The other day I finally made it to Seed Kitchen, a small vegan café that emphasizes raw and macrobiotic entrees. Apparently the chef that founded Seed has cooked for celebrities like Madonna, Sting, and Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s tucked away just behind the main drag of Venice Beach, along an eclectic street lined with pricey surf shops, grungy eateries, yuppy cafes, talent agencies, and everything in between. The local crowd is a similarly assorted mix of grunge, hipster, surfer, and prep. Whenever I show up to these places, I feel like I don’t fully fit into any of the ‘categories’ of people surrounding me—I’m just there to eat!
Seed’s interior is fairly bare, with rustic-chic accents and a few items for sale along one wall, like supplements, snacks, and bath and beauty products. You order at the front counter, where a quiet but friendly guy with huge gauged earrings, a nose ring, and an intentional bouffant nonchalantly takes your order. The menu is as low-key as the vibe, with much fewer items than other vegan restaurants I frequent. This was actually refreshing, making the choice of what to order a bit less agonizing. There was a sign on the wall claiming that Seed’s vegan burger was the best in L.A., but I was feeling adventurous and wanted to try one of the healthier items on the menu. I almost went for the probiotic macro bowl, but earring guy recommended the special—a kelp noodle dish in the style of pad thai. Never one to dismiss a food recommendation, I went for it.
My trusty sidekick and partner in food, Mark, ordered a hot seitan and vegetable dish. We sipped on chilled, unsweetened green tea while we waited for our orders, and people-watched as individuals, couples, and small groups traipsed in and out of the tiny locale. The service was fairly fast (we were one of the only ones in the café when we ordered). The first thing I noticed, however, is that Seed serves all of their food and drinks in disposable containers, which does not rank high on my sustainability spectrum. Even though signs above the trash bins tell you that these plastic dishes, cups, and utensils are compostable, I wonder why Seed goes for the once-use approach, which is much more resource intensive than reusable plates/cups/etc.
The second thing I noticed were that the portion sizes were much smaller than other vegan restaurants with comparable prices and food styles—upwards of $12 for a TV-dinner sized portion. This might have not been an issue if the food was outstanding. Unfortunately, neither of us was wowed by our meals.
Yes, the pad thai seemed quite healthy, with fresh vegetables, kelp noodles, and a very light sauce that mostly tasted like mild chilis. But the whole dish was rather bland and uninspired. Luckily I ordered tempeh (at an extra charge) on top, which made a huge difference, adding a deeper flavor and texture to the dish. Otherwise, it was pretty ho-hum. I definitely appreciated the nutritional quality of the dish, but felt that it was something I could easily throw together at home—for much cheaper.
Mark’s seitan dinner had a bit more flavor—reminiscent of Korean BBQ. But the squishy balls of seitan and steamed veggies again just did not stand out as a great, fresh, vibrant dish. There were no great distinguishing flavors or textures, and the meal was definitely not adult man-sized.
Even the vegan desserts in the pastry case looked lackluster, wrapped in plastic and looking less than fresh. Perhaps we should have listened to the sign and tried the vegan burger. I would definitely consider going back to do so. I would even try some of the other super healthy options on the menu if I was feeling like I had indulged a bit too much in rich food that week, or wanted a simple, light meal without the hassle of preparing it myself.
I do appreciate that Seed is attempting to cook macrobiotic foods in healthy ways, using local and organic sources as available. But probably on most days, I’d forgo Seed and just make a simple, healthy dinner at home, or go to one of my stand-by vegan restaurants that offer more value for money. This might be a place you go with the most hipster (or health-conscious) of friends, but probably not with your omnivore-leaning peeps. When I try the ‘famous’ burger, however, I’ll be sure to update my review.
Seed, Venice Beach
Individual Food Reviews:
Raw Kelp Noodle Pad Thai (special of the day)
Very light, raw, probably very low-calorie. But also pretty much no protein unless you order something extra (as I did with the tempeh). Fresh but bland, and definitely not filling.
Health: 4.5 out of 5 (mostly vegetables, but not a lot of substance, probably not all organic)
Taste: 2 out of 5 (not horrible, just not memorable in any way, especially without added tempeh)
BBQ Seitan Hot Dish (special of the day)
As stated above, a bit more hearty and flavorful than the pad thai, but not a lot of great texture or freshness. Mark left the restaurant still needing more sustenance.
Health: 3 out of 5 (I’m not sold on seitan, which is a form of high-gluten processed wheat)
Taste: 2.5 out of 5
Hopefully the burger will improve my ratings!
You can never have too much of a good thing, right? Except when you can. And when it comes to sugar, too much, however ‘sweet’ it may seem at the time, can literally kill you—this according to a new scientific study linking added sugar intake to higher incidence of cardiovascular disease mortality.
Most people these days are aware of the links between high sugar intake and diabetes, and that added sugar equates to empty calories that lead to weight gain. This recent study, however, found that Americans who consume at least 25% of their daily calories from sugar are almost three times as likely to die of heart disease than those that consumed less than 10%. The study used data collected from over 30,000 adults over 15 years.
25% calories from sugar may sound like a lot—and it is—but a significant number of people consume about this much sugar daily. In fact, 70% of adults monitored in the study consumed over 10% (the World Health Organization’s recommended limit) of calories from sugar daily, increasing their risk of heart disease and other health issues. According to the study’s authors, it didn’t matter what kind of sugar was consumed—be it corn syrup, cane sugar, fruit juice concentrate, etc.—too much is too much.
It’s actually frighteningly easy to over-consume sugar, especially if you eat out frequently or consume a lot of pre-packaged and processed foods (even if they are organic). It’s not just the dubious loads of sugar in sodas and candies that are to blame. Sugar is added to nearly every packaged food, from salad dressings and marinades to breads, yogurt, and soymilk, so it’s easy for those calories to add up without you realizing it.
Sucker Punch to the Food Industry—but will it help?
As more and more research is published about the negative health impacts of added sugar, Michelle Obama is stepping up with her campaign to promote healthier eating. To this end, the Obama administration is proposing a food label overhaul. If they get their way, the food industry would have to update portion sizes on their labels to more realistic portions, increase the font size of total calories, include total grams of added sugar, and change how they represent various vitamins and minerals.
I believe Michelle Obama’s heart is in the right place, I really do. But the fundamental problem with our food system is NOT food labels. I can’t fathom how increasing the font size of a calorie count is really going to create a shock wave of change in how people eat. Perhaps it’s a start…or maybe just a distraction from the bigger problems we choose to ignore, because they would require much greater effort.
The only way to cultivate a healthier lifestyle is to know and care about the actual ingredients in your food, not just how many calories are in a serving size. I have never counted calories in my life—I feel like it’s a waste of my time. As long as I’m consuming mainly whole, nutritious foods, I know I am eating healthy. Calorie counts can’t tell you the quality of your food. Not all calories are created equal: 100 calories of Oreos is not the same as 100 calories of almonds or 100 calories of strawberries.
Individuals who don’t have a good grasp on nutrition tend to rely on calorie counts as if it were a religion, and end up making poor health choices as a result. Substituting sugar for artificial sweeteners, for example, may be even more detrimental than the sugar itself.
What we should really be encouraging people to do is buy less processed food in the first place. That means buying the foods that DON’T have labels (or don’t need them), because they don’t have a multitude of ingredients in them. Fresh organic fruits and vegetables. Nuts and legumes. Whole grains. Natural herbs and spices. None of these products have any added sugars, or preservatives, or fillers.
While I think that changing the food label to display an ‘added sugar’ content is a positive move, fear it will just motivate the food industry to get more creative in how they design and market their products. Maybe this is too pessimistic of me. Maybe this will actually force food companies to reduce their reliance on cheap added sugars and create healthier products—even if they are processed. And I definitely have no sympathy for the cost these new policies may incur on the food industry, considering how many billions of dollars they earn at the expense of people’s health and wellbeing each year.
But there are always unintended consequences. In 2006, when the FDA began making food companies list trans fats on their labels, most companies decided to replace trans fats with cheap substitutes. The most commonly used replacement fat is now palm oil, the demand for which is now so high that it is resulting in massive destruction of rainforests worldwide so palm plantations can be planted in their place.
What I do hope for is that at the very least these changes continue to make consumers more aware of what they are purchasing and eating, so that demand continues to increase for healthier, more sustainable choices. Perhaps these small steps forward in food labeling will pave the way to eventually label GMOs in the U.S. (most European countries and Australia already do this) and create more transparency in the long chain from food producer to consumer. That would be “sweet”.