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With a Dash of Inspiration

HSUS Food Forward program lends recipe for Meatless Monday success

All Animals magazine, January/February 2015

by Michael Sharp

John Graziano of New Jersey's Valley Hospital gives a cooking demonstration featuring baked ziti and a three-bean chili at a Food Forward event in October. Photo by Amy Sussman/AP Images for The HSUS

These are the moments that inspire Alli Clute and her HSUS colleagues to continue crisscrossing the country.

Sitting in a culinary center in New Jersey, following a panel discussion about the growing demand for plant-based foods—sometime before the cooking demonstration on Italian tofu and vegetable baked ziti—Clute watched as two women excitedly embraced the idea of starting a Meatless Monday program at their own school.

“I loved that. I have so many good ideas,” she remembers one of them saying as the discussion ended.

“She turns to her colleague, flips the piece of paper over and says, ‘What do you think about this?’ And they just immediately started bouncing ideas off of each other. They were just so inspired—so motivated.”

That was in October, at the 11th Food Forward event hosted by the HSUS Farm Animal Protection Campaign since the summer of 2013.

As momentum continues to build behind the Meatless Monday movement, the goal of these events is to reach institutional decision makers—food service directors, dietitians and marketing managers—and teach them more about how and why to incorporate plant-based dishes at their K-12 schools, universities, hospitals and health organizations.

More than 40 guests attended the New Jersey event, which began with a meet-and-greet over sun-dried tomato and spinach tofu quiche, blueberry cornbread muffins, fresh fruit and freshly foamed soy lattes and cappuccinos.

Presentations from HSUS staffers Kristie Middleton and Krystil Smith offered insights on plant-based eating and programs like Meatless Monday. And panel discussions featured leaders who’d helped initiate such programs at their own institutions. Among the topics: meeting the growing demand for vegetarian dishes and finding effective ways to promote them.

“The point is to get people excited about Meatless Monday and provide education so they understand why it’s important—why it’s important for their health and for animals,” Clute says.

With billions of animals in the U.S. suffering on factory farms, The HSUS advocates for a “Three Rs” approach to compassionate eating: “reducing” or “replacing” the consumption of animal products and “refining” diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.

As Clute points out also: “As a nation, we suffer from a lot of chronic diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes—most of which can be prevented. And Meatless Monday, and eating more plant-based foods in general, is a way to help prevent these chronic diseases from occurring in the first place.”

  • The October event featured this three-bean chili. Photo by Amy Sussman/AP Images for The HSUS

But there may be another “green” reason for institutions to incorporate plant-based menu items. As an example, longtime chef Randall Smith points to a plate of pasta and meatballs.

In many cases, he notes, the meatballs are simply a garnish for the pasta dish. Cafeterias will often sell a vegetarian plate of pasta primavera for the same price. So by simply skipping the meatballs, “you’ve pulled out the most expensive ingredient, and you’ve delivered the same value—perceived value—and so you’re able to make a profit on it.”

Smith works as the system-wide executive chef for Adventist HealthCare in the Washington, D.C., area, where he oversees patient food service and retail cafes in four hospitals and on two campuses. He presented at a Food Forward event in Northern Virginia in September 2013, addressing both the promotion and the economics of incorporating plant-based items.

His go-to dishes for building a new plant-based corner of the menu: falafel, hummus, salsas and hearty stir-fry dishes.

The key, Smith says, is paying attention to quality: making sure that the dishes “look good and they’re sexy and they’re good items, regardless of whether there’s meat in them or not. Don’t market them as a meat-free option; just market them as good food.”

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