Embracing the natural life …
Barry Kaplan claims that no matter where you are, it’s what you make of it. After “wandering” the United States in the 1970s, the Scranton native never lost sight of northeastern Pennsylvania, and eventually came home to plant his roots. Kaplan is not only involved in the local real estate market, he teamed up with his wife and sister- in-law in the mid-1980s to open Everything Natural, an organic food and natural products store in Clarks Summit. He speaks with concern and raw emotion about the current state of our planet and aims to educate people about the relationship between the food we eat and our health. He’s doing his part to save the planet and taking small steps toward big changes. Meet Barry Kaplan…
How did you get involved in healthy living and nutrition?
I became an ethical vegetarian in the 1960s, but to make the leap into where it became an interest in nutrition and a holistic lifestyle wasn’t until I was in college. That’s when I became a vegetarian. I didn’t get support as a vegetarian in 1969 while home; it was a little radical for the day. But as soon as I left home, it was instantaneous. It didn’t do well for me at first. What I learned was eating in a college cafeteria in 1971, and not eating animal proteins was not a good way to survive. It wasn’t enough to sustain me. I was given an exemption from the dorm rules, was allowed a mini fridge and a hot plate and I started cooking and learning nutrition. I started going to natural food stores and learning about the connection between what you eat and health.
Tell me about Everything Natural and its beginnings.
In 1971, I was one of the founding members of a natural food co-op in Scranton. In 1978, I opened a natural food store in Scranton’s hill section. While relocating the store to Clarks Summit, the move fell apart. In those days I had very long hair. Two weeks before I was set to occupy a new space I had rented, the landlady said she couldn’t rent it to me. It turned out she was scared of my long hair! Everything was ready to sprout and she pulled the ground out from under me. I had a natural foods bakery running simultaneously and moved on. A few years later, my sister-in-law and wife asked about opening a store and I thought about it for all of two seconds and said “yes.” From there, Everything Natural was born.
How have your customers embraced your store’s vision?
They have. We had hoped it would be a viable thing to do, but in those days, it wasn’t exactly the wisest career move, at least not at face value.
You were a visionary.
(Laughs). I guess that’s true, but we didn’t see it that way! We just thought there was a need and we would bring our passion to it. We could serve other people and serve the planet. Serving the planet was definitely part of our mission statement and still is to this day. We didn’t think of ourselves as the vanguard, but we were. In all these years, the fringe we were on has become mainstream. I like to say “in the ’70s we were health nuts; now we’re authorities.”
You’re also involved with real estate as well.
It’s still serving and helping people. The job changes every day. The people I work with are still the best part of the business. It’s extremely satisfying to help somebody through what can be a very trying, nerve racking experience. It’s so heartwarming and satisfying to hold their hands through it and help them get something they want so much. Our houses are our greater selves. We project ourselves into our living spaces.
How conscious are you on a daily basis of your personal impact on the environment?
To be truthful about it, I’m just like everybody else, but I’m surrounding myself with all these different mechanisms and avenues. I actually live it and do it, even when it becomes background for me. I’m very much lower on the carbon footprint than the average person. I’ve been living it, educating about it, doing small things all the time and trying to make it easier for myself and everyone else.
What do you think people in this area could focus on more in regards to the environment?
The most important thing is their lifestyle and modifying those small things that really add up. Do people need to drive as much? Do they need to buy something? Can it be reused? Can it be repurposed? Can it be recycled by giving it to someone else further along in the chain or recycled if it’s at the end of its life span. Another is making the connection between that lifestyle and diet. One of the most inefficient things we do is eat meat. It takes huge resources: land resources, water resources, oil resources and more. I’m not telling people “don’t eat meat.” You can eat meat responsibly and sustainably, but we eat way too much of it and in a way that is non-environmentally sustainable. Small changes make huge differences.
The most dangerous problem our planet is facing is…?
…the lack of oversight and lack of commitment to environmental resources by governing bodies. I’m an optimist and we have made so many great strides, but the perils are equally strong. We have to modify the way we live and live sustainably and within the capacity of the planet and its carrying load. If we don’t, we’re in for some very scary times. I think we can do it. When push comes to shove, people will make the decisions they need to make. Some people want to live short-term, but we cannot if we as a species want to survive. The planet will survive, but will we survive with it? We have to live within our own means, ecologically and sustainably. It’s a lot easier than people think.
— tom graham
Everything Natural, 426 S. State St. Clarks Summit, will host an Earth Day open house, Saturday, April 21 with organic food sampling and a fresh organic juice demonstration; info on GMOs and food labeling laws, screening of Fat Sick and Nearly Dead and live music. Everything Natural will also host an NEPA Eco-Tour, Sunday, April 22, featuring stops at Henningstead Farm, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary, Salt Springs State Park, Big Bear Bee Farm, The Trolley Trail and ending with an organic dinner at Be Life Café and Marketplace. For more information, visit www.everythingnaturalpa.com.