The 2015 Menus of Change Annual Report was released at the 3rd Annual Menus of Change Leadership Summit, held for the first time at the Hyde Park, New York, campus of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), which presents the initiative in partnership with Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Each year, along with case studies and trend analysis, the annual report rates the foodservice industry's progress toward addressing public health and environmental imperatives. Two advisory councils, comprised of leading scientists, analysts, and foodservice business leaders from across the country, provide scores—from 1 meaning significant decline or regress to 5 meaning significant progress—and write issue briefs supporting them.
The ratings this year presented a mixed picture. The foodservice industry is now a hotbed of innovation, earning a score of 4 for the remarkable array of new tools emerging from tech start-ups and the growing number of interdisciplinary initiatives appearing on college and university campuses devoted to improving the food system. One example was the launch of the CIA's own Food Business School, the world's first business school dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation. The past year also saw positive trends in the realm of diet and health, with a decrease in the intake of trans fats and sugar-sweetened beverages, and a modest increase in the intake of whole fruits and whole grains.
However, actions by Congress to undermine nutritional programs for low-income Americans and school children signaled a step backward. Furthermore, despite clear evidence about how to optimize diet quality, confusion runs high among consumers about what to eat. This is largely due to misleading headlines, misunderstandings about the 2015 Dietary Guideline Advisory Committee's report, and the relative rigor of some nutrition research over others. As a result, recent trends in diet and health received a score of 3, and consumer attitudes and behaviors about healthy, sustainable food a score of 2, each down a level from 2014. With a score of 1 for the second consecutive year, and greenhouse gas emissions and food insecurity both increasing, climate change remained the most intractable issue. The score for water sustainability also remained low this year, at 2, as the foodservice industry's concern for water has not caught up with the severity of groundwater depletion and drought. That said, it was encouraging to see the substantial growth in support among private investors for new food and foodservice companies featuring plant-forward concepts and focusing on sustainable supply chains (earning an increased score of 4).
The Menus of Change leadership summit, held June 17–19 at the CIA's new, state-of-the-art Marriott Pavilion, was attended by more than 350 chefs, food and foodservice leaders, industry consultants, academic researchers, and environmental experts. In addition, classes of CIA students attended with their faculty as part of their course work, and hundreds more from around the world joined on a live webcast.
Highlights of the conference included a Plant-Forward Burger Bash—featuring the traditional burger concept rethought in a variety of inventive ways, such as blending meat with mushrooms and other vegetables—as well as presentations from leading chefs, foodservice professionals, and other luminaries representing public health, environment, and business strategy. Helping foodservice professionals address this triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit is the goal of Menus of Change. Now in its third year, the initiative is showing proven results: As described in the annual report, Compass Group recently announced a commitment to four Menus of Change Principles of Healthy, Sustainable Menus. And one of three surveys detailed in the report found that three-quarters of past conference attendees are using the principles in their foodservice operations to revise menus, rework recipes, or change operational and sourcing practices.
"The past year's scientific and government reports and media headlines, together with seismic shifts in consumer attitudes, signal that continual change in the foodservice industry is part of the new status quo," says CIA President Tim Ryan. "Our partnership with Harvard—which has been in place for more than a decade—allows Menus of Change to present a unique integration of scientific, culinary, and business insights to help both our students and our industry's leadership prepare for an increasingly disruptive landscape of business challenges, and great opportunities."
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