To be vegetarian is no longer something that raises eyebrows nor is it as difficult to adhere to as it once was years ago. Something once stereotyped as a way of life embraced only by hippies or the most extreme animal lovers among us is now a diet adopted by a wider margin of people for any number of reasons including health, environmental concerns, community, or because it’s something new to try. Thanks in part to Millennials heading new movements in eating locally sourced foods and new ways to benefit health, the trend of going meatless entered the mainstream restaurant market a few years ago and has proved it’s here to stay in a big, green way.
We are now seeing more restaurants with vegetarian options opening and flourishing in cities than ever before. In Portland, Oregon, for example, it’s normal to go into any restaurant, no matter the type — even those with “Pig” in the name — and find a menu that adamantly supports both carnivorous and omnivorous diets. Even restaurants that would classically cater to those with a dairy-based diet or one rich in animal products have seen their customer base leaning in a new direction; and to not try to evolve these “classics” is to alienate and lose a large amount of these consumers.
Pizza is one of those “classics” — it’s hard to think of a slice of pizza without a heaping pile of melted mozzarella cheese or glistening with pieces of pepperoni. Well, the extremely popular Sizzle Pie pizza chain in Portland has found the right combination to satisfy any diet. The chain serves regular cheese and meat pies, but puts a heavier emphasis on their vegan and vegetarian pizza options that use fresh vegetable ingredients, gluten-free crusts, and meat and cheese alternatives to serve as their versions of pepperoni, sausage, mozzarella, ricotta, etc.
For the last few years, NYC has seen renowned chefs going veg more and more, opening new places without meat on the menu like Superiority Burger, for example. Even restaurants that vegetarians would once have never thought to step foot in are adding options to their menus to bring in this once lost clientele. Once, a “bistro” was an automatic no-go for those seeking a vegetable-centric meal, but Satis Bistro NJ in Jersey City has entrees like the cast iron cauliflower steak and braised heirloom carrot tagine alongside its hefty black angus hanger steaks and bone-in pork Milanese.
This trend is not only found sequestered on the East and West Coasts nor to just foodies or those with fine-dining tastes. Nationwide, mainstream, family restaurants like Cheesecake Factory are adding veggie patties and portabellas as alternatives to burgers or amping up their salad selections with more than just tomatoes and cucumbers with ferro, quinoa, or tofu as toppings. The highest percentage of meatless meal penetration over the past five years has been in fast-casual restaurants (42%) followed by casual restaurants (35%), and fine dining was farther behind (22%). This data shows that vegetables and meat alternatives have grown in a huge way, moving from the side dish to main dish across the industry.
As restaurants have evolved over the years to focus less on the meat and more on the vegetables on the plates, we’ve seen this trend grow and know it will continue to grow as more people learn about and see the alternatives available to them that can fit in and improve their lifestyles. It is growing into less of a trend and more of a movement that for some people is blurring the line between what it means to be a vegetarian and someone who is a habitual meat eater. Restaurants looking to retain and attract new customers would be smart to get on board and give vegetables the spotlight they deserve on the center of the plate.