A growing interest in healthy eating paired with studies about what actually goes into a good-for-you diet has lead many to increase their consumption of minimally processed, plant-based foods—namely: leafy greens, vegetables, and grains—over and above meat and dairy products. It’s a fantastic idea. After all, veggies, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds are naturally full of vital nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. What’s not to love about that?
Yet, as just about anyone who has tried a fast, a “cleanse,” or a strict New Year’s resolution to eat more kale-and-beet salad can quickly attest, plant-based diets can be challenging to maintain. Case in point: Despite limitless resources and the pressure of paparazzi documentation, even Beyonce and Jay-Z seem to have gone back to their carnivorous diet after a 22-day experiment in veganism. What’s more, many people associate meat- and dairy-free eating with bland, unsatisfying meals. It’s difficult to not get discouraged and overwhelmed by the task of improving our diets and overall health while still enjoying delicious food.
Fortunately, some visionary leaders in the culinary world may have discovered a perfect way to help steer our diets in a greener direction. These are the chefs and food enthusiasts who have taken to featuring vegetables and grains as center-of-the-plate ingredients in delicious dishes—some of which are not even technically vegetarian.
New York Times food writer Mark Bittman recommends a moderate, omnivorous approach toward animal-product consumption. He has coined the term “flexitarian” and maintains a “VB6”—or vegan before 6 pm—schedule in his own life (he’s even written a book about it). He’s found success in his own life with the reduction approach and shares tips, recipes, and food-related topics in his Flexitarian column.
Another proponent of shining the spotlight on plant foods is chef Alexis Gauthier who has elevated vegetables from sides to stars with his book Vegetronic. He forecasted the growing popularity of vegetables in an interview with Fine Dining Lovers:
I do believe that the future is vegetables – At the moment we have this great asparagus and we’re really trying to work and make it the star of the dish. Not necessarily for vegetarians, it has happened before but never the mainstream.
The interesting twist on Gauthier’s cooking is that his vegetable-centric dishes are usually not “safe” for vegetarians. He frequently cooks a veggie in meat, fish, or foie gras flavors to add richness to the final product and to give himself for room for creativity.
This aligns well with the Wall Street Journal’s food predictions for 2014 which noted that we’re bound to see more vegan and vegetarian food choices this year along with a greater emphasis on “snout to tail” cooking—a waste-not method of preparation that utilizes unconventional parts of animals.
Regardless of the level of dedication to eating plants you might have in your own diet, we’re glad to see a healthy respect for natural food emerging in the mainstream. Just like a great dish, a healthy lifestyle is all about balance. For the sake of our palates and our waistlines, it’s great to know that the chefs leading the conversation about plant-based diets certainly know how to bring the flavor–whatever the ingredients.