Whole Life Expo 2010: A Personal Account

This will probably be my last year attending the Whole Life Expo.

Last year, I had a lot of fun, took some great photos, tried some foods (some great; some not-so great) and learned a lot about the field of alternative health and its practitioners. This year, if I had to sum up my experience in one word, it would be “disappointed”. I was harassed and threatened by the organizers and had to endure Julia Woodford, the woman responsible for organizing the expo, explain to me how my photography was illegal, lacked integrity, and constituted slander (ironic, given the accusations she was flinging around). From the very second we stepped foot in the expo’s main exhibit hall, it was made abundantly clear that we were persona non grata.

The Expo's Main Exhibit Hall
A Photo from Outside the Exhibit Hall

But all of this was largely irrelevant. I can handle being yelled at, verbally abused, and being told I lack integrity. Even the clearly threatening demeanor of the expo’s volunteers didn’t bother me too much. What really irked me was the veil of secrecy that was thrown over this year’s expo, in the form of a policy that prohibited any non-approved photography, videography, or audio recordings of the event — a policy that was not in place last year. As an amateur photographer, I enjoy taking photos and last year, I was able to produce a fairly extensive collection of photos from the expo that are still used and referenced on a fairly regular basis.

This year, we could barely speak to anybody, given the level of paranoia created by a combination of the expo’s new recording policies, the overly-aggressive event staff, and the two public announcements that were made to specifically tell everyone to watch out for the skeptics in black [context]. Stephen, a man who ran a chakra-balancing booth at the expo, was awesome for being the only person this weekend who spoke to Julia Woodford on our behalf and granted us permission to take photos of him and his booth. Thanks, Stephen!

Michael Payton of CFI Canada Gets His Chakras Aligned
Michael Payton of CFI Canada Gets His Chakras Aligned

Julia Woodford, the organizer of the expo, accused me of taking “illegal” photographs and “lacking integrity” as a photographer. I suppose this sort of reaction was to be expected when my (fully legal) photography demonstrated that ear candling took place at the expo last year, despite her statements to the contrary. Prohibiting photography was probably the best tactic they could come up with when it became obvious that no attempt had been made to either stop ear candling treatments, or to prohibit the sale of ear candles, contrary to Julia Woodford’s public assurance.

Michael Feels Better
This is the type of confrontation and antagonism they’re scared of?

It would be dishonest for me to say that I didn’t go to the Whole Life Expo with some pretty strong pre-conceived notions of the validity of many of the products and practices sold there. What I did not do was go with the intent to confront, harass or ridicule the expo’s other attendees or their beliefs, which is more than can be said about the expo’s organizers. Last year’s Whole Life Expo was an eye-opening experience where I was exposed to many different health products and viewpoints. Even though my mind remained unchanged, I still felt that the experience was a productive and enlightening one. This year, that was not the case.

6 Responses to “Whole Life Expo 2010: A Personal Account”

  1. Richard says:

    Restricting photos in events like this isn’t all that unusual… mostly it’s not really enforced; it’s just a stated limitation to use should someone obstruct the flow of people, or try to make money off images of someone’s products etc. I’d expect such a limitation at One Of a Kind or something.

    That said, the proprietors of Whole Wallet Expo seem to have an ulterior motive, especially when the announcements and the confrontation are brought into the mix.

    I’ll still extend an invitation to Julia and her people to attend the next Skepticamp. Despite being so “closed minded” as skeptics, why is it that we seem to be okay with them attending our events, and talking with them?

  2. Thomas Doubts says:

    Canadian skeptics should, in a way, be somewhat flattered that their mere presence at the expo was the source of such consternation.

    It’s funny too that skeptics are seen as a threat, considering so many of us are subcutaneously challenged and sport bad haircuts. Beware the geek army and skeptics in black! (A wickedly cool name for a skeptical group, too).

    Seriously though, it is good PR for the skeptical movement as a whole to show up at these events in an inquisitory and genuine fashion, instead of going in with debunking guns fully loaded.

    Richard is right: I’m sure skeptics would be more than happy for New Agers to attend skeptical events. S’funny that woohoo-ers can be so close-minded and yet their brains still fall out.

  3. Josh says:

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching this story unfold. A general kudos to all those who attended, and in particular to Skeptic North.

    I do have a couple of comments:

    1) Every effort should be made to avoid sensationalism. Mitchell, I applaud you for the restraint in your language in this regard.

    2) Every effort should be made to be polite. Obviously I can’t comment on the specific details of the Whole Life Expo, as I wasn’t in attendance, but I do hope that every effort was made to remain polite throughout the harassment. Responding to hostility with impoliteness only fuels the verbal and emotional flames. Calm, reasonable responses are the only anecdote.

  4. Blair Renaud says:

    haha, Payton… such a ham. :P

  5. Hanna says:

    I have attended the Whole Life Expo for the third year now, mainly for the good food and some good bargain shopping. I took photos last year and most food vendors and eco-friendly products vendors were very friendly, open-minded and posed for photos.
    The exhibitors who opposed to photos and usually act defensively when skeptical people approach are the “spiritual healers” and psychics. They should be banned from this fair. Their practises and services are dishonest and a rip-off. Unfortunately, they are going to ruin the reputation and credibility of this otherwise good fair.

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  • Mitchell Gerskup

    Mitchell Gerskup recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Economics and Philosophy. An avid atheist and skeptic, he has served as the President of the University of Toronto Secular Alliance, helping to promote science, reason and critical thinking around Toronto. He also volunteers with the Centre for Inquiry’s Ontario branch, and currently sits on the CFI’s Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism. Mitchell is also an accomplished competitive debater, having debated all across Canada. In addition to issues of economics and philosophy, Mitchell is interested in the fields of science and technology.