Funxion-al Food
June 12, 2011

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On Friday, my lovely cousin and I made our ways to Funxion, a new “fit” restaurant in Downtown D.C., for lunch. I was excited about the fact that Funxion offers clearly marked vegan items, though I also knew before I ate there that I wasn’t signing up for a vegan-centric dining experience, per se. “Fit” dining usually means a couple of things:

  • Menus with calorie counts
  • No added oil, sugar, or sodium
  • Many mentions of “lean protein” options
  • A plethora of burgers, including bison and turkey burgers
  • Lots of chicken breast
  • At least one or two “low carb” options

You can see me rolling my eyes from afar, I’m sure. Of course there’s nothing wrong with calorie counts on menus—I actually think that’s a healthy thing for mainstream consumers—or with reducing unnecessary sugars and salts and fats. My problem with this whole ethos is

  1. The focus on poultry and meat
  2. The implication that protein sources are by definition animal foods—not always spoken, but often implied.
  3. The lack of nuance. Sure, most SAD eaters could use a drastic reduction in salt, fat, and sugar. But what about healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (avocados, for example). What about the simple sugars in dates and fruits that can fuel and sustain athletic performance? What about the vital energy we derive from complex carbs? You get the idea.

So when I eat “fit,” so to speak, I prepare myself for an experience that’s sort of paradoxical for me. On the one hand, “fit” restaurants (like NYC’s Energy Kitchen or The Pump) tend to be some of the few lunch spots where it’s extremely easy for me to find vegan options, salads, and food that’s clearly and honestly labeled. Great news for a vegan eater. On the other, I have to suspend my annoyance with the culture of whey protein and low carb this and that, which is inherently at odds with the message I try to spread. It’s a dilemma, no?

Fortunately, I had a good meal at Funxion, and wasn’t too bombarded with protein propaganda. The real emphasis here is actually on “functional foods,” (hence the name), and not as much on lean meats. Functional foods, in this context, means superfoods, and I’m pleased to say that it also means a really well stocked juice and smoothie bar. Check out the options here—they include such blends as “flourish” (Fresh Carrot and Beet Juices, Blueberry Pineapple, Coconut Water) and “indigo” (Blueberry, Coconut Water, Spirulina, Vanilla, Protein Powder, Goji) or my favorite, “stamina” (spirulina, hempseed, coconut water). These are much better options than your typical skim milk or non-fat yogurt based smoothie at a fit restaurant, and demonstrate much more thought about food that’s valuable for its nutrient density, rather than its being low fat, low carb, and high protein.

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Of course some of Funxion’s superfood policies strike me as dubious: they endorse FRS beverages, which contain sucralose (and the company’s energy chews contain corn syrup), and they also serve diet muscle milk and a whole lot of powdered supplements that freak me out. But those things exist alongside coconut water, not to mention such dishes as the “red and green slaw” (shredded red and green cabbage, shredded carrot, red pepper, celery seed, agave, white balsamic vinegar) and a sweet potato and apple salad. Plus a lot of salads that are easily veganized. The décor is pretty fun, too:

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And check out the funky bathroom sink!

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(I promise that’s a sink, not a toilet. I wouldn’t photograph a toilet.)

For my part, I ordered the apple and sweet potato salad, which was really more of a mashed sweet potato dish than anything—but that’s fine with me!

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And the chopped salad, which was peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, cannellini beans, edamame, and a fat free tomato rosemary dressing:

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If it were up to me, I’d have put flax or olive oil into the salad dressing STAT, and some coconut oil in the sweet potato mash. From a food critic’s point of view, they were wanting in some fat, and the nutritionist in me doesn’t happen to believe that all oils and fats are at odds with a healthy diet and lifestyle. Nevertheless, I loved the flavor profiles (tomato and rosemary is almost as tasty as tomato and PB!) and would never have tried a sweet ‘tater and apple mash, so this gives me inspiration.

My cousin enjoyed her chicken wrap:

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And her cucumber salad:

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I tried the cucumber salad and it, too, needed fat. But again, great flavors.

All in all, I think my focus when I come back to Funxion will be on smoothies and juices. The food is good, but I just like my healthy fare to be a little more flavorful and fun. I started CR in part to show readers that thriving on a healthy diet need not mean giving up all fats, all carbs, all desserts, or all favorite foods: with close attention paid to the sources and ingredients in our food, not to mention their origins and ethics, we can all afford to eat for pleasure and health at the same time.

But I do give Funxion major props for bringing some of my fave superfoods (hemp, cacao, coconut water, acai, spirulina) into the mainstream spotlight, and I also feel as though their menu will probably grow and take some exciting directions as they partner with other food companies. I’ll be checking in!

What do you guys think of fitness dining? I think Funxion’s special in that it bridges the superfoods ethos and the musclehead ethos on one menu, but I’m curious for your thoughts on both or either perspective. Vegans, what do you think about these sorts of dining experiences? And conscious omnis, what about you?

xo

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    37 Comments
  1. I think places like this with a fusion menu are a great idea. I just got back from a vacation where it was pretty impossible to fit everyone’s want for a meal. This often meant someone had to compromise. A menu with something for everyone might not be a highlight destination for single diners, but for groups, especially large ones, it’s a chance for everyone to have a good meal that agrees with them.

    • Yes, agreed. It’s good to be able to accomodate everyone, and I also like when menus feature vegan dishes alongside omni ones, rather than a constant division between the two.

  2. I like the idea of health focused restaurants. I rarely eat out because after looking a menu I realize I can usually make what is described, but without tons of oil or sugary sauce. Unfortunately many of these new ‘fit’ places are often defined by particular notions of ‘health’. I’m in midtown (NYC) at least twice a week and have never gone to any of the pump/energy places. Around lunch time I always look at the menu but then realize I can get something more ‘fit’ at a place like Au Bon Pain or Just Salad, where there are options like healthy fats for a salad, or Middle Eastern restaurants with hummus, baba ganoush, foul and tabouli.
    I don’t/like calorie counts. In general it seems like there is a better way to access health. Weight Watchers recently changed their point system and it seems as though there are other health scales/ratings being developed. I think it is far too easy to become fixated on the numbers, making adjustments to save 50 calories despite nutritional value. That said, I was in Au Bon Pain recently and when I was deciding which bread to go with my salad I noticed a 300 calorie difference between two of the breads (both vegan). It was really nice to have this information at point of purchase.

  3. Gena-just wondering with all this talk of healthy fats if you have read Dr. Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and if so, what your expert opinion on his take on fats is? Thanks in advance!

    • No problem, Wendy!

      I have looked at the book, along with Eat to Live and all of Dr. Barnard’s books, The ENGINE 2 DIET, and also CHINA STUDY. I think there’s some persuasive evidence there, but I actually think that there’s even more evidence to suggest that the fats in olive, flax, and hemp oil, along with avocados, nuts, coconuts, and seeds, are quite vital for the health of many people. Do I think that most Americans eat too much fat, and should reduce it? Absolutely. But I don’t buy the idea that all fats are bad for us, ipso facto.

      I also think that many of the studies in which fats are eliminated and disease is reversed are indicative more of the inevitable changes that come from a dramatic reduction of calories and unnecessary fat than the inherent evil of fats themselves. To wit: take a drastically overweight individual who eats a large amount of fat, and eliminate fat from that person’s diet: it’s inevitable that the person will lose weight, but that’s not necessarily because all fats are bad. It’s because anyone who’s suddenly eating 500 calories less or 30 less grams of fat per day will lose and have reduced cholesterol. Period. (And I might add that telling a person to eat a low or no fat diet is a very reliable way to ensure that one’s weight loss plan works — it leaves little room for the individual to overeat fats, and it’s such a drastic change that weight loss is quite likely.)

      But does that mean that all individuals would fail to be healthy or thrive if they simply avoided excess fat, or limited their fat sources to high quality ones? I don’t think so, and there isn’t any robust evidence to show that a diet that includes moderate amounts of plant-based mono- and polyunsaturated fat is unhealthy. In fact, many people–especially athletes–may find that healthy fats are vital to performance (my friend Brendan and I have discussed this).

      So it’s always a matter of nuance: sure, most SAD eaters need to reduce fat drastically and also think about their sources. But I’m not of the mind that fats are to be avoided on principle, even though I respect the doctors out there who have such a perspective.

      G

  4. The formerly-unhealthy and overweight part of me LOVES the idea of “fit” dining – and as a vegetarian, I usually find that those places have more and better vegetarian diet options.

    However, my biggest concern is really about how we are consuming our food. While I love to eat at restaurants, I think the bulk of our food should be prepared by us and purchased as locally as closely – I believe that being “connected” to our food is the best way to learn to consume according to our body’s needs (which I’m still working on)!

    Glad you’re exploring DC – I just decided that my first marathon will be the Baltimore one in October!

  5. I actually appreciate calorie counts- even something that’s healthy when you make it in your own kitchen can be horribly unhealthy (and hundreds more calories) the way it’s prepared in a restaurant, and I think most Americans have NO idea how many calories they eat or how many they truly need, so that’s one way to try to get more people to be aware of what they put in their bodies.

    I’ve passed funxion and wondered what it was, but not enough to look inside. Can’t say that I’m excited about trying it now, but maybe I’ll stop in for a smoothie sometime… thanks for the review! By the way, is the cheese on the pizzas low-fat or something? Just wondering what they consider “fit” about their pizzas.

  6. Lol, the sink looks like something you’d see on House Hunters International. 😛

    This is the first I’ve heard of “fit” dining. It sounds like something that can’t be that easily classified and I’m irked that it focuses on animal products too when those trends are changing. And it does seem to give good fats an unfair reputation.

  7. At least you found one vegan friendly option in DC! It’s rare that a restaurant dares to omit salt, in fact, they usually use it as a substitute for fat, since it adds flavor, so I would appreciate that. Thanks for clarifying the toilet/sink!

  8. I agree with all your points here. At the end of the day, it’s better than Chilli’s so I guess baby steps are good (?)

    I really justr wanted to comment because — ARE YOU SURE THAT WASN’T a Urinal???

  9. I’ve never heard of “fit” restaurants before–it’s an interesting concept, but as others have mentioned above, I wish someone would end society’s stigma with fat once and for all. Healthy fats are nothing to be feared!

  10. i think the calorie counts certainly have their place, as do the animal protein-heavy salads – many people are so scared to even eat “health” food, let alone vegetarian food. if their first foray into health is through salads made with organic chicken (like that served at the pump), i don’t think there’s much harm in that – it’s much better than sticking to mcdonald’s chicken nuggets.

  11. I always hate when restaurants present their calorie information- to me it shows the restaurant being unprofessional and usually chain. You’re right, though, for vegans and people who have food allergies it can be useful. This restaurant doesn’t look like any Mimi’s or Chevy’s– love the sound of those smoothies and some dishes! At least they had hemp on the menu 🙂

  12. Well said; I get very frustrated with ‘fit’ outlets that place foods pumped full of whey and soy protein isolate alongside options filled with veggies, legumes and healthy oils. I wholly agree there’s a marked (over)emphasis on lean protein coming from animal sources and highly processed powders but on the whole, I think these places comprise a step in the right direction. Maybe sometimes it’s a bit of a wayward step, but at least it’s going down a healthy path.

  13. Not into this way of eating, heard it was rampant in Dc with the new administration. Better for vegans if there are options but it seems misguided and outdated. I guess you’ll have to smuggle in an avocado or something if you go again.

  14. I could HEAR you rolling your eyes from here. 🙂

    Even as someone who doesn’t eat meat, I’m not totally turned off by the idea of a restaurant that offers “fit” options…it’s better than fast food. However, I’d be less concerned with the cuts of meat and more concerned with the sources. Because I’d be far less concerned with my loved ones who are omnis having a grass fed organic steak from a locally sourced restaurant than I would having one of them ordering factory farmed boneless, skinless chicken breast from a “fit” restaurant.

  15. I feel the same way about places that tout their “healthy” food with calorie counts, chicken breast, and little to no fat — where is the substance?!

    p.s. I tooootally thought that sink was a toilet!!

  16. you said it perfectly. i wish restaurants realized people arent stupid. we should be able to grasp that not all fat is evil…and a slew of others things…

    that wrap looks so small. i hope the flavors of the cucmber salad were good because it looks…to be improved on…for lack of a better phrase?

  17. “You can see me rolling my eyes from afar, I’m sure.”– Until I read that, I was actually doing the eye roll myself 🙂

    And I got a huge chuckle out of “protein propaganda”. haha!

    And this “(I promise that’s a sink, not a toilet. I wouldn’t photograph a toilet.)”–
    I thought that was a badet? or however you spell it. But I knew you wouldn’t put that on your blog.

    Ok as for the dining experience..I personally wouldn’t go back, if I went once, I mean fine, once. But not like there aren’t a million other places to try. With restaurants like this, I look at it as “an experience”. Probably not going to get the best meal of my life, probably will actually feel I overpaid and left a bit unsatisfied, but I tried it and I spent time (hopefully) with loved ones and friends in the process.

    I think that any restaurant that calls themselves a “fit” establishment or is “healthy” probably has a different definition of those things than I do but again, it’s the “kitsch” factor, do it once, move on, type of thing. 🙂

  18. I actually quite like the idea of ‘fit’ restaurants, but I just wish they would give you other nutrition and health information – aside from just calories, fat and carb content. I think it starts with education, and my impression is that a lot of people don’t necessarily realize the nature of what they may be eating. The same goes with processed foods.

  19. As a conscious omni (who still eats vegan and vegetarian quite often), my biggest agreement with you is on the fat situation. I love healthy fats, and consume them plentifully. Not only do they add flavor and mouthfeel to food, but we need them for proper brain function, and a lot of other reasons as well. I think the need for fat gets lost in “fit” eating because people are too focused on getting enough protein, and not eating too many carbs. Fat just falls off the radar because many people, sadly, only think of it as something that will–like the word itself unfortunately implies–make them fat. A lot of the fitness world is focused on external fitness, not the fitness of a body’s insides. (Kind of a funny sentence, but you know what I mean.)

    About caloric information…I think people get far too wrapped up in it. Five hundred calories in French fries is not the same as five hundred calories in fruit. I don’t find it appealing when menus have nutritional information displayed. I think it pushes people to order lower calorie options, instead of the meal they truly want–regardless of whether or not those options are healthier. I think menus should state that nutritional information is available upon request, instead of outright displaying it.

    Anyway, I have nothing against “fit” restaurants. I actually enjoy them because overall, they usually have an abundance of healthy choices. What I don’t like are the praises for low-cal this, low-fat that, and low-carb whatever.

  20. Cool review! It’s funny how restaurants that might seem super healthy to most Americans kind of lose their luster to the people who know a lot about nutrition, health and food. Seems like they aren’t doing too bad there though. I wish we had awesome healthy restaurants even close to that where I live.

  21. I haven’t been there yet (even though it’s like half a mile from my office), but I think it looks like they have a broad definition of “fit” that could fit many people’s definitions, and they label well to support people pursing their individual nutrition goals. Vegan? Gluten free? High protein? Endurance racing support? Low sodium? It’s different for everybody, but with a diverse menu, you can help them all out.

  22. I’m right there with you on the need for healthy fat in our diets—for nutrients and for flavor. I was having a discussion with someone over brunch today about how protein-centril the average American diet is. There are so many satisfying and delicious ways to get protein from plant-based foods, yet animal protein options take center stage. I mean, true, there’s probably a lot more money behind the beef and poultry industries, but it still frustrates me. That said, there’s some great research being published about plant-based diets and their association with reduced risk of various disease. I hope that this becomes a more accepted way of eating and that restaurants offer more meat-free options—it would also be nice to avoid the eye roll that says, “You think you’re all enlightened ’cause you eat kale, don’t you?”

  23. Interesting. I’ve never dined at a ‘fit’ eatery before, I tend to find my own ‘fit’ options in which I deem nourishing, delicious and of value to my overall health. I don’t find the lean protein off putting so much as the fat free vibe they seem to be having. If I have a lean meat, then I sautee veggies in coconut or olive oil or have avocado or raw nuts or seeds over a salad to compliment my “protein.” If I’m having a fattier cut like lamb, I tend not to load up on the fats simply because it’s so rich and I prefer a lighter side option.

    Personally, I find whey protein & diet muscle drinks full of sugar abominable. I don’t think there’s any need to supplement with whey if you are omni. None! There’s no way you aren’t meeting a protein requirement satisfactory to your bodies needs if you eat even a little meat or eggs in a day–(unless you are some ultra endurance athlete).

    I don’t feel the need to eat a gram per pound of body weight. In fact, it would make me feel ill. I’m still waiting for the band wagon to come to the realization that our hyperbolic protein requirements aren’t really necessary!

  24. I hear your concerns on the calorie counting, however I think in some cases it has its place. Some people aren’t aware of what they are really eating. For example, one might think a salad is a healthy choice, until you see that it has as much or more fat and calories as a Big Mac (I was reading labels just for fun on some non-vegan products and was shocked at the totals on a grocery store Cobb Salad). If it brings some awareness, then it’s not a bad place to start.

    I just passed through the Toronto airport and was really disappointed at the total lack of viable vegan hot meal options, unless you want a fried, pre-formed veggie burger. There was a whole lot of meat! For an international airport one might think that they would branch out a bit. For all of its quirks, I would have loved to have found something even remotely close to a “fit restaurant.”

    Looking forward to hearing about your future dining adventures in DC.

  25. Living in rural Canada I have never experienced a “fit” restaurant. Sounds like they’re becoming trendy (or already are trendy and I am just totally out of it, lol).

    I hear ya with the need for fats. As a raw vegan, I add a lot of good fats to almost every meal that I eat.

    Looks like a fun place to eat though. Thanks for sharing your meal with us 🙂

  26. First, let me say that I love that you’re blogging from DC now! I hope the moving and school adjustment is going well for you. 🙂

    Funxion is close to my office (I’m in Penn Quarter) and I generally like the concept of the place. I have tried a few menu items and particularly like the Blends. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, DC doesn’t have a lot of juice bars, and it’s nice to have somewhere that at least offers a few juice options and coconut water instead of milk or yogurt-based smoothies. I still need to go back for the sweet potatoes! They were out of it the time I tried ordering.

    I also think the bar concept of Dysfunxion is pretty cool too. I recently had a cocktail made with kombucha and fresh basil – much “healthier” than a typical rum and coke, even if it is alcohol. 😉