Today marks the start of World Vegan Month, a celebration of how far veganism has come. Adopting and maintaining a plant-based diet can often be a challenge, which is why Chris Ince, Chef Director, has shared his insight into the adoption of veganism.
Throughout the month, we will also be sharing various plant-based recipes for inspiration, as many of us want to eat less meat but struggle to make the changes.
1 in 8 people now choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Many are completely happy with this choice, and they do it for ethical reasons, environmental ones, or for the much talked about health benefits.
For all the reasons previously mentioned, I really should eat less meat but changing an old habit can often be challenging. I’m not alone – many of us know that we have to approach things differently but need a bit of help.
Losing the labels is the first step. All too often these vegan dishes occupy a special place on the menu, usually somewhere near the bottom. Despite recent massive improvements in quality and efforts at re-branding to ‘plant-based’ food, the vegan option still hasn’t shaken off the stigma of being the food that plays second fiddle to the ‘hero’ meat dish. It needs to be brought into the mainstream offering.
Equally as important is not to change too much too quickly. As contract caterers we often say that our main competition is the high street – and yet we are not the high street. The key difference is that in many of our restaurants, we have served the same customers every breakfast and lunchtime for years. They won’t thank us for doing away with the buttermilk fried chicken and bringing in the new plant-based alternative overnight.
As with most things, incremental changes are a way to go. In many favourite dishes (soups, stir-fries, rice and noodle dishes), it’s entirely possible to replace some of the meat element with enhanced vegetable content. It’s not deception – we have to lose that mindset, it’s just a great nutritious plate of food. Although it’s not entirely meat-free, it’s lessening our reliance on animal protein, and that’s what we’re trying to achieve.
Most importantly, eating less meat requires catering companies and chef’s up and down the land to believe the message. It’s a fundamental cultural shift that needs to happen in many of our organisations. Those of us who have cooked for many years and consider ourselves ‘old school’ need to re-wire our brains and think differently. Delicious meat-free foods must be at the forefront of our concept developments by giving them pride of place in our restaurants.