I really like Fresh, a small restaurant chain in Toronto that grew out of a juice bar and now has three thriving vegetarian food locations. We used to eat in there a lot – the rice bowls are really seriously good, and the pancakes at weekend brunch are amazing – but the noise levels seem to have crept up in the past few years so we tend to do more take-out. Living quite close to the Spadina location, I often pop in there at lunch to pick up one of their prepared salads or sandwiches. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the crispy tempeh on the salad was salty; in fact, so salty that I couldn’t eat it. I started poking around for nutritional information on their website, and found that they don’t have any, which was surprising for a company where, for the founder “learning about the numerous medicinal and nutritional benefits of many fruits and vegetables brought an almost evangelical desire to share this with as many people as possible”. Apparently, however, she only wanted to share the benefits, not the actual information.
I wrote to the info email address on the website, asking if they publish the nutritional content, and received the answer that they don’t publish that information, and were just writing a statement about why that is. I checked back on the site today, and here it is:
At Fresh, we have chosen not to have nutritional breakdowns for our food and juice menus. Here’s why:
We believe that for the last few decades, food industry marketers, nutritional scientists and journalists have confused us about what to eat. Knowledge that used to be passed down from one generation to the next has been taken over by a money-making agenda put forth by people looking to profit from the confusion. We are taking a stand against this and want to follow a philosophy closer to what Michael Pollan talks about in his book “In Defense of Food”. His mantra is deceptively simple.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Meaning: Eat real food-real ingredients that haven’t been processed beyond recognition. Don’t stuff yourself. Be mostly vegetarian.
Nutritionism started in the 70s, and is basically the science of breaking down food into its various components. For instance, rather than saying “Oranges are good for you”, nutritionism would say “Oranges have vitamin C, fibre and calcium. These elements are good for you”. Nutritionism suggests that food is simply the sum of its parts and that the effects of individual nutrients can be scientifically measured, and that eating requires ever changing expert advice. One day it’s saturated fat that is bad, next day it’s carbs, then it’s trans fats…what’s next?
I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t cut it for me. For a restaurant chain to basically say that they don’t need to publish nutritional data because everything there is good, when they serve foods that are high in sodium and fat, is total nonsense. I want the data, not a patronizing statement that implies that Fresh knows more about my nutritional needs than I do. I responded:
I read the new section on your website but have a pretty serious problem with it because it implies that I’m not smart enough to handle data such as how much of any particular nutrient is in my meal. I like to know what I eat, in particular, I want the calories, fat, carbs, protein and sodium content so that I can manage my overall food consumption. Sorry, but I just don’t trust you — or any other restaurant — to pick the right choices for me since you have no idea what my specific needs are. I already eat mostly vegetarian, and not too much, as Michael Pollan advises, but I notice that my overall health suffers if I consume too much sodium, or if my protein-carb-fat balance is too much out of whack. That means that I track those things, and unfortunately, if I can’t track what I eat at Fresh, I’ll be eating there much less often.
You need to trust your patrons to make their own choices, not try to make those choices for them. Most people will never go to the website and look for nutritional information; for those of us who do, we really want that information, not a patronizing statement about what you believe rather than the nutritional facts.
If we’re going to get out of the dysfunctional eating mess that we’re in today, everyone needs to become more aware of what they’re eating. For some people, they just want a feel-good nutritional nanny statement like the pap that Fresh already serves up. But for some of us, that means that we want nutritional breakdowns including protein, carbs, fat and sodium. Bring it on, please.