Culinary Institute of America Wants Restaurants to Serve Less Meat

CC BY 2.0. Stacy Spensley

Together with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Institute is calling on chefs and restaurants to rethink the role animal protein plays in their menus and to consider replacing with plant-based sources.

Meat dominates restaurant menus everywhere. While there may be a veggie burger or grilled vegetable wrap featured somewhere on the menu, these are treated more as necessary afterthoughts to ‘keep those pesky vegetarians happy,’ rather than something that a restaurant wishes to feature prominently. And yet, if restaurants were to cut back on the quantity of meat served to guests, replacing it with plant-based protein sources, it could have a tremendous positive impact on human and planetary health.

“Reducing the amount of red meat (e.g. beef, pork, and lamb) on menus as part of a movement to place a greater emphasis on healthy, plant-based foods – including plant-based proteins – is the single most important contribution the foodservice industry can make toward environmental sustainability.” (Menus of Change)
The Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Department of Nutrition, are working to encourage a widespread shift away from animal protein within the restaurant industry. Through a project called Menus of Change, these two groups want more chefs and restaurant owners to do the ‘Protein Flip,’ des
- Instead of feeding plants and grains to animals, feed them directly to diners ... with much smaller amounts of accompanying animal protein.
- Ask: “What level of global animal agricultural production in 2050 supports optimal public health and is environmentally sustainable?”
- And: “How do we enlist chefs, behavioral specialists, and visionaries in design thinking and marketing to create patterns of food choices, dishes, and menus that flip the role of protein and fully meet consumer acceptance?”
- It’s also time for chefs to leave behind the habit of using “protein” as a synonym for “meat.” Cultural shifts like these in the chef community can help broaden the general mindset about protein in the U.S.

Menus of Change has released two documents, including a lengthy infographic that outlines all the facts regarding animal protein and the consequences of current consumption rates, and an 8-page toolkit called Protein Plays that provides tangible solutions for redesigning menus in a less meat-focused way and addresses certain food myths. Both are great resources, even for non-restaurateurs. Take a look to educate yourself and be inspired to reassess the foods you choose on a daily basis.

excerpt from Protein Flip infographic

Protein Flip/Screen capture

It’s good to know that these conversations are taking place within the foodservice industry because awareness and education will lead to change, at least on some level. Restaurants are in a unique position to create fabulous meatless dishes that could inspire diners to change their own eating habits. At the same time, however, responsibility also lies with diners, who, by asking for less meat, ultimately influence restaurants more than anything else.