Athens Review, Athens, Texas

Breaking News

Community News Network

June 25, 2013

Groups aim to help diners find healthful meals

Study after study shows that Americans want to eat more healthful and sustainable food. But in restaurant dining - and 50 percent of American meals are now consumed outside the home - making the right choice can be daunting. The Cobb salad at Cosi has 709 calories and 54 grams of fat, more than a Whopper at Burger King. And despite the trend of noting farms on the menus at upscale restaurants, at most meals diners have few clues about where their food comes from.

              

Several ambitious organizations are aiming to take the guesswork out of eating out. Each has its own certification program that aims to make it easier for diners to find places that have undertaken the complex process of serving healthful food from farms committed to animal welfare and sustainable growing practices.

              

The first, REAL Certified, formally launched in the District of Columbia in April with 20 restaurants, including Ris, Nora, Energy Kitchen and Founding Farmers. This month it announced that it had certified four cafes, including one at Google, run by corporate caterer Guckenheimer. REAL, which stands for Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership, is modeled after the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification, which rewards builders for using sustainable materials and energy-efficient systems.

              

REAL Certified doles out points to restaurants for offering a certain percentage of dishes containing vegetables, whole grains, local and organic ingredients and alternatives to sugary sodas, among other things.

              

"We are trying to figure out which restaurants are doing the right things and give them credit," says Lawrence Williams, founder of the United States Healthful Food Council, a nonprofit, nongovernmental group that oversees the program.

              

Williams does not come from a food background. For eight years, he handled government relations for SpaceX, a private space exploration company. Before that, he worked on Capitol Hill. But health is his passion; he just finished his third Ironman Triathlon in Rio de Janeiro.

              

Until now, Williams says, it has been more profitable for restaurants to serve cheap food laden with the fat and sugar that diners crave. The goal of REAL Certified, he says, "is to create a virtuous circle. Our program encourages people that are doing the right things and puts pressure on those who aren't."

              

SPE Certified has a similar model. The three letters stand for Sanitas Per Escam, Latin for "health through food." Certified dishes, except for desserts, may use no butter or cream. Ingredients cannot be fried or grilled (because of the carcinogens associated with charring). But founder Emmanuel Verstraeten says SPE is less about what chefs can't use than about what they can. His culinary team works with restaurants with the goal of offering delicious and satisfying dishes without resorting to the easy tricks that make restaurant food so unhealthful. The program also rates restaurants on their sourcing and environmental impact.

              

SPE principles are on display at Verstraeten's Rouge Tomate, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. The elegant space is full of blond wood and vases of green apples. It even has a juice bar. But nothing about it feels preachy.

              

On the day I visited, I tasted a bright walu seviche, with avocado, yuzu and snap peas; and "farroto," a satisfying twist on risotto, made with whole-grain farro, porcini, Parmesan and asparagus. "Taste is always first," Verstraeten says. "You need to enjoy your food. It is the best way to get people to eat healthy."

              

When SPE launched in May 2012, Verstraeten says, he believed that independent, fine-dining restaurants would be attracted. Some are. But many chefs are anxious about letting a nutritionist have the final word on their food.

              

Instead, SPE is making headway at larger institutions. Celebrity Cruises offers SPE-certified dishes such as tomato-watermelon salad, roasted pork loin and olive-oil custard in its main dining room and spa. The University of Massachusetts has worked with SPE to improve the nutrition and portion sizes of its most popular dishes, such as shepherd's pie.

              

The newest entrant to the U.S. market is Britain's Sustainable Restaurant Association. The SRA has certified 500 restaurants across the pond, from glamorous Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire to the Carluccio's chain, with 45 locations. The SRA rates restaurants on 14 criteria in three areas: society (healthful food, responsible marketing), environment (water conservation, waste management) and sourcing (serving local and seasonal items, ethically raised meats). Applicants answer a 90-question survey and must provide evidence (menus, invoices, etc.) to back up their claims. In addition to their rating of one, two or three stars, restaurants receive a report outlining where they can improve and are assigned a manager to work with them to make changes.

              

The SRA has been operating in Britain since 2010. Last month it decided to offer its certification around the world, and it is in the process of certifying its first class of U.S. restaurants.

              

"There are so many brands and certification schemes," says Mark Linehan, the SRA's managing director. "With people traveling more, and more aware of what is going on around the world, we felt it would be helpful to have a single certification that is recognizable."

              

As they say in England: "Quite." The whole point of certifications was to simplify decisions for consumers. Now that there are so many, diners have to do research to figure out which one to trust.

              

It is still early days for the programs. But if health is your focus, the most reliable certification might be SPE's. Its criteria are the most rigorous and have been reviewed by experts at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Based on what I ate at Rouge Tomate, SPE's culinary team knows how to help chefs coax flavor out of healthful ingredients without causing diners to miss a thing. (That might not hold true for Southern and barbecue restaurants, many of which by their nature would run afoul of SPE's bans on grilling, butter and lard.)

              

But the other certifiers have their merits. In addition to its review program, REAL Certified is looking into helping its restaurants band together to buy local and sustainable products at a discount. The strength of SRA, a veteran in the field at three years old, is its breadth of criteria; restaurants also get credit for responsible marketing to children and engagement in their community.

              

"It's hard to argue with any sincere attempt to allow an outside group to take a look at worthwhile efforts, evaluating and articulating results," says Clark Wolf, a restaurant consultant based in New York and Sonoma County, Calif. "That said, it's a marketing move, like sponsoring the local baseball team used to be. It's a modern way of saying, 'We're good community members, and we have the logo stamp to prove it.' "

              

Still, the certifications are a starting point for diners who want to make good decisions without getting a headache, and an incentive for restaurateurs to make responsible choices.

              

"For me, a certification speaks to what I want to do," says chef Ris Lacoste of Ris. "And the process encourages me to do better."

 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Wal-Mart to cut prices more aggressively in back-to-school push

    Wal-Mart Stores plans to cut prices more aggressively during this year's back-to-school season and will add inventory to its online store as the chain battles retailers for student spending.

    July 21, 2014

  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 21, 2014

  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 21, 2014

  • Malaysians wonder 'Why us?' after second loss of airline jet

    It was all too familiar. Grieving families rushing to airport. The flashing television graphics of a plane's last radar appearance. The uncomfortable officials before a heavy thicket of microphones.
    For many Malaysians, the disappearance of Flight 370 in March has been a long trauma from which the nation has not yet recovered.

    July 18, 2014

  • A quarter of the world's most educated people live in the 100 largest cities

    College graduates are increasingly sorting themselves into high-cost, high-amenity cities such as Washington, New York, Boston and San Francisco, a phenomenon that threatens to segregate us across the country by education.

    July 18, 2014

  • Your chocolate addiction is only going to get more expensive

    For nearly two years, cocoa prices have been on the rise. Finally, that's affecting the price you pay for a bar of chocolate - and there's reason to believe it's only the beginning.

    July 18, 2014

  • Facebook tests button to let people shop from its website

    Members on desktop computers or mobile devices can click a "buy" button to make purchases through advertisements or other posts on the world's largest social network, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Thursday in a blog post.

    July 17, 2014

  • The terrible history of passenger planes getting shot out of the sky

    What is more clear is that, if initial reports are true, this would be the deadliest incident of a civilian passenger plane being shot down in modern memory. In some instances, the causes of the disaster are still shrouded in mystery. Here are some of the worst events.

    July 17, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • web_starbucks-cof_big_ce.jpg Starbucks sees more Apple-like stores after Colombia debut

    This week Starbucks opened its first location in Colombia — a 2,700-square-foot store with a heated patio, concrete columns, mirrors on the ceiling and walls of colorful plants.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

Biz Marquee
AP Video
Raw: Israel Bombs Multiple Targets in Gaza Veteran Creates Job During High Unemployment Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks From Space Station Widow: Jury Sent Big Tobacco a $23B Message New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts UN Security Council Calls for MH 17 Crash Probe Obama Bestows Medal of Honor on NH Veteran Texas Sending National Guard Troops to Border Hopkins to Pay $190M After Pelvic Exams Taped Foxx Cites Washington 'Circus Mirror' NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong Obama Voices Concern About Casualties in Mideast Diplomacy Intensifies Amid Mounting Gaza Toll AP Exclusive: American Beaten in Israel Speaks Obama Protects Gay, Transgender Workers Raw: Gaza Rescuers Search Rubble for Survivors Raw: International Team Inspects MH17 Bodies Raw: 25 Family Members Killed in Gaza Airstrike US Teen Beaten in Mideast Talks About Ordeal 'Weird Al' Is Wowed by Album's Success