Wednesday, June 6, 2012

From Texas to the midwest: little improvements make a big difference


I just finished up a weekend at my college reunion in central Ohio. My flight out included a stop in Dallas/Fort Worth, TX, and once I landed, I was immediately on the hunt for real food. I knew it was going to be hard to find. There wasn't any restaurant information posted that I could find, so I resorted to browsing the Internets on my phone and found this, which is a list of what DFW considers healthful food choices. Here's an example:
While their definition of healthful often differed from mine, I really appreciated the effort, and it made it possible for me to find something that I could eat that was better than McDonald's. I first tried a taco place and wound up with the smallest $3 taco in existence. It was maybe 3" inches in diameter and had canned corn, a blob of chopped onions, and three of the smallest slivers of bell pepper you've ever seen. And then some sort of tangy lime/cheese sauce, which was actually quite good. But I was annoyed, because their sign read: "We only use pure, whole ingredients." Did I believe them? Not really, but my roasted corn, roasted pepper, and roasted onion taco was clearly half-canned and not at all roasted. Again, it's just getting less and less tolerable to be lied to. If I had cahones, I would have eaten it, gone up to them and said, "hi, excuse me, there was nothing vaguely roasted on my roasted vegetable taco. I'd like a refund. I don't like being mislead." But, I don't.

So even though my stomach is the size of a bird's, that taco didn't do it for me. I went to a place next to Au Bon Pain that had pre-made salads and soups. Again, I could see that they're trying. They had some gluten-free options and they even had organic tea. They had a monitor that was supposed to give me nutritional information about the food, but I couldn't get it to turn on. But again, I appreciated the effort. I ate right in front of Au Bon Pain and listened to the ladies working there chatting away. They were all obese. One of them stepped out from behind the counter to the chips display and said, "See, they're baked, not fried, so they're good for you." This made me sad. She's parroting all the misleading health claims that are thrown at her at every turn and no one has bothered to try to educate her. Again, if I had cahones, I'd say, "actually, while you're right that they're not as bad for you as the regular chips, there's nothing in there that's good for you. It's not food, really." Clearly the moral of the story is that I need to grow some cahones.


I'm impressed, Columbus. I think I was north central and gotta say, there were a lot of restaurants and bakeries with healthful food. I spent Friday morning taking the bus up N. High St a bit to where I thought a farmers market would be. It as raining and there was no one. But you see, I thought it was Saturday. I went into the coffee shop at the corner and asked the cashier where the food was at. That's when I realized it was Friday. Oops! But, I asked her for a recommendation for groceries, and she gave me walking directions to the Clintonville Community Market, which for those that live in Austin is like Wheatsville, but tinier. It was a dream come true. First of all, it was a lovely walk and the store is on the corner in the midst of a beautiful, quaint neighborhood. Half their produce was local, and it was exciting to pick up things that aren't in season in Austin anymore, like garlic scapes, red-leaf lettuce, and kale (a new variety!). Like the chain Natural Grocers, all the produce is sustainable. Their selection of local, pastured and amish eggs and cheeses was delightful, and they were CHEAP. Most of their bulk section was organic, too. And their bulk spices were amazing! they carried so many local products that my little local heart leapt. I recognized goods from Patty Cake, a bakery I had recently walked past in my Friday-morning journeys. I chatted with the cashier for a long time about sustainable agriculture and Austin's local food economy. It was right up my alley.

I also had the pleasure of visiting Northstar Cafe, which reminded me a lot of the Steeping Room, except without the tea. They had this amazing juicer:

And the most amazing veggie burger on the planet. Wish you could actually see it. It's got what looks like chewy, red rice, dates, something beet-related, and black beans. Beautiful.

Here are some of the other lovely things we ate there.

Northstar serves a Niman Ranch beef hamburger, which I had just read aaaalll about in the Righteous Porkchop by Bill Niman's wife, Nicolette. They also had some sort of chicken dish that served "FreeBird" chicken, so I'm assuming that's another famous traditional farm. Their tofu was organic (which to me is important, because I avoid genetically modified foods) and everything was fresh and phenomenal.

After dinner, we checked out Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream, and it was most definitely splendid. To my surprise, all their ice creams use local Snowville Creamery milk and cream, which is grass-grazed. I haven't had time yet to look into their operation (or hopefully, their cute traditional farm), but I wasn't expecting anything like that at an ice cream store, so I was thrilled. And dayum. I got the Backyard Mint, which was just mint ice cream, except it was made by soaking Ohio mint in the cream. Realest mint dessert I've had. I also had it with half a scoop of Dark Chocolate. Sooo rich. I forget nowwhat my friends got, but they were really imaginative flavors that involved lemon curd and verbena and juniper or something like this. Here are pictures of their glory.

At this point, I couldn't tell if Columbus is more progressive on this front than Austin, or if I was just in the right part of town. Probably the latter, but either way, I was a happy camper. There were lots of organic and natural food places to hit up, and seemed like everything had options for vegetarians and vegans. I ate out about once a day and made my other meals. I ate very well in Columbus, and I'm glad it was possible.


I didn't really visit Chicago, but I found something in the O'Hare airport that caught my eye and led me up a flight of stairs in a trance. A freaking urban garden. It's called an aeroponic tower garden. This describes everything.

Each tower had one type of plant, and they noted which restaurant in the airport used that particular plant from the garden. I wasn't hungry because I munched on my leftover veggie burger on the plane ride over there, but I did check out the restaurants. One of them had a sign posted next to its menu that attempted to describe where each main ingredient came from. It doesn't tell you how that ingredient is grown/produced, but at least they're trying to be transparent, and if I had the time, I could have looked up each company and each farm to see if they had the same values as I do. Wicked cool.

There was a lot of posted information about the urban garden and its benefits, but they conveniently fail ed to mention how much electricity this thing uses.

Then I realized that this was the coolest airport in the US (that I know of). They have an apiary. I remember reading this in the news, actually, but forgot it was Chicago O'Hare.

And I mean, LOOK:

And so

I was so encouraged on this trip by what I saw in three different parts of the country. Yes, some people are trying to offer healthier options to make money. But you know what? As long as it actually IS healthful, I'm glad. And even if it's not perfect, it's still a move in the right direction. I feel the momentum and maybe I'm being too optimistic, but I feel the change coming, too, and I'm beginning to realize that we CAN achieve a sustainable food system and one that really nurtures people's bodies. I hope it's not just a dream.

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