Dig Deeper: Our Modern Food Industry & Food-like Products

Our mission with “Dig Deeper” is to branch out of the kitchen and facilitate educational community discussions around food availability, production, packaging, preservation and preparation methods as they relate to health and waste. We have said we are a different type of restaurant taking a fresh approach to our menu and want to dig deeper into our food ethics & values and how they inspire our alternative approach to what is offered on our menu, as compared to the majority of restaurants.

Our Modern Food Industry & Food-Like Products

We know many of our modern food choices would be hardly recognizable as food even 100 years ago. Our variety of food choices has become so large, that it now encompasses many products that are more chemical than food, or so highly processed they have surely lost the majority of their nutritional value. 

food = fresh whole produce, fake food = packaged food-like products

We would venture to say that our modern American culture places no ethical responsibility on food producers to ensure, or even care if their products are healthy or not. Every food consumption decision we all make is a health decision, as the entire purpose of food is nourishment of our bodies. As a country, we allow many chemical additives and food production practices that are banned in many other countries because they are known to have harmful effects to health. We require cigarettes to come with a warning label, but not products containing nitrates and nitrites, potassium bromate, propylparaben, BHA, BHT, TBHQ, titanium dioxide, BVO, PFAS, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, and heavy metals we all likely unknowingly consume on a daily basis if we are not making active conscious food choices and avoiding most products available to us. We do everything we can to avoid any products in all of our purchasing, but it is not easy due to loopholes in FDA regulations that allow many untested chemicals into our food supply.

Why has our food supply been overrun by “food-like” products over the last half century? We were sold on convenience by entities with zero interest in health. As fast-food chains rose in popularity and became fast food giants, they gained the purchasing power to dictate global food production methods, including GMOs, pesticides, chemical additives, hormones, and more. The way we, as humans, raise the majority of chickens on Earth is dictated by their future end as chicken nuggets. The quality demanded by these fast-food giants becomes the quality that is mass produced, and thus affordable to consumers. 

When you are at a restaurant and they are out of mashed potatoes, but have the twice-baked potato available, you can trust that neither are actually made from whole potatoes in their kitchen. 

Is it really challenging to make french fries from potatoes? 

Or is it actually cheaper to buy them frozen? 

Does the processing of potatoes into a fry-product create a more quality final product? 

What else is in those fries besides potatoes? 

We feel too many restaurants have been sold on the convenience of “food-like” products. We understand the temptation, and the labor savings involved, but feel it is ultimately not worth the cost of not knowing if what you are preparing and feeding to your community is nourishing or harmful to their health. When we see Lincoln City locals rant on social media about how every restaurant has the same frozen, packaged mass-produced products on their menus, we want to vent with you – but instead we allow it to inspire us to tell our story, so that you know you DO have a different option!  

We want to remind you all that we do have the power to choose, and to vote with our purchasing. This is evident in the changes we have seen in grocery stores, at least in Oregon, over the last 10 years. Remember a decade back, when there was one small section in one aisle that housed every organic, gluten-free and vegan product in the store? Today, browse any aisle and you will find options of all three and more in all products!

Plenty of options for all in every restaurant, including whole foods, vegan, gluten-free, low-sodium and more, is a change we are ready to see in everyday life as well as in restaurants, and believe many of you are as well. Zest Garden Cafe is proving it can be done and we hope, through sharing our journey, to inspire other restaurants to do the same. 

The problem is we are not eating food any more, we are eating food-like products. -Dr. Alejandro Junger

Is it easy to run a restaurant that uses predominantly whole foods? Of course it isn’t, and it isn’t meant to be. Preparing food is meant to be a labor of love, and we believe, as do many of you, that love is a crucial ingredient in any meal that is capable of combining flavors in a way salt can only attempt. Love is added to a meal through the washing of produce with your bare hands and handling of a freshly sharpened knife, to the flick of your wrist as you toss fresh spices in hot oil and create the ideal environment to infuse flavors until they become alive and the attentiveness to combine complementary elements beautifully onto a single plate. Microwaves simply can’t infuse love and you’ll never find one in our restaurant. 

Isn’t it cost prohibitive to avoid processed foods? We have found it is not, though it does require a significant shift in perspective, predominantly around waste. When you cook the way we do, food cost goes down and labor doubles. We offset this through making the most of every ingredient, and reducing waste in a way that generates additional income, as well as reducing costs. Our next Dig Deeper will focus on our philosophies and approach to waste. 

We know we are not the only place in town cooking real food with love and are eager to connect with, support, and collaborate with other restaurant operators who hold similar values; prioritizing whole foods with an alert awareness of all ingredients and their qualities, cooking what is local and seasonal, and creating a menu all people, regardless of diet or allergies, can comfortably order from with all questions answered. 

If you are involved in a restaurant that makes real food with love, please tell us about it in the comments! 

We believe a restaurant should be a place to receive nourishment, a refuge for travelers, a place to gather and celebrate with friends and family, and a means for a chef to offer a story through a menu. We believe to be trusted with the preparation of another’s meal is a privilege that is to be honored with transparency and integrity.

What do you think? 

Should food producers and restaurants have an social-ethical obligation to ensure the food they produce and serve is not harmful to peoples’ health?

Let us know in the comments!

mic with headphones podcast background

Passionate about this topic?
We are looking for 1-3 community members interested in joining us for a discussion on this topic for our first “Dig Deeper” podcast later this month. 

Passionate about this topic? We are looking for 1-3 community members interested in joining us for a discussion on this topic for our first Dig Deeper podcast later this month.