People around the world have developed an increased understanding and awareness about the foods and beverages they consume. The foods we eat play an important role in our health, and to address this newfound awareness, the food and beverage industry has responded with natural alternatives. Natural foods can be found in retail establishments, grocery stores, and prepackaged food items, but one of the most exciting trends is in the restaurant industry. So-called “clean” foods are now being showcased in restaurants throughout the United States.
Trends in Natural Foods
The phrase “clean foods” has popped up in consumer jargon in recent years, and there exists some confusion about what it means. In general, clean foods refers to foods that are free from harmful pesticides, preservatives, and artificial ingredients. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are also forbidden in the clean food model. Clean foods are often sourced sustainably from local farmers, and many are from organic farming practices, which must be certified to be free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to carry the organic label.
Clean foods are an extension of farm-to-table practices, which seek to source food ingredients from local sources. The goal behind these practices are to support local farming efforts, many of which use more healthful farming practices than giant corporate agriculture operations. Whole foods, or those that are minimally-processed and retain the nutrients, fibers, and antioxidants their ingredients naturally contain, have also influenced the food and beverage industry. While these terms and practices may be met with skepticism by many, consumers are demanding natural foods that don’t contain artificial chemicals.
Restaurants Adopting Natural Whole Foods
In 2016, restaurant and bakery chain Panera announced that going forward, 100% of its foods would be 100% clean. The restaurant vowed to eliminate artificial preservatives, colors, flavorings, and sweeteners from all of its products, and the campaign was considered a success by the company and its fans.
In the restaurant field, farm-to-table restaurants flooded the market. These restaurants are typically found on a local or regional level, and no nationwide chain has adopted this model. One of the local restaurants gaining a lot of attention is the Mason Jar Café, a popular natural foods restaurant in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Located in the downtown area and in operation for four years, the café specializes in foods prepared to support and sustain healthy lifestyle choices. The restaurant purchases most of its ingredients from local organic farmers, and uses as few processed ingredients in the production of meals as possible. Some canned or boxed foods may be incorporated into the menu, but only after meeting stringent requirements imposed by the restaurant staff. Many of the items on the menu are gluten-free or vegan, helping those with food sensitivities. Superfoods, or those natural ingredients that pack natural vitamins and antioxidants, are prominently featured in many of the menu choices.
The restaurant’s focus on healthful foods stems from the co-owner’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Jayme Cousins, along with her husband, Abel Abarca Martinez, set out to treat her illness with natural foods and natural remedies. The menu at the Mason Jar Café is an extension of those goals. Customers of the restaurant indicate that the foods available from the café have transformed their lives, promoting health and function in ways that traditional medicine has failed to do.
The Mason Jar Café is only one of dozens of similar restaurant stories in the United States, and as consumers continue to evaluate the foods they ingest, natural and whole foods will form the centerpoint of healthy eating habits.