Chef's Perspective: Reflections from 2022 Menus of Change

Published on : 6/27/22
  • Written by: Jennifer DiFrancesco, Sodexo Campus Director of Culinary Innovation

    This year I had the pleasure of attending the 2022 Menus of Change Conference at the Culinary Institute of America, where I was joined by other food service and culinary professionals dedicated to the business of healthy, sustainable, and delicious food choices. The Menus of Change principles reflect my passion for flavor, plant-based ingredients, sustainable sourcing, and globally inspired dishes, so the event felt like a natural fit for my work with Sodexo Campus.

    I was also honored to be a panelist in a breakout discussion titled, “Plant-Forward, Plant-Based: A Deep Dive into the Science, the Industry, and the Consumer.” The discussion was led by food journalist, Kate Cox, and it was a pleasure to sit beside Rachel Dreskin from the Plant-Based Foods Association, Stephanie von Stein from the Good Food Institute, and Mike Messersmith from Oatly to share our perspectives on plant-based foods.

    Here are a few key takeaways from our discussion:

    Consumer interest in plant-based foods is broad and growing. While our Gen Z students certainly lead the demand for plant-based menus, interest in limiting meat consumption is growing across the board. Plant-based food consumption is growing across all regions of the country, in all age groups, and in a diverse range of cultures. The COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in this, causing all of us to seek more health and immunity-boosting diets. Plant-based foods are no longer for a select and trendy few – they’re craved by nearly everyone.

    Plant-based product innovations are the future. Innovations in fermentation, cultivated meats, and plant-based eggs and dairy products are reaching impressive heights with no sign of slowing down. As a chef, I am continually impressed by how well many of these products can replicate the animal-based proteins we traditionally cook with. This creativity allows consumers to continue to enjoy familiar meat, eggs, and dairy with a smaller environmental impact and added health benefits.

    Innovations are exciting, but we don’t have to start from scratch. There are many well-established cultural diets that can show us how to eat plant-based and it’s important to keep them included in this journey. Tofu, for example, has been a staple soy-based protein in the Chinese diet for centuries and the Mediterranean diet is a great model for nutrient-rich, locally sourced eating. In fact, most cuisines outside of the United States traditionally enjoy plant-based plates. Serving globally inspired, plant-based menus helps preserve these cultural traditions while also delivering on consumer demand for authentic and diverse flavors.

    Always lead with taste. In the end, plant-based recipes are simply about serving something delicious. I believe the key is designing our recipes to be just as beautiful, enticing, and worthy of seconds as any meal with meat. Serving a crave-able plant-based dish shouldn’t make consumers feel as if they are making a sacrifice – it should just taste good! The goal is to normalize the plant-based choice and make plant-based eating an accessible option that also just happens to be good for you and the planet.

    Menus of Change reminded me that the need for plant-based diets is not just a healthy personal choice, but also an urgent global need to mitigate climate change, feed a growing population, and protect our planet’s resources. Chefs hold the power to create change in choosing what we menu, a great reminder as we embark on the goal to make 33% of our menu offerings plant-based by 2024. I’m more ready than ever to achieve this goal for Sodexo as we continue to lead the plant-based menu evolution on campus.

    Sodexo was a proud sponsor of the 2022 Menus of Change Conference.