The CIA Challenges Chefs to Rethink the 'Protein Portfolio' on Their Menus

As part of ongoing efforts to advance healthier, more sustainable food choices, The Culinary Institute of America released two evidence-based documents that challenge chefs and foodservice professionals to reimagine traditional roles for animal and plant protein on American menus: The Protein Flip and Protein Plays. 

Americans consume three times as much meat as the global average—half of which is red meat—ignoring, in the aggregate, serious health and environmental concerns known to be associated with high levels of red meat consumption. These new resources from the CIA lay out a clear, concise rationale for rebalancing ratios of meat and plant-based protein in menu "protein portfolios"—elevating the role of legumes, nuts, and plant-forward flavors in general.

The new CIA protein documents especially target opportunities in our menus between meat-centric entrées on the one hand and vegetarian options on the other. Numerous examples highlighting specific culinary insights and techniques are included, such as the blended burger concept (meat blended with mushrooms and/or other vegetables, legumes or grains to reinvent America's 50-billion-burgers-per-year habit) and globally inspired dishes using meat as a condiment. 

Also described is the continuing healthy role that fish and seafood (emphasizing the need to widen the range of species on which we focus), poultry, and reduced and/or selective dairy options can play on menus.

These educational resource materials are an outgrowth of the Menus of Change initiative, co-presented by the CIA and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health—Department of Nutrition, and can be downloaded from the Menus of Change website. 

The Protein Flip, a Delicious Strategy for Change: Transforming Protein Menu Concepts for the Health of Our Customers and Our Planet

This 12-page hybrid infographic/white paper (formatted to print in poster size) illustrates the urgency from a human and planetary health standpoint for "flipping" the role of protein on menus. Currently, primary plant sources account for only about 15 percent of all protein Americans eat, even though plant proteins have lower carbon and water footprints and are associated with lower risk of chronic disease and mortality. Since Americans now spend more on foods prepared outside the home than in our home kitchens, chefs and culinary professionals are uniquely positioned to introduce diners to a whole spectrum of untapped menu directions and invite them to discover satisfying flavors that will support better health for their families and the planet.

"So often in our industry we unnecessarily limit options for our customers, narrowing choices to "regular" [e.g., a steak, half a chicken, etc.] and "unleaded" [e.g., vegetarian pasta]," says Greg Drescher, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry leadership at the CIA. "What The Protein Flip and Protein Plays documents do is chart a new, middle way, one with an expanded, more nuanced range of choices (how about an entree with just one or two ounces of meat?). They challenge us to adopt next-generation approaches that simultaneously embrace and integrate indulgence, deliciousness, health, and sustainability—all on the same menu, and often in the same dish."

Protein Plays invites us to explore a world of culinary strategy—from the Mediterranean to Asia and Latin America—where plant protein and other plant-forward flavors have brilliantly evolved in traditional kitchens over centuries. These and parallel insights are inspiring many of America's most talented chefs as "veg-centric" disrupts menus from coast to coast. 

Protein Plays: Foodservice Strategies for Our Future 

This eight-page toolkit, a companion to The Protein Flip, includes 20 culinary techniques for shifting the value proposition around meat, leveraging flavor while reducing meat, and elevating plant protein. With graphics showing the relative greenhouse gas emission and water impacts of different sources of protein, the resource underscores the urgent public health and environmental reasons for a shift away from an emphasis on red meat and toward more plant-based foods, including plant proteins. It also debunks nearly a dozen common myths about animal-based protein, ranging from the arguments used to promote a meat-centered Paleo diet to concerns about insufficient consumption of dairy. 

The guidance provided in these two protein resources is based on a review of current research by the Menus of Change Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee and translation into practical strategy with the input of dozens of foodservice industry leaders, including chefs, R&D specialists and business and marketing executives. 

"Those who care about the planet our grandchildren will inherit should make reduction of red meat a high priority," says Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition and chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and chair of the CIA-Harvard Chan School Menus of Change Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. "And this can also reduce our risks of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and premature death. These twin realities offer great opportunity for today's culinary and foodservice leaders, who are providing proof that this shift in eating can bring great variety and enjoyment to our tables." 

The Menus of Change initiative issues an annual report, holds an annual leadership summit every June at the CIA's main campus in Hyde Park, New York, and creates many other resources for the foodservice industry, all of which can be found online. 

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by WTWH Media LLC.