This part of my website has been a long time coming but it was one of my primary motivations for starting my website as I am constantly struggling to find food that meets my quality standards when eating out. Quality for me includes non-GMO, organic, locally sourced whenever possible, and foods made from quality, scratch ingredients. Most of my friends will testify to the efforts I go to when traveling, or going to a new area, to find food that I feel good about eating. However, these same friends will also tell you that the restaurants we have found and the meals we have eaten are some of the best they have ever had.
One of the biggest issues I find in restaurants is the oil they are using for frying, cooking and in salad dressings. GMO soy and canola oils are found in almost all fryers through out the United States because of the low cost of these oils and the popularity of the marketing campaign behind canola oil. Both oils are polyunsaturated, but they are primarily omega 6 fatty acids which lead to inflammation in the body vs. the omega 3 fatty acids that decrease inflammation. Chronic disease spikes in heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes are associated with the increased use of both oils in the late 1990’s. Both crops are primarily GMO varieties, Round Up ready, and conventionally farmed which are damaging to our soil and sustainability, in addition to the issues with the Round Up toxicity.
Canola oil is not only a GMO crop, it contains a trace amount of a neurotoxin called erucic acid from the rapeseed plant that has been stress altered to make what we now know as the canola plant. In addition, the removal of the canola oil requires a multi-step chemical processing, including bleaching. Studies have demonstrated the intake of canola oil has led to significant declines in working memory and has an negative impact on weight management. While Bayer/ Monsanto have stated that the amount of erucic acid is within a “safe and acceptable level”, data on the amount of this chemical present in foods fried or cooked with canola oil is not available and does not account for multiple exposures in salad dressings, processed foods, baked goods, and fried foods.
While I have found the oils to be the biggest hurdle in eating out, avoiding factory farmed meats, farmed fish, high fructose corn syrup (non-organic ketchup), and non-organic wheat that has been desiccated (dried to increase harvest) by Round Up are the other significant factors that can decrease a restaurants quality. Attention to details like homemade ketchup and salad dressings, using organic dairy and animal products, and frying in rice bran/ peanut (allergies can be an issue here) are some of qualities I look for when I am recommending a restaurant. Often, I will find all aspects present except the use of canola oil to fry, as it has been widely accepted as “healthy” based on the marketing campaigns of Monsanto/ Bayer who owns the patent for canola oil. While I will not completely exclude a restaurant for this, it does make me question decisions in other areas, and I believe it really does signify a commitment to quality food as it is more expensive to use alternative oils, like rice bran.
Lastly, from a sustainability standpoint, the food system is the second largest user of fossil fuel in the U.S. economy, behind the automobile industry. Restaurants who use locally sourced foods are not only cutting down the carbon footprint, they are supporting the local economy and more importantly local organic farmers. Organic farmers are charged upwards of $5000 a year by the USDA to maintain their organic certification, while this same agency provide tax funded subsidies to grow conventional commodity crops like soy, corn and wheat. While often these restaurants charge a premium price, we are actually paying the real price of food when you eat organic and non GMO as our tax dollars make most of the cheap ingredients, like soy, corn and wheat that are seen in processed and fast foods.