I’m in California: Part deux

April 8, 2014 • 6:14 am

Some people call Davis, California “The People’s Republic of Davis” because of its atmosphere as a refuge for hippies and New Agers. And indeed, it’s one of those places, like Portland, Oregon and Berkeley, California, that I’ve always thought should be declared “Natural Cultural Preserves,” where in many ways life goes on as it did half a century ago. There are lots of things organic, and people in tie-dyed shirts and Birkenstocks. But don’t get me wrong—I love it here: it’s an oasis of liberalism in California’s Central Valley, and is full of greenery and pleasant people.

When I was a postdoc here in the early 80s, my parents came to visit me, and, thinking I’d give them a taste of the local atmosphere, took them for breakfast to a cafe (now long gone) called The Blue Mango, where all the food was organic, natural, and right-on.  My father ordered coffee, and, as usual, wanted it with ample lashings of cream and sugar. When he asked for sugar, the server fixed him with a disapproving eye and said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t serve White Death here.” (“White Death” was, of course, the politically correct term for sugar.) But the server suggested that they might be able to dig up some honey in the back. My father of course refused, and for the first time in his life went without sweetener in his coffee.

Without a doubt, the Ground Zero of vestigial hippiness in Davis is the Food Coop, which has been here since the 1970s. There one can see ageing hippies living their lives must as they have decades ago. But, I have to admit, there’s a lot of good food there as well, though it’s overpriced.  And, wandering the aisles last night with my friend Phil, who was purchasing noms for breakfast, I found a whole section on—yes—HOMEOPATHIC remedies. Phil took this photo with his camera phone (which he doesn’t know how to use). Homeopathic EMF  (electromagnetic field) remedy! Detoxes you from your computers and cellphones!


It always amazes me (and I found this in Whole Foods in Chicago as well), that stores devoted to healthy eating and wholesome lifestyles carry what is in effect overpriced water: concoctions that are not only absolutely useless for health (unless you’re dying of thirst), but can actually harm your health if you take them in lieu of regular medicine.

The nostrum above seems to be of the relatively harmless variety, but I chose it for the photo up because of the “EMF” designation.  Still, selling it is still scamming the customers. I looked it up, and it turns out to be. . . well, see the ad from Amazon below.

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 5.56.49 AM

Here’s a close-up of the label, also from the Amazon ad. Note that it’s not only “homeopathic”, but “Scientifically Tested*”. I’d love to see what the asterisk led to, but I missed that in the store. And, it’s “Doctor Formulated” (I wonder what kind of doctor):

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 5.56.33 AM

I see that it’s also 40 proof in “organic alcohol” (is there any other kind?), so I guess if you drank enough of it you’d experience some euphoric effects.

Note to Davis Food Coop: could you PLEASE stop scamming your customers by selling them things that purport to cure you or help you but really don’t? How can you hold your head up in organic pride yet ask your customers to fork out serious money for water with a fancy and misleading label? Do you also sell copper bracelets?




74 thoughts on “I’m in California: Part deux

  1. It always amazes me (and I found this in Whole Foods in Chicago as well), that stores devoted to healthy eating and wholesome lifestyles carry what is in effect overpriced water

    I imagine that the people at Evian (and similar) are probably a bit miffed about the success of homeopathy too. Here they thought they were doing well selling basically tap water for a few bucks a gallon. That’s about a hundred-fold markup over cost. Then these homeopaths come along and sell it for a few bucks an ounce! They make the bottled water companies look like chumps. 🙂

    1. The really funny thing for me about Evian is that taste-wise it pretty much sucks. It tastes and smells just like the water out of my tap, and that is not a good thing considering the quality of the tap water around here.

      At least many of the other fancy bottled waters, like San Pellegrino for example, taste much better than my tap water.

      1. I bet if you ran your water through a charcoal filter, it would taste pretty much the same. 🙂 I have a well so my water tastes pretty good. In the summer, the chlorine taste of city water is horrible! It’s like a swimming pool if there is an algae bloom.

        1. My fridge water dispenser system has a good filter. All of our drinking water comes out of it. Tastes great.

    2. My mother won’t drink any other kind of water.

      I tried getting her a Bobble but she didn’t go for it.

  2. At first, I read that label as “Botox” and thought, wow they sell botox off the shelf in California? I thought that would be weird for hippies to want to inject themselves with a deadly toxin that can cause botulism.

    When I was in California last, I saw a lot of people that looked like they came there in the 70s & got lost so just stayed there and didn’t change at all.

    1. I have no doubt that homeopathic botulinum is on the market is on the market somewhere. It’s likely been proved for excessive close-mouthedness…

      Hopefully it’s a 30X or more dilution!

    2. “I saw a lot of people that looked like they came there in the 70s & got lost so just stayed there and didn’t change at all.”

      You say that like it’s a bad thing.

        1. My winter field coat is still an army surplus snorkel parka I got in Ithaca NY in the early 70’s…

  3. Hilarious post! As a vegan, I have a love/hate relationship with most health food stores, especially Whole Foods.

    Besides this, it’s often frustrating dealing with other vegans, who too often are anti-vaccine, anti-GMO, anti-science, or are into “quantum” mysticism, or homeopathy, or endless “detoxing” from something or other. Increasingly, some are turning to rawfoodism because they believed cooked food is “poison”. Not surprisingly, this movement’s epicenter is in California.

    While not all hippies are vegans or rawfoodists, a lot of them are. I hate seeing products like the one you are showing at health food stores. What a scam!

    Still, I tend to feel at home in the liberal, free-spirited atmosphere of hippie-villes, even with the miasma of pseudo-science I have to endure.

    1. “Still, I tend to feel at home in the liberal, free-spirited atmosphere of hippie-villes, even with the miasma of pseudo-science I have to endure.”

      Yep. Cognitive dissonance I can identify with.

  4. A bad part of me keeps whispering in my ears that if someone’s glum enough to believe they need EMF detox then they deserve to get fleeced.

    1. Informed consent is one thing, but this borders on not being that due to the scientific illiteracy involved.

      Someone should point out to these folks that if an EMF detox really worked, it would leave them brain dead.

    2. Oops – lost in translation. Where I’m from glum isn’t necessarily used to describe a state of melancholy – or at least that’s not what my wife means when she accuses of being a bit slow on the uptake.

  5. I had a look around to see if I could find out what they meant with the little ‘*’ next to scientifically tested. I did not get an answer. I did find out about “Neohomeopathy” which is something I never knew existed.

    1. Half the fun is inventing new words. Woosters invent more new words per unit of time, by at least one order of magnitude, than any other people.

  6. It could very well be scientifically tested, I don’t doubt that at all.

    They didn’t say what the results of the tests were did they?

  7. It is easy to think of the extreme right as anti-science. It’s good to be reminded now and then that the extreme left can also be anti-science, although the extreme left might not deny evolution or the big bang.

    1. African-Americans tend to be politically liberal and religiously conservative. Black Americans overwhelmingly vote for the Democrats, but they are also more likely than whites to be regular church-goers (conservative denominations like Baptists, rather than, say, Unitarians), to believe in “speaking in tongues” and other nonsense, to oppose gay marriage and to reject evolution. The one major issue where they part company with their White co-religionists is abortion; a Black Baptist is far more likely to be pro-choice than a White one.

      The issues of “Right” vs. “Left” can be more complicated than they look at first glance.

  8. That and crystal suppositories.
    Marking capitalizes on people’s credulity. I don’t think its goal is to protect people from themselves, but rather just take their money. Caveat emptor!

      1. If a young person were a fan of almost impossible to test hypothesis with frustratingly ambiguous results they would be hard pressed to decide whether to become an economist or a diet researcher.

  9. Do you also sell copper bracelets?

    They would be as likely to sell copper bracelets in Whole Foods as a grocery store in the Bible Belt would be likely to sell Bibles. Meaning yes. “Spirituality” is simply a diffused form of religion and it’s just as firmly based on supernaturalism and tribalism as the more traditional kind.

    Too often healthy eating is justified through a larger world view which sees Nature as a mystical, benevolent Romantic force. The “natural” promotes “wellness” — and is framed in opposition to the evils of Materialism, which includes corporations and the artificial. Science goes in that latter group.

    I have friends who are as deeply imbedded in environmentalism as they are in alternative medicine and they absolutely see this coupling as reflecting a coherent, consistent philosophy. No pesticides on your vegetables is just like no chemicals in your medicine. It’s Back to Nature.

    1. This is so completely true. For many people the various ‘environment friendly’ things they do are merely a kind of Mishnah for an environmental religion, the point of which is more to identify in group and out group members of this religious tribe than to accomplish anything useful in the real world. One finds that any kind of analysis of the tradeoffs inherent in various micro-choices is unwelcome (e.g. bring your own cup and wash with hot water vs using a paper cup, paper vs plastic, etc.) because those choices are not about actually using less energy, having a smaller impact on our environment, being sustainable or any other concrete goal, but about aligning oneself with, as you call it, this benevolent Romantic force “Nature”.

      1. The micro-choices, as you call them, are also about signaling to the group that you’re ‘one of them.’

        A few years ago somebody wrote an excellent article in the Skeptical Inquirer on the problem with the environmental movement getting entangled with woo. The pseudoscience and spiritual metaphysics was interfering with the public’s ability to assess, trust, and accept some of the solid science behind many of the conservation efforts.

        No kidding. When “alternative energy” means both “solar and wind power” AND “vitalistic human energy fields manipulated by intentional magic” then it’s going to be hard to take anything coming out of this group seriously. Which is a huge problem.

      1. Years ago in Oz, H.G. Nelson was reading out an article saying that a particular football team was only going to eat organic from now on and Rampaging Roy Slaven replied ‘What have they been eating up til now? Metal?’.

  10. Counteracts the ill effects of radiation from cell phones…

    Now all we need is something to counteract the ill effects of shoddy epidemiological studies that suggested there were any such ill effects in the first place…

      1. Also proven conclusively to severely degrade SA. This is especially dangerous when combined with a degradation in manners.

    1. Rather than buy expensive water to counteract the effects of cellphone EMF exposure, why not avoid the exposure in the first place? Just wrap your cellphone in several layers of aluminum foil.

  11. So what’s the active ingredient? Presumably, since “like cures like” it would be something like radium. I imagine that for a really “effective” homeopathic remedy they could scrape enough off the dial of an old watch (I don’t think they use radium paint any more!) and have enough for a world supply of their “medicine” for the forseeable future. And fortunately, since water retains the “memory” of active ingredients you’d be very unlikely to come across even a single radium atom and so the remedy would be harmless!

    1. It should be easier than that. The “like” is electricity itself. Hook some wires up to a battery and stick them in each bottle for a few moments. Presto! EMF remedy.

  12. I’m a member of the Davis Food Co-op, and the issue of homeopathic products was recently brought up before the board… And, they punted. The Co-op sells homeopathic products because it is something that a large portion of its members want it to carry.

    This is the same line they use when the hippies complain about the presence of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and Coke in the store…

    I imagine that many of the people who want the Co-op to carry homeopathic products are the same people who came out in droves when the city council was considering fluoridating the water to oppose it…

    1. I’m an outsider here, but rationality demands that the board take a stand against selling stuff that is either harmful or at best ineffective, and has no science behind its claims. I doubt you’d lose members if you stopped selling this junk. And if a “large portion” of its members thinks this stuff works, you have some education to do. Doesn’t the Co-op have information leaflets or classes or anything?

      And seriously—a “large portion” of its members want homeopathic products? In a college town.

      This is not a criticism of you, but the Co-op should be ashamed that it sells this kind of stuff.

      1. This situation is almost identical at our Co-op here in Milwaukee. Lots of members buy into the woo and it is hard to get a board that represents the membership to be rational when the membership isn’t.

      2. Some members of the board might have been willing to take that chance a couple years ago before Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods showed up to compete with the Co-op, but not now that both of those chains are in downtown Davis.

        I agree that it’s a cop out and weak leadership on the board’s part. A college degree doesn’t mean you’re rational. Plenty of well educated people believe ridiculous stuff… I should look into how they do their classes though! There might be an opportunity to teach a class on pseudoscience to members!

          1. And yet in my local pharmacy the are shelves full of homeopathic remedies. I couldn’t believe it when I first when in there after moving here some 6 years ago.
            However, I do live in between Byron Bay and Nimbin. Byron Bay used to be hippie Central but they can’t afford to live there anymore as it is now backpacker Central and full of expensive accommodation. A lot of them have moved out to Mullumbimby.
            Nimbin though is probably more hippie than anywhere else in Oz. Whenever I go there (not often) I play a game where I count how many times I get offered to buy pot as I walk from one end of town to the other. My highest so far has been 5 times.
            Every year they have an event called Mardi-grass. Some of the items to see are the joint rolling and the largest joint competitions.

    2. I expect the mark up is pretty good too, since the products cost nothing to manufacture (I assume water costs next to nothing in the states).

  13. “Do you also sell copper bracelets?”

    Hey! Let’s just remember that not everyone who wears a copper bracelet thinks it’s some kind of magic, any more than everyone who wears cowboy boots is a redneck. Good fashion choices transcend such misattributions. 😉

  14. The reason stores like Whole Foods and the Davis (and Arcata, etc.)Coops sell products like these is that some of their customers want to buy them. Like all vendors in a capitalist economy they stock what sells, not necessarily what’s good for you. If Whole Foods is to be chided for anything it’s their aggressive anti-GMO campaign. I mostly shop at my local Community Market, which caters to Vegans. They have excellent seasonal fruits and vegetables, many recyclable products,
    eggs laid by pasture raised chickens and the best coffee in town.

    1. Perhaps they should consider a large disclaimer over the entrance to the homeopathic section; something like, “Homeopathic medicine has been scientifically proven in double blind trials to be no more effective than ordinary tap water in curing anything. If you have a medical condition, consult a doctor. We stock homeopathic products to satisfy the demands of our customers. We do not claim any medical benefits from their use.”

      That way they can satisfy their members and customers with a clear conscience.

  15. Oh, if you’re looking for something like the old Blue Mango in Davis, your best bet is going to be Delta of Venus cafe between 1st and 2nd on B Street.

    Plenty of sandal wearing,tie-dyed, patchouli scented folks there!

  16. OK, since it’s 20% ethanol (I hope they use that “organic” alcohol), it isn’t really just water. It’s sort of weak vodka. Personally, I prefer Russian Standard, and it’s a lot less expensive!

    And as for the belief that “natural” is harmless, when I was a post-doc in a neurology lab at Columbia when someone was banging on about “natural is good for you.” I said, “Oh, like the TTX (tetrodotoxin) we use to block Na channels?”

  17. Ahh, Davis Coop — how I miss thee! I remember people used to huff and glare whenever I forgot to bring my canvas grocery bags.

    My favorite part of living in Davis was when people complained how Davis is “so conservative OMG.” Ha ha ha ha ha, this girl from Alabama just laughed and laughed.

    Enjoy the visit! It really was a fantastic place to spend 2 years of my life.

  18. Back in the early ’70’s I worked in a health food co-op in Coos Bay, a small town on the SW Oregon coast. We tried to order vitamins for some members who wanted them, but the mfgr’s or wholesalers wouldn’t sell them to us unless we agreed to carry a bunch of other herbal & homeopathic stuff. We wound up ordering vitamins at a discount from another co-op in Eugene, about 100 miles away, and picking them up.

    Vitamins, herbal “medicines” and homeopathic nostrums are tremendous money-makers for the retailer. We would have made about 300% over our cost selling at the mfgr’s “suggested” (demanded, back then) retail price. From the mfgr’s point of view, it probably costs more for packaging and shipping than for the product itself. This industry is rife with corruption and fraud, and you can thank Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch for pushing the law that eliminated all regulation over it.

    As Deep Throat said, “Follow the money!”

  19. Most likely, Scientifically Tested*

    * “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease”

  20. I see that it’s also 40 proof in “organic alcohol” (is there any other kind?),

    A lot of industrial alcohol is produced by the oxidation of ethane or ethene (I forget which). There’s a vague memory in the back of my head telling me that it’s done in vapour phase, with air as an oxidant, at several hundred centigrade and with a silver catalyst. All nasty and industrial, and entirely unsuitable to someone who wants to get bombed on yeast poo (i.e. brewed alcohol).
    If I look at more than a few jars of pickled X (X in {gherkins, onions …}) in the fridge (the wife keeps them there ; don’t ask me why, I don’t think that she’s reasoned it through) then I’ll probably find some that is pickled in “non-brewed condiment”, which I’ve always read as meaning alcohol produced by the above oxidation process, and then oxidised further to the ethanoic acid.
    (Oh noes : wikipedia tells me that it’s a phosphoric acid catalyst, and they describe it as “hydrating” ethene, rather than using ethane. I shall put an edge onto a chemistry text book and commit sepukku immediately.)

    1. She may keep pickles in the fridge for the same reason I do. The label says “Once opened keep refrigerated and consume within one month.” I quote from the gherkins I have just taken out of my fridge.

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