What is Plant-Forward eating?

Over the past years, I noticed a shift in my eating habits. As time goes by, I see myself enjoying more and more plant foods and less animal protein. I witnessed some friends suddenly stating things like, “This is it. I think I’m going vegetarian.” Finally, I keep hearing more people concerned about the world’s food supply and sustainability.

Marie Molde, RD

To get more clarity of what’s going on, I talked with a good friend of mine, Marie Molde. Marie is a registered dietitian and works for a food insights company. She is also growing as a public figure and quoted in publications from major media like the New York Times.

Plant-forward has gotten a lot of traction in recent years. – she began explaining – If we think about where this trend started, it wasn’t a single anyone event but more convergence of a few different trends that brought us to where we are today. One of them was the rise in communal dining, people sharing meals and dishes, where a big part are side dishes. Sides tend to be inherently meatless and introduced people to more vegetables and different palatable vegetable preparations, like roasted cauliflower and blistered shishitos.

The culinary institute of America (CIA) defines plant-forward as.

“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.”

Menus of Change. in Collaboration with the CIA

Plant-forward, thus, is a way to classify recipes and an eating style that celebrate plant-based ingredients with animal products used only as seasonings or garnish. This term is equivalent for those who, like Marie, call their eating style “flexitarian.”

Speaking about the evolution of the trend, Marie shared some insights.

People started paying more attention to plant-based alternatives in 2016 when David Chang introduced the Impossible burger (“the plant-based burger that bleeds”) at his restaurant Momofuku in NYC. Since then, Impossible and Beyond burgers penetrated steadily on US menus and represent 5% of US restaurants today. Around the same time, people gained awareness of the environmental and health impacts of consuming animal products.

Climate change is impacting food choices, where increasingly severe droughts, shrinking of growing seasons, and extreme temperatures impacting crop yields are forcing consumers to feel the effects of climate change personally through food. The UN predicts that the global food system could be majorly affected by climate change within 30 years without drastic action to reverse climate change.

– Gen Z consumers, especially, are worried about the planet’s future. They know that what they consume will affect the outcome, so they select more plant-based products to protect the planet better.

– 62% of Americans agree if we reduce our consumption of meat and increase our consumption of plant-based foods, we would be healthier (and 52% agree we would have less of a negative impact on the environment). – Marie highlights.

Finally, the presence of food allergies has increased in recent years, driving consumers to seek alternatives that will satisfy them and not make them sick. Many of these alternatives tend to be plant-based, especially for dairy alternatives (oat milk, almond milk, vegan cheeses, etc.)

All of these phenomena, evolving concurrently, are driving the momentum toward plant-based and plant-forward eating that we see today.

I asked Marie how did she get involved in the matter?

My background is in food and nutrition, and I’m an enthusiastic advocate for plant-forward eating because of the potential it has to improve our health and the health of our planet. I started working for a food trends and research firm in 2016, the same year the Impossible Burger launched at Momofuku, and plant-based / plant-forward has been a major trend in the food industry and the theme of my work ever since. I’m also a member of the Menus of Change Business Leadership Council, a group of leading chefs, food and foodservice executives, and social innovators working to advance plant-forward eating.

What are other benefits of being a flexitarian or eating plant-forward meals?

People think they need more protein than they do. For example, there is the misconception of plant protein being of less quality, which is incorrect, and the knowledge is spreading more and more. You can get lentils for lunch instead of beef and still have the protein you need; people now realize that. An additional benefit is that produce is typically less expensive so that you can spend more on better-quality ingredients.

Finally, I feel that plant-based meat alternatives are great as a gateway for people to get more curious about plant-based and plant-forward eating. Hopefully, it will help people to include more produce, nuts/seeds, legumes, and other whole-food plant-based items in their diets. With plant-forward, you can have a burger composed of 30% mushrooms, lentils, beans, grains, etc., and the rest beef, thus enjoying the best of both worlds. I would love to see more people eating plant-forward meals; that’s my wish for the planet. – Marie concludes.

That concluded my conversation with Marie. I felt very inspired by the movement and happy to see in the future more dishes centered on vegetables and produce as a way to increase sustainability and see people living healthier lives.

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