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Taking Back the Plate

Taking Back the Plate

How can we leverage the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables amid a sea of meat look-alikes?

If we think of the dinner plate as a pie chart, fruits and vegetables should be covering close to 50 percent, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate tool. An additional 25 percent of that plate should include protein, and many Americans rely on animal-based meats to fill this nutritional requirement.

Now that the United States diet has embraced plant-based protein—as discussed in a previous Produce Pulse, Meatless Meats—the dinner plate is beginning to look a bit different. Not only have vegans and vegetarians turned toward meatless replacements, but the trend has given rise to the flexitarian diet as well.

When plant-based first began booming, many folks were enthralled by the wide range of meat replacements utilizing isolates such as pea protein and soy. However, with the health movement rising in tandem with plant-based solutions, foodies have brought attention to the fact that many of these options are highly processed, and therefore not necessarily healthier than eating animal-based protein.

So, I say, put the “plant” back in plant-based! I know I’m not the only veg-forward eater singing this tune. Consumers across many types of diets are expanding the percentage of fresh vegetables on their plates and looking at new ways to get their protein. And the foodservice industry is answering their call.

I posed my question to the 2022 California Giant Berry Farms Chef Invitational panel of chef judges. Chef Travis Peters, winner of the 2019 Chef Invitational, told me how at his restaurants—The Parish Gastropub and The Delta Tucson in Arizona—one menu features a burger with an eggplant-based patty made from scratch, and the other menu features a burger with a meat substitute patty made by a company similar to Impossible Foods. According to him, the eggplant burger outpaces its meat look-alike counterpart by a long shot.

So, maybe we don’t have to do much convincing. Perhaps what it comes down to is forging more partnerships in the culinary world that help introduce consumers to new applications of their favorite fruits and vegetables. Look at Chef Robert Stegall-Smith’s creation—a berry-centric pizza with strawberry “pepperoni” on top. Seriously, Domino’s® should take note!

By putting such plant-forward creations on menus, we give consumers license to experiment in their own kitchens. To replace their prime rib with a nice cauliflower steak, or swap that taco meat with some shredded mushrooms. At the end of the day, health and flavor will prevail. And fresh produce has that in spades.