrible for the environment. On a more specific note, what I put in my mouth is further restricted by blood sugar issues and my propensity to form kidney stones. So I also eat a very low carb and low oxalate diet.

With that noted, I did find a few interesting items that I wasn’t aware of like cauliflower gnocchi and a few vendors (Caloless and Miracle Noodle) making various kinds of pasta out of Konjac plant powder. On a low carb diet, I really miss pasta, ramen, udon, pho and other noodles that use to be my go to comfort foods. To get over some of this longing, I’ve had shirataki noodles plenty of times before. But shirataki noodles don’t really have the bite or texture of traditional pasta like these other vendors’ pasta did. Another interesting item was probiotic kombucha salad dressings by Biora. So instead of or in addition to drinking kombucha, you could also pour these dressings on your salad greens to add a few more microbes to your gut flora. One last category with a lot of products was boosted zero calorie sparkling water and other liquid or powder supplements to add to drinking water. I often get bored drinking just water, so having these products available as an option or change of pace is greatly appreciated even if all the boosting claims have no real basis in science.

Like I noted , I’m going to go into some of these categories in a bit more detail in another blog or two so for now that’s my quick summary of this year’s Expo. Above are a few of the products in the categories that I was looking for that stood out from all the other products at this event.

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