A survey conducted earlier this year by the Vegetarian Research Group, Vegetarian Times, and Harris Interactive provides a fresh set of statistics about vegans and vegetarians. Statistic Brain reports that a total of 7.3 million people verified that their diet is strictly vegetarian, while one million reported that they are strictly vegan. Importantly, 23 million said they follow a “vegetarian-inclined diet,” in line with the growing “flexitarian” approach.
The survey also revealed that more than five percent of respondents were “definitely interested” in pursuing a vegetarian diet.
This comes on the heels of Epicurious’s Food Trend Predictions for 2011, which included “Meatless Mondays & Tofu Thursdays.” Epicurious scribe Tanya Steel wrote, “… the proportion of people eating no meat or less meat is growing, and the nonprofit ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative no doubt has been one motivator.” Meatless Monday’s mission is to get more U.S. consumers to consume 15 percent less meat, for health and environmental reasons. It’s been embraced in increasingly more school systems around the nation.
The trend spells out the necessity of creating engaging vegetarian menus for banquets that excite guests rather than merely pay them Plan B lip service. On many menus, beans, in their myriad forms and flavors, are showing up.
Beyond just vegetarian, vegan options are becoming indispensable in hotel banquet portfolios.
“There are so many degrees of vegan diets and personal philosophies that range from people who won’t eat honey or cheeses that contain rennet to [asking] ‘are the vegetables grown on a farm that slaughters or processes livestock?’” observes Len Elias, executive chef and F&B director at the Dolce Atlanta Peachtree Hotel.
“The best approach is to know your customers and where their preferences lie. In short, the most important consideration should be to ask whether it is a real dish that just happens to be vegan or whether it is a token offering to keep groups of people from going elsewhere if they have a vegan in the group.”
At the Dolce Atlanta Peachtree, beans are a key player in the property’s culinary attitude.
“We offer lots of legume- and bean-based alternatives at private dinners and banquets,” says Elias. “For me, it’s about alternatives and balance. I love pork belly as much as the beans that accompany them. As a company, our Dolce ‘Thoughtful Foods for Thoughtful Minds’ dining philosophy suggests to the chefs in our company that up to 50% of the foods served are either vegan and pure, with high nutritional density, locally sourced and minimally processed. For me, it was easy, as that is how I was taught to eat and cook as a child. Most people want to have the freedom to eat sensibly without being ostracized or feel like a burden to their fellow diners and the restaurant staff.”
Banquet menu choices at the property include Old Bay Pink Lentil and Toasted Quinoa Cakes with sweet corn, charred poblano, and black beans; Vegetarian Cassoulet with smoked Japanese eggplant, roasted celeriac, turnip, cipollini onion, and chèvre crostini; and Roasted Vegetable Cannelloni with cremini mushrooms, bronzed fennel, wilted kale, ricotta cheese and roma tomatoes, accompanied by organic cannellini bean and roasted garlic parmesan coulis.
Peter Gebauer, executive chef at Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee, puts beans in his list of the top 10 super foods he keeps in his kitchen. “Beans of any kind are nutrition dynamos,” he says. “But red beans made our top 10 list for several reasons. They’re rich in antioxidants and packed with protein, folate, minerals, and fiber, including resistant starch.
Resistant starch seems to have several important benefits, like boosting the body’s ability to burn fat, helping you feel full, controlling blood sugars, and even reducing cancer risk. Don’t have time to cook a pot of dried beans? Canned beans are a good option too.”
Gebauer suggests consumers eat at least three cups of cooked beans a week—not a bad note to include next to a red bean dish on the menu.
Tad Wilkes is editor in chief of Hotel F&B.