The menu at Dick’s Kitchen in Portland, Oregon, offers typical American diner fare, but with a twist: the dishes are based on the Paleolithic Diet and aim to give the broader public the food it wants. The Paleolithic Diet was founded back in the 1970s, growing in popularity through several evolutions of names and promoters until finally in the late 1990s it succeeded in garnering interest not only in the segments of the general population but also attract the attention of branches of the medical field. Fundamentally the Paleolithic diet promotes the consumption of foods such as fruit, vegetables and organic meats while down scaling popular “sound” foods such as dairy products, grains, legumes and of course, the ignominious food item, sugar. The belief that by going back centuries to honor the true “nature” or blue print of human beings, people may reduce and prevent illnesses such as heart disease, rheumatism diabetes and cancer is core to the Paleolithic diet’s popularity.
The typical American diner menu provides traditional food that is easily recognized and well-loved. What happens when the Paleolithic Diet is applied to a burger joint in Portland? The hamburgers are made of 100 percent grass feed beef. The fries are air-baked. There’s a vegan shake option. The desserts contain significantly less sugar, or no sugar, in their list of ingredients. While the menu wouldn’t satisfy purists of the Paleo adherents, it attempts to introduce the ideas of a diet that goes against the traditional grain of healthy food thinking. Diets long believed to contribute to reduction of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer have most often promoted whole grains, cereals, fresh produce, etc.; in short a primarily vegetarian lifestyle has led the way, gathering health minded people and patients recovering from chronic diseases into the folds of a detox, fat free manner of eating.
In business terms the Paleo diet has a significant group of followers. Paleo magazines, radio programs, articles, restaurants, and food products are easily found espousing the diet’s premises. Although relatively trendy, the diet is not appealing for all and, furthermore, applying the rules to a restaurant is not straight forward, certainly not if you are serving burgers and fries. Dick Satnick, the owner of Dick’s Kitchen explains, “The Paleo movement is divided about dairy, dairy can be helpful for some people. Satisfying the preconceptions of what a burger joint should be means that people should be allowed to feel comfortable. Cheese on a burger becomes a personal choice. We’re not about strict interpretation. We’re about allowing a set of filters to be a guideline to customize our personal needs.” In this manner Satnick weighs in the Paleolithic diet and maintains serving the public the food it wants.
Personal choice can be either dictated by the doctor or by independent thinking. Either way, committing to a strict or less strict diet is usually an emotional rollercoaster ride. From an early age humans are trained to perceive food as sustenance, nutritional necessity, linked to emotional bonding, and moral support of a lifestyle whether inherent in a community or adopted. What about the take of lifestyle named Paleo? “It’s not the best name,” Dick Satnick admits, “It’s a popular and simple phrase, even sometimes called the ‘Caveman Diet’ which can be misinterpreted. People have an emotional reaction when hearing it and may not be given time to be open to the idea. But, on the other hand we don’t want to mystify our customers.”
Satnick is speaking from experience. He spent fifteen years in the restaurant business building up a chain of vegetarian restaurants called “The Laughing Planet Café,” eventually selling out to open up his new venture “Dick’s Kitchen.” While his first chain of restaurants proved highly successful, serving up healthy leafy green and whole grain fare to the public, Satnick was determined to find a better way to manage his own health and looked into the Paleolithic Diet line of thought. What he discovered was that 100 percent grass feed beef tasted good, and provided enough omega-3s, the “good” fats, akin to salmon. “I’d like to spare some my friend’s kids having to live through quadruple bypass surgery.” He says reflecting on him own life. When he walked away from the established school of thinking that by eating multi-grains, cereals and plenty of legumes, the fare of the centuries of food cultivation, he was setting a fine example of pursuing alternative heart healthy and preventative measures. “Ironically,” he said, “This voyage took me back into the world of Paleo Anthropolgy, and my doctoral thesis.” Granted he also admits that, “None of the food that we eat today are the vegetables from the Paleolithic time. I don’t advocate for purity but for principles.”
Business is good business. Portland, Oregon provides Satnick with the resources to establish his diner. “Portland has last intact food shed in city without having to import. The valley around Portland is full of small farms. Environmentally Portland is, food wise, ahead of the curve.” The other monetary consideration is while many other Paleo fuelled restaurants serve the higher price end of the caveman diet, Satnick aims to provide local foods, accessible organic fare, in the setting of a mid-priced burger joint. By doing so at Dick’s Kitchen he weighs in the Paleolithic diet at the diner, and still gives the public the food it wants.
By Persephone Abbott