More hours at home during the pandemic meant I was thinking about food all the time and, with growing children in the house, constantly scrambling to produce enough of it. And while ordering takeaway has been a welcome respite from the stove, it’s a treat rather than a habit.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that people have been eating creatively. But have we been eating well? That’s a question that is more and more important at this time when supporting our immune systems to fight off illness is critical, not to mention the need to do everything we can to protect and improve our mental health.
If you ask Taylor Gendron, mood can be highly affected by what we eat. Gendron is a holistic nutritionist and certified yoga and meditation teacher who tackles anxiety without medication. A huge part of her approach is through diet. During these COVID days, Gendron suggests that eating the right food may offer some relief.
She’s speaking from experience. While at university, she was paralyzed by anxiety and depression and found that medication only pushed her further into the abyss.
“I healed myself,” says Gendron, who went on to study at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition in Ottawa. Gendron says the pandemic has brought new challenges for her clients.
“People are struggling with mental health issues,” she says. “Whereas previously they may have been able to keep their anxiety and depression under control with visits to the gym or their therapist, now they can no longer do these things. Many people are turning their interest to food because this is a thing they do have control of and they have more time to try new things.”
“Gut health is the root to good health,” says Gendron, noting that 90 per cent of serotonin — a hormone key to happiness — is created in the gut. Serotonin needs good gut bacteria to thrive, and for that, there are foods to increase — and avoid.
“You want to reduce dairy, gluten, sugar, corn, and soy because they create inflammation in the body. When the natural balance of the immune system is disrupted by the food we eat, the immune system shifts into a chronic inflammatory state, which will then reduce healthy neurotransmitter production,” says Gendron.
She says beans are key. “I cannot stress enough how great beans and legumes are for gut health. I eat them every day.”
Along with other foods packed with good fats and protein, such as cold-water fish and seeds, Gendron also looks to broth. “It is full of collagen, vitamins, and minerals that reduce inflammation.”
Broths and tonics from Apothecary Kitchen
Launched in October 2020, Apothecary Kitchen offers chicken- and beef-bone broths, a vegan mushroom broth, brothsicles (yes, that’s frozen broths on a stick, combined with fruit flavours), organic celery juice, and various tonics.
“My passion and love for broth began a few years ago when I discovered the many benefits,” says owner Janet Roberge. “I was picking it up in Toronto from my friend Alex, creator of Ripe Nutrition. But last year, the time just seemed right to do this myself.”
Roberge, who owned and operated a café and catering business for 10 years and has a lifetime of experience in the hospitality business, swears by the benefits of broth. Scientists appear to agree: bone broth is high in protein but low in calories, and it contains gelatin, which supplies the body with amino acids, the building blocks for protein. Bone broth may help with bolstering the immune system, as well as improving the health of our brain, stomach, and joints. And that’s to say nothing of the soothing warmth of a delicious mug of clear, heartwarming liquid.
“My husband and I had broth at lunch. It’s excellent — very warming, soothing, and tasty and healthy. Not too much salt, but just enough,” says Carol Murray, one of Roberge’s clients. “I have made bone broth myself, but it’s not as good.”
Roberge makes between 30 and 40 litres of broth weekly in small batches, using the commercial kitchen space at Art-Is-In Bakery. She sells it frozen via monthly subscription or by the litre. She has also added tonics to the Apothecary lineup. Packed with vitamins, immune boosters, and detoxifying properties, her soothing tonic does exactly what it says for your throat or a cough, while the lemongrass ginger tonic and turmeric tamarind tonic offer an alternative morning ritual to coffee and cereal.
A small glass is packed with punchy flavours and can’t help but lift your mood for the day.
Healthy and haute fare from Astoria Bistro
If you feel like eating well and having a treat, look to Astoria Bistro Botanique, which opened in December 2020 in Hull. This vegan restaurant offers an all-day menu featuring brunch classics such as “eggs” Benedict, a waffle club sandwich, and latkes and lox, as well as many gluten-free options. In the evening, more sophisticated classics such as arancini, pierogi, risotto with king eryngii mushrooms, pad Thai, and curries are on the menu.
Astoria grew out of vegan bakery Pastel & Coco, which opened in 2018. Co-owner Stéphanie Gervais began offering vegan brunch options in early 2020. Demand was so strong for her savoury vegan items that Gervais opened Astoria.
“Health-conscious, indulgent food was my raison d’être in starting the bakery,” says Gervais, “and now the same applies for the restaurant. I want to offer elevated comfort food, made vegan.”
As COVID rules allow, Astoria is offering takeout, delivery, and dine-in. The breezy terrace alongside the restaurant is a place to enjoy their eclectic classics that just happen to be vegan.
A chef’s nod to nutrition that’s gourmet too
For Sara Shpyth, a freelance chef who has worked at Fraser Café and Strawberry Blonde Bakery, there is absolutely no reason why eating well and eating delicious food should be mutually exclusive.
She has been beset by health issues that have severely restricted her diet and is intent on creating food “that’s as delicious as anything else being served at the table.” Indeed, Strawberry Blonde is known for its rich treats that happen to be gluten-free, vegan, and nut-free.
Shpyth says it’s easy to make things taste great if you add loads of cream and butter, but some people might not feel so great afterwards. “Your dinner should leave you feeling healthy and happy. I can’t wait for the day that this idea becomes more mainstream.”
Because she has had such a difficult time with digestive issues, she understands the desire and demand for great tasting food that supports wellness.
“I try to be an advocate for people struggling with dietary restrictions,” she says, “because it’s important not to feel marginalized just because you can’t eat something. It’s our responsibility to understand these things as cooks, and I believe that nutrition is part of our jobs.”