While you may stock your fridge and pantry with nutritious Real Food, the world outside your front door is a carnival of fake, nutrient-deficient, and often toxic food substitutes – making it tough to eat out.
You probably already know to steer clear of ‘food' for sale at your local gas station, theme parks, and most isles of the grocery store, but one place that proves a big challenge for many lovers of food and convenience is restaurants. Afterall, you're paying a premium for that filet mignon cooked to perfection, why wouldn't it be of optimal quality?
Most restaurants, and cafes do not serve organic milk, pasture raised meats, or free-range organic eggs unless it is clearly stated on their menu.
Even eateries that serve local farmer's market produce will often cut costs with conventional milk and factory raised meat.
Why? From purely a business perspective, Real Food is more expensive. Beyond cost, the main reason is consumer demand. Customers simply eat what they are served – no questions asked.
So what's the big deal with eating conventional food in restaurants?
Well, it's really up to you to decide where to draw your line, but for me and my family, eating ammonia washed beef, chicken that was raised in the dark, or milk that needs to be ultra-pasteurized to be safe, is simply not an option.
So what's a Real Foodie to do? Stay at home and be a hermit? Not necessarily…
Ten tips for eating real food out in the real world
#1- Go fish
Ideally the seafood you eat is wild and sustainably harvested, but most seafood is a better choice over factory-raised chicken or beef. A French restaurant will often serve mussels, Mexican fare has fish tacos, and most Asian restaurants offer great pescatarian options.
#2 – Think like a veg
I'm a big fan of meat and meat products, but when I eat out in the real world, often the best choices are the vegetarian offerings. A risotto with veggies, cheese, and cream sauce packs a nutrient dense punch while remaining mostly true to your Real Food standards, and a veggie burrito can be an acceptable stand-in when faced with no pasture-raised meat on the menu.
#3 – Get thai
Chinese restaurants are notorious for frying in rancid vegetable oils, but Thai eateries tend to serve more fresh and grilled options and usually have lots of healthy coconut milk curries on the menu. My favorite at our local Thai: Salmon in green curry with extra broccoli. Yum!
#4 – Head to tail adventures
Here in Los Angeles, we are blessed with many conscious-minded restaurants that buy their produce and meat from local farmers and specialize in cuts other than chicken breasts and sirloin steak.
Two of my favorite dishes are the bone marrow at Animal on Fairfax and rabbit with homemade paperdelle pasta at Madame Chou Chou on Main Street in Santa Monica. If you're not local to LA, seek out conscious-minded eateries near you. Chowhound.com is a great online resource for foodies up for an adventure and in search of local, sustainably raised meats.
#5 – Hold the latte
I love me a good latte, but I just refuse to drink milk that is not at least full fat and organic (I'd prefer grass-fed and raw). So when I'm out and about, if organic is not offered and I want a little pick-me-up, I go with a hot or iced tea instead.
#6 – Ask questions
What farm is the grass-fed burger from? What oil do you use for grilling? Don't aim to annoy a super busy server, just ask questions with curiosity – then make your decisions based on what's on offer.
#7 – Make requests
Having worked myself in the food service industry for seven years, I know special requests can be truly annoying. But subbing out vegetable oil french fries with a green salad with olive oil and lemon or asking for an side of butter (for some extra good fats) are socially acceptable requests.
At your favorite eateries, get friendly with the owner or manager, and tell them what you already love about their business. Then let them know how pastured meats, eggs, and organic dairy would make your experience so much better, and you'd be willing to pay more for it too!
Ultimately they want to have repeat, loyal customers for a thriving business so sharing your requests will only help everyone involved.
#8 – BYO
I'm not suggesting you bring your own main course to a restaurant, but if you ask nicely, some cafes will steam your milk from home, and no one will notice that nice celtic sea salt that you just slipped out of your purse at the dinner table.
Headed to a barbecue or pot luck? Bring your own grass-fed burgers, wild sustainably-caught fish, or your favorite Real Food dish to share.
#9 – Eat at home
Headed to party or dinner where you know your options will be limited? Make sure to eat some good nutrient-dense food before you go. This way you can order a simple salad or cheese plate while you focus on the conversation and fun instead of your hunger for Real Food.
#10 – Pick your battles
Decide what you care about and what you're willing to compromise on always or occasionally. For me, organic milk (from grain fed cows) in a latte, conventional cheese, and farm-raised fish are acceptable once in a while, but I just won't budge for my eggs, poultry, and meat.
Maybe your priorities are different, and that's perfectly fine. The most important thing is that you know YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE what you eat, so eat consciously. Bon apetite!
Check out The Renegade Guide to Dining Out to get some more great tips on how to eat out for real food lovers.