What’s a Diet-Hater’s ‘Diet’?

Jared Koch’s approach to healthier eating isn't traditional—but it works.

Jared Koch's new cookbook. (Photo: Clean Plates)

Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor. He has written for The Awl, The New Inquiry, and elsewhere.

Jared Koch wants to change the way you eat.

That’s the driving message of his new book, written with Jill Silverman Hough, The Clean Plates Cookbook: Sustainable, Delicious and Healthier Eating for Every Body, which came out last month. So much so that you might be tempted to call it a diet book; the idea is to get healthier, to eat better, to lose weight, etc. But here’s the thing: Koch isn’t going to tell you what to eat. At least not exactly.

There are no strict rules about what you categorically cannot consume in the book. There’s no dogmatic pseudoscience, no labor-intensive juicing regimens. There are recipes that feature steak, bread and butter—all developed in the name of healthy eating.

Koch, who also runs the Clean Plates restaurant guide, spoke to me about this permissive approach to eating over lunch in Beverly Hills recently. While we ate quinoa, bok choy and poached salmon—an order the server noted as being exceptionally healthy—he talked about the more complicated nutritional concept that lies behind this atypical “diet”: bio individuality. According to Koch, the essence of the idea is that “what’s right for me is going to be different from what’s right for you.” In other words, if going gluten-free or vegan changed your life, that’s all fine and good—but your friend or the person behind you in the checkout line may find diet nirvana when they’re consuming plenty of pasta and red meat.

Koch allows that the dogma of some diets is precisely what keeps people wedded to them—sometimes obsessively so. But even if the seemingly lax approach of bio individuality keeps people from defining themselves in terms of their Clean Plates eating habits, he’s not to concerned. “I believe it’s the truth, it’s the reality of the situation, and I didn’t want to move away from that to come up with some type of gimmick.”

And maybe that’s the gimmick in and of itself; an anti-gimmick, if you will. And Koch, who has popped up on daytime television more than a handful of times—and boasts a healthy list of celebrity endorsements on the Clean Plates website—sells it well. That he clearly loves to eat well almost as much as he loves to eat healthy certainly helps. Anyone who can give me a nutritionally sound reasoning for eating a grass-fed rib eye with garlic-chive butter has my ears. 

“I don’t think anything should have to be sacrificed because you’re eating a different way,” Koch says as a way of explaining how such a dish fit into a cookbook that also features the manifesto-like “Five Precepts” of clean eating (#5: “ To feel better immediately, simply reduce your intake of artificial, chemical-laden processed foods.”). “It’s more about adding things than taking things away.”

So here’s your first Clean Plates-approved step: Eat more vegetables. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to eat only vegetables. “People always think ‘plant-based diet’ means vegan,” Koch says, “when plant-based diet means the majority of what you eat are plants.” So pile on some more salad and stop thinking of broccoli as a side dish. Embrace kale. Or learn to make the raw cauliflower tabbouleh from Los Angeles’ M Café, a recipe featured in the book.

The provenance of those extra vegetables (and other ingredients too) need not be strictly immaculate either. While Koch believes strongly in organic farming and sustainably raised meats, he says, “What we try to do in the book is take a good, better, best approach.” So if you’re a budget-conscious shopper, “maybe you don’t buy all organic, and you just focus on things where you’re eating the skin.” When buying meat, grass-fed is best, but antibiotic-free protein is a step up from factory-farmed-raised animals.

“I take a very non-idealist approach,” Koch says of his attitude toward diet. “It’s more about progress than perfection.” So eat more vegetables—and some steak too.

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