by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Two weeks ago while driving into Chicago, I observed billboards along the interstate with large letters “BYND -DNKN.” I realized then that plant-based foods were no longer a fad but now a trend and are having a major impact on our restaurants and grocery stores.
Being inquisitive, I visited the “Beyond Meat” website, BeyondMeat.com (product source to Dunkin). I learned that “Beyond Meat” is “made from simple, plant-based ingredients without GMOs, soy or gluten and is designed to deliver the versatility, texture and juiciness of ground beef and sausage. Their primary customer bases are carnivores and flexitarian (those following vegetarian diet but occasionally eating meat or fish) people who are looking for delicious plant-based meat. The process consists of “using heating, cooling and pressure to create the fibrous texture of meat from plant-based proteins. Then they mix in fats, minerals, fruit and vegetable-based colors, natural flavors and carbohydrates to replicate the appearance, juiciness and flavor of meat.” Peas, mung beans and rice provide the protein. The red hue comes from beets. For those of us concerned about the environment, Beyond Meat uses 99% less water and emits 90% fewer greenhouse gas than a ¼ lb. beef burger. They call their sausage product, “the missing link.”
Dunkin offers the “Beyond Sausage Sandwich” and according to their public relations people, “the sandwich outsold its anticipated forecast” and has become one of their top selling sandwiches. Their research shows that “once a guest tries the plant-based option that tastes like sausage, they are likely to return and have it again.” I asked if they would be expanding into other plant-based meat products and they replied, “We firmly believe that the plant-based movement is not going anywhere, and there are no limitations to where it will go next.”
The difference between plant-based and vegetarian was my next question. An article in the Jan. 10, 2020 online issue of U.S. News addressed it. Diane Wenz, author of “The Truly Healthy Vegan Cookbook,” and a plant-based chef says in the article, “To be truly plant- based a diet must be free of any animal products including meat, eggs and dairy. It usually refers to an animal-free diet without the lifestyle part of being a true vegan. (No leather belts or shoes for example.)
Daryl Gioffre, celebrity nutritionist and author, has a slightly different interpretation of a plant-based diet. He says there is a bit more flexibility and though he follows a plant-based diet, he also eats fish. He says that “anything can be in a plant-based diet in moderation but to make plant-based food your priority. “
Registered dietitian and Lincoln Land Community College Culinary Arts Adjunct Instructor Charlyn Fargo Ware advises us that there are many advantages of a plant-based diet. “The fruits, veggies, nuts and whole grains of the diet are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats that we all need more of.” She refers us to the USDA “My Plate” recommendations. The key is to pack half of every plate with fruits and vegetables. “Yes, the goal is to head toward that plant-based diet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ever have meat, and the all-or-nothing approach does not work for most of us.” The goal is to eat more of the nutrient dense foods and less empty calorie foods. Following a plant-based diet “will help keep off excess weight, give you more energy, improve your mood and protect your heart — all great benefits.”
Dr. C. Leslie Smith, M.D, assistant professor of family and community medicine and director of culinary medicine at SIU School of Medicine, prefers to use the descriptor “plant forward” and is a proponent of the diet’s goals. A diet she recommends is the Mediterranean Diet which consists of daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats, weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs, moderate portions of dairy, and limited intake of red meat. From my research on the Mediterranean Diet, there is also an important non-food choice component. I is all about sharing meals with family and friends, enjoying a glass of red wine, and being physically active.
Locally, Maldaner’s offers a “Beyond Meat” burger on their menu. Chef Mike Higgins, owner of Maldaners restaurant in downtown Springfield, prides himself on being local. You will see him at the Farmers Market stocking up for the restaurant. His creative plates include French green beans from Veenstra’s Vegetables, mushrooms from Gus Jones and squash from Gregory Farms. The plant-based trend is not new for him, and Maldaners has offered a “Beyond Meat” burger for the past two years. He specifically chose the Beyond Meat product, since it is pea-based and does not contain soy.
On a personal note, I am a Baby Boomer, grew up in the inner city of Chicago, and thought most vegetables came from a can. As a child, our daily dinner (same time every night) consisted of primarily meat and potatoes (fresh ones, hand peeled and smashed with lots of butter) plus of course Wonder bread. Carol and I have reduced our meat consumption and are striving to eat healthier. It is not uncommon that I am preparing a fruit smoothie for breakfast, having a yogurt with blueberries for lunch, and chopping fresh vegetables for a stir fry dinner – all very foreign to my diet as a child.
Food guru Michael Pollan reminds us to “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” I am not sure if I will ever be at that level, but we are trying, and are much more conscious of our food choices.
My thanks to Chef Michael, Charlyn, Dr. Leslie and Amanda from Dunkin. I close with this timely quote from Michael Pollan:
“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry, along with non-credit cooking and baking classes through the Culinary Institute. For more information visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts and www.llcc.edu/culinary-institute.