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75 Years of The Culinary Institute of America

Shaping the Future of Food: Driving Food Systems Change

As menus continue to change and adapt to consumer trends and needs, the CIA continues to adapt its curriculum, events and activities. Through its Menus of Change® initiative, the college has been at the forefront of the plant-forward movement for more than a decade, and as plant-based and flexitarian diets have moved into the mainstream, the college has continued to educate foodservice operators and its students on menu strategy, evidence-based nutrition guidance, and more.

Menu for Change

The CIA defines plant-forward as “a style of cooking and eating that emphasizes and celebrates, but is not limited to, plant-based foods including: fruits and vegetables (produce), whole grains, beans, legumes (pulses), soy foods, nuts and seeds, plant oils and herbs and spices—and that reflects evidence-based principles of health and sustainability.”

Plant-forward is a trend the CIA has been tracking, most notably through the release last year of its “Plant-Forward by the Numbers” report, conducted in partnership with third-party research firm Datassential. According to the report, menu makers need to look beyond meatless burgers and meat substitutes to see plant-forward eating trends that are ripe for innovation. While 53% of consumers surveyed for the report describe themselves as meat eaters, 22% describe themselves as “flexitarian,” versus just 8% who describe themselves as vegetarian and 6% who describe themselves as vegan or pescatarian. That means consumers dialing back their meat consumption are more likely to go the flexitarian route than to go all the way to a vegetarian or a vegan diet. The report also details certain plant-based foods that consumers today prefer, as well as shifting preferences when it comes to consumers wanting to eat less meat without eliminating those foods altogether.

Plant forward

The CIA’s Plant-Forward Kitchen is also part of its ecosystem of thought leadership initiatives for supporting the best possible future for the overall foodservice industry—including staying ahead of emerging, high-impact trends and issues. The new education and digital media initiative is an extension of the CIA’s longstanding Menus of Change initiative and annual summit, held in collaboration with the Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and presents next-generation strategies to address the emerging plant-based movement through online articles, webcasts, recipes and videos, building on the Principles of Healthy, Sustainable Menus.

Under the umbrella of the Plant-Forward Kitchen, the CIA’s Global Plant-Forward Summit offers a deep dive into culinary and menu R&D strategy and builds on the work of both Menus of Change and the CIA’s flagship conference, the Worlds of Flavor International Conference & Festival. This “think tank” gathering of leading chefs, authors, business leaders, innovative suppliers and trend spotters will be held April 26-28, 2022, in Napa, Calif. Last year’s event offered a few key takeaways, including tips for building better plant-based menus by showcasing vegetables in whole form, incorporating cover crops to promote sustainability, and ideas for plant-based desserts.

The CIA also regularly tracks other health initiatives, such as the recent sodium reduction recommendation presented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The new guidance, presented in October 2021, seeks to decrease average sodium intake from approximately 3,400 milligrams (mg) to 3,000 mg per day, which amounts to a roughly 12% reduction over the next 2.5 years. Corrie Clark, a registered dietitian and project manager for CIA Consulting at the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, has been cited for her expertise on the matter, noting in a previously published Restaurant Business article that “more than 70% of the sodium in our diets is from food products, not the salt shaker.” She cites other culprits as well, including deli meats, salad dressings, tacos, pasta and rice dishes and soups.

As consumer diets change and the appetite for a healthier, more sustainable food industry continues to grow over time, the CIA continues to serve as a leader in this space.

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