The more I research the Internet for plant-based eating information, I find that more and more “experts” in the field of health and nutrition are emphatically recommending the plant-based diet. In fact, a diet containing almost any amounts of sugar, fat or salt is considered to be the most dangerous anybody can eat. I’m presently reading a book, Unprocessed: How to achieve vibrant health and your ideal weight by Chef AJ and one point that she “hammers on” throughout the book is that so many of us are actually addicted to sugar, fat and/or salt. She feels that this is the main reason why it is so difficult for us to stop eating processed foods, whether it is junk foods or meals at a regular restaurant. As we know, most addictions are thought to never be totally “cured,” but they can be controlled by total abstinence. Arriving at “total abstinence” of sugar, fat and/or salt is a very difficult journey for many people, but it can be achieved with a strong desire and a determined spirit. Most people choose to move slowly or gradually from the “all American diet” to a total plant-based diet, in fact Chef AJ recommends that, unless you have an “all-or-nothing” personality, it is OK to start with a 30-day program to make sure you, 1) like the plan, and 2) can stay committed for a short amount of time. In some cases where an addiction to a particular food is particularly strong, she recommends giving up that food for a couple of days, then a week, then two weeks, etc. until you have built up to 30 days. Most people agree that a “new habit” is established when you have done something for at least 21 days so her plan should be workable for almost everybody. No matter what approach you choose to take, there will be times when you need to eat out at a restaurant. Therein lays the main focus of this Post, “Dining Out.”
Whether you move slowly or all in one step to a total plant based diet, I must tell you that it’s much easier to move in the right direction when you cook your meals at home. Eating out is much more difficult, and many times almost impossible, to “stay the course” since you are totally at the mercies of the Chef and how he or she chooses to prepare the meal. Usually one or more of the previously mentioned “ingredients” will be in abundance in each and every dish served. For this, and other reasons, we must constantly be diligent and ask lots of questions as we order our food. Also, it is most helpful when someone shares the news of a “good plant-based” dish or meal at any restaurant. In this post I want to share three “good experiences” I have enjoyed at three different restaurants…one in Columbia, SC, one in Asheville, NC, and one is a particular entree on the menu at Ruby Tuesdays.
In Columbia, SC, my wife and I had a wonderful meal at a Vegan restaurant, Lamb’s Bread Café at 2338 Main Street. You have heard the ole adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” well, that applies hear. The Lamb’s Bread Café is listed as a vegan soul food/Caribbean Café, and is considered a Vegan-Friendly restaurant. The walls are filled with African masks and artwork and many full-figured carved, wooden statues are strategically placed throughout the restaurant. You order you food at the counter from the daily menu written on a white board. The servings are very tasty and plentiful and are served by a very pleasant staff. I chose a plate containing mock beef strips, collard greens, scalloped potatoes, corn bread, and sweet potato/raisin pie for dessert. The meal was both very delicious and well-presented and diet-wise, probably the only “no no” part of the meal was there was most likely some oil on the potatoes and in the pie crust. Other than my ordering, then eating, too much food for one meal, I (we both) recommend the Lamb’s Bread Café as an excellent place to eat when you are in Columbia, SC.
Now, let’s go to Ruby Tuesday’s. They have added a new item to their menu recently that sounded delicious and appeared to fit the plant-based diet criteria…spaghetti squash with marinara sauce, topped with grilled zucchini squash and Parmesan cheese. We ordered this entree but asked them to leave the Parmesan cheese off. This main course was preceded by a very nice all-vegetable salad with a small amount of balsamic vinegar dressing. I’m sure the dressing had olive oil in it, but I used only a very small amount. The meal was both delicious and very filling and I will order it again, with a couple of changes. Upon further checking, I discovered the marinara sauce has 52% of its calories from fat…much too much, in fact, off the chart. Next time I will order the dish with the marinara sauce “on the side” and will use only vinegar as the salad dressing (or take a small bottle of my own oil-free balsamic dressing). Do you think there’s a law against “brown bagging” your own salad dressing?
Here were two delicious meals at very fine restaurants, however neither meal followed the “plan” 100%, which just shows the difficulty when eating out. However, I must say, “More and more restaurants are beginning to ‘get the word’ that their patrons are starting to be much more health conscious and are asking for, and in some cases, demanding healthier food be served!” Whether you eat a plant-based diet or the “all American diet,” please let the owners/managers of the restaurant, where you eat, know that you prefer food items which have less sugar, fat and salt in them! These three items are slowly killing far too many people.
For the grand finale, let me share with you the special dinner my wife and I had at The Plant Restaurant at 165 Merrimon Ave, in Asheville, NC. This restaurant is in a class of its own and deserves special recognition, not just for a special dinner on Valentine’s day, but every meal. We have eaten there twice and the quality of the food was exceptional both times. Their everyday menu selections are equally as tasty as the Valentines Day special. The citizens of Asheville should be extremely happy that the threesome who own The Plant decided on their city for this restaurant!! The three owners, Alan Berger, Leslie Armstrong and Jason Sellers, all vegan themselves, are totally committed to serving a plant-based menu, and doing it at a quality level that one usually finds only in a five-star restaurant. Alan and Leslie moved to Asheville from Charleston, SC in 2004, and they became friends with Jason shortly after their move. Jason, the chef at The Plant, worked at Candle 79 in New York City, considered by many as being the number one vegan restaurant in the USA. Where ever he learned, he certainly takes his food creations to an entirely new level….far too advanced for this “ole farm-boy” to describe! I just know, I like his cooking and I will eat there as often as I am in the Asheville area!!!
Rather than my trying to describe the set-menu for Valentines Day, let me just show you some pictures of the meal. There were the three courses, all of which were vegan and I am including a picture of each.
Not only do these dishes look delicious, but they were delicious!! I can enthusiastically recommend The Plant Restaurant as a great place to eat if you are seeking very high quality, vegan food.
I know, this Post has only touched the tip if the iceberg when discussing the issues involved when attempting to find a healthy, plant-based meal at a restaurant. I personally look at this, not as a problem, but a challenge to tell as many people as I can influence about the benefits of the plant-based diet, then get more and more people talking with restaurant owners/managers about adding “healthy food” to their menus. I feel that the science speaks to this issue, the economy speaks to this issue and slowly the medical community is shifting the emphasis from “treating disease” to preventing disease” which also speaks to this issue. For those who really care about their own health, the health of their kids, grand kids, and others, PLEASE, make a change in your own eating habits, then “pick up the torch” and help us move toward becoming a much healthier nation and world. Far too many people are dying prematurely from preventable diseases!!
Milton V Massey, DDS