There was a time when I ate salads and french fries at McDonald's, but they proved to be less-than-ethical in the 1990s when they said that they no longer used lard in their french fries, so vegetarians could eat them. A few years later, it came out that tallow was an ingredient. So, they traded pig fat for beef fat. While some vegetarians decided to sue the fast food chain, it made me realize that we are responsible for what we put in our mouths -- and whom we trust to feed us. In the end, it was one of the experiences that led us to Antiquity Oaks.
After learning that we don't eat at McDonald's, there is usually a quick list of questions: "Do you eat at X, Y, or Z?" and "Do you eat out at all?" and ultimately, "Where do you eat out?"
First of all, you have to realize that although I'm no longer a vegetarian, I only meat whose history I know, which means that I don't eat meat from restaurants. When I eat out, I'm basically shopping like a vegetarian and looking for places with good vegetarian options.
My first choice is Chipotle. In fact, I visit their website when I travel to see if there will be any Chipotle restaurants on my trip. Why do I like them so much? Because I think every restaurant should follow their model. They buy sustainably-farmed meat and rBGH-free dairy products. Rather than looking for the cheapest way to do business (they have the highest cost in the fast-food industry), they look for the best -- best food ingredients and even the best wages for people who pick the tomatoes for their restaurants. They use romaine lettuce instead of iceberg, and 100% of the pork and chicken used in their restaurants is drug-free and humanely raised. So far 50% of their restaurants serve beef that has been sustainably raised, and they're working to find enough suppliers to make that 100%. No, I don't eat the meat at their restaurants. Their vegetarian black beans are great in all of their entrée choices, and I just don't feel a need to eat meat very often. The food in their restaurants is also fresh, not greasy, and delicious. Seriously, they serve freshly made guacamole!
If a Chipotle is not available, I will eat at Panera, but they are a distant second to Chipotle. There is a good variety of soups and salads, and it is one of the healthiest options out there in the fast food category. Unfortunately, they use a variety of ingredients that you don't find in a real kitchen, such as dough conditioners and artificial flavors. I find it annoying that they advertise making their breads from scratch. My definition of "made from scratch" is that every ingredient can be found in a real kitchen, yet I've never seen a jars of mono- and diglycerides or polysorbate 80 in the grocery store. And they're definitely not using fresh ingredients in their soups when the potatoes include sodium acid pyrophosphate as an ingredient. Yes, they are better than the fast-burger joints, but you can still do better in your own kitchen.
But what if there is no Panera or Chipotle to be found? I will settle for Subway, which is available as readily as a McDonald's or Burger King. We all have our challenges in life, and low blood sugar is one of mine. If I don't eat every five or six hours, I will get the shakes and start to feel really crappy. A couple decades ago, I managed to make myself pretty sick by refusing to eat when nothing suitable was available, so I've come to the conclusion that eating at Subway is better than nausea, dizziness, shaking hands, and a headache, especially when I'm driving. That's not a very good endorsement, but it's the best I'm going to give a restaurant that has one of the longest lists of nasty ingredients I've seen on bread. This is what you're getting in their Italian white bread:
Enriched flour (wheat flour, barley malt, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, sugar, contains less than 2% of the following: soybean oil, fermented wheat flour, yeast, salt, wheat protein isolate, wheat gluten, dough conditioners (acetylated tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides, ammonium sulfate, calcium sulfate, ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide, potassium iodate, amylase [enzymes]), sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, lactic acid, sulfites, mineral oil.
Mineral oil? Seriously? It's a petroleum product! I wouldn't put it on my babies' bottoms 20 years ago, and I certainly don't want to eat it. I didn't even know it was legal to put mineral oil in food. I get the 9-grain wheat bread, although it's only slightly better. (At least there's no mineral oil in it.) I find this rather interesting since the most delicious bread I make at home has only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. The fresh vegetables are, at least, fresh, and the provolone cheese is real cheese, so you can get a fairly nutritious meal. I just don't understand why they have to put so much crap in their bread when it's supposed to be baked fresh daily. I'm sure my bread even costs less to make.
I'd like to think that there are more healthy options out there for us when we're away from home. What are some of the places you've found?
This is Part I of a two-day post on eating out. Tune in tomorrow for sit-down restaurants and how to break the addiction to eating out.
For more posts of food, check out Real Food Wednesday.