Fresh, earthy food without the vegetarians' fuss

All the customers at the Fresh Earth Food Store in Emmarentia seem to have that well-scrubbed, bright-eyed look, as if they have just stepped out of a yoga class, or a spa.

It is part-restaurant, part-shop, and all manner of health products are stacked from floor to ceiling. There are granolas, seeds, nuts, quinoa, organic vegetables, essential oils, even a New Age-like music section.

The challenge will be fitting all this into the store’s 10m2 stall at the FoodWineDesign Fair in Hyde Park, Johannesburg, this weekend, said owner Matthew Ballenden.

The stall will have gluten-free cakes as well as muffins, biscuits (including Florentines) and rusks. There will also be 11 types of bread, including quinoa rye bread, potato bread, gluten-free rice bread and buckwheat and millet breads.

The store’s falafels and raw granolas, including goji berry granola and pumpkin seed granola, will also be on offer, as well as Macadamia nut and almond butters, and unpreserved dried fruits.

Many people seem to be developing an allergy to gluten—a composite protein found cereal grains, especially wheat.

Ballenden said wheat was sprayed with pesticides and, once harvested, treated with gas to stop mould. This, coupled with high stress and people “not respecting their bodies”, led to gluten intolerance, in his opinion.

The shop used to be called Fruits and Roots but Ballenden said he had “agreed to disagree” with the previous owners and they parted ways. He has since “deradicalised” and reinvented the venue by changing it from a health shop to a food store. A health shop is “dusty, purist, with some hippy helping you”, whereas Ballenden has tried to make it “accessible to everyone”. The store also has an excellent website with reams of recipes and a feature called “live help” that has a health consultant who answers any questions one may have.

No preaching to the converted
The café-style menu ranges from omelettes to something called the “Big Boer”, which includes two eggs, two slices of rye with hummus, breakfast sausage, mushroom, potato and grilled tomato, for R52. No meat is to be found on the menu, but there is no preaching about vegetarianism or veganism.

“You don’t come here to hear that eating meat is bad for you. Who is to say being a vegetarian will save the planet? Vegans and vegetarians are the world’s worst when it comes to making people feel guilty about how they live their lives.”

Ballenden said he would occasionally eat a steak, provided it came from a sustainable source. He mentioned the Braeside Butchery in Parkhurst as one that sold high-­quality free-range meat.

The Fresh Earth Food Store is packed at lunchtime when it lays out a buffet. On a recent Saturday there were at least 15 dishes, including a good coleslaw with shredded red cabbage, chopped spring onions, goji berries and dried cherries. There was a bowl of roasted baby onions and potatoes, an earthy lentil bake and a plate piled with roasted aubergine and chickpeas.

The falafels are also good, with a nice thick crust.

One man, seemingly taking advantage of the R72 all-you-can-eat option, had piled his plate at least 10cm high—but he was rail thin and I guess he knew what he was doing.

Fresh Earth Store, 103 Komatie Road, Emmarentia. Tel: 011 646 4404

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