It wasn’t the type of movie you’d think would start a movement. One part road-trip documentary and one part extended infomercial, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead followed an avuncular, overweight Australian futures trader named Joe Cross as he traveled across America on a 60-day juice fast. He extolled the benefits of fruits, vegetables, and micronutrients, whipping out his juicer when speaking to the average, frequently fat, folks he met along the way. When the movie debuted in theaters last March, it quickly disappeared.
But then a funny thing happened. In July 2011, Fat, Sick was released on Netflix streaming, where it racked up 110,000 ratings in less than a month. And Breville, the Australian company whose juicers were featured in the film, saw its sales jump. “Over the Fourth of July weekend, I was looking at our website traffic, and it had tripled,” recalls Rob Sheard, a brand director for the company. “I thought, ‘What’s going on?’ It kept going from there, and by mid to late July, all of our [U.S.] retailers had sold out of our juicers.”
At the end of the film, viewers are encouraged to visit Cross’s Reboot Your Life website, where they can register to do their own juice fasts. The number is up to around 200,000, says Cross.
“The Netflix launch blindsided me,” says Cross. He attributes its success in part to the simplicity of the film’s message, which he sums up as, “Eat more fruits and vegetables and you’re going to lose weight and be healthier and happier and live longer, and there’s a possibility that if you do this on a consistent period you’re going to get off meds.”
The popularity of Cross and his message reflects just how far juicing has come from the not-too-distant past, when it was regarded as the province of health nuts, yogis, vegans, hippies, and the odd model or celebrity whose juice fast made the pages of Us Weekly. Now it has joined the ranks of the Atkins diet, yoga, and kale chips: outliers that went mainstream. But is it here to stay?
INSIDE THE JUICING LIFESTYLE
Chris Taylor is an example of someone who randomly watched Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead on Netflix and took it to heart. Despite feeling that it came across as “one long ad for Breville,” the 39-year-old Taylor, who’s an editor and lives in San Francisco, was inspired to try juicing. He took over his wife’s new Breville and became, he says, “that annoying person who had to tell everyone. I brought a cooler full of juices to a party and went ’round insisting that everyone try it.”
Although he hasn’t jumped into a full-on, Cross-style fast, Taylor skips a few meals here and there and just drinks juice. He’s been “losing weight in all the right places.” His friends have told him he has more “sparkle.” Now the Breville even has its own designated furniture: a large wooden Ikea cart with shelves for fruit and bottles. The juicer rests on top, on a piece of cork. “It’s to deafen the sound,” Taylor explains. “It’s noisy. I can’t juice after 11 at night for fear of waking the neighbors.”
Food blogger Ryan Rice heard about Cross’s film from his boss, started juicing, felt “amazing,” and lost 20 pounds. It wasn’t his first brush with juicing: When he was in his early 20s, he had mono, and cured it faster than his doctor expected (he thinks) by drinking juice every day.
Rice’s quick recovery illustrates the sort of health claims that juicing proponents have made. They invoke phytochemicals—plant compounds thought to reduce the risk of certain cancers and help fight disease—beneficial enzymes, increased metabolism, better absorption of nutrients, and the opportunity to detoxify the body and give the liver and digestive system time to rest and catch up. Juicing is “your key to radiant health,” promises one site.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Cross adopts a messianic tone in describing the benefits of a Reboot juice fast. “It allows a person to experience what I call Human 2.0,” he says. “You cannot help but go through transformation because you’re only putting premium fuel into your body that it doesn’t have trouble metabolizing. After 15 days, your taste buds will reset. … Your joints don’t hurt as much. You wake up full of energy, and you have this revitalization. It’s nothing short of climbing a mountain and experiencing how beautiful the view is.”
Nutritionists tend to be a bit less hyperbolic. “The liver doesn’t need to catch up,” says Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian and the author of Healthy in a Hurry. “One of its main functions is to detoxify carcinogens—that’s its job. It’s not overburdened.” While Ansel, who is also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, does laud the benefits of the vitamins and minerals found in juice, and advocates having a glass with meals, she says the lack of dietary fiber can be problematic, as can the natural sugars found in fruit juice. “Sixteen ounces of orange juice has more calories than a can of soda,” she says. And fasting, say nutritionists, can be dangerous, particularly for those with medical issues.
VENTI KALE JUICE, NO WHIP
And yet, the idea of drinking something tasty that promises instant health is a sexy one. Last November, it became clear just how sexy when Starbucks announced it had paid $30 million in cash for Evolution Fresh, a California-based premium juice company whose founder, Jimmy Rosenberg, also founded Naked Juice. In reporting the acquisition, the Los Angeles Times noted that the premium juice business is now valued at $1.6 billion.
In New York and LA, juice bars are experiencing a boom. Eric Helms opened his first Juice Generation storefront in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in 1999. Now the owner of eight locations throughout the city, he says people are “coming in because they see Martha [Stewart] or Kevin James on The Tonight Show talking about how a green drink is so great, or they see green juice on Gossip Girl. It’s so mainstream now.”
So the question is, once the novelty wears off, will people continue to juice in their own homes, or will they leave the produce-procuring and cleanup to Starbucks? Chances are, you’ve got a great shot at a used Breville in your near future.