The Signal

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Sunday November 28th

Juiced up on tofu at Big Bear Natural Foods

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Lately, I’ve been on a health kick. Though I would never call myself a vegetarian or vegan (you can take milk from my cold, dead hands), I’ve been eating less meat and have been existing more or less on a diet of roasted vegetables, fruits and whole grains. I’ve also become a bit of a sucker for the whole “organic” movement. Oh, it’s organic? And grown locally? Then of course I’ll pay too much for it! I dream of the day when I’m successful enough to stroll confidently into WholeFoods, buying nothing but organic, locally farmed, fair-trade whatever. We all have dreams, right?

So, whenever I’ve gone out to eat lately, I’ve tried to choose options that fit into my new eating patterns. For the most part, I fail miserably.

But, recently I remembered that the Big Bear Natural Foods on Pennington Road had a deli that specialized in vegan and vegetarian meals. Since sandwiches are possibly my favorite food ever, this seemed like a match made in organic heaven.

Big Bear Natural Foods is not a restaurant; the majority of the store is dedicated to organic produce and foods, gluten-free items and vitamins. At the back of the store, however, is a counter where customers can purchase made-to-order wraps, smoothies and juices. Don’t expect to order a ham and cheese sandwich, though. Most of the offerings are vegan or vegetarian, so come prepared for tofu.

I decided to order the Vegan Curry Chicken Salad on a whole wheat wrap ($6.49) and an Apple Spice juice ($3.99 for 16 ounces). I was a little unclear on how exactly chicken salad could be vegan, but luckily the nice woman behind the counter was able to answer all my questions for me. The “chicken” portion of my wrap was actually tofu, and they use a vegan, eggless mayo. I was also assured that all of the ingredients that are used in their sandwiches or juices are organic and grown primarily in New Jersey.

Besides the tofu and vegan mayo, the chicken salad contained celery, carrots, raisons, almonds and curry, finished off with lettuce, cucumber and sprouts. (Normally it also includes onions and tomatoes, but, as I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of either.) The chicken salad was good, though I might be biased because I don’t mind the taste of tofu. However, I would be willing to bet that even the most die-hard carnivore wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the tofu and chicken if they weren’t warned ahead of time. The curry gave it a nice kick, and stopped it from being too bland. I don’t normally like celery in my chicken salad, but I barely noticed it here. In fact, all of the elements of the salad kind of blended together. This isn’t a bad thing, but it made the cucumber and lettuce necessary, as they provided a well-needed crunch to an otherwise mushy wrap.

I’ve ordered juice at Big Bear before, when a friend and I were on a juicing craze (I should have known that if Gwyneth Paltrow loved it, it probably wouldn’t be for me). In a bold move, we both ordered their All Green Juice, a celery-based juice with broccoli, kale and cucumber. It was … interesting. Actually, it tasted like earth; not like dirt, but actually like you would expect the earth to taste. I usually describe it as what it would be like to drink straight from the teat of Mother Nature. I’m sure it was excellent for me, but it wasn’t an experience I was ready to repeat. So, this time I decided on the Apple Spice, which combined apples, carrots and ginger.

A word of warning before ordering juices from Big Bear: you probably aren’t ready for the experience. Drinking a lot of Naked Juices isn’t going to prepare you; you’re in the Big Leagues now. With these juices, you taste every single ingredient. While not overwhelming, the taste of carrot was extremely strong, as was the ginger. I liked the latter, though; it brought an unexpected spiciness to the drink.

I enjoyed my meal, and would definitely go back, but I admit the prices were a bit steep for a wrap. Whether or not you’re willing to pay that much will depend entirely on how much the premise of Big Bear appeals to you. Personally, I’m willing to pay extra for organic and local ingredients, but for those who aren’t as interested in that aspect, the prices may not be worth the final product.


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