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Editorial: Science and consumers are creating new food trends

And restaurants are reluctant to follow them

Seattle, like so many other major metropolitan cities, has more than a dozen supermarkets where organic/grass-fed/free-range/wild-caught options abound. And business is booming.

According to the Organic Trade association, sales of organic food in the U.S. have nearly tripled in the last decade. Why? With a world bent on obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and every other ailment linked to inflammation of the body, consumers are responding to the latest health data and fighting back by eating healthier.

But when was the last time a restaurant opened in Seattle that was focused on healthy options across all food categories? When was the last time a local restaurateur went through their entire menu and cleaned it up? As an industry insider I can count only a handful of these occurrences over the last 20 years. If you’re on the outside, chances are you probably know of none.

And yet the cash register keeps on ker-chinging at PCC, Whole Foods, Metropolitan Market, Town and Country, and even major chains like QFC and Safeway as sales of healthier food options are on the rise.

In the meantime, the restaurant trend is that consumers are dining out less often and restaurant owners are trying to figure out why. Is it the glut of eateries in the city? Is it an aging population's need for fewer calories? Could it possibly be that restaurants are still serving the same low grade or less-healthy food even after all we see that’s going on at supermarkets?

In recent years, hard data has surfaced to show that eating good fat is good for you (olive oil, grass-fed beef, organic chicken) and that bad fat is really bad for you. Vegetable oil and its brothers like Canola oil, are now known to be the number one culprit in obesity and heart disease. The excess Omega 6 found in these foods is what causes the system to clog up, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

And yet, drop into the kitchen in nearly every restaurant in the city and you will find vegetable oil used in the fryolators. Why? Because it’s the least expensive option. And restaurants learned a long time ago to keep food costs low in order to stay in business. That’s why very few of them use organic eggs, produce, fruits; grass-fed beef, organic chicken, or wild-caught seafood.

McDonald’s recently released a tray liner touting the fast food chain's move toward healthier eating over the last 5 years. In 2015 they dumped margarine (made from vegetable oil) from their breakfast sandwiches. In 2016 they began removing artificial preservatives from certain menu items and began a program toward 100% cage-free egg production.

The chain's food journey is an interesting one to see documented, but they, like most restaurants, are miles away from getting to the core of the issue and striking down obesity and heart disease. To do that they’ll need to clean up their act in the sourcing of all their ingredients right down to the discontinuation of the vegetable oil used to fry their chicken sandwiches, filet-o-fish and French fries. When we get to that point, I’d consider that good progress.

But I don't think we'll see anyone cleaning up the fryolators anytime soon with the healthy alternative. Organic high-smoke-point oils like extra light olive oil and a variety of nut oils are far healtheir options, but the price is almost five times higher. In a recent price review, Crisco vegtable oil could be purchased at less than a dime an ounce from the grocery store. Bertoli's healtheir option - organic extra light olive oil clocked in at 47 cents an ounce.

In the meantime, modern medicine is going to continue to make new discoveries in better eating. When restaurants don’t provide the consumer what they are truly looking for, the consumer will continue to cook at home more often.

TM/January 2020

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