A Virtual Plant-Based Culinary Training Program Launches in UK

This HSI initiative will help institutions reduce meat and dairy consumption.

chef in a hotel restaurant

Getty Images/martin-dm

As the planet heats up, so does interest in plant-based eating. More people are opting to cut back on the amount of meat and dairy they consume in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Animal agriculture, which is responsible for killing over 88 billion animals a year, is estimated to produce around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, thus making vegetarianism, veganism, and reducetarianism some of the most effective ways to lessen one's impact on the planet.

This shift has mostly been limited to people's homes. Institutional kitchens and catering operations have lagged behind, continuing to offer the traditional meat-centric dishes that they've always served while remaining responsible for feeding large numbers of people. Humane Society International/United Kingdom (HSI/UK) hopes to change that trend and get more institutions aboard the plant-based bandwagon. 

To do so, it has launched a new virtual culinary training program called Forward Food that teaches institutions and its in-house cooks how to use vegetables, seeds, nuts, and protein alternatives in ways that make meat and dairy seem positively outdated. This new workshop will "equip chefs with the knowledge, skills, and inspiration they need to develop delicious and nutritious plant-based dishes in the comfort of their own kitchens," as described in a press release; and because it's offered online, is now accessible to cooks across the U.K. who might not be able to attend an in-person training workshop.

From a press release: "The video-based workshop, led by HSI/UK’s Forward Food chef and renowned food writer, Jenny Chandler, consist of four toolkits exploring key aspects of plant-based cooking: umami flavour, texture, pulses, and grains and seeds. As part of the training, HSI/UK also calculates greenhouse gas savings from kitchens that are shifting away from meat and dairy-based menus to more plant-based options."

Charlie Huson, the Forward Food program manager, tells Treehugger the program has even greater relevance in the months leading up to the world's biggest climate change conference, COP26, to be held in Glasgow this November. 

"[It] is an incredibly important initiative to assist institutions in helping Brits eat for the planet. Reducing meat and dairy consumption is one of the tastiest and most effective ways that we can lessen our carbon footprint, and by launching our Forward Food training on a new virtual and interactive platform, we can train even more chefs across Britain. There is no denying that eating more plants also boasts incredible health and animal welfare benefits, and so it comes as no surprise that plant-based foods are increasingly popular in Britain’s canteens and kitchens."

A spokesperson for HSI/UK explained to Treehugger that, despite veganism trending across the globe, culinary education has lagged behind when it comes to embracing plant-based cooking:

"The [mainstream] curriculum is still largely based around the preparation of meat and fish as the hero of the dish and vegetables being an accompaniment. This is also true for the hierarchy of a traditional kitchen. However, with programmes like Forward Food highlighting the potential of vegetables as a main, and more restaurants requiring chefs to cook creative plant-based dishes, we believe schools will have no choice but to adapt their curriculum to the changing culinary environment."

Forward Food has already worked with a number of institutions, including universities in Oxford, Cambridge, Portsmouth, Swansea, and St Andrews. Its biggest success has been at the University of Winchester, which has managed to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by almost 40% since a baseline assessment was conducted in 2015-16. The cumulative emissions savings total 176,968 kg CO2e, which is "equivalent to taking 63 cars off the road for an entire year! Due to this reduction of meat procurement, they also saved over 684 animal lives" in the past four years.

With training, chefs develop an appreciation for plant-based eating that they did not have beforehand. HSI/UK tells Treehugger, "When we train chefs [and introduce] them to the satisfying depth of plant-based flavours and textures, we see how their views on vegan food change. We witness incredible excitement in the kitchens that produce beautiful and delicious plant-based dishes. Many universities, like Winchester, have reported on the success of the program and have requested follow-up training in expand their plant-based meal options even more."

It's a great-sounding initiative that, thanks to its virtual design, will now be widely accessible. And you don't have to be a professional cook to access some of the delicious recipes that make plant-based eating so tasty: check them out here.