In Search of Healthy Food

As I sip my decaf coffee with a splash of soy milk outside my favorite portable office, the Buzz Bakery and coffee shop, I reflect on how difficult it is to find healthy and tasty vegan foods away from my own kitchen. I think about this a lot actually.

Vegetarians and vegans can find a surprisingly vast amount of foods in restaurants and shops, but most of it is ladened with fats, sweeteners, and chemicals. I used to think that the unhealthy food issue was limited to us non-animal eaters, but I now believe it to be a systemic problem.

In the April 2012 Washingtonian Magazine, food-critic Todd Kliman answers this reader question: “Our country is facing a health crisis. Why aren’t many chefs changing their menus to reflect that?” Great question Reader! I want to know the answer too.

Here’s what Todd replied:

“Restaurant food isn’t constructed to be eaten four times a week — it’s constructed to be an indulgence. The problem is that people eat out more than ever. I suppose chefs could make a symbolic stand by lightening their dishes and making them less decadent. But would that really have an influence?

“Chefs are generally wary of making their food lighter. Even Italian chefs, such proponents of using olive oil, slather on butter to give dishes a finishing richness. They’re not much concerned with people’s diets. They’re concerned with getting people in the door and keeping them coming back.”

Because of my generally incredibly healthy diet as well as the fact that I no longer have a gallbladder and only have half a pancreas, when I eat something with too much fat in it, I immediately feel uncomfortable and sometimes even quite nauseous. And nine out of ten times when I eat food prepared outside of my own kitchen, I feel pretty lousy. My social life suffers because of it. I’d love to join friends for dinner at a restaurant, but I can only do so if I’m prepared to feel crummy afterwards.

There are two places in the DC metro area where I’m guaranteed a tasty meal that won’t make me feel sick: the healthy Indian food truck Rolls on Rolls and the chain Le Pain Quotidien. If I can find others I plan to start a running list on this site — part healthy food honor roll/part information for people who want to eat well.

I wonder if we’re approaching a tipping point in America. Will we as a nation become so unhealthy that even the most gluttonous will discover the need to eat healthier foods and choose home-cooked produce over butter-ladened foie gras? The cynic in me says Never! But as Rolls on Rolls and Le Pain Quotidien seem to have loyal followings, perhaps the market for healthy eating is brightening. A girl can dream.

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  1. Pamela DeSalvo says:

    Tracy, I disagree that it is very difficult to find a healthy meal out. Many restaurants are willing to accommodate special diets if asked to do so. Being in the restaurant business myself, I understand that operators are in business to make a profit and bring guests into their establishments. Unfortunately only 5% of the population, when dining out, consumes a whole foods plant based diet. Until the public mandates a change we will have to continue to prepare our meals at home or dine in establishments that will accommodate our requests.

  2. Tracy Krulik says:

    I think we’re actually saying the same thing. The norm, as Todd Kliman states, is for chefs to make rich foods that taste delicious and are meant for special occasions. It’s what the population wants, and most people are eating it regularly, many times a week. The restaurants are responding to the market.

    I went to a restaurant with a friend the other day and ordered the veggie sandwich without ricotta to make it vegan. It sounded delicious — sautéed lemon-garlic kale with roasted fennel. I loved the flavor of every bite, but every bite was dripping with oil. Even when I ask for healthier foods, my definition of healthy differs considerably from the kitchen’s view. It is what it is. I got the nutrients from the kale and fennel, which I love, but it was still too heavy for me.

    Do you have an restaurant recommendations? Not sure where you live, but there might be some readers in your area who could use the info. I hope you live here in the DC actually! I’d love to find more restaurants that can provide healthy options. The pickins seem kinda slim in the nation’s capital sadly.

  3. Mary Brereton says:

    Tracy, I had the same sandwich & felt exactly the same way! (Not to mention I simply could not fit the sandwich into my mouth with the thick baguette – and when I did manage a bit, one can not bite into a piece of kale.) I deconstructed, tried to cut it, probably burned more calories struggling with the darn sandwich than I ingested. And blotted the oil with several napkins, in a vain attempt to absorb some of the over-generous oil

  4. Tracy Krulik says:

    That’s hysterical! I kept apologizing to my friend for the green slime falling out of the sandwich and my mouth. (PSA: Don’t eat the veggie sandwich while on a date!) Have you tried the PB&J sandwich? I have to admit I’m curious about that one…

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