I have long maintained that energy bars are as delicious as they sound. Here is food, one of life's great joys, packaged and presented as energy, as fuel, as though taste were as irrelevant to humans as it is to a Honda Prelude. If I wanted a convenient, nutritious high-energy snack, I'd pack a Mounds bar and a vitamin. Yet I am forced day by day to reconsider my position, owing to the advancing omnipresence of a bar called Clif. My husband eats Clif Bars. They're in Europe. They're in your corner store.
Leading me to wonder: Does the world have no taste, or is it me?
"It's you," said Clif Bar spokesman Dean Mayer. To prove it, he invited me to the company's headquarters in Berkeley, Calif., to taste some product. He was especially hepped up about a new one called the Luna bar, which was designed especially for women. (Hence the name Luna, for as we all know, women are attracted to anything that invokes the monthly cycle.)
Clif Bar, the corporation, pushes the envelope in the same way that Clif Bar the food item does. That is to say, you would not immediately recognize it as a member of its category. The furnishings at corporate headquarters include two climbing walls and a waiting room bench made from a snowboard. The in-house newsletter runs spelt cake recipes and features like "Match the Tattoos to the Employees." Most employees appear to be under 30, as evidenced not only by the tattoos but by their names, which bear the
rebellious, demented orthography of youth: Kym, Terrye, Karin, Chelseah.
I told Mayer perhaps it isn't my gender that stands in the way of my enjoying energy bars, but my age. I am simply too old to embrace brown rice syrup and agave nectar, just as I am too old to tattoo a self-portrait on my arm (Chelseah) or sit comfortably on an unpadded snowboard. Mayer didn't think that this was so. He invited me to call company co-founder Gary Erickson's father, Clif, after whom the Clif bar is named. "He's 73 and he loves them." I was immediately suspicious. If Clif were really 73, he'd spell his name with the proper number of f's.
He is really 73. "They're great on the golf course!" said Clif when I called. "I eat 'em there. I eat 'em in the backyard. I've got 25 fruit trees that I take care of and so it's a good snack to have along. I even eat the Luna bars!"
I had heard that Clif's wife, Mary, teaches baking, and that her specialty is Danish pastries. I asked Clif to imagine being presented with one of Mary's apple Danishes and an Apple Cherry Clif bar. Which would he choose?
"That's easy, because they both fit properly in their proper place. Mary's danishes go over at breakfast time. In the afternoon, when I'm out on the go ..." Clearly I was barking up the wrong fruit tree.
In the time I spent on this article, I found only one person who doesn't eat energy bars: Rabbi Elefant, of the Orthodox Union in New York, which recently certified Clif Bars as a kosher food. I had called because I found it fascinating that a centuries-old dietary law outlined in the Bible could actually be applied to a circa-1999 energy bar. Rabbi Elefant -- who, despite the unorthodox spelling of his name, is safely over 30 -- did
not share my fascination. "It was not," he confided, "something that we got super-excited about."
The last certification that super-excited the rabbis involved the fake fat Olestra. "Potato chips with Olestra are now a kosher-certified food," said Rabbi Elefant proudly. This was tricky, he said, for what is considered by most people to be a chemical may in fact have an animal or dairy base. "We who are trained as rabbis have to become food chemists."
I am digressing -- nay, stalling -- because the next thing that has to happen is that I go try three kinds of Luna bar at the Clif Bar test kitchen.
The kitchen resembles an ordinary suburban kitchen, with an electric range and blond wood cabinetry, except that the cabinets are stocked with rice protein and vitamin powders and apple juice-infused dried diced strawberry (and, inexplicably, Beer Nuts). No new recipes are being tested these days, so the counters are empty but for the nutrition bars laid out for me to try. Would you like to know a little more about the dietary laws of the Jewish people as outlined in Leviticus? OK. Sorry. Onward.
While I am making oral contact with a LemonZest Luna bar, co-founder Erickson stops in to say hello. Erickson is on his way out the door with his bicycle. He is going on a long uphill ride for the fun of it. Erickson once made his living designing bicycle saddles. It was while riding his bicycle that he had the idea for Clif Bars. He was "eating the competition," which tasted not unlike the raw materials for his bicycle seats. "I told my friend, 'I can do better than this.'" We who are trained as bicycle-seat designers have
to become energy bar chefs.
He is right about doing better. Here is where I eat my hat, which, though bland, is high in fiber. Not all Clif Bar products taste strange or horrible. Nutz Over Chocolate Luna bars are probably right up there on the taste meter with Mary Erickson's Danishes, or anyway, a Mounds bar.
To seal my devotion, Mayer shipped a carton of product to my home. The bars came packed in environmentally friendly paper shreddings from the company's paper shredder. A perusal of the words on the strips indicated that my batch had contained write-ups of customer complaint calls. Pretending to be an investigative reporter, I taped some of them
together. Then I called Rabbi Elefant back to find out if "prune pit" and "rubber stopper thing" were kosher ingredients. The rabbi said that kosher inspectors were more concerned with insects. "Kosher law is very strict about ingesting any live creature," he said. "Many vegetables we don't certify easily: asparagus, broccoli, Romaine lettuce. Romaine is one of the hardest. There are worms that are the same color as the lettuce. Very hard to spot."
Thankfully, I no longer need to eat these vegetables, because I eat Luna bars, which contain 22 vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that make a real contribution to my good health and fitness.