Vegetarians no longer have to feel like the proverbial red-headed step children. Gone are the days when Vegetarianism was looked upon unfavorably. Today this meatless lifestyle holds a significant place in our culinary culture.
There are a variety of reasons why people support a vegetarian life-style: health and wellness, concern for animal welfare, humanitarianism, spiritual and religious beliefs, moral and social aspects; while others are concerned with economic issues, environmental awareness and preventing world hunger. Whatever the motivation, Vegetarianism and Veganism has an enormous following, and as the emphasis continues to focus on healthy living and people become educated on the cruel and unfair treatment toward animals, its popularity will continue to increase.
Vegetarianism is popular in Hollywood amongst many of the stars, especially with actress and model Pamela Anderson; longtime PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) member and passionate advocate of animal rights who became a vegetarian when she was a teenager. Today she continues to promote vegetarianism by working with PETA on their many campaigns. Because of her ongoing commitment to humanitarianism, and as a loyal and vocal supporter of PETA, Paul McCartney presented her with the “Linda McCartney Memorial Award” in August 1999 as an honor to his late wife who was also committed to the ideologies of PETA.
But you do not have to be a true vegetarian to enjoy veggie dishes or to have a passion and understanding for the cuisine. Vegetarian food is no longer stereotyped as boring, unhealthy and tasteless. This growing market trend equals big business and as the demand for Vegetarian requests increase, fast food chains and restaurants are doing their part by offering tasty and nourishing meat-free menu selections. Even college, universities, schools and hospitals are incorporating vegetarian food in their meal plans. Food markets are also keeping up with the trend. Whole Foods provides an extensive line of affordable, healthy and high-quality vegetarian items from fresh to frozen. According to Kat Sullivan, Associate Marketing Coordinator of Whole Foods Southern Pacific Region, “Whole Foods Market has the largest selection of all natural vegetarian and Vegan products available. We will continue to seek out new and exciting vegetarian options to carry in our stores, as we develop recipes from our kitchen to offer in our Prepared Foods Department. Whole Foods Market launched the Animal Compassion Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of farm animals. Our meat standards are the highest in the industry, and we hope the work of the foundation will educate ranchers and meat producers about how important animal welfare is.”
Vegetarianism is going mainstream and going “raw.” Healthy and meatless are acceptable choices in today’s society. Eating vegetarian is a personal choice and does not need to be explained or defended. It is the responsibility of the food service business; especially professional chefs who are role models, mentors, culinary educators and representatives of the industry, to have knowledge of and experience in vegetarian products and cuisine. Executive Chef Jesus Cibrian of Aramark at the Las Vegas Convention Center agrees. “Today people are more conscientious about their diet, and it is important to know how to prepare vegetarian foods. I constantly get requests from clients for vegetarian alternatives to be served at their catered banquet events, and I also provide vegetarian options at our International Food Market Restaurant. We have a complete salad bar and salad becomes a main course for many people.” Chef Jesus had the honor of serving as the Executive Chef at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. “The demand and consumption of fruits and vegetables at the Olympics was phenomenal. We were blasted with vegetarian requirements! The trend is there and we need to accommodate all Vegetarian and Vegan requests as best we can.”
Tal Ronnen, Executive Chef and founder of the food-service consulting group, Veg Advantage, works with product manufacturers and foodservice distributors to teach them about alternatives available to meet the demands of the growing vegetarian community. He also works closely with chefs and restaurateurs to assist them in adding quality alternatives to meat, dairy and egg products and in adding delicious and healthy appetizers, entrées and desserts to their menus that will satisfy the tastes of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian diners. “Diners are becoming more sophisticated and a Portobello Mushroom or a Couscous dish will no longer cut it. A recent Aramark survey found that 25 percent of college students want vegetarian options when they dine out, so a restaurant that doesn’t have a variety of vegetarian dishes may be missing a large segment of consumers. Providing a range of vegetarian options on the menu can help a restaurant escape the “veto factor,” where, for example, a family vetoes a restaurant because their vegetarian daughter doesn’t like the options available there.” Chef Tal believes, “The easiest way to satisfy all the different types of vegetarians is to offer a Vegan meal. A Vegan meal contains no meat, dairy, eggs, or honey, and this option is suitable for all types of Vegetarians. For example, if you offer a meat-free dish that contains cheese, Vegans and Ovo-Vegetarians (a Vegetarian who consumes eggs but does not eat dairy products) will not order it. But if you replace the cow cheese with soy cheese, the dish will be ordered by Lacto-Vegetarians (a Vegetarian who consumes dairy products but does not eat eggs), Ovo-Vegetarians, and Vegans alike. Vegan options are guaranteed to be acceptable to all Vegetarians, so having a Vegan option on your menu is an easy way to keep all of your customers happy.”
Being a Vegetarian, Vegan or choosing a healthier lifestyle does not mean you are limited to carrot juice and bean sprouts. This way of life is fast becoming an accepted norm and food stores and restaurants have been much more accommodating by carrying a variety of options full of taste and nutrition.