This new Fast-Casual chain is bringing the internet of alternative nutrition into real life, starting with seed oils

The vest-wearing finance brother waiting in line to pick up his Sweetgreen order outside his Midtown office has a counterpart. He might as well be working in finance, in Midtown, wearing a jacket. But when it comes to the food he consumes, it’s a little more intense. Conspiratorial, even. It’s not just about hitting certain macros or knowing exactly where that chicken came from, though that all counts, of course. The bigger question is: what Exactly are they cooking that chicken? What is the basis of that seasoning? In other words, does this restaurant use seed oils?

This guy doesn’t eat at Sweetgreen’s. Eat at the Springbone.

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Springbone Kitchen is a New York City fast-casual chain serving up bowls of chicken, vegetables, rice, and bone broth that’s categorically and proudly free of seed oil. And to be clear, the restaurant is popular with those who have never given a thought to seed oils, those who are just generally health conscious, and those who simply enjoy chicken and rice. But among the anti-seed oil sets, Springbone isn’t just a place for a clean meal, it’s one of the only places.

Springbone is the project of co-founders Jordan Feldman and Sam Eckstein, who opened the first location in 2016 in Greenwich Village. As Feldman explains, the two were both working those classic midtown finance-type jobs mentioned above, while becoming increasingly involved in what they call the “paleo CrossFit movement.” According to Feldman, this is where he began to take root much of the dialogue around seed oils.

“The two of us were trying to eat that way, but kept finding that wherever we were going to order lunch, or go out to dinner, when we’d ask those nagging questions about what they’re using to cook their food or where they get their meat.” , we were always disappointed with the answers,” he says. “It was just inevitably conventional feedstock, soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil. That was kind of the genesis of the idea that maybe there’s a opportunity to start something that does those things right, but still serves fast, cheap, good tasting food.

They’ve been right so far: Springbone just opened its seventh location, with an eighth in the works. “We’ve always talked about the fact that we don’t use seed oils,” says Feldman. Their refusal to use them is listed right on their menus and signage outside restaurants.

Seed oils, which include canola, sunflower, soybean, peanut, rice bran, and “vegetable” oils (usually just another name for soy, in this context), have become a contemporary health villain in certain circles. These include “carnivorous” or “ancestral” dieters, some keto practitioners, right-wing factions who believe that big globalist agriculture is on a mission to get the world to eat processed soy slop and bugs, crunchy hippies, and increasingly, every day eaters who just want to eat a simple diet that resembles what most of the generations before them ate.

The basic idea is that seed oils are something most humans have never consumed before, which only became a major part of the American diet in the second half of the 20th century. Unlike say, olive oil, which is created by simply pressing olives, soybean or rice bran oil require significant chemical intervention. To create seed oils, the seeds often have to be heated to high temperatures and processed with hexane and then treated with chemical deodorizers and dyes. People who avoid seed oils believe that not only are these chemicals worth avoiding, but that the heating process oxidizes the fat in these oils in a way that is harmful to our health. Additionally, seed oils contain higher amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-6 than people have historically consumed. However, most mainstream health practitioners say these processed oils are healthier than oils high in saturated fat from animal fats, such as butter or tallow.

For many, including Feldman, avoiding seed oils is best understood as a simple proxy for avoiding processed foods, which nearly everyone agrees are bad for you. But it’s also a way to avoid restaurant food, usually not great for you, and it’s possible to eat a largely seed-oil-free diet that might be classified as “unhealthy” by other standards. On Seed Oil Scout, an app that helps eaters locate seed oil-free restaurants and identify which menu items are “safe,” some of the top-rated restaurants wouldn’t necessarily qualify as clean eating. Bobwhite Counter, for example, is rated four out of five stars in the app, because it uses beef suet to cook fried chicken and fries. Several five-star establishments only serve pizza. At some point, then, it’s not just about eating clean, it’s about avoiding an ingredient on principle.

For some seed oil averse people, you can eat more or less whatever you want besides the offending oils. Steven Arena, the CEO of New Jersey-based Ancient Crunch, is the creator of Masa Chips, a fried tortilla in beef suet sold at stores like Erewhon in Los Angeles and Pop Up Grocer in the West Village. “The thing about seed oils that I find particularly interesting is that when you give up seed oils, your life becomes more enjoyable. Not from a health standpoint, but from a hedonistic standpoint,” she says. When you don’t eat seed oils, you have even more power to go ahead and splurge on steaks, sourdough bread, grass-fed butter, ice cream. These indulgences are not only permitted, they are encouraged.

The bro of finance, biohackers, downtown scriptwriters, trads, and the otherwise vaguely health-conscious remain free to order a dozen oysters and down them with a negroni, in other words. And before that, the Springbone Chicken and Rice Bowl or Herb Roasted Salmon probably won’t be too bad, either. At the very least, they won’t have seed oils.

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