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Making the most of Meatless Mondays

A report by Oxford University researchers published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calculated that there would be 8.1 million fewer deaths and as much as $1 trillion in health-care savings by 2050 if the world went vegan. The report is the first to share estimates of positive changes to health and the environment from going plant-based.

A growing number of US restaurants have recognized that at least some of their customers are turning toward more veggie-centric meals, for the animals, the environment and their health. In addition to the growing and increasingly diverse roster of vegan restaurants opening in cities across the country, traditional restaurants are trying out Meatless Monday menus.

The Meatless Monday movement was launched in 2003 in Belgium and it has spread to 36 countries including the US. In addition to restaurants promoting Meatless Monday menus, the trend has caught on with corporate foodservice providers, schools and hospital dietary departments.

On the restaurant scene, Meatless Mondays can look dramatically different from one eatery to the next. At The Corner Office Restaurant and Martini Bar in Denver, it gives the chefs a chance to innovate different ethnic vegetarian and vegan specials that change every two weeks, said  Eric Liebtag, general manager of food and beverage. At  Gabriele’s Italian Steakhouse in Greenwich, Conn., meatless can mean fish as well as plant-based dishes, said Manager Francesco diPietro.

Unlike restaurants that are turning the whole menu vegan for a night, Meatless Monday menus typically are offered in addition to the restaurant’s regular menu. At meat-centric joints like Gabriele’s, veggie dishes aren’t the main draw, but they do provide another option for customers looking to leave meat off the plate at least some of the time.

“Not many ask for it, out of 1,000, maybe five of them ask for that,” diPietro said.  “We like to give an opportunity to everyone to have what they want, we want to accommodate all our guests.”

The Corner Office attracts more of a mix of customers, Liebtag said, including many in search of lighter, healthier meals. Meatless Monday options drive traffic on a typically slow night, he said. “I think people are looking for that option. Monday is not our busiest day. I dine out on Mondays and Tuesdays, like a lot of industry people looking to avoid the crowds. A lot of people in the business are becoming more health conscious because of the kind of work we do,” he said.

Vegetarian and vegan menus can be varied and innovative, especially with the rapid rise of plant-based meats and other products. Earlier this month, the plant-based food industry launched its own trade group, the Plant Based Foods Association, with 23 member companies including Tofurky, Califia Farms, Daiya and New Wave Foods.

But creativity also often means leaving even meat substitutes off the plate altogether. At Gabriele’s, the regular menu usually includes three vegetable-based options and six pasta choices, diPietro said.  The global comfort food menu at The Corner Office also includes several perennially popular veggie dishes including brussels sprouts, Liebtag said.

While most of the meals served at the eatery are still centered around a protein, vegetables are on the rise when it comes to shareable dishes that will suit everyone at the table he said. And, as meat prices rise and vegetable costs remain relatively stable, economics are another impetus for eateries to get more experimental with produce, he said.

“We’re relying on our creativity in cooking with vegetables which aren’t the ones going up all the time, like baby roots, baby carrots, snap peas, baby corn,” he said. “We really think vegetables will be the new bacon.”

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