Every day we are met with a series of choices. What clothes to wear, how many shots of espresso to get, and of course, what to eat that day. While it may be tempting to believe that as consumers we are in complete control of these things, the truth of the matter is that we are constantly being influenced by society. The clothes we see in the store have been carefully chosen by others, Starbucks has made you believe that you simply can’t start your morning without a triple-shot latte, and the government sets out guidelines on how you should eat. That is, until now.
In an attempt to influence consumers’ food choices more directly and promote healthier and more sustainable food choices in restaurants, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) has partnered up with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to spearhead a movement they are calling the Menus of Change initiative. The latest development? Two evidence-based documents detailing the environmental and health impact of meat consumption, and urging chefs to “reimagine the traditional roles for animal and plant protein on American menus.”
The documents, titled The Protein Flip and Protein Plays, gets to the heart of the issue pretty fast: the developed world is consuming way too much meat. According to the CIA, Americans eat three times as much meat as the global average and 50 billion burgers per year! This means that in the U.S., animal sources account for as much as 85 percent of the protein we eat. They go on to detail livestock’s tremendous environmental impact in terms of greenhouse gases, land use, methane gas emissions, and water use. The graphics are simply a visual representation of what many of us have already started to realize: the rate of meat consumption in the U.S. and around the world is wildly unsustainable.
While CIA’s vibrant and easy-to-understand infographics are certainly a good way of demonstrating the direness of a food system upheaval, we’d say the most important part of the documents is their call to chefs. Both documents urge that chefs “leave behind the habit of using ‘protein’ as a synonym for ‘meat’” and instead, use their menus as a tool in “elevating the role of legumes, nuts, and plant-forward flavors in general.”
“The demand for protein is high in the developed world (an average of 103g/person/day is consumed today), and with rising incomes it is also growing rapidly in the developing world. Currently, this demand is being met by increasing the production of meat and other animal products, which is expected to double by the year 2050,” said Nil Zacharias, Co-Founder of One Green Planet. “With 45 percent of land worldwide already being used by animal agriculture and another 33 percent just to grow livestock feed (dependent on commodity crops like soy and corn a that are devastating the planet). We can’t possibly afford to rely on livestock production – an industry the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while other organizations like the Worldwatch Institute have estimated it could be as much as 51 percent – to feed the world. The time to reimagine protein is now – and it starts with plants.”
The development of Protein Flip signals an incredible shift in how we imagine food – for the better. Normally, chefs and the Culinary Institute of America leave it to the government to lay out dietary guidelines and present nutritional facts to the public so that consumers can make the most educated decision possible. However, with the U.S. government not making concrete moves in lowering the consumption of meat, the CIA has decided to take a stab at it themselves. And with good reason! As they point out in their document, “Half of all meals consumed in America today are prepared by culinary professionals. Chefs and culinary leaders are assuming ever larger, more pivotal roles in integrating key imperatives of taste, health, the environment, community, business, and economics.”
We totally agree! If we wait for the government to decide to go against the meat and dairy lobbyists and start employing some actual hard-and-fast dietary decisions when it comes to the consumption of these products, we will most likely be waiting a long time. We applaud the Culinary Institute of America for deducing their vastly important role in the food system and using this power to enact change that will better the lives of billions of people and contribute towards making a smarter and more sustainable future for the food system. If we all work together, we can find intelligent and delicious ways to #EatForThePlanet.
Lead Image Source: Wikimedia