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Juice in the Raw

1060 J Street, East Village




Washington may declare that the recession is over, but don’t tell that to Chad and his cousins at Market 32. They’ve had to close the doors on their original, very green idea. These guys from Yuma tried to make a go of a little farmers’ market at Tenth and Island, a place where you could also get sandwich lunches. Me, I came down for an apple and a sandwich, something healthy on the gut for once. Only to read the sad news in a letter to customers on the glass doors.

Dang. Feel bad for them. Plus, now I’ve gotta find some other healthy way to have lunch in Ballparkland. No hot dogs, puh-leez. I’m gunked out. I wander down Tenth and turn onto J. See three lime-green paddles hanging from the mesh sidewalk canopy. Each of the paddles has a few words painted on it: something about “Reflex. Rom.” “Club Motivate.” “Minutes of your day.” I look through the smoky glass, see a couple of exotic-looking exercise machines. Obviously this is some kind of health club. At this western end of the biz, there’s a kind of juice bar, to rehydrate you, I guess, after your 20 minutes’ sweat. It’s straight out of Star Trek — all white walls with a lime-green counter and way-cool black stools, little black tables, and oxygen-dispenser machines, looks like.

Then I notice a small sign: “Juice In The Raw.” And next to that, Scotch-taped to the window: “The Ultimate Meal Smoothie®.” A registered trademark. Huh. So, somebody thinks this is The Next Big Thing.

“The Ultimate Meal® has every nutrient necessary for optimum health…” says the densely printed infosheet. We’re talking 350 calories, 5200 international units of beta-carotene, lots of magnesium, calcium, omega, 3780 grams of potassium, on and on. And the Santa Barbara manufacturers say it’s also free of yeast-based vitamins, MSG, salt, wheat, corn, eggs, dairy products, sugar, artificial preservatives…could this be the perfect food?

I’m suspicious when food comes from powdered this and dehydrated that, but you never know. It’s the word “meal” that hooks me. So I poke my head in. Guy with a rasta-type ponytail is waiting behind the counter. Gabriel.

“Is one of these really enough for a meal for a hungry feller?” I ask.

“Oh, sure,” he says. “You have to practically eat this, and it’s got all of the good stuff you need and none of the bad stuff you’d have at fast-food places. Want to try it?”

“Combo Special,” reads a menu page on the countertop. “Add a WildBar™ and blast your antioxidants out of the park. Only $12.18 plus tax.”

Well, not cheap, but since it’s gonna be blasting my antioxidants out of the park...

I watch while Gabriel starts filling a blender with this mix from a round cardboard canister. Stuff is called “Ultimate Meal® All Day Energy Greens™.” He adds a big gloop of almond butter, hemp protein, bee pollen, ground chia seeds. He cuts up an apple into four pieces and tosses them in, gets chunks of frozen blueberries and banana and I lose track of what-all else, then sets the concoction a-whirring and finally pours it into a tall white-and-green “Club Motivate” plastic glass. He plunges a fat straw into the glass, then points to a small display case below the counter. “Now, just find whichever WildBar™ you want.”

I take a suck on the smoothie. Mmm. Looks like a deep, green swamp. Tastes of grass, nuts, that apple. It’s thick. You almost have to chew your cheeks to draw. I check out the WildBar™ Gabriel handed me (it was between “Mountain Mint” and “Mayan Spice” — I went Mayan). “On the entire Planet earth,” the wrapper blurb says, “there is one nutrient-rich superfood, so rare and so wild that it can only be harvested from renowned Klamath Lake for a few short weeks per year: Ancient Sun® wild blue green algae (Crystal Manna™ and Blue Manna™). Combined with other choice superfoods, and synergized with raw cacao, WildBar™ is the ultimate meal….”

None of this trademarked spiel makes me a believer, but what does is Gabriel. “This is the most nutrient-dense food you can eat,” he says when I ask again if it will fill me up. (Hey, priorities: full GutEB first, Blue Manna™ second, right?) “Everything is organic, and raw,” he says. “That keeps the enzymes alive and helps you digest and...”

Wow. I recognize this sermon. It turns out that Gabriel began his working life (at age 17) down in Chula Vista, at Cilantro Live! — Christina Guzman’s valiant attempt to get the world to eat raw.

A tanned gent in a blue shirt and light-brown pants comes out of the office behind us. This is his baby. Fitness for busy execs and condoïstas. “I used to have a software company,” he says. “Car-leasing software. LeaseLink. But 9/11 took care of that. In the aftermath, the car manufacturers were so desperate, they started selling cars at zero percent interest. Zapped leasing. Plus, I got to a state of health where I had to do something about my fitness. So I decided to make a business of it. I ended up buying these $15,000 machines that pretty much exercise you, so 15 minutes is all you need per day. And I was determined that this juice bar be all-natural, organic, and raw. No chemicals. No-sugar-added ingredients. I drink two of what you’re having every day. I took 40 years to mess this body up: now, at 55, I’m bringing it back.”

Uh, the machines exercise you? At least one of them does. Seems you just stand on the “Reflex” machine while it vibrates you through the feet, “expanding and contracting all major muscle groups of the body.” That’s what the blurb claims.

Of course, with this economy, Mark’s having difficulty hanging in here, too. Hope he makes it. ’Cause I come out full of algae and raw cacao and bee pollen and almonds and hemp, and, yes, I do feel, well, not bloated but nourished. And maybe it’s imagination, but, even without the vibrating-foot treatment, there’s a pep in ye olde step. Message to Washington, D.C.: Forget banks. Send money to East Village. The health of the nation is at stake.

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