Still think vegetarianism is a fringe movement? Think again. The news that the Meatless Monday program now has a remarkable 50% awareness among Americans—up from 30% just six months ago—is ample proof that vegetarian menu options will be growing in demand. In the latest Nation’s Restaurant News magazine, NRN provides further evidence on this trend as noted in their article ,
And that isn’t just among avowed meat avoiders. Increasingly, diners are ordering if not seeking out meatless items, not because they’re vegevores per se but because they’re starting to buy into the growing body of belief that Americans eat too much meat for their own health and the health of the planet overall.
Whatever you think of the various premises behind the movement (that overconsumption of meat is contributing to obesity, that it has a role in declining heart health, that large-scale meat production is inhumane and damaging to the environment), the fact remains more people are open to eating plant-based meals more often.
Writers like Michael Pollan—whose “In Defense of Foods” advice to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” has become like a mantra for the flexitarian revolution—as well as influential chefs like Mario Batali, who is famous for his love of meat and his early adoption of Meatless Mondays, have been making serious headway in the last few years.
Although critics say that being “a little bit vegetarian” is akin to being a little bit pregnant, the truth is that the image of vegetarian food is changing from one of tasteless nuts, sprouts and soy protein to one of fresh, healthy, seasonal and delicious.
Rather than choosing to eat meatless for social, moral or religious reasons, people will order vegetarian items because they’re trying to eat less meat, or watching their calorie intake. Many diners don’t even make a distinction between items that have meat in them and ones that may happen to be meatless—they just order what sounds good to them.
Although some operators have shied away from the vegetarian because they’re afraid the items won’t sell—or they’ve offered a perfunctory vegetable plate or salad option—savvy operators are treating meatless items as another category along with beef, fish and other center-of-plate staples.
It’s no longer simply a matter of accommodating that relatively small portion of the population that never eats meat—although you can do that by making delicious food that just happens to be meat-free. That way, you can serve the vegetarian minority but not restrict the appeal of your meatless specialties to those patrons with dietary restrictions. This all-inclusive strategy has led to many interesting developments that any diner can embrace:
– Ethnic items (i.e., Indian and Mexican) with a tradition of plant and grain ingredients
– Vegetable tasting menus and farmer’s market specialties
– Produce-intensive items like salads which the diner can choose to order with or without a meat topping
– Creative tofu, seitan, and other meat analogs
– Easy-to-be-veggie categories (egg dishes, pastas, sandwiches, pizza, soups, and the like, which can be vegetarian without being overt about it)
Even restaurants that specialize in vegetarian and vegan options (which feature no animal products whatsoever, including eggs, diary and honey) ain’t what they used to be. Just look at Gather , in uber-hip Berkeley, California, with its “mindful” menu that includes vegan charcuterie alongside a perfect burger, plus a full bar stocked with all biodynamic and organic California wines and cocktails and spirits distilled from wholly organic grains. Who wouldn’t want to eat there?Blog, restaurant trends