I imagine it’s hard to interview Amanda Chantal Bacon. When Molly Young arrives at her house, the Moon Juice guru doesn’t answer her knock, but instead, politely, calmly, asks Young to remove her shoes. What follows is a feature for the New York Times Magazine that shows how easy it is to make fun of wellness and and how hard it is get to the heart of it.
Young’s profile is a gloss on lifestyle brands — from Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP to Juicero’s gloop — with a brief interlude from Bacon as she measures out the potions of her trade for Young, who plays the role of bewildered writer from the East Coast. I recently asked Rachel Monroe, who wrote a feature on the social media celebrities of #vanlife culture for The New Yorker, about how she chose her subjects for the piece: “They were also willing to be very open about the realities of their lives with me, which was crucial to make the story work.” Bacon is not forthcoming, and Young ends up paraphrasing much of her life story, which is dusted over lunch like a wholesome powder—we don’t get much of her sense of purpose, business or spiritual.
At 18, Bacon moved to Italy alone. Why Italy? “If I thought about all the times I felt connected or alive, it was around the rituals of people gathering and eating and sharing food and slowing down,” she said. In Florence, Bacon discovered that food was her calling. After several years of traveling, she wound up at a culinary school in Vermont. Following graduation, she emailed the Los Angeles-based chef and restaurateur Suzanne Goin and asked for a job. Goin emailed back with an invitation to meet. Bacon hopped on a plane and moved into a garage three blocks from one of Goin’s restaurants, where she hand-whisked aioli and pounded salsa verde with a mortar and pestle until her biceps ached. In early 2012, having absorbed lessons of entrepreneurship from Goin, she opened the first store. “It really is not my name,” she explained, when I asked where the phrase Moon Juice came from. “It just dropped down from the universe.”
Perhaps this is unfair to Bacon—she’s been the butt of the joke before—and it appears she doesn’t much care for you, your humor, or your unglowing skin. But there is a fascinating moment in Young’s piece that is revealing about the politics of wellness. It’s a brief aside about the hippie principles of a company like Moon Juice, and its counterpart on the corrosive far-right:
We tend to think of “wellness” as the province of swoony liberal elites, but it does, in fact, blossom at both cultural poles. The far-right conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones sells some of the same supplements as Moon Juice on his Infowars website. Jones’s organic fair-trade coffee can be purchased in an “Immune Support” variety that includes cordyceps and reishi mushroom extracts; Moon Juice sells cordyceps and reishi powders with similar claims attached. The “Super Female Vitality” supplement at the Infowars shop shares a number of ingredients with the Moon Juice Dusts: maca, epimedium, shilajit. Alex Jones and Amanda Chantal Bacon each sell probiotics. They each warn against the encroachment of “toxins.” Bacon has a recipe for strawberry milk with drops of colloidal silver in it; Alex Jones pushes tiny bottles of colloidal silver online for $19.95. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two purveyors is context. Alex Jones sells his merchandise alongside tactical body armor and Trump shirts; Bacon sells hers next to chia pudding.
What unifies the two is the subtext of their pitches—a seeming conviction that widespread forces are acting on benighted consumers, who can thwart harm only by venturing to the fringes and buying non-F.D.A. approved supplements with which to purify themselves. For Jones, the treachery comes in the form of fluoridated water and chemtrails. For Bacon, it’s Western medicine and the standard American diet. One brand is designed to look like an ashram and the other to look like an underground bunker, but you walk away from each with the same conclusion—that the only way out is way, way, out, in a land of mystical mushrooms and miracle herbs. The valor of separatism, after all, is our founding myth.