It’s been 10 years since Michael Pollan published his book, “In Defense of Food,” with the mantra, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” for improved health. How has the western diet changed since then?
For one, Whole Foods has a meatless phenom in its TTLA sandwich with tempeh bacon, tomato, lettuce and avocado. In 2018, this vegan version of a BLT went viral. It spawned a #TTLAChallenge on social media, which would suggest that the plant-based protein has gone from niche to mainstream.
Indeed, more people are shifting towards a plant-based diet, according to a recent Ipsos Global Advisory survey of 20,000 people across 30 countries. It showed that even omnivores are taking Pollan’s advice and incorporating more plant-based proteins into their lives.
Currently, 18 percent of Americans consider themselves vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, or flexitarian (people who occasionally eat meat and fish). Notably, this was a recent diet change within the past five years for two-thirds of this group. Those who are still omnivores are accepting plant-based proteins, as 40 percent of people claim they would eat a plant-based substitute for meat.
As more people have integrated plant-based proteins into their diets, restaurant menus and the grocery aisles have started to adapt. Varieties of nut butters and grains are proliferating. So are plant-based meat brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers. In coming years we’ll also see “clean meats” coming to market that are based on meat proteins but grown outside of an animal. These might give a path to return to meat for those who gave it up for environmental and sustainability reasons.
Also, frozen meat-alternative products, previously reserved for strict vegetarians, are landing in the grocery baskets of almost a quarter of U.S. households.
Rise of the multivore
As individuals increasingly decide to reduce or remove meat from their diet, more families are becoming “multivore” households. It is affecting the way they shop, cook, and eat together. In some cases, this means each family member is eating a separate meal, either in the home or at a restaurant. In other cases, the trend towards personalization is making its way to the dinner table.
Caroline Goodreau, a Certified Health Coach and mother of two from Chicago, found a way to help her family feel like they are sharing the same meal, and still tailor it to each person’s dietary preference.
For example, Goodreau makes one dish that is adaptable for each family member by offering up “make your own” lentil pasta bowls, grain bowls, or a taco “bar.” Each dish is often vegan at its base, but vegetarians can add dairy and the omnivores of the family have the choice to add meat or fish. “The bar approach makes it easy to accommodate the diet preferences in my family and it’s fun to see what everyone comes up with,” says Goodreau. This creates an opportunity for food manufacturers and grocery retailers to offer meal kits or prepared foods that facilitate this layering of protein options.
Protein-packed side dishes
Vegetarians in the household can take another approach to skip the meat by just beefing up (pun intended) the remaining side dishes with plant-based proteins so they are filling enough for center- of-the-plate status. Some brands have responded to this shift in consumer need.
Birds Eye, which has a heritage in frozen vegetable side dishes, now offers Birds Eye Steamfresh Protein Blends. These frozen blends of veggies and plant-based proteins such as lentils, chickpeas or edamame in a light sauce are hearty enough to be a main dish.
“In Defense of Food” spoke to the importance of whole, unprocessed foods, and spurred the innovation of products with cleaner ingredients and the rise of upstart brands. As people incorporate more plant-based protein into their diets, food and beverage manufacturers and retailers have an opportunity to offer a wider array of these products and ways to make it easy for shoppers to accommodate the varied diet preferences in multivore households.