The Price of Eating Healthy

Feature: Feeling lean on Fat Tuesday at True Food Kitchen

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It was Fat Tuesday. So why on earth was I having lunch at a health-food restaurant? True Food Kitchen in Fairfax styles itself as a "health-driven, seasonal restaurant merging nutrient-rich ingredients with a flavor-forward menu that rotates regularly to let guests experience great-tasting ingredients at the peak of their freshness."

Sounds great—I'm all about flavor forward (does anyone prefer flavor backward?). Still, it was the day before Lent. I should've been at Shake Shack with my Double SmokeShack bacon burger, cheese fries, and a black & white hand-spun milkshake (a mere 2,315 calories!). But I was dragged out there by two very health-conscious coworkers who were not only concerned for my well-being, but also intent to prove I could leave a health-food restaurant fully satisfied. I had my doubts.

True Food's principles are based on the work of Dr. Andrew Weil and the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. As explained on the restaurant's website: "This diet—not so much a ‘diet' in the ever-trendy weight loss variety—encourages simple changes in eating habits to avoid and counteract chronic inflammation: a root cause of heart disease, many cancers, Alzheimer's disease and more. It is a way of selecting and preparing foods based on science that can help people achieve and maintain optimum health over their lifetime."

Chronic inflammation also causes gout, and I've had my share of flare ups. My doctor, however, has decided to discontinue my anti-gout medication based on the assumption I am leading a healthy life and maintaining a sensible diet. How wrong she is (see Shake Shack fantasy above). In any event, an anti-inflammatory lunch couldn't hurt.

True Food Kitchen is a large and airy space with a funky, crunchy vibe. I twice got the whiff of pot smoke. But the server was friendly and helpful, and we ended up with a variety of dishes.

For starters, we had Kale Guacamole (in need of more salt), Tataki (slightly seared raw albacore), and Edamame Dumplings (with a rich and creamy, almost polenta-like filling). For the main course, I went pure health-nut and ordered the Teriyaki Quinoa Bowl with tofu, broccoli, heirloom carrot (note the singular), bok choy, mushroom, brown rice, avocado, and toasted sesame.

As for the beverages: My colleagues Rae-Lynn Ziegler and Emily Ferguson both tried the Carrot Turmeric Tonic. I, on the other hand, opted for the Health-Ade Kombucha* with cranberry and pomegranate. It was my first time trying this "bubbly probiotic tea," so I was a bit wary. After all, there are warnings on the bottle for those pregnant or breast-feeding. In addition, it says on the bottle, "Due to fermentation, this product may contain a trace amount of alcohol and small pieces of culture." Emily said she and her friend once made their own Kombucha. The process sounded like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The overall meal was flavorful (or flavor forward!) and filling. The vegetables were crisp—an American preference whereas the French like their veggies soft. Yet I didn't feel the way I do when I have a large steak and a few martinis or when I hit the buffet in our office lobby (what I affectionately call "the trough"). I did not have to roll myself out of the restaurant. Instead, I felt good about myself. As our former first lady would say, "Let's move!"

But my main entrée and Rae-Lynn's Grass-Fed Steak Tacos were both $17. Emily's Poke Bowl was $22. My Kombucha was $7.50. The Carrot Turmeric Tonics are $5 a pop. The bill came to over $100. Sure, it would be great if more people led healthier lives, but sadly this would be a meal many families would have to save up for. I can't imagine opening this place in, say, my hometown of Toms River, N.J. (whereas the town's Buffalo Wild Wings is thriving).

"If I had a billion dollars," I began to say, but Rae-Lynn completed my sentence: "You'd eat here every day." She added, "It's how celebrities eat."

Indeed. I can't live on True Food everyday (maybe once a month?). And I'm definitely not doing Keto or a juice cleanse. So maybe just common sense.

There's a passage in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (1877) where we learn how Count Vronsky keeps in great shape:

On the day of the races at Krasnoe Selo, Vronsky had come earlier than usual to eat beefsteak in the officers' mess of the regiment. He had no need to be in strict training, as he had very quickly been brought down to the required weight of one hundred and sixty pounds, but still he had to avoid gaining weight, and he avoided starchy foods and desserts.

Sounds good to me. In fact, dinner that night was at the Palm with my wife. And I did have a beefsteak. After all, it was Fat Tuesday.

*Make no mistake—Kombucha is the Next Big Thing. As Michael Ruhlman explains in Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, "Kombucha is a hip drink, in large part because it hits three top consumer hot buttons—it is probiotic, organic, and vegan—and it's shown phenomenal growth throughout the country (more than $500 million annually in 2015). Heinen's carries five or six brands. Their sales of the tea went from $294,000 in 2014 to nearly $900,000 in 2016."

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