Plant-forward eating is hot

Even chefs are now onboard

Plant-forward eating, the movement towards fewer ingredients of animal origin, is gaining a lot of traction these days. Some are calling it flexitarian but it is essentially including more plant-based foods and fewer animal ones in everyday eating patterns. This differs from plant-based which is about the ingredients themselves.  Eating more whole foods -fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses and nuts and seeds – is definitely a key recommendation for human health while not going whole hog on animal foods is one for planetary health.

“Plant-based eating is not a trend. It’s here to stay and it is big business.”, says Toronto chef, David Lee, co-owner of Planta, an upscale, plant-based eatery with locations in both Toronto and Miami. His other eatery, Nota Bene, does offer a variety of meat selections but it’s closing its doors following their New Year’s Eve dinner and will be reopening in the spring as a plant-based Asian eatery that’s part of the Planta group.

Chef Lee points out that in home when he was growing up, with his Asian background, there were four vegetable dishes for every one containing any meat.

Keep in mind, though, that plant-forward eating doesn’t mean shunning meat entirely. It’s really about going for more meatless meals while filling plates with added whole plant foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables along with pulses, such as lentils and chick peas, and nuts and seeds.

Even Health Canada, in their proposed revision of Canada’s Food Guide, is moving in this direction. The agency, which has long been known in past renditions of the guides for a heavy emphasis on meat and dairy products, is now moving towards recommending a regular intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein-rich foods, especially plant-based sources of protein, as part of the foundation for healthy eating. But they want it to be clear that not telling Canadians to avoid meat.

Plant-Forward Global 50

A recent initiative by both the Culinary Institute of America and the EAT Foundation, an international foundation linking food, health and sustainable development across science, business and policy, called the Plant-Forward Global 50, is seeking to highlight the movement. The group has compiled a global list of 50 chefs and restaurants who are advancing plant-forward food choices—each in their own way—and providing inspiration for change.

The list of innovators and leaders includes notables such as U.S. chefs such as José Andrés, Thomas Keller, Alice Waters and Ana Sortun and international chefs such as Paul Svensson (The Restaurant at Fotografiska in Sweden), René Redzepi (Noma in Denmark) and Yotam Ottolenghi (Ottolenghi in London).

Here in Canada, chefs are looking towards change as well. In 2017, Restaurants Canada’s eighth annual Canadian Chef Survey of more than 560 professional chefs, where respondents rated a variety of menu items and cooking methods as either a “hot trend or an “up and comer”, “Veggie-centric cuisine (for example, fresh produce is the star of the dish)” and ancient grains made the list of “up and comers” which are the menu items that could be the next “hot trend” as interest in these items is quickly increasing.

While it may seem as though just upscale dining establishments are involved in these types of initiatives, even burger eateries are getting in on the action. While many offer vegetarian options, they’re now looking at plant-forward burgers. For example, the James Beard Foundation has partnered with the Mushroom Council to host the Blended Burger Project™, which encourages chefs to create a healthier, more sustainable, and flavourful burger that provides the taste that consumers are looking for while at the same time, informing diners about the many benefits of The Blend and the how our food choices affect both our health and the environment. For the past few years, the project has hosted a contest for the best blended burger recipe.

The Blend calls for incorporating at least 25 per cent mushrooms into the burger patty. Mushrooms work well as they add umami, that unique taste, while at the same time, decreasing the calories, fat and sodium of a burger while retaining the moisture. When you put that together with the sustainability and cost factors of using less meat, it’s easy to see why some eateries that have included these burgers on the menu have kept them on as regular items. In the U.S., where school lunches are the norm, many foodservice companies are now putting blended mushrooms on the menu in order to meet various requirements.

Chef Lee says, “We’ve come a long way from the only vegetarian dish on a menu was penne arrabiata.” But, in fact, at many dining establishments, the vegetarian choice was simply a plate full of unadorned vegetables. If you look at restaurant menus these days, the variety and appeal of both the meatless and less meat options now tempts even the meat eaters.

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Categories: Food Trends

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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4 Comments on “Plant-forward eating is hot”

  1. April Chang
    November 13, 2018 at 2:21 pm #

    Another example of a plant-forward burger is A&W’s “Better than Meat” burger that A&W started selling in July 2018. It is a sold-out burger at some A&W locations, according to some media reports.

  2. April Chang
    November 14, 2018 at 9:22 am #

    This is a correction of the name in my Nov 13, 2018 comment post for the A&W plant-forward burger, it should instead read “Beyond Meat” burger.

  3. Bhaleri
    November 22, 2018 at 10:41 pm #

    I can’t believe that Ms Schwartz, a nutritionist, believes that GMOs are okay. Sure, they may make it easier for the farmers to handle their crops, but they are basically producing Frankenfoods. Everybody knows that GMOs are toxic!

    • November 25, 2018 at 9:25 pm #

      Thanks for your comment but I have to disagree with you. While people may have concerns about them, the scientific evidence shows that GMOs are indeed safe.

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