The Future is Green


Corwin Hiebert


February 20, 2024
8 min read

What's Behind the Plant-Based Buzz

Change comes slow to the food world, but the recent surge of interest in plant-based diets and sustainable eating has breathed new life into the grocery aisles and restaurants we frequent. However, the buzz about green living doesn't start with our grocery cart or a QR code on our table; it starts in far more interesting places, and its path to notoriety is more nuanced than simply our insatiable appetite for all things new.

What Does Plant-Based Mean?

A Plant-based diet is a form of ethical eating that refers to making food choices that are not only beneficial for one's health but also contribute to the welfare of animals and the environment. While not the same as a vegan diet, there are similarities. The vegan lifestyle, for example, embodies the ethical eating philosophy by eschewing animal products in favor of plant-based ingredients.

Plant-based diets do not necessarily eliminate animal products, but reduce them and move the focus from the meat in our diet to the plants, like vegetable, fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains. This isn't a new concept, but it has gained significant traction thanks to increased awareness of animal welfare and climate change. This shift toward animal-free eating is fostering the growth of the plant-based food sector, with numerous plant-based product launches catering to the growing demand for vegan food products.

Why Eat a Plant-Based Diet?

The reasons for adopting this type of diet usually involve addressing one of three things:

1. Health: Concerns about issues like heart disease, diabetes, mental wellbeing, energy levels or inflammation mean a plant-based diet takes on a "food as medicine" role and can play a very powerful role—just ask Paul Tylla from Heal.

2. Nutritional Benefits: There’s no doubt that eating our fruits and veggies means our bodies are taking in more nutrients, minerals and building blocks of a healthy body. Plant-based, fiber-packed foods help prepare the body to utilize the functional benefits we cherish.

3. Environmental: Being more mindful about our consumption can be a motiving force behind choosing a plant-based option. Ethical eating is atop the list regarding our carbon impact as well. Our fridges and cupboards are ground zero when it comes to tangible activism.

Myths Busted

Now, the reality is that not all the buzz is positive.

Plant-based eating can be more expensive in some circumstances, especially when it comes to direct alternatives that aren’t yet mainstream. As the vegan trend continues, those prices will come down because food producers need more volume to make operations cheaper.

Also, just because something is made from plants doesn't mean it's guilt-free. Nut milks require water usage that's similar to cattle farms, and in some cases, the nutritional benefits of a vegan diet require a bit more consideration. Keep in mind that not every food offering can tackle every issue. Align your values with your diet and give it a go.

All that being said, the primary buzz-killer here is protein. Vegan critics push back on this one issue more than any other, but this really isn’t much of a leg to stand on. The average American consumes twice as much protein as they actually need. We're obsessed with protein; it's absurd!

By eating a healthy plant-based diet, protein needs are filled without an problem. According to Miyoko Schinner, while speaking on the Aisle 42 podcast about the Future of Food, "Many people are nutrient-deficient, but has anyone ever heard of a protein deficiency? As long as you're getting enough calories and eating real food, you're going to get enough protein."

Where Can I find Plant-Based Alternatives?

The answer: pretty much any grocery store, these days. Keep an eye out next time you’re shopping. Things can certainly get interesting when a blend of plant-based ingredients mimics the taste, texture, and nutritional profile of traditional meat. When we're offered a sustainable and cruelty-free alternative, these meatless options not only expand the vegan food repertoire but also make the vegan lifestyle more accessible and appealing. Imagine Taco Tuesday with protein shreds from TMRW foods – so good!

And when it comes to the dairy aisle, from almond milk to coconut yogurt, and from cashew cheese to soy ice-cream, these dairy substitutes have revolutionized the vegan food scene. These products not only cater to vegans but also to those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy. Imagine making a creamy cheesy sauce that’s cheese free (thanks to Nuts for Cheese).

Now that flavor innovations have caught up, and we're not having to compromise on good taste, the future is bright when it comes to being excited to choose a plant-based version when we want to, not just when we need to.

Plant-Based Dining

Plant-based fast-food chains are also building a buzz! Quick-serve food joints like VBurger offer a healthier and more sustainable alternative to traditional fast food. These innovative chains are redefining the fast-food landscape by serving delicious and nutritious vegan food that is fast and convenient. From plant-based burgers and fries to vegan pizza and ice cream, these chains are making vegan food more accessible and mainstream. The success of these chains is indicative of the growing consumer demand for plant-based fast food. It also reflects changing attitudes towards fast-food, with consumers increasingly seeking healthier and more eco-friendly options. This trend is likely to continue, with more and more fast-food chains incorporating plant-based options into their menus.

Is Plant-Based Sticking Around?

The widespread adoption of plant-based diets is not merely a fad. It's underpinned by substantial research suggesting the detrimental effects of animal agriculture on the environment and the potential health benefits of a plant-based diet. Undoubtedly, the popularity of plant-based eating has been amplified by the remarkable A-list celebrities who have adopted the lifestyle. Venus Williams, Billie Eilish, Joaquin Phoenix and Natalie Portman are just the tip of the iceberg. The buzz these renowned entertainers can generate through their PR machines and social media channels is truly remarkable and helps move the needle for animal-free living from being a trend to being a full-blown movement.

Tips to Try Plant-Based Eating

Here are a few ways you can level up your plant-based life and join the movement (thanks to Harvard Health for the inspiration, by the way):

• If you eat meat, eat less.

• Consider making a vegetarian dish one night a week (inspired by Miyoko Schinner).

• Once a month, turn grilling night into plant-based BBQ night.

• If you're looking for a snack, eat vegetables with hummus or guacamole.

• Start your day with whole grain cereal and add nuts, seeds and fruit.

• Build a meal around a salad and get creative with a bunch of toppings.

The green future of the food industry is not just about vegan food products but also about a more sustainable and ethical food system. By choosing plant-based diets, we can contribute to a healthier planet and a more sustainable future. So, here's to the future of food – a future that is green, ethical and delicious!

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Corwin Hiebert
VP, Strategic Partnerships, EFG
Corwin is at the helm of the day-to-day activities of EFG, and brings his year's of experience in the food business to every EFG member, partner and client.

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