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Flipping the Script

What if plant-based dishes were the norm in restaurants, not the exception? As director of outreach Ilana Braverman explains, that's the idea behind the DefaultVeg movement.

Posted on December 4, 2020

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In the United States, treating meat as the centerpiece of most every meal has long been considered the norm. But as plant-based diets gain more ground, some organizations are challenging that status quo.

Enter DefaultVeg, a partnership between the Better Food Foundation, UK Food Plan and CreatureKind that endeavors to make plant-based food the default and instead give people the choice to opt in when it comes to eating meals with animal products. “DefaultVeg is inclusive, reduces a restaurant’s carbon footprint, and increases the healthfulness of the meals being served,” explains Ilana Braverman, director of outreach for Better Food Foundation and DefaultVeg, based in Washington, D.C. “Making plant-based food the default helps reshape what we think of as a ‘normal’ meal. How food is presented plays a big role in what we choose to eat, and restaurants have the power to shift our defaults, making sustainable meals that are better for us—and for the planet—the new norm.”

The organization offers pro bono consulting to help institutions and restaurants find successful ways to integrate DefaultVeg into their menus, and houses one of the largest digital plant-based recipe collections to help inspire people. (And, yes, there’s an entire pizza category in the collection!) It also partners with community organizations, schools and other movements to cross-promote programs that are working to shift the norms of our American food system.

Braverman recently sat down with PizzaVegan.com to answer our standard “Ask a Vegan” questions—and share why the future of food will bring plants front and center to all diners, regardless of their personal default diets.

Q: What do you think are some common misconceptions about vegan consumers and/or vegan diets?

A: That everything is all about “health.” But plant-based eating can be healthful and delicious! Today, you can find mouthwatering plant-based versions of anything, from burritos and pizza to tacos and cake. Another common misconception about plant-based consumers is that it’s about being perfect and not making mistakes. But eating a plant-based diet is all about trying our best to do the least harm and align our food choices with values we already have for our global public health, animals and the environment. The majority of our country already agrees with these values.

Q: How can pizzerias and restaurants do a better job of communicating their vegan offerings to customers and reach the vegan community?

A: 1. Make vegan item prices less expensive or the same price as meat- or dairy-centric items, not more expensive.

2. Restaurants could do a better job of communicating their vegan offerings by featuring them as specials on the menu and including them in the main menu themselves—particularly as some of the first few options listed. When plant-based options get put in their own separate sections, they’re seen as “alternatives,” which is not as appealing, unless folks are specifically looking for it.

3. We don’t necessarily want restaurants to cater to vegans. DefaultVeg is about making vegan options delicious and marketable to all people so that it becomes a social norm. Create delicious plant-based menu items, offer more of them, and give them the same focus on the menu as everything else, and more people will eat them!

Q: Why do you see vegan eating as not just a trend but a full evolution of our eating habits going forward (even among meat eaters who are incorporating more plant-based foods)?

A: As a country, we are eating more and more plant-based foods because we’re seeing that from all angles—from an environmental, economic and social perspective—plant-based eating is much more sustainable for our future. We’ve been living in a “hamburger default world,” where meat has just always been our default option, but that’s changing. We’re seeing a shift towards plant-based options becoming our default choice. Folks will likely continue to eat meat, but plant-based options will be seen as the norm instead of the alternative.

Q: What strides have you witnessed in vegan food options over the years, and what do you want to see or predict for the future of this space?

A: I’ve seen the plant-based dairy industry grow so much! There are so many wonderful vegan cheeses, yogurts, milks and sour creams available now that are delicious and easy to use in baked goods, which is so helpful not only to the vegan community, but for those with lactose intolerance and dairy allergies. Cooking and baking with dairy alternatives is a great way to increase the inclusivity of your menus. I think we’ll see more and more companies switch to making plant-based products, and the market will continue to grow, with recipes becoming closer and closer in taste to animal-based products.

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