Plant-based options boost creativity

Making vegan a main attraction

vegan salad

It’s not surprising that more people are choosing to increase their intake of plant-based foods while cutting down on meat. Health professionals and environmentalists alike have warned of the harmful effects of excessive meat consumption—both to the body and the planet—including the World Health Organization’s October announcement linking processed meats to colorectal cancer.

Consumers are listening. Technomic’s 2015 Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report noted 26 percent of respondents said they were eating more vegetarian items than the previous year, 30 percent of whom were millennials or members of Gen Z.

Although colleges and universities have long offered vegan choices, the segment is upping its game. At Yale University, only 2.5 percent of the 4,600 undergrads identifies as vegan, but the school’s efforts to create plant-based meals far exceed what’s required to feed that small minority. The movement toward a plant-based menu is part of the university’s overall Health and Wellness Initiative, a program that emphasizes food that is good for diners, sustainable and plant-based.

“Our bigger picture vision is that by promoting plant-based foods we are promoting the health and wellness of our community,” says Adam Millman, director of auxiliary operations, who oversees the New Haven, Conn., school’s retail, catering and culinary support center. “It’s not about feeding vegans. It’s really about introducing the larger population.”

At residential cafeterias, Yale’s newly launched “street foods” menu includes standards such as tacos, but one of its most popular items is a vegan Indian kati roll filled with curried potato and cauliflower, says Millman. Burgers are going vegan, too: Yale’s sweet potato and quinoa patty is one of the cafeteria’s best sellers. Vegan desserts like brownies, a line of cupcakes and an olive oil-cardamom apple spice cake also are on the menu.

yale falafel bowl

Café Med, a new concept at Yale Medical School, opened in September with a vegan-heavy “bowls” menu focused on Mediterranean flavors. Foundations include either greens (kale and arugula or a blend of baby lettuces) or grains (mix of brown rice, quinoa and some chia seeds). Next, customers choose from a selection of purees (hummus, spicy feta) and skewers such as green-chickpea falafel. Toppings include olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and dried apricots. The breakfast menu offers a complete line of vegan oatmeal made from a mix of oats, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds blended with choices such as peanut butter and banana.

For catered events, the Yale team has introduced a vegetable carving station, including carrots, radishes and roasted beets rolled in dried mushroom powder for a charred look. “Our initiative is to move forward with plant-based menus and apply the latest and greatest trends,” says Millman. “We’re looking to chefs like José Andrés and his Beefsteak concept for inspiration.”

At IDEXX Laboratories, which feeds 2,500 employees on its Westbrook, Maine, campus, “the interest in veganism parallels a growth rate that’s the same as other dietary concerns and preferences, including gluten-free, organic, nutritionally dense and local,” says Dining Services Manager Kim Cassella. IDEXX offers daily chef-designed sandwiches and, since 2012, includes at least one vegan version.

These vegan sandwiches push the envelope on flavor and wellness, says Cassella, with creative offerings such as curried red lentils with roasted cauliflower and spinach on a wrap. “We are able to create combinations that excite our vegans and pique the interest of our flexitarians,” she says. 

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