On Sunday afternoon, 20 people crushed shots of cold-pressed green juices inside a Reebok store in Union Square, their legs wobbly from Pilates class.
They “oohed” and “aahed” and smacked their lips as a woman named Anna Garcia read aloud a few of the elixirs’ magic ingredients—detoxing dandelion, hydrating cucumber, and anti-inflammatory ginger.
Garcia advised everyone to use the restroom: these were just the “pre-game” shots to a two-hour “Juice Crawl” around Manhattan, which involves drowning yourself in natural diuretics and rhapsodizing about the life-changing power of juice.
Sunday’s tour comprised three stops in the Chelsea neighborhood—Juice Press, The Juice Shop, and Terri—with enthusiastic imbibing at each.
Outside the Reebok store, Garcia shouted into a Juice Crawl-branded megaphone at her troop of happy-hippie devotees: “Are you all ready to drink some juice?!” Crawlers cheered on cue.
At a time when SoulCycle and morning raves are as crowded as New York City nightclubs, Juice Crawl offers another nightlife alternative for the health-and-detox-obsessed.
For $57, participants get a free workout and as much pear-wheatgrass-safflower-mint juice and kale-raspberry-chlorophyll smoothie as they can stomach during a two-hour binge.
They also meet other like-minded, credulous people—from juicing novices to longtime woo-woo disciples—whose ideal Sunday afternoon is spent pumping their cells full of alkalizing elixirs.
30-year-old Desirée Shrode moved from Philadelphia to New York City six months ago, but she has little interest in “going out to a bar or a club and getting wasted all night,” she tells me.
We are on our way to Juice Press, which has more than two dozen stores in Manhattan and is valued at $100 million, when Lauren Vikander, Shrode’s friend and colleague, remarks on one of the pre-game juices: “There’s something about the sea salt in this one that gives it a full flavor.”
They are juice novices, but Shrode and Vickendar quickly adopt the requisite conversational knowledge of nutrition and juicing.
Garcia, 29, came up with the idea for Juice Crawl two years ago. Having given up alcohol and joined the juice revolution, she asked her friends to hop from one juice bar to another on her 26th birthday. She led the first official, sold-out Juice Crawl last October and nine others since, with another coming up on November 7.
“People really love them so we just keep doing them,” she told me as we sipped “liquid gold” (carrot, grapefruit, pineapple, turmeric, ginger) at Juice Press.
Indeed, Juice Crawl has been featured as a recommended weekend activity on New York City guides like Time Out. On Sunday, Today show fitness correspondent Jenna Wolfe was filmed among crawlers for an upcoming segment on the Dr. Oz show.
Juicing, after all, is one of the alternative therapies peddled by Dr. Oz. Much like his fans, the Crawlers I meet on Sunday are a dangerously open-minded bunch who are inclined to believe anything they’re told.
Robert Dyckman, an ageless actor, was the Dr. Oz among Sunday’s Juice Crawlers. Everyone had a story—a reason for being there—and Dyckman was eager to share his at length with anyone who wasn’t already engaged in conversation.
Fifteen years ago, when his then-girlfriend was diagnosed with “pre-cancerous cells” (he refused to specify further), she opted for non-traditional treatment: a raw food diet. “She was perfectly fine six months later,” he told me in his hypnotic, Sunday-morning-radio voice, adding that he has been “raw” ever since.
Hustling to the next juice boutique, Jamece Grey, the Crawlers’ Pilates instructor, nodded enthusiastically as Dyckman explained why animal products are anathema.
The conversation quickly turned to fast food and Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary, Super Size Me. The film is a dietary experiment, and Spurlock’s health rapidly deteriorates as he eats only McDonald’s for 30 days. (Incidentally, Spurlock, was also featured in a 2009 documentary that suggested a raw food diet could cure not only Type II Diabetes but Type I as well, because this stuff is not science but magic.)
Grey said she couldn’t understand why McDonald’s is still in business.
“I wish the world worked like that,” Dyckman replied. “After people saw that documentary it should have been like, ‘You know what? McDonald’s is closed now.’”
“Yes! It’s a health issue!” Grey agreed. Similarly, she couldn’t comprehend why people would refuse to support Bloomberg’s 2012 proposal to ban oversize sodas. “They didn’t want their rights taken away!” she said, baffled.
“Their right to do harm to themselves,” Dyckman added. “It’s funny what people will fight for.”
They laughed at Grey’s conclusion: “Human beings are really stupid.”
Meanwhile, inside The Juice Shop, Shrode was attempting to assure Vikander that there was no sugar in her smoothie (Vikander was nearing the end of a 30-day gluten, dairy, and sugar-free cleanse diet).
Shrode may be relatively new to the juice community, but she is a longtime supporter of sustainable, organic farming. She and Vikander work for a nonprofit travel company that organizes tourism trips to Cuba.
“We have a lot to learn from Cuba,” she tells me as we make our way to Terri, our final stop, “especially in terms of sustainable development. They’ve been doing hydroponic and organic farming for years because of the Special Period. They didn’t have the chemicals to spray their produce with. They’re like MacGyvers. They do so much with so little. Their fences are made of cactus! It’s a genius idea!”
By this logic, people who make weapons out of anything are also “MacGyvers.” But the Cubans’ cacti fences resulted from living under a brutal dictatorship, I suggest.
“It’s been brutal, yeah, but if you look at Mexico, the PRI party has been in power for 77 years. Every government is corrupt. The Castros have really only been in power for 54 years. But we have good political relations with Mexico. So there are questions to ask, you know what I mean?”
I do. Doesn’t she think it troubling that Cuba—unlike Mexico—has not had an election since the Castros came to power?
“Raul [Castro] has really loosened up, and I think the country will change a lot after Fidel passes away. I also love how Cubans call their leaders by their first name. It’s not Mr. Castro or President Castro; it’s Fidel and Raul. It’s part of communist ideology: all people are the same, which is unique.”
Needless to say, there are no Juice Crawls in Cuba.