Amanda Chantal Bacon arrives at Blue Bottle Coffee, rosy-cheeked and windswept. “I had meetings this morning, so I got robbed of my power and spirit,” she apologizes, placing her almond-milk latte on the counter and rummaging through her oversize handbag. I’m opening my mouth to begin commiserating about the soul-sucking nature of meetings when she produces a handful of pastel packets with names like Dream, Brain, and Sex on them and arrays them on the counter with delicate ringed fingers. Then I realize: Right, of course, she’s talking about herbs.
“Would you like Brain, or Sex?” she asks, her eyes bright and inquisitive, then, without waiting for an answer, opens “Sex” and begins briskly shaking a thick brown powder into my coffee.
Bacon, the 33-year-old proprietor of Los Angeles–based potions-and-lotions emporium Moon Juice, has been serving these “Dusts” — basically, prettily packaged combinations of Chinese herbs — since 2012, when she opened her first juice bar in Venice Beach. While the Dusts quickly became a cult favorite among wellness enthusiasts and celebrities (Gwyneth Paltrow claims to “dust” her smoothies every morning), they achieved a wider audience this spring after a food diary Bacon wrote for Elle.com went viral. Though it was scrupulously vegan, Bacon’s diet, which included meals made from “pantry staples” including “cultured sea vegetables and pea sprouts,” Harry Potter–sounding supplements like cordyceps, Shilajit resin, pearl, and chia pudding made with her 4-year-old son, Rohan, was like throwing red meat to the internet. Those who didn’t mistake the diary for satire thought that Bacon’s diet seemed less “clean” than disordered, and found the obscurity and expense of her ingredients indulgent and pretentious. “Like ten Gwyneth Paltrows in one person,” one British writer remarked.
“It was kind of intense,” recalls Bacon, now. “There was a tweet that went out with a hashtag, ‘Free Rohan.’ And people were like, how come there’s no mention of the father, and she probably drove the father away, he couldn’t get his dick hard because she wouldn’t let him eat steak.”
As these things go, though, it was also good for business. “It got so many hits on our website,” she says. “It was insane.”
On the surface, Bacon fully embodies the caricature of the bourgeois West Coast bohemian. She’s wearing a $325 hippie dress, reeks of rose oil she buys from India, and references her “four days of home birth” within 15 minutes of meeting me. But beneath her waifish exterior is a steely core, as she discovered when the internet rained fury upon her. “I think there was actually a chemical response at first, like that cortisol fight or flight,” she says. “And then it was like a moment of, like, If I want to reach as many people as I say I do, then I have to walk through this fire.”
Today, Bacon is in New York on the first leg of the tour for The Moon Juice Cookbook: Cosmic Alchemy for a Thriving Body, Beauty, and Consciousness. In-between events, she’s been meeting retailers interested in aligning with the brand: “Net-a-Porter, Saks, Neiman Marcus, airlines wanting to put it into their first-class programs.”
Bacon has big plans for Moon Juice, which she sees as not a business but a mission to educate consumers about herbs that have changed her life. “To get information that feels precious and triggering now into everyone’s home and have it be normal,” she says. “Remember when kale was weird?” she says. “It was super specialized and expensive. Remember when edamame was weird. Remember when almond milk was weird?”
Although she vibes West Coast to the point of parody, Bacon is actually a born-and-bred New Yorker. Her mother, Chantal Bacon, was Betsey Johnson’s partner and CEO, and Amanda grew up just around the corner from where we are standing. “The ghost of me smoking Marlboro Reds is like, right there,” she says, gesturing to 15th Street. As a child, Bacon was diagnosed with various health ailments, including respiratory issues, and was advised by an Ayurvedic doctor she and her mother encountered in Integral Yoga Natural Foods on 13th Street to cut out wheat, cows’ milk, and sugar, which worked. “It was like a divine intervention.”
During her early teenage years, though, her strict regime fell by the wayside, as Amanda succumbed to the pleasures of being a New York City teenager, eating pizza, smoking cigarettes, and “going to Hogs and Heifers,” with a crew that included current social-media star Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky. She took her first tab of acid in the sixth grade, and then kept going. “I tried every drug multiple times,” she says. “And you know, tried swimming in the ocean at night on those drugs and tried green hair and making out with your best friend on those drugs and maybe like a tennis match while blowing bubbles in the middle of the night on mushrooms and really like taking you there to the highest peak, man,” she says. “This was that time in New York where things were really crazy, before Giuliani came in and straightened us all out.” While the Fat Jew’s interests seem to have arrested at that time — his recent contribution to the literary canon, Money Pizza Respect, celebrates the virtues of cocaine and other vices — by her mid-teens, Bacon was ready for a lifestyle change.
“It was almost like another layer of consciousness, where I was able to watch and say, ‘Okay, these are the psychoactive things coming in and making you feel this way. And then it was like, ‘Okay, that’s who I am. I want to move into that place.” After graduating high school (or wait: “I don’t even know if I finished high school, I don’t know if I have a certificate”), Bacon moved to Italy, “to detox” from New York City. “I felt like I needed to clean my body of prescription drugs that I had been put on that were so popular in Manhattan and clean my mind from a place that I feel like there was just a lot of fear,” she says. From there, she went to culinary school in Vermont, and spent time in the kitchens at Los Angeles restaurants Lucques and Forage, where the demanding schedules and unhealthy lifestyle of a kitchen line worker prompted Bacon to revisit the Ayurvedic lessons of her youth and rekindle her interest in food as medicine. “I started with like avocados and hemp seeds and like, how about a smoothie, and that was feeling pretty good,” she says. “So I was like, ‘Okay, there’s got to be another layer. That’s the old pre-Giuliani in me, that’s like, if this feels good, I got to get higher,” she says, her voice rising in a way that draws the attention of other people in the coffee shop. “I want more energy, I want more vitality, I want more hair, I want more kidney chi, when I have sex I want it to be sexier, and when I meditate I want to go out further!”
Bacon bangs her wrist down on the counter. People look up, confused. It would be a perfect moment for someone to say, “I’ll have what she’s having,” but instead after a second they just look back at their phones. “And what I started to play with were these ancient formulas and goddamn, the shit worked.”
After a while of being “the freak” around her friends, “the girl who would whip out an old, dusty crazy bag of things” at a bar when everyone else was drinking, Bacon got the idea to open Moon Juice, right at the peak of the juice-cleanse craze. When it proved successful, she debated a line of bottled juices, but then that trend went bad quicker than, well, a cold-pressed juice. “So that was a quick pivot,” she says, of the decision to focus on Dusts as her breakout product line.
The Dusts, which are now available on Amazon, have not been approved by the FDA, and there’s no formal training behind the recipes. “I’ve gone the nontraditional route, working with herbalists, working with kinesiologists, working with Ayurvedic doctors, and reading,” she says. “I am constantly voraciously reading medical texts until four or five in the morning.”
While some users claim to have gotten sick, others are rhapsodic. Personally, after ingesting a latte of Sex Dust I feel nothing other than a need to brush my teeth, to rid my mouth of the barky aftertaste — “Like Splenda mixed with dirt,” as my colleague put it. But some of her claims carry the unmistakable whiff of snake oil, like when she tells me that incorporating adaptogens (botanicals said to help the body adapt to stress) will “reverse” and “stop” time. “You are going to be transcending time,” she promises.
The Dusts are also, as her internet haters protested, expensive, from $20 for a box of ten individual sachets to $175 for the full Moon Dust collection. Asked about that, Bacon’s “fiery Aries” nature rears up. “We could sit here and talk about why some people have more money than other people and I get it but I mean like maybe ask Bernie Sanders, not me,” she says tartly. “I’m assuming anybody who reads your magazine is going to have some level of disposable income so if we are speaking to that level of person I always ask people what they invest in. Do you get your nails done? Do you drink cocktails? Do you want to try something in your life? Then pick one of these things, do a swap.”
Eventually, she goes on to add that she hopes that scaling the business will eventually bring down prices enough that she will be able to deliver her product to the masses.“I will be next to Coca-Cola on the shelf,” she says with conviction.
“I’m proud of Amanda,” her old pal, Josh “The Fat Jew” Ostrovsky, emails to say, later. “She’s a successful small-business owner, treats her body with respect, and most importantly sells $10 shots of bee pollen and hand-harvested resin made from primordial matter gathered from a Himalayan mountainside to white people in Silver Lake. That’s bossy as fuck.”
Of course, one can always be bossier. Back at the coffee shop, Bacon takes one last sip of her Brain-dusted latte and smiles. “I’d love to be ten Gwyneth Paltrows in one.”