Plate of seafood

Dining with Healthy Gusto

With Mardi Gras in the rearview mirror and Lent— generally appreciated even by non-Catholics — upon us in this very Catholic city, into my head popped a quirky question: What do people who eat for a living do during Lent?

“If I had my own agenda like I’m not eating meat or whatever, you know not everyone’s pursuing that, so no, I don’t change much up for Lent,” said Ian McNulty, restaurant reviewer and food writer for The New Orleans Advocate. “I probably do subconsciously back off of some things because it’s post–Mardi Gras and I feel like everybody else. And I do eat more seafood because that’s what’s on the table.”


No doubt. Crawfish pots are boiling, oysters are still good, there’s always shrimp, crabmeat and fish. Not exactly an abstinence.

Dieting in food-crazed New Orleans is as difficult as keeping mosquitoes out of a swamp. Tulane Athletics Director Troy Dannen confided to me that he had gone up one waist size and was getting tight in the new one since he moved here from Northern Iowa more than three years ago. Tulane President Mike Fitts, who moved here from Pennsylvania in 2014, has checked off all the top-rated restaurants in the city but will tell you his weakness is Popeyes fried chicken. Need more be said? Temptation lurks everywhere.

McNulty moved here from Rhode Island when he was 25. Now he’s 44. “I was never skinny, never slim. Always kinda beefy,” he said. “And yes, my waist has definitely expanded. But when people say I have a beer belly, I say no, it’s credibility. Nobody would trust a rail-thin restaurant or food writer, nor should they.”

But health and exercise are always on his mind. “I eat lunch out every day, and dinner probably four or five nights a week. So we’re talkin’ nine or 10 restaurant meals a week. That’s a lot of chow. But you don’t have to finish everything. There’s a lot of trying and sampling.” The ideal restaurant outing for him is “four people who are curious and not too protective of their own individual order and pass things around and share.”

On weekends, he and his wife, Antonia Keller, a New Orleans native, shop at farmers’ markets and cook and eat light, healthy restorative meals. Then there’s his personal trainer: Admiral Nelson, a 75-pound yellow Labrador who has unbounded energy and drags McNulty around City Park. “He can be a real pain if he doesn’t get some of that energy out.” McNulty also plays for a local rugby club. “It’s possible to stay healthy doing this, I just don’t think it’s possible to stay skinny.

“Eating and drinking is a big part of how this town does business, how it socializes, how it celebrates living in New Orleans. It’s our identity. If you’re not pursuing that with gusto, you’re missing a big part of what makes the city of New Orleans. The challenge is pursuing a healthy lifestyle while living the lifestyle of New Orleans.” 
I agree. Pass the French bread and butter, please.