Posted August 4, 2015
Humane Society's Food Foward Initiative Pushes for More Plant-Based Meals
Dartmouth College hosts a forum on meatless dining in the college setting
On May 27th, 2015, the Humane Society invited 16 people from ten different institutions, along with a FINE representative, to their Food Forward event at Dartmouth College.
The event was focused on providing awareness and tools to food service professionals who were interested in offering more plant-based options on their menus that could work for their budgets and improve the health and nutrition of their customers.
While local was not a primary focus of the event, there are many opportunities to align the efforts of healthy plant-based meals with the inclusion of seasonal and regional ingredients, as well as potentially utilizing cost-savings from plant-based meals to then purchase higher-quality regional produce and sustainable meats.
The event began with an overview of the problem:
- Our health care system currently focuses on “sick care” instead of health care
- Time magazine cited that 42% of Americans could be obese by 2030
- There is now data that links an increase in the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, and heart disease for obese people
All of these factors point to a need for healthier diets that focus on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and less meat.
To show the evidence in support of plant-based diets with fewer meats, the staff from the Humane Society shared a variety of sources that support this argument:
- A plant-based diet has been promoted by organizations such as the American Institute for Cancer Research, American Heart Association, and Kaiser Permanente because it reduces the risk of disease.
- Oxfam is in support of plant-based diets because the production of meat requires large amounts of resources such as land, water, and fertilizers.
- The New York Times cited research stating that if Americans reduced meat consumption by 20%, the impact would be just as great as if we all switched from driving a sedan to a hybrid vehicle.
- The first set of government-recommended 2015 Dietary Guidelines also indicate that a diet higher in plant-based foods is healthier.
One of the ways that institutions and others are addressing this movement is through the adoption of programs like Meatless Mondays. Johns Hopkins School of Public Health wanted to find ways to reduce the intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, and thought that this could be accomplished partly by reducing the intake of meat by one day each week. Now more than 34 countries have Meatless Monday programs. To highlight the program, The Humane Society has created a video about Meatless Monday. They also have recipes, testimonials, and other resources by institutional sector at their website.
The Fayston School District in Vermont presented at the event about their use of the Meatless Mondays approach, and found that students liked the idea of giving “cows, chickens, and pigs the day off”. Not every institution feels that the use of the phrase “meatless mondays” will work for their customer base, however, and so others have found creative ways to reduce the overall amount of meat on the menu through the promotion of “lean and green” or “flexitarian” options instead. Some of the ideas for implementation included marketing materials and signage, recipes that incorporate meat substitutes where you would normally utilize meats (for chili, etc.), and recipes that reduce the amount of meat required - an example is using mushrooms to fill out a burger so that each burger has a reduced amount of ground beef in it, but the flavor profile and texture remains very similar.
Vegan & Vegetarian Dining
Ken Botts spoke at the event, and formerly worked at the University of North Texas, where he implemented a vegan dining hall. He found that it wasn’t just the vegan students who liked it, but that 9 out of 10 people coming in weren’t vegetarians or vegans, but just preferred the quality of the food. He found that it was financially sustainable and it saw increasing transactions each year, and eventually led to the addition of more vegan options in other dining facilities on campus. Now there are vegan dining halls or retail locations at several campuses in the U.S., as well as many more vegan and vegetarian options offered throughout university dining. His advice was to really focus on menu design with talented chefs to really make this successful.
The added benefit of these programs are that they can also help to reduce costs, or allow for a shift in dollars that can then go towards purchasing higher quality meats or other products. The cost savings are a result of the fact that meat proteins typically cost more per pound than other plant-based proteins.
The Humane Society has partnered with Harvard University to do a chef training over two days that focused on developing plant-based recipes, and that has been really successful.
Some additional recipe resources for food service professionals that were shared include:
- Vegan in Volume by Chef Nancy Berkoff, R.D.
- The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman
- Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson
- The Professional Vegan Cookbook by Brian P. McCarthy
You can follow up with questions or for more details on their resources with Ashley Rhinehart, RN, the Food & Nutrition Manager for the Humane Society, at [email protected].