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Culinary Strategy: The Unsung Hero of the Sustainability Movement

Sophie Egan

Author, “From Chicken Wings to Kale Smoothies – How We Eat Defines Who We Are”

There are many reasons for people to eat less red meat – especially beef – and more plant-based foods. In short, eating more produce, whole grains, nuts and legumes and plant oils is healthier and more sustainable. Given the data, government officials from China to Denmark have been employing a range of communication strategies to shift eating patterns.

Be Picky

But for people to eat more of something, it has to taste good. And for something to taste good, it helps to have a chef who knows what they’re doing. From a flavor perspective, too often the better-for-you, better-for-the-planet options feel like sacrifices.

Part of the challenge is overcoming the traditional value proposition of restaurant experiences. Historically in the United States, meat – and lots of it – has been the star. Vegetables and other plant-based foods have been relegated to mere supporting roles. So, as we think about how to shift population-wide behaviors to support the vibrant endurance of our planet’s natural resources, it’s time to recognize culinary strategy as a powerful tool in the sustainability toolkit.

The Right Ingredients

This is where The Culinary Institute of America comes in. Through a portfolio of thought leadership initiatives that advance the overall foodservice industry, the CIA champions scalable, business-friendly menu strategies for volume foodservice operations that benefit human and environmental health.

Chief among these strategies are those that focus on protein. They include serving meat as a condiment (just a few ounces atop a plate of plant-based flavors), blended burgers (think mushroom and meat blends), elevating plant proteins (e.g., chickpeas or lentils), mixed grills (swap chicken for half the beef) and menuing delicious, global flavors (Asian, Mediterranean, etc.) that just happen to be vegetarian or vegan (such as pho or hummus).  We invite you to read more in our two resources, The Protein Flip and Protein Plays, which can be found at

Between roles as best-selling cookbook authors  and award-winning restaurateurs or Food Network stars, chefs help shape cultural norms. Whether it’s by making plant-centric dishes exciting through compelling menu language, flavor profiles and sourcing stories, or using food prep “scraps” in inventive ways to divert would-be waste, chefs have an enormous opportunity to help consumers eat more sustainably.

So, to make plant-forward eating habits mainstream, let’s bring culinary strategy to the table. We’ll combine the evidence base with the business case. And we’ll always—always— lead with flavor. Because if it doesn’t taste good, the rest doesn’t matter.

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