Let Mr. Rogers and Flower Child nourish your mind, body and soul

By Angela Matano

Farm-fresh veggies and
lean proteins harken back
to a simpler time

If Roger Ebert was correct in his assessment “that movies are like a machine that generates empathy,” there couldn’t be a better moment for cinema to exert its power. Character-focused documentaries are coming fast and furious this year, a cultural moment in which empathy is at a premium. Pictures focusing on MLK, RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsberg), Whitney Houston, Gilda Radner, the Pope and Jean-Michel Basquiat privilege the audience with an inside look into another’s psyche. A privilege indeed.

If Trump is the epitome of a certain kind of person — I’ll let you elucidate the adjective — Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers, must surely be his elemental opposite, like a proton is the absolute polar opposite of an electron. In the new documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” director Morgan Neville captures the essence of a man who came to epitomize human kindness.

From his unassuming beginning as a minister and then puppeteer, Fred Rogers turned his children’s TV show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” into a surprise smash hit. The film explores the rise of the world of Make-Believe, populated with now iconic characters like Daniel Striped Tiger and Lady Elaine Fairchilde.

The radical tenderheartedness Rogers brought to the world through television, a medium he ironically despised, is aptly depicted in a scene where he testifies before Sen. John O. Pastore in 1969 about the importance of government funding for public television. The skeptical Rhode Island senator seems to melt into a figurative puddle right before our eyes as Rogers talks about his attempt to give “an expression of care every day to each child to help him realize he is unique.” And just like that, the senator signals his support for $20 million in funding.

If Mr. Rogers cared as much for nutrition as he did for children, he would certainly approve of Flower Child. This Santa Monica restaurant is “on a simple, soul-satisfying mission to spread positively delicious vibes and healthy food … to take you to a happy place.”

The bright and airy space trumpets a menu full of homemade, farm-fresh ingredients and catering to all sorts of diets, allergies and food preferences, from paleo and vegan to gluten-free. Best of all, the food at Flower Child fills you up without being too heavy, a Platonic nourishment ideal we all aspire to.

The menu features salads, bowls and wraps, with lots of options for substitutions and additions, letting you make of your meal what you will. The Forbidden Rice bowl comes with black pearl, red japonica, snap pea, bok choy, broccoli, carrot, onion, toasted sesame and red chili hoisin. For $6 more you can add shaved chicken or beef. Salmon and tofu also show up as potential additions.

The vibrant flavors in the salad vinaigrettes, from harissa yogurt to spicy lemongrass, bring your average bed of greens up a notch, and the liberal use of toppings like dried mulberries, pickled onions and pistachios keep these healthy choices from slipping into the category of boring.

Flower Child actually serves a nice variety of wine and beer, like Saint Archer’s White Ale — a welcome surprise for a health food joint. If you’re feeling too virtuous for alcohol, try the on-tap kombucha, served charmingly in a mason jar. If you haven’t jumped on the kombucha bandwagon yet, why not give it a try? The purported benefits of the fermented tea include probiotics for improved gut functioning, something Mr. Rogers would certainly approve of.

In our modern world (or are we postmodern now?) where feelings are not “mentionable and manageable,” as Fred Rogers taught us, but rather eminently Tweetable, as Donald Trump schools us, give yourself a time-out. After all, it’s looking more and more like nice guys do finish last.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is now playing at The Landmark in Westside Pavilion, 10850 Pico Blvd., West L.A. (310) 470-0492; landmarktheatres.com

Flower Child is at 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica. (310) 382-2901; Iamaflowerchild.com