Helping Heart Health With A Weekly Meat-Free Day
Tuesday, August 28th, 2018
As a result of an increased awareness of the benefits of adopting meat-free lifestyles, many people are looking for food options that allow them to reduce their meat consumption. Will your business be ready to offer clients such products? By Yock Chuan Yeo and George Jacobs from the Centre For A Responsible Future.
It’s ironic that as our living standards rise, our health seems to fall. For instance, in many countries, heart disease has gone from being a rare occurrence to being one of our leading causes of death. This is because we use our rising incomes to get less exercise and to eat richer food. For example, many people now eat meat, eggs, and dairy every meal. But, research by Dr Caldwell Esselstyn of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic confirms that if we move back towards the way our grandparents ate, with meat as an occasional luxury food, our heart health greatly improves.
Plus, changing our diets also protects the Earth’s health. Why? Because meat production is inefficient, as many kilograms of plants need to be fed to the animals in order to produce just 1kg of meat. This inefficiency means that more trees are cut down and more water and energy are used to produce meat. Also, the animals’ waste contains greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, that contribute more powerfully than carbon dioxide.
But, giving up meat, eggs, and dairy isn’t easy—even when we know we should. This article recommends two strategies to help customers move in a heart healthy direction. The first strategy is what restaurants and food producers are already doing. They are creating delicious, attractive looking plant-based alternatives, so that people are so busy enjoying these dishes that they forget to miss meat. Indeed, restaurant menus and supermarket shelves are home to a growing number of meat-free options.
The second strategy for helping customers shift their diets toward heart health is to have a weekly meat-free day. Many countries and cities around the world encourage this strategy. For example, in Hong Kong, it’s called ‘Green Monday’; in Belgium, it’s ‘Thursday Is VeggieDay’; in the U.S. and in Israel, they call it ‘Meatless Monday’, which is slightly different from the U.K.’s ‘Meatfree Monday’; in Brazil, it’s ‘Segundo Sim Carne’ (Monday Without Meat); and in Singapore, we combine health and the environment to label this special day, ‘Green and Healthy Monday’.
Promoting a weekly meat-free day makes business sense, as there has been an increase in the number of occasional vegetarians around the world. Indeed, most sales of plant-based products are actually catered not to vegetarians, but to consumers looking for plant-based food on an occasional basis. The significant rise in the number of occasional vegetarians is supported by a myriad of organisations and movements with different agendas, beyond just health. For example, with knowledge of how meat production contributes to global warming, more and more environmentalists are reducing their meat intake. Inevitably, this produces more consumers who consume a healthier diet of more vegetables.
Even Singapore’s Khoo Teck Puat Hospital launched Meatless Monday in 2018, making it mandatory for every food stall to sell at least one meatless dish. One day a week gives people a more doable goal, and if someone in Singapore has a wild weekend and forgets all about piling up on plant-based, AKA vegan, food on Monday, no worries; any other day of the week works just as well. Furthermore, having a weekly meat-free day creates an element of novelty that drives greater consumer traffic (for instance, new consumers looking to try something new or more sustainable compared to their current lifestyles). Meat-free days position the business to reach out to reducetarians seeking to adopt a greener diet.
Plus, people can be reducetarians in many ways, not just by devoting an entire day to going plant-based. For example, at one of Singapore’s classic Economy Rice stalls, where people order from a wide assortment of items on a steamtable, instead of ordering two meat dishes and one veg, they can go with two veg dishes and just one meat.
Here are some specific strategies that restaurants and food manufacturers can employ to reach out to their meat reducing, vegetarian, and vegan customers.
Have a special green food offer one day a week. For example, SaladStop!, with about 15 outlets around Singapore, and more elsewhere in Asia, has a Meatless Monday promotion in its Singapore outlets: when customers purchase a vegan salad or wrap on Mondays, they receive an extra topping. Do what SaladStop! Does and let customers know about this promotion via your website, email blasts, and social media.
Let customers know which items are plant-based. Some eateries use a labelling scheme to let diners know which dishes meet the diners’ food preferences, such as spicy and gluten free. For example, Raj Restaurant, an Indian vegetarian eatery with two outlets in Singapore, plus two more in India, uses a ‘V’ to denote those menu items that are plant based. That way, if patrons are following a weekly green food day, they will know which menu items to choose.
Have a special section of your menu. Thai Express, which labels itself “the world’s largest chain of modern Thai restaurants” has a page on its menu devoted to vegetarian items. To take this a step further, they could do what Raj does by labelling which items are vegan.
Build staff knowledge. Your staff, especially those in direct contact with customers, need to understand what ‘plant-based’ (also known as ‘vegan’) means and which of your dishes fit the needs of plant-based customers. Staff also need to know how your dishes can be adjusted to fit the wishes of your plant-based customers. For example, the usual sauce for McDonald’s veggie burger is not plant-based, but the burger can easily be served without the sauce, or another sauce can be substituted. Additionally, items in set meals can be adjusted with vegan items taking the place of animal-based items.
It can also be helpful for staff to have a little knowledge about why people choose plant-based foods. In addition to the two reasons of attention to health and concern for the environment, a third reason people seek plant-based foods involves their caring attitude towards animals.
Label your products clearly. Some countries such as India with its Green Dot program, or the United Kingdom’s Vegetarian Society has both a vegetarian labelling scheme and a vegan labelling scheme. Manufacturers can take advantage of these labelling schemes to convey messages to the consumer accurately and effectively.
Instead of labels, you can use words. For example, you can write on your packaging, “contains no ingredients of animal origin” or “suitable for vegans”.
Check your ingredients to find out whether they are plant-based. The most complete list we are familiar with is maintained by the Vegetarian Resource Group. However, the same ingredient can sometimes come from plants and sometimes from animals. For instance, the rennet used in many cheeses can come from bacteria or from the intestines of animals.
Many winds are blowing changes onto the food landscape. These winds include the growing understanding that high consumption of animal-based foods harms our hearts and contributes to climate change. As a result of this increased awareness, many people are looking for foods that allow them to reduce their meat consumption. Will your business be ready to offer your customers such foods?
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