Plant Proteins are the New Meat: Leading Culinary Institute Flips Protein Focus

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Two reports released last week by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) are calling for a “protein flip”—urging chefs across the country to “reimagine traditional roles for animal and plant protein on American menus.” The CIA says the comprehensive reports promoting plant proteins are part of its ongoing efforts to advance healthier and more sustainable food choices.

plants are the new meat

“Americans consume three times as much meat as the global average,” says the CIA, “half of which is red meat—ignoring, in the aggregate, serious health and environmental concerns known to be associated with high levels of read meat consumption.”

The reports, titled “The Protein Flip” and “The Protein Play” stand in stark contrast to traditional American cuisine where meat has been the center focus for decades. And while the CIA isn’t saying we should move entirely away from animal protein—it is suggesting a significant reduction in meat consumption, and choosing more sustainable meats and plant proteins as a new direction.

“So often in our industry we unnecessarily limit options for our customers, narrowing choices to ‘regular’ (e.g., a steak, half a chicken, etc.) and ‘unleaded’ (e.g., vegetarian pasta),” says Greg Drescher, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry leadership at the CIA. “What The Protein Flip and Protein Plays documents do is chart a new, middle way, one with an expanded, more nuanced range of choices (how about an entree with just one or two ounces of meat?). They challenge us to adopt next-generation approaches that simultaneously embrace and integrate indulgence, deliciousness, health, and sustainability—all on the same menu, and often in the same dish.”

And that new “middle way” could shift the way we eat, not just at restaurants, but at home, too. Trends in restaurants and cooking shows inevitably make their way to the supermarket, and to our tables. If we begin to see more plant proteins served up in the culinary world, it could trigger a massive decrease in meat consumption and its negative health and environmental impacts.

The CIA’s reports mirror the growing trend of favoring more sustainable plant-based proteins. Numerous meal-delivery subscription services are either vegetarian-based or offer a wide selection of meatless options. Schools and universities across the country are adopting Meatless Mondays, and the number of meatless options in restaurants continues to increase.

“Those who care about the planet our grandchildren will inherit should make reduction of red meat a high priority,” says Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition and chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and chair of the CIA-Harvard Chan School Menus of Change Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. “And this can also reduce our risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and premature death. These twin realities offer great opportunity for today’s culinary and foodservice leaders, who are providing proof that this shift in eating can bring great variety and enjoyment to our tables.”

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Vegetarian meal image via Shutterstock

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