The Juiceman Cometh

The Juice Invasion began in the middle of the night.

There I was, innocently flipping channels in that magic land known as All Night Paid Commercial Programming. The salespeople were everywhere, beckoning with their beguiling ways. Always so sincere and well-coordinated they kept insisting it would be so easy to juice, juice, juice my way to health and happiness.

Then, in Waldenbooks, I was confronted with the splendor of a special display of books. There was “Juice for Life,” “Juice it Up!” and “The Joy of Juicing.” Specially placed in the center was “The Power of Juicing” by well-known juice zealot Ray “The Juiceman” Kordich.

At Macy’s, they don’t just carry juicers — they have a whole “Juice Center,” replete with more than a dozen brands stocked behind a special sign and counter with a perky saleswoman with deeply toned arms who appears to know absolutely everything there is know about juice.

Listening to her knowledgeable explanation that my life truly requires the concentrated doses of vitamins that can be found only by pushing carrots and beets down a chute with a plunger, I suddenly realized that this was about more than juice.

I recognized, to my horror, the beastly head of a food and health trend that has gripped the nation. So I surrendered. The $70 I had earmarked for the Estee Lauder counter went to a Krups Vita-Mini juicer instead.

That was three months ago. Since, I’ve learned a few things.

Juice is a misunderstood beverage. Though as children we accepted the notion of it freely, in little safety cups in flavors like apple and grape, we weren’t so quickly persuaded to healthy juice habits as adults. Who could blame us? It took some strange forms in the ’60 and ‘70s, when juicing was a thing left to crunchy Californians and upper Manhattan health food stores. Sprouts and wheatgrass in a cup? No thanks.

Yet, freshly extracted juice, and people to extol its benefits, has been around since the early 1900s when it was processed by hand in gadgets called reamers. In the 1940s, Kordich claims he cured his bladder cancer by following a juice-intensive diet. So did another confirmed believer, N.W. Walker whose book “Fresh Vegetable and Fruit Juices” marks the epicenter of any serious juicer’s library. For years, both separately traveled the county fair/health food store circuit selling juicers. The crowds were small but the sales were steady.

 That is, until two years ago. Kordich started his half-hour paid commercial, “The Juiceman Show.” The peppy, impossibly youthful-looking 71-year-old Kordich talked. He juiced. And his 4 a.m. viewers started calling in droves with their credit card numbers.

Macy’s hadn’t moved many juicers until they started their “Juice Centers” last fall, shortly after Kordich’s tour hit Sarasota. “All of a sudden, people came in chanting ‘Juiceman,’ ‘Juiceman’ ‘Juiceman’ ” says Sunny Sheldon, the primary sales associate who oversees the Juice Center. An athletic, trim 40-something and confirmed juicer, she’s more of an evangelist of the practice than a salesperson. “Since then, we haven’t been able to keep some models in stock and we had a waiting list for the Juiceman Jr.,” she gushed. “It’s just taken off, and I don’t think eve the manufacturers expected it.”

Most juice gurus advocate drinking four to six cups of fresh juice a day. Even healthy people need this kind of intake to help detoxify the body and strengthen the immune system against the onslaught of toxins and stress of everyday life, says Mort Chalfley, one of the owners of The Granary health food stores in Sarasota.

With all this hype, sometimes people have unreal expectations. “I’ve had people spend $150 on a juicer only to return it because they found out they or their kids don’t like carrot juice. Or, they thought it would make them instantly healthy. Or, it’s OK, but it’s too much trouble to make,” Sheldon admitted.

Then, there’s the produce issue. Readers, takes note: it takes roughly a pound of carrots to make a glass of juice.“It is true, people do need to realize that to juice regularly, you need a lot of fresh produce,” she noted. “Pounds of it. All the time.”

Sheldon, Chafley and many of the juice book authors suggest using carrot juice as a base for vegetable combinations. Carrot juice is a recognizable flavor and it’s very strong so you can throw in something that has a less agreeable taste, like beets or broccoli.

In my three-month juicing experiment, I’ve found that even slightly overripe or under ripe fruits or vegetables taste dramatically different when juiced. Also, I’ve had to readjust my taste buds. An avid V-8 drinker, I expected a similar taste the first time I made tomato and vegetable juice. Sans the heavy sodium punch of packaged juice, the fresh version tasted both bland and, well, overly tomato-y, like choking down some canned tomatoes with a broccoli chaser. But after trying a few different combinations, I found one tomato-based veggie drink that I like so well I won’t drink V-8 anymore; it now taste too processed. Fruit juices are easier, though; when it came to apple juice, once I drank a freshly pulverized combination of Golden Delicious and Braeburns, I gave away the Tree Top I had store under my fridge.

While all of the juice books offer simple juice recipes and tips, a few such as Kordich’s “Power of Juice” and “Juicing for Life” suggest something more along the lines of a lifestyle overhaul, with juice a major element of a more involved organic, grain-heavy and meat-free diet. However, not everyone wants to make a major lifestyle change. Some people just want to make some juice. Consider the storage required for the 40-plus pounds of produce the books suggest we should consume weekly, not to mention the time to make it. Nutritionists and juice gurus agree that juice should complement your diet, not take the place of raw vegetables and at that point, that might be too many carrots and broccoli for some people. Chafley noted that some of the biggest bottled juice buyers are juicer owners who tired of the novelty of their appliance not long after purchasing it.

All this talk makes one wonder if juicers will eventually go the way of cappuccino machines and fondue pots. Trendy, but quickly forgotten.

At least, until they end up on garage sale tables.

This originally appeared in the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune in 1993. Author’s note: In 2003, I purchased my current juicer at a garage sale for three dollars.


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