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Posted: April 11, 2013

A foodie nation divided against itself

Who's winning this civil war?

Laura Cook Newman

Bigger, bolder, buttered and…deep-fried.

Leaner, greener, grainier and…tofu-ized.

We’re a foodie nation divided and always have been. But a new line has been drawn in the sand (ahem, sugar) recently when it comes to the battle of the bulge. 

Let’s meet the opponents:

Indulgers - These are the folks who look at a bacon double cheeseburger and say “Ya know what would go good with that?  A fried egg on top.” Who can forget Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.  “Just one wafer-thin after dinner mint?”  Things can quickly get out-of-hand when dining with an Indulger.  You start to convince yourself that you DO want to substitute your hamburger bun for a Krispy Kreme.

Abstainers - I had the pleasure of lunching with one recently.  After much deliberation, she decided on the…salad.   “Finally” I silently sighed (little did I realize she was just getting started.)   As if auditioning for the sequel to When Harry Met Sally, she proceeded to brainstorm with our server on how to make this salad worse.  “Omit the croutons - I’m pretty sure I have Celiac disease.  Hold the olives – the salt makes me bloated.  And absolutely no cheese – I’m lactose intolerant.”  Channeling her best inner Meg Ryan, the ramekin of gluten-free dressing was dramatically requested – you guessed it– “on the side”.  Not only was this a good chance to practice suppressing my eye rolls, it was also educational.  I got to learn the dozens of horrifying ways this woman’s body reacts to wheat, sodium chloride, and dairy.  Bon Appétit!

Restaurants are wise to this extremist phenomenon and are catering to their distinguished clientele accordingly.  Have you noticed that local restaurateurs aren’t investing in traditional “family diners” anymore?  Instead, they embark on eclectic joints that bake cinnamon rolls bigger than your head, while double-battered onion rings arrive tableside on intricate scaffolding.

Bars aren’t immune either; no longer is the “flag” garnish (skewered orange slice and maraschino cherry) customary.  That Bloody Mary now requires a machete to cut through the jungle of veggies, and – what the heck is that? – a beef jerky straw?

The extreme pendulum has swung the other way too: Denver hosts a few holistic havens that serve wheat grass smoothies, soy carob milk and kale chips in lieu of fries.  Everything is sparse and minimal from the décor to the waifish hostess who directed you to your (rain forest-friendly) bamboo seat.  This Zen atmosphere might just lull you to face-plant into your heirloom tomato gazpacho.  But thankfully, Justin Timberlake’s doppelganger, dressed as a slice of tofu, is out front “Harlem Shakin’”.

The extreme-ness of this battle is what makes it so interesting.  Who will win?  Hopefully, nobody – and that means everybody wins…for now. 

Pro: The novelty of the Indulger v. Abstainer battle has not yet worn off.  Cash registers are ringing away like they’re giving out angel wings.   Con: Restaurants are turning over faster than the Gold Rush Hotel & Casino.  That clandestine donut shop/speakeasy is now a vacant storefront, eagerly awaiting the next “hole” in the wall. 

If you’re like me, you can happily straddle these two paradigms: after a sensible dinner of quinoa and chia seeds at Veganville, cross the street for a deep-fried Twinkie (April 6, 1930-November 5, 2012, RIP) at Pig Burgers.  Just don’t be too alarmed if on your next visit, these once-thriving businesses have been replaced with a barre studio and dispensary.

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at

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Readers Respond

Doree, Katco, Miller Time, and I Dream of Jean: You guys are "wicked smaht!!" I can relate to Jean's comment about these crazy places expanding our palates. We probably can't live on fried Twinkies alone, nor would I want to make a dozen at home (what a mess!) but I'll gladly taste a bite or two when dining out. By Chef Laura on 2013 04 12
What I love about the trend is the crazy number of new foods we get to try. It makes dining out more of an event, as opposed to just an alternative to cooking at home. By Jean Lisiecki on 2013 04 12
It's all about exercise and a balance of the good the bad and ugly. By Doug Miller on 2013 04 11
I find this paradigm very facinating also. I hope the "healthy" trend wins out over Indulgent in this increasingly obese country that we live in. That doesn't mean I don't want a good ice cream cone or burger once in a while, but people have to learn to only spluge periodically on these foods, not live on them. By Katco on 2013 04 11
So right on....I'm in the middle here! I love good "healthy" food and love to go out to All kinds of restaurants. Let the abstainer's "Eat Cake"! By Doree on 2013 04 11
Dear FE: You're telling me a (male) Texan ate at a Vegan restaurant and enjoyed it? I dropped out of Sunday School, but I'm pretty sure that's the first sign of the Apocalypse. As for you, Ms. Wilkes, I enjoy your enthusiasm. However, Paul Sheldon and I don't want our ankles bludgeoned (again). That would be miserable. Dearest TaTee, I'd never call you "fat", maybe "fluffy", but never "fat". If you'd like to appear slimmer, just tease up your hair. I learned that from my nanny, Fran Fine. By Chef Laura on 2013 04 11
I took a decidedly meat loving Texan who was visiting me out to brunch recently. Having enjoyed Colorado’s finest brews the night before, we were hungry but not willing to stand in a long line on a Sunday morning. We found ourselves (unknowingly) in a vegan restaurant with no wait. When we realized we were in a "foreign" country my friend wanted to bolt, but he was too hungry and reluctantly stayed. The food was fantastic and the Texan said he would eat it again. Guess this is just my way of agreeing with you.... By Food Equality on 2013 04 11
Chief, I took a decidedly "pro meat" friend from out of town out for brunch this weekend. We accidently found a vegitarian resturant, almost opted to leave but were really hungry (and hung over) so we stayed. My meat loving friend was shocked at how good the food was. Guess this supports your point that we as food lovers are able to get the best of everything these days! By Food Equality on 2013 04 11
I'm so tired of these "healthy" resturants and the crazy folks who have special diets. If you cant eat regular food, don't go out...... By Annie Wilkes on 2013 04 11
are you calling me fat? By Ta Tee on 2013 04 11
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