The Rise and Fall of My Juicing Obsession

The magical promise of health in a blender piqued this mom's interest, until she realized the payoff might not come quite so easily-or tastily. By Julie Tilsner, REDBOOK.

When it comes to popular trends, I've always been late to the party. Downton Abbey, Twitter, the Macarena-I tend to be on the tail end of the hysteria.

Although juicing has been popular for decades, the trend's gone supernova in the last few years, with juicer sales skyrocketing. Even Starbucks is getting into the game, selling 10-ounce bottles of cold-pressed juices for outrageous markups. (I once bought a $5 bottle of pineapple coconut water from there. Once.) As the hoopla reached a crescendo, juicing finally arrived on my radar.

A few summers ago my son, now 12, and his friend spent an entire afternoon using my good kitchen knife and little hand-juicer to juice every lemon and orange they could steal from my next-door neighbor's tree. They made a huge mess, but to their credit, they drank all of the juice. My son then asked if we could buy a "real" juicer, like the ones you saw on TV.

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So I started looking into this juicing thing. Who doesn't like juice? What I found was a wide range of prices on juicing contraptions-three different kinds!-and an even larger body of literature in varying shades of dogma.

It was a little overwhelming, honestly.

Juicing is almost a cult in some alternative health-minded circles. It's said that juicing increases the absorption of the vitamins and nutrients in fruits and vegetables, cleanses your system, helps you lose weight, cures all manner of diseases, and will probably give you an edge in picking a winning lottery number.

This is apparently because juicing fruits and vegetables removes the insoluable fibers from produce. I had to look that word up-basically it's the fiber, or micronutrients that would be otherwise difficult to absorb. Juicing makes them more accessible and absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream. These nutrients include digestive enzymes and certain phytonutrients. They don't say which ones, thank God.

Of course, the other camp-like the reputable Mayo Clinic, perhaps alarmed at the rate at which some people were taking on this trend-holds that there is no actual scientific evidence that juicing will cure what ails you and achieve world peace, and that when done to excess (like, say by repeating all-juice cleanses) you might actually harm yourself.

For me, the barrier to entry were the equipment prices. I like juice as much as the next gal, but was I really going to drop several hundred dollars for a juicer with a name out of a sci-fi novel (The Omega! The Green Star Elite) just so I could make my morning apple juice? I voiced my discontent with the cost of doing juice business on my Facebook page, and was duly rewarded by the universe.

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"I've got a juicer you can have," said my friend Shannon, an inspiring urban-farm mom who keeps backyard goats and chickens. "No, really. You can have it. I never use it anymore."

And so I found myself in the possession of a heavy-duty "Champion" masticating juicer. Bigger than a breadbox, salmon-colored, and strangely retro-looking, it was so heavy her husband had to hoist it from a bottom cupboard and schlep it out to my car. "Be careful with this thing," he said. "It can juice rocks. And probably body parts."

I decided not to mention that to my 12-year-old son.

I managed to lug the Champion into my own kitchen and get it onto the table, where it sat looking evil for about a week while I gathered the nerve to plug it in and turn it on. What if the engine blew, I wondered. What if it shot sparks? What if it masticated me?

Shannon had given me a quick tutorial on where to put what. She showed me how to put the pulp chute on, and demonstrated how to cut fruits into quarters that could fit into the maw and be shoved down with a wooden dowel. When I finally got the courage to turn the thing on, I was surprised by the quiet hum of the motor. I felt almost patriotic. Ten points for American manufacturing!

The first day I pushed the chop of six apples into the mouth of the machine with my wooden dowel and made three ounces of fresh apple juice. It only took 20 minutes or so.

It was kind of fun. Cleanup wasn't, however. I had to disassemble the thing and make sure to get all the pulp out of the cogs and grinders before drying it and putting it all back together again. It felt a little like being in the army, learning how to fix heavy machinery. But I embraced the Zen of the cleanup, and pressed on with my juicing experiment.

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For a while, it was a novelty. My son couldn't get enough of what he considered a science class experiment that ended in juice. He juiced strawberries by the carton, apples, oranges, lemons, plums, and combos of all of the above. I started buying a whole lot more produce, just to juice. Bags of oranges and apples. Flats of strawberries. We tried blueberries once.

I couldn't juice greens in my giant masticator because I didn't have the corresponding green attachments, whatever those were. But I could and did juice carrots, beets, and once, in a fit of curiosity, an onion. You don't want to drink onion juice.

The effect of all this juicing? Apart from incredible and sometimes alarming regularity, the most tangible results of all my efforts were the quarts of fruit pulp piling up in my refrigerator. I couldn't bring myself to simply throw it away. Some food bloggers recommended using it in baked goods, which of course sounded great until I remembered that I'm just not the kind of mom who can pull that sort of thing off. I don't have a compost bin either. It was becoming a moral conundrum, like nuclear waste.

Don't get me started on the fruit flies.

It didn't take long before the Champion masticating juicer sat unused on the kitchen table. My son announced that he was content to make do with the Orange Banana Pineapple juice they sell at Trader Joe's, and, honestly, I was happy to oblige him.

Here's my bottom line on juicing: It's a lot of work for okay taste.

You end up spending more on produce to juice than you would on produce to actually eat. That gives me pause. As for the whole health benefit of juicing, I believe it. I'm just not a zealot.

I'd still rather get my fruits and veggies in whole form-roasted veggies with yogurt dressing over rice, raw veggies drizzled in balsamic vinegar, a nice, big salad.

Do I kill vital nutrients by roasting? Who cares? Roasted beets sprinkled with feta cheese-where's the downside of that?

And fruit. It's summer. I could eat three peaches in one sitting and only some of the juice would end up dribbled down my chin and onto my white summer pants, in fine tradition. Or I could spend 20 minutes cutting, pitting, and juicing them and then cleaning the juicer.

Just give me the peaches, please.

If I can't eat 10 apples in a sitting, why do I need to drink the juice of 10 apples? I don't know that more is better in this case.

In the meantime, I have a 30-pound masticator still sitting on my kitchen table. If you can pick it up, it's yours.

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