I am nourished, I am open-hearted, I am skeptical

EC: Slogging Along the LA Wellness Breakfast Trail
Credit: GIF by Lauren Kolm

In my real life, in New York, I eat breakfast every day. It’s usually something like cereal, or oatmeal, or, if I’m feeling flush, scrambled eggs with hot sauce from the diner down the street. My breakfasts are relatively healthful, though they offer little promise to make me a better person, purify me from the inside out, or help me attain some sort of mysterious “mindfulness.” And I like them for that.

In my fantasy life, in Los Angeles, which I visit several times a year, I also eat breakfast every day. But my breakfasts there are different. They contain elixirs and powders and essences, and often come in sleek glass bottles. Out there in the promised land, where health and beauty and their more nebulous counterpart, “wellness,” shimmer forever within reach, I eat breakfasts that promise better living through some combination of science and nature.

Don’t get me wrong: There has been a noticeable rise in New York—natural habitat of the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich—of juice bars, mindfulness studios, and crystal healing centers that offer things like sound baths and reiki workshops. It’s not entirely unprecedented: Bodegas have long offered fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices to morning commuters, and gyms have been selling supergreen-spiked smoothies to post-spin class sweatballs for years. These options are available to me in my real life, yes, and I occasionally spring for an $11 “Clean Green Protein” smoothie from Juice Press, mostly when I feel I’ve overconsumed things that are not clean or green for several days beforehand.

But when I go to LA, it’s like a switch is flipped: Suddenly, surrounded by people who do things like go on hikes and never seem to work past 5 p.m., I’m enchanted. I, too, want my insides to be as fresh and clean as a daisy, free from the dastardly toxins I accumulate through stress and pollution and eating bagels. And so it seems that the best way to achieve this is to start early, with breakfast, in order to optimize my body and mind first-thing.

With that in mind, during my most recent trip to LA I set forth on a breakfast quest. I wanted to visit not just generic juice bars, but the most extreme juice bars: ones that use ingredients like “brain dust” and shinzandra berries, and restaurants that serve breakfasts with cream cheese made from cashews and yogurt made from coconuts. I was prepared to roll my eyes at camu camu and charcoal-infused “purifying” lemonade, but a part of me wanted to believe that yes, in fact, the inky-black swirls floating in my water would latch onto and destroy the impurities surely clogging my body, mind, and potentially even my soul.

My first stop was at the Venice outpost of Moon Juice, a juice company whose ironically named founder, Amanda Chantal Bacon, was the subject of much mockery last year when Elle tracked her diet, which included things like silver needle tea, cordyceps, and shilajit resin. I didn’t know what any of these things were, and was not hugely looking forward to this particular visit. The minimalist white-and-blond wood store was quiet, with a refrigerated display of Moon Milks and Cosmic Provisions (active fermented sea vegetables, anyone?) and a shelf on the wall lined with “Moon Dusts” and tonics. I got a Golden Milk (“alkaline + mineralized + oxygenated water, turmeric juice, honey, unpasteurized activated California almonds, cinnamon, pink salt, and cardamom”—delicious!) and a Blue Moon Protein (water, coconut, brown rice protein, chia seeds, tocotrienols, Phycocyanin Spirulina, stevia, and pink salt—tasted like salty chalk milk!). Then, like moth to a flame, I picked up the jar of powdered maca root, described as an “bio-available endocrine system support.” The girl at the register said, “Oh, that’s great for people who live in polluted areas and work a lot,” succinctly describing the entire population of New York City. “It’s like a mood booster that gives you extra energy.” Sold. I later learned that maca is a South American root vegetable that’s considered a libido enhancer and favored by bodybuilders for increasing muscle mass. Its taste was so off-putting that I will not be experiencing either benefit.

The next morning, I wanted some solid food, so I headed to Hollywood to pay a visit to Café Gratitude, the longstanding “100% plant-based” restaurant at which customers are asked to order not by saying “I’ll have” or “I would like,” but by preceding each dish with the phrase “I am.” The dishes have names like “Content,” “Thrilled,” and “Open-Hearted.” “I am Nourished,” I said to the waiter, who nodded in agreement. In exchange, I was soon presented with a plate of sourdough French toast, housemade tempeh chorizo sausage patties, chipotle coconut bacon, cashew cream, and maple syrup. The French toast was shriveled and the “bacon” little more than chipotle-crusted coconut shards, but the intention was so earnest (and the fake sausage so surprisingly delicious), and the morning sun so soft and peaceful that I could only muster a half-eye roll at the proceedings. My descent into LA breakfast believing had begun.

The next day, I was back on liquid-breakfast duty, albeit one to giveth and one to taketh away. At Beaming Juice in West Hollywood (“Pure. Organic. Joy.”), I ordered a “Euphoria” smoothie, which promised to elevate my mood (see a running theme here?), beauty, and energy with a mix of “freshly sprouted almond milk, coconut water, banana, cherries, dates, coconut butter, Beaming Protein, chia powder, lucuma, MSM, and GABA. “What’s lucuma?” I asked the clerk. “A natural sweetener,” he answered confidently. “What about MSM and GABA?” These stumped him. “Hang on,” he said, while reading the fine print on the labels of a plastic tub. “One is an organic sulfur, and the other is an inhibitory neurotransmitter.” Satisfied with his answer, though still completely unsure of what he actually meant, I sucked down my sweet-tart smoothie, the color of which was close to rusty mud. It tasted pretty good, but I’m still waiting for the part where I become more physically beautiful.

On my last morning in LA, I picked up an activated charcoal-infused lemonade from Pressed Juicery, a sleek operation with over a dozen locations across the city. It was a forbidding ashy-black hue, not unlike my usual morning coffee. I was nervous, but intrigued by the seemingly controlled use of charcoal, which I associate more with stomach pumping post-drug overdose than with wellness. I certainly had some things to purify, especially given my consumption of GABA and maca and moon juice over the previous few days. I took a hesitant sip, then a big gulp—it was delicious. “Oh, cleanse me,” I prayed silently. “For I have sinned against the boring breakfasts my body has grown accustomed to. Please forgive me, body,” I begged.

The next day, when I got off the red eye back in New York, I bought myself an egg on a roll, and all was right in the world.