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A foodie nation divided against itself

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.

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Laura Cook Newman

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 www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net

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