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Whatever you call it and however you frame it, plant forward is one of the most significant culinary mega-trends underway in America and in global foodservice. It is changing how chefs think about menus, flavor development, creativity, profitability, and their future customers. It is upending the hierarchy of valuation—whether tied to specific ingredients, menu pricing, or concepts of excellence and prestige. Over the next 10 years, the plant-forward juggernaut will transform our expectations of restaurants and away-from-home dining.
In some cases, the appeal of a plant-forward diet is a reflection of health or animal welfare concerns. In other cases, consumers are coming to understand that our world in 2050 cannot sustain a global population of 9-10 billion people with universal, meat-centered diets that exacerbate climate change and accelerate the depletion of fresh water, soils and forests, and other natural resources. And more and more chefs and their increasingly adventurous diners appreciate that the path to deliciousness can, but need not, lead through meat-based stocks, sauces, and center-of-the-plate entrees.
Rather, inspiration can be seen from flavor-driven farms, chef-grower collaborations, plant-forward chefs and cooks in the United States—as well as from cuisines as diverse as those of the Mediterranean, Mexico and Peru, West Africa, East and South Asia, and the Nordic countries. They’re bringing a growing awareness that vegetables, fruits, pulses (legumes), nuts, seeds, plant oils, herbs, flowers, and other plant-based aromatics are uniquely amazing products and, when combined with culinary expertise and creativity, can be craveable to even the most dedicated carnivores.
Supporting this shift, in an era that also sees many diners obsessing over their protein intake, are the insights from leading nutrition scientists and medical experts that plant protein—in an even moderately diverse, well-balanced, whole foods diet—is more than sufficient to advance human health and longevity.
Meat lovers have also come to realize that they can include “less meat, better meat” within a framework of healthy, sustainable food choices. Even a substantial shift away from animal protein towards plant protein can leave room for five or six ounces of red meat per week—which could be enjoyed in the form of “meat as a condiment,” two or three two-ounce portions, or a single small steak. Combined with a prioritization of fish and poultry over red meat, negative health and environmental impacts of red meat can be reduced further.
A style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, plant-based foods—including fruits and vegetables (produce); whole grains; beans, other legumes (pulses) and soy foods; nuts and seeds; plant oils; and herbs and spices—and that reflects evidence-based principles of health and sustainability.
Source: Menus of Change, a joint initiative of the CIA and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health—Department of Nutrition. For more information, please visit: www.menusofchange.org
Slow-metabolizing diets that emphasize whole, plant-based foods and leverage small amounts of meat and other animal-based proteins together with plant-based product innovation and longstanding vegetarian and vegan traditions around the world point the way toward a big-tent strategy of “plant-forward.” Such a strategy can engage the maximum number of diners to successfully enhance and transform our collective diets and food systems. All while averting looming public health epidemics, future food security crises, and irreversible environmental impacts.
Chefs around the world are in a unique and pivotal position to help lead this transformation for several reasons:
they have deep credibility around how to create deliciousness, and they drive contemporary food and flavor trends;
they are in the best position to discover, hone, and share critical skills, and world cuisine-sourced techniques relating to plant-forward cooking with the public;
in their restaurants, they have a powerful, direct platform for introducing and engaging diners in new or less familiar ingredients and dishes; and
increasingly, they advise food growers, producers, manufacturers, retailers, public health leaders, and policy makers on how they can most strategically support this movement towards plant-forward food choices.