Keeping it real: Asheville restaurants commit to food transparency
“It’s fairly easy to make food taste good with white flour, white sugar and cheap oil, and that’s a lot of what’s going on in the world — and actually our town. So, we put the handcuffs on ourselves on purpose, and we love it,” says Mitchell Orland, who owns the new Haywood Road restaurant BimBeriBon along with Reza Setayesh.
Orland and Setayesh, who both have plenty of experience in the food industry, wanted to focus on offering a menu full of healthy food concocted with a transparent ingredient list. But beyond that, they wanted to make sure the menu offers something for everyone, regardless of allergies, sensitivities or other dietary restrictions. “After doing some research, I found out several facts about some of the ingredients in some of the mass-produced foods that we are using on a daily basis, and I wanted to make a change,” explains Setayesh. “I wanted to create a new movement in dining that is flavorful and is international and is for everyone, but yet it helps nourish your body and allows you to reach your best.”
Identifying the enemies
Label Insight’s 2016 Food Revolution Study surveyed over 1,500 consumers and examined how demand for transparency is shaping the food industry. The results show that “the vast majority of consumers value product transparency and consider a wide array of information about a particular product before making purchase decisions.” The study also discovered that, for the most part, consumers don’t trust how companies are providing this information.
A number of Asheville restaurants — usually ones that focus on catering to vegetarians, the health-conscious or those with special dietary needs — take pains to make sure their menus offer above-average transparency, including Elements Real Food, Nine Mile, Laughing Seed Café, Posana, Rosetta’s Kitchen and Buchi Bar, Milk and Honey, and Bean Vegan Cuisine. At BimBeriBon, the entire menu is gluten-free, free of refined sugars and uses high-quality meats. Each item in the extensive bakery case is marked for common allergens such as eggs and dairy, so customers know exactly what they are getting. The savory menu is full of vegan and vegetarian options, and a detailed ingredient list for each item is easily accessible.
“What’s awesome is we’ve found the whole range of the spectrum — from celiacs who can’t believe they can eat a doughnut again to vegan folks who feel so good because they can get things on our menu and don’t have to be eccentric and weird about it,” says Orland. And for the omnivores who favor meat, “We have the best Italian pork dish you can make,” he adds.
While many restaurants offer gluten-free menus, it is uncommon to find eateries that focus on natural sweeteners when white, processed sugar is a more economical choice. Why opt for one over the other? “White sugar, I think, is a much bigger problem than gluten,” says Orland. “It’s killing the health system because of all the diabetes and all of the issues with it. And we’re killing the planet because we’re clear-cutting sugarcane plants and [spraying] pesticides on all of them. I think white sugar is the biggest enemy of the food movement, so that’s why we use honey, maple syrup and unrefined coconut sugar.”
Less is more
Fortunately for Asheville consumers, there are choices when it comes to finding restaurants that focus on quality over production cost and provide transparency and plenty of options. Right down the block from BimBeriBon, Dobra Tea West has a transparent, fully gluten-free menu jam-packed with nourishing vegetarian and vegan options.
“A lot of people that eat organically and gluten-free and have food allergies don’t really have a lot of places to go, if you really think about it,” says owner Andrew Snavely. “You can come here and ask, ‘Does this contain nuts? Does this contain soy?’ and we have it all listed out. It’s awesome to be like, ‘Hi. Here’s the book — here’s the food ingredients bible.'”
In addition to operating as a certified 100 percent gluten-free facility, Dobra Tea also makes it a point to avoid genetically modified organisms and hydrogenated oils. “All of our sauces for all of our bowls and dressings are house-made, so we know what’s in them; we feel good about everything that’s in them,” says Snavely.
But how do these business owners manage to prioritize providing healthy food above the bottom line? “Organic food and gluten-free food is expensive, but I want it to be accessible and affordable to the community,” explains Snavely. “And organic and gluten-free doesn’t have to be tip-top, over-the-top expensive, either. I find that people that eat this way want to feel good about where they eat out.”
Also on Haywood Road is another venue striving for transparency — this time in the alcohol industry. Urban Orchard Cider Co. uses locally sourced apples to brew its hard cider and never adds high-fructose corn syrup during the fermentation process as some cidermakers have been known to do. All the ingredients that go into the cider are listed on the taproom menu, says marketing and creative director Jeff Anderson. For example, a hops cider with raspberries would contain only apple juice, which is the base of all the ciders, plus hops and raspberries.
“It’s quite simple. It’s one of those things that everyone should expect from a food or beverage,” he says. “Less ought to be better, and we often do not find that in foods in America. With so many ingredients, you kind of wonder, ‘Why is that even in there?’ You won’t find that in our products.”
Article courtesy of The Mountain XPress, Asheville NC