I’ve been orbiting Planet Bacon for the last three weeks, increasingly desperate for solid ground to land on. This otherworld isn’t pork-filled, or fried, or cooked at all—quite the opposite in fact. It’s the world of Amanda Chantal Bacon, the fashionable, dauntless figurehead behind the self-proclaimed “cult brand” Moon Juice.
When I first rifled through her just-released cookbook, The Moon Juice Cookbook: Cosmic Alchemy for a Thriving Body, Beauty, and Consciousness, I admit to being... skeptical. But the recipes sounded weird and good. I thought this, this is the avocado of cookbooks: Full of healthy claims and yet appealing, surprisingly delicious. Would it go brown? (Yes, it would.)
With the increasing popularity of Moon Juice health foods shops in Los Angeles, Bacon's uniquely edgy breed of wellness has brought the dark corners of your local health foods store, from peculiar plant extracts to cultured seed milks, as close to the mainstream as they’ve ever been. She promotes the Moon Juice diet shamelessly, on social media and in the new book, using a trancey, often sexually-charged way with words that is difficult to find anything but creepy. She coos in the introduction, to whom I wonder:
I want to be the one who gets to hug you as you tell me you actually really like the taste of unsweetened green juice.
And later: “I want to feed you raw chocolate bites.” Despite a relatable account of how she found her way here—childhood maladies that followed her into adulthood, the desire to just feel better—Bacon comes across as parody of a healthy person. I feel weird, mom!
Moon Juice's time in the spotlight has included Elle's account of Bacon's daily diet, which went a little bit viral due to its resolute bizarreness, followed by an internet-perfect freak out that ensued when a large Rose Quartz Crystal was stolen from her shop. The warning issued, straight from her Instagram:
This loving rock has given so much to an entire community and has much more to share. To whomever took her out the door, you do not want the energy of a stolen crystal, please trust me!
A singer (of course), Father John Misty, claimed to have done it, lots of people laughed at her, but Bacon was unflinching—her post is still up. I'm exactly the type of person who spit up a little coffee when I read about all this, laughing absurdly, but I'm not sure I would have waded through it as brazenly as she did.
On the flip side, I am a person who is easily seduced by health food claims—I’ll throw back a wheatgrass shot while I’m waiting for my sausage-egg-and-cheese; a friend hard-sold me on the power of probiotics so I bought a $50 bottle of them that’s presently growing old in my fridge. But I largely subsist on beer and cheese. Flipping through the book, I actually got excited; I don’t see myself caring about Rose Quartz Crystals (like, um, ever), but strawberry almond milk? Yes, please.
And luckily, I read in the Moon Juice Cookbook that the Moon Juice Cookbook “isn’t a book about everything you should abstain from and remove from your life. This is just a cookbook with really delicious recipes that will give you a new range in the kitchen.” My bullshit detector was bleeping aggressively, but I was intrigued. I selected a number of recipes, made a helluva grocery list, then went shopping (total bill: several hundred dollars for five recipes that do not require chewing):
This planetary exploration was exciting.
I started easy, settling on a recipe for Almond Milk (made from soaking the nuts overnight, blending them with fresh water, and straining away the pulp) because if I made that I could also have Almond Milk Kefir and a Silver Strawberry moon latte (with the milk) and a Vanilla Pastry Dough (by “activating”—more on this soon—and finely grinding the pulp).
Moon Juice enthusiasts will want to know why I skipped her much-discussed Hot Sex Milk, a "lusty adaptogenic brew" of pumpkin seed milk and various aphrodisiac powders like "ho shou wu": "Gross! That just sounds really gross,” is how my boyfriend put it.
The almond milk, standard issue DIY stuff, was clean-tasting and refreshing. I’d drink it even if it weren’t good for you, but I didn't start Moon Juicing to stop there. I blended half of it with a handful of out-of-season strawberries (strangely on planet Moon Juice there is no overt concern for eating seasonally), 2 teaspoons of raw honey, and 6 drops of colloidal silver for a Silver Strawberry—one of the book’s many enticing “Moon Lattes,” which is Bacon-speak for a drink made from a nut milk.
In the headnote I was told that Bacon sprinkles colloidal silver “everywhere,” prizing it for being antibiotic, antiviral, and immunity-boosting, and noting helpfully that, “As outlined by the Silver Safety Council, six drops daily is a harmless way to support your body inside and out.” The Mayo Clinic, in contrast, puts it this way: “Colloidal silver isn't considered safe or effective for any of the health claims manufacturers make. Silver has no known purpose in the body. Nor is it an essential mineral, as some sellers of silver products claim.” It can also build up in your body over time, causing an irreversible condition called argyria that makes your skin turns blue. (Don’t google this.)
But save for the gritty little strawberry seeds that settled into a last sip, my silver-topped almond milk latte was lightly sweet and crisp—as crisp as milk can be. You cannot taste the silver, and my skin is not (yet?) blue. It was the first Moon Juice recipe I made, my gateway drink, and I was still optimistic despite the disturbing things I’d read about ingesting silver.
Like all good highs, it turned ugly from here.
Unless you consider warm Sea Bone Broth poured over shaved mushrooms, pattypan squash, and thyme a main, which I do not, the only main dish in Moon Juice is just a picture of a main: Kitchari Chia Pudding, a savory-slimy coconut-based concoction that’s shown as a sauce over zucchini noodles. Less appetized but still determined to find a slightly more substantial snack than a milk, I kept looking and found in the headnote of Bacon’s Fermented Green Crisps this:
I love these guys for the triple fermented sandwich—the crisps, a smear of cheese, and a dollop of fermented veggies.
I wanted that. I wanted to eat.
This “sandwich” took me about a week to make—and no component of it bore any resemblance to foods that could be ”smeared” or “dolloped.” Before I could even start it, I had to source a dehydrator—because if you want to actually chew your food on Planet Bacon, you’ll need to make room in your spaceship for one. (I found a model for $70-ish at Bed Bath and Beyond and it does its job just fine, humming like a little space heater, which it sort of is.)
For the recipe, I first tackled one of her fermented greens recipes, burping it dutifully throughout the week so as to not explode my glass jar. It isn't a difficult recipe to follow, per se, but for being a book seemingly directed at folks who don’t already ferment and activate everything at home, it (and others) lack precision to a frightful degree.
The burping, for example: I just did that because once, a fermenting kombucha jar exploded on my desk at work (the perils of working at Food52)—but Bacon had never mentioned doing it. What if I hadn’t? And should I cover my seeds and nuts when I’ve set them out in water overnight to activate? Can I liquify the “caramel sauce” by submerging the jar in warm water, the way the recipe suggests, and then re-chill it, over and over and over? There’s quite a lot of food chemistry happening without precision; in its place, in Bacon you have to trust.
Amanda Chantal Bacon grew up summering on Long Island and dining at “the exceptional restaurants of New York City,” as she puts it in the book. Young adulthood would see her passionately chasing a food profession by traveling to the far reaches of the world, enrolling in culinary school, working in an “artisanal bakery,” and then jetting off to California where she would take a job on Suzanne Goin’s kitchen staff.
All the while, Bacon was plagued with health conditions: a terrible, chronic cough that kept her awake as a child and which never entirely went away, and seasonal allergies, anxiety, and low energy that gripped her into adulthood. She first tried a juice cleanse as a way to curb her lifelong sugar addiction—and it worked. A new goal emerged, and it didn’t involved changing her unfortunate/humorous last name.
When I found myself again through food and medicinal herbs, I resolved to bridge the gap between the healing world and the foodie world for others, just as I had for myself. I felt revolution coming, and I wanted to align myself with the energy force-feeding this shift in consciousness.
Bacon has refined her wellness brand to be decidedly not granola (though she does have a few recipes for that): Her original Silver Lake shop expanded to two other L.A. locations, where her bottled “Moon Milks” go flying off the shelves and into the clutches of Gwyneth Paltrow and other superfans; her line of pastel, condom-like packets of “Moon Dusts” are available in her online store (or at Urban Outfitters), for when you just feel like shaking a little Brain Dust into your food like sugar); and just this week the Moon Juice Cookbook will cosmically appear on bookstores wherever you live.
Divided up into chapters like “Cosmic Provisions,” and “The Unbakery,” the Moon Juice Cookbook doesn’t pretend to be an ordinary guide to dinner. (The recipe names can be equally mystifying: Bliss Brain is a “caramel-y latte” of walnut milk and five medicinal powders, for example.) Of the 78 recipes, the majority feature sub-recipes—all the Moon Lattes require that you make a nut milk, the fermented greens go into the fermented crisps, etc.
But the index is organized in just two ways: by topic, such as “alkalizers,” and by modifier-first recipe names. Meaning Sumac Tomato Jam is listed under "immunity foods," "low-glycemic foods," "S's," and "unbakery items"—but neither Tomato recipes nor Jams.
The book’s photography, which I find entirely delightful in contrast, depicts hokey totems and close-up shots of gloppy elixirs—plus many hands wearing fancy jeweled rings—but nothing, really, that resembles food as you know it. The images are strange but good; they rouse your appetite even though you haven’t a clue what you’re seeing.
It's an unseemly devotion to mystery: Tease and opacity are inherent to the Moon Juice brand and to this cookbook, a very weird choice for a wellness company where things like bacteria have to be handled with care.
Of course, it’s all part of the shtick: You’ll chuckle at Bacon's use of the word “alchemy” (sometimes “cosmic alchemy” and sometimes “plant-based alchemy”) for cooking, but she’s not laughing at herself. And in hour 67 of making my stinky sandwich, I wasn’t laughing anymore either.
Never has a cracker been so incredibly offputting to make—you blend up a massive amount of pale-green, seed-flecked fermented snot and then use a dehydrator to permeate your apartment with the scent. It’s as if your space heater has gone sour. The crackers are indeed crisp, that is their one good attribute—but they taste like dirty dry pickles because they are, and they leave a scuzzy film on your teeth worse than sugar will, the kind my mom would call a “thick sweater.” They smell so unusual that when we took a picture in the studio, people left the set to escape it.
I set all cosmic energies towards the task of making a five-ingredient not-cheese, Cured Macadamia Nut Cheese: I soaked and drained the macadamia nuts (and some cashews), blending till smooth, stirring probiotic powder from inside those aging pills my friend convinced me to buy, fermenting the mix for 48 hours, freezing it into cheese molds, and then dehydrating those nuggets for another 36 (hours!), flipping once about halfway through. I ended up with a dozen of them, more like little crumbly yellow nut cookies than smearable cheese nugs.
And they’re so overwhelmingly salty that I can't eat them. (I read the recipe ten times to be sure but it’s true: A whole two tablespoons of pink salt, Bacon’s favorite, is called for just 2 3/4 cups of nuts.)
The sandwich—greens on “cheese” on crisps—is pale green-brown throughout and could have really used lettuce and tomato. It tasted like everything putrid I’d been smelling and tasting for the week; it fell apart in my hands; I ate it while my coworker appeared to move a whole seat over. I let a sandwich take over my life, and it wasn’t even good.
And like so many other things I made via cosmic alchemy from the Moon Juice Cookbook—the sour, vinegar-soaked almonds flaked in mushroom powder and seaweed; the “caramel sauce” composed of so much coconut oil (over 50% of the recipe) that it made me gag; the vanilla pastry dough spun out of almond milk pulp that felt like sawdust to chew, but actually tasted quite nice—the crackers turned out a very dull, poopy brown.
I was starting to really miss vegetables. Maybe this is Bacon’s perverse magic??
If you can get past the fact that Moon foods don’t taste like food as you knew it—in that past life where you just, I don’t know, ate grains and vegetables and milk and chickens—if you can get past taking perfectly good foods like sackfuls of macadamia nuts and making them unpalatable, past the idea of having to track down what are possibly superfluous/definitely expensive ingredients, there are some bright spots in Moon Juice: Bacon's honesty, while self-aggrandizing, is real, as is the goodness of a the sumac tomato jam and a simple raita recipe featuring cucumber and red onion swirled through yogurt. Admittedly I didn’t make the yogurt from fresh coconut meat, as she suggests—I just bought yogurt. It's good on steak—sorry!
For a wellness cookbook, Moon Juice recipes feature a disturbing lack of whole foods kept intact. She’ll mention vegetables in the sidebars—pour this broth over vegetables, try avocados mashed on this green crisp—but they are supporting roles for milks and dried-out mashes.
Throughout my long, brown week of testing, I kept saying to my
support group friends that I’d been shopping and shopping and cooking and cooking with nothing to show for it. The Moon Juice Cookbook isn’t here to help you make meals—it’s a guide to making the exact-ish slurps and snacks that you can, alternatively, pick up in a Moon Juice shop location. While it's not as snobby as it could be—even the priciest additives aren't diamond-crusted, and the recipes are actually easy to follow—time is what you lose on Planet Moon Juice. Time and, well, the pleasure of eating.
I made about a dozen recipes. They're all inedible. (And I like sauerkraut!)
Furthermore, Bacon can be profoundly unhelpful: “I’m often asked to share my beauty regimen. My answer is that beauty is not a regimen but a state of grace and longevity that follows biological age, not chronological age.” Uh, I think they wanted to know your favorite hand cream.
And where she tries to be, she fails: Tips and how-to’s are often buried far from the recipes themselves. (When making the crackers, for example, I had to google how to activate sunflower seeds because she didn’t name the page number of that explanation in the recipe.) She doesn’t claim that this book will be a manual for the Moon Juice lifestyle, but that very lack of added information leaves you stranded with a bottle of colloidal silver and no idea how to safely, effectively continue using it. (Ideas?)
Where is the source section, for trusted stores that carry things like a “pea-sized ball of shilajit resin”? (The Moon Juice online shop sells them, with creepily pharmaceutical packaging, but the cookbook doesn’t make that very clear.) Where are the citations, the expert opinions, the books to seek out if you’re interested in learning more about adaptogens? This book is part of Bacon's picture of a cosmic life well lived, but it won't actually make yours feel like one.
Toying with a dehydrator did get me excited about cooking with it—just think of all the fruit leathers I can make!—and I never would have bought one without being required to for this review. And apparently I do like pumpkin seed kefir. Who knew?
But ultimately, the book is a tease. An expensive, exhaustive, slightly scary, I'm-an-idiot-for-trying publicity stunt taken far too far. It made me think of this person I recently read about named Joe Mellon: He drilled a hole into his own skull in the 1960’s in order to become eternally high. Like Bacon, he believes in perfecting one’s earthly body to elevate it and the psyche to a higher state of being—a sort of heaven by way of hell here on earth. Mellon’s involves a one-time, several-thousand dollar cranial procedure that will allow your brain to more freely pulsate in its socket, whereas Bacon wants you to try out her raw, alkalizing, mineralizing, good fat-containing, low-glycemic, cultured and fermented, enzyme-rich, amino-fied, adaptogen-forward, organic diet.
In either case, no pain no gain.