Dear EarthTalk: I really want to eat healthy and organic but am constantly traveling and on the go. How can I eat fast food without having to always end up at McDonalds and Burger King? – Dylan Baker, Seattle, Washington
The latest trend in fast food is healthy and organic, and luckily for conscious consumers, several chains offering just such fare are taking root in different parts of the U.S. One of the leaders of this small but scrappy pack of fast food upstarts is O’Naturals. The small chain currently runs two stores of its own in Maine (Falmouth and Portland) and one in Acton, Mass., and franchises out additional locations in Kansas and Florida. O’Naturals’ menu contains lots of vegetarian-friendly items, including "build-your-own" flatbread sandwiches, salads, noodle stir-frys and soups. The meat the restaurant does serve is grass-fed and hormone-free, while the chickens are free-range and the Alaskan salmon is wild.
Another healthy option is EVOS, which currently runs five "quick-casual" restaurants in Florida and is planning a major expansion into the Western U.S. Vegetarians can rejoice in the chain’s wide selection of vegetarian and vegan items. While its hormone- and antibiotic-free burgers are still only about as healthy as red meat gets, their soy burger satisfies without the guilt or the cholesterol. Also, EVOS uses organic field greens in its wraps and salads, organic milk in its milkshakes, and fresh fruit in its smoothies. Additionally, the restaurant air-bakes its fries and other typically deep-fried items to keep the fat content as much as 70 percent lower than the same kinds of foods found elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Seattle-based Organics-To-Go, with five locations in Washington and California, lays out a wide array of "grab-and-go" organic and natural foods so customers can make up their own meals out of a cornucopia of healthy choices. Other fast food alternatives offering lots of health (as well as vegetarian and vegan) options include Au Bon Pain, Bruegger’s Bagels, Noah’s Bagels, and World Wraps, while Subway and Quizno’s alike can be good options for those willing to study the menu carefully.
Even though many alternatives exist, it is hard to beat the reach of the major fast food chains, several of which are making small steps toward healthier menus and will undoubtedly continue to do so if consumers bite. McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King and Wendy’s have reduced or eliminated trans-fats. Burger King now offers a veggie burger, and McDonald’s is testing one in California. Taco Bell offers many non-meat options, including a bean and cheese burrito, a veggie fajita wrap, and a 7-layer burrito, which can be had without the cheese and sour cream. Carl’s Jr. also has many tasty and healthy vegetarian options despite an otherwise standard fast-food menu. Vegetarians and vegans looking for more ideas about what to eat when time is of the essence should consult any number of websites with pages devoted to the topic, including Vegetarian-Restaurants.net, VegCooking, FitWise and Vegetarian Resource Group.
And remember, nothing beats seeking out local restaurants when you’re on the road, to soak up some of the local culture. And with trends as they are it shouldn’t be too difficult to find many that do serve healthy menus – just not quite as fast as "fast food" but probably fast enough.
CONTACTS: O’Naturals, www.onaturals.com; EVOS, www.evos.com; Vegetarian-Restaurants.net, www.vegetarian-restaurants.net; VegCooking, www.vegcooking.com; FitWise, www.fitwise.com; Vegetarian Resource Group, www.vrg.org.