Despite making great strides to cater to the American diner’s evolving preference for healthier foods, the food service industry still has room for improvement across a number of fronts-- from supply chain resiliency to sourcing transparency.
In June, the Menus of Change Scientific and Technical Advisory Council released its second annual report detailing how the food service industry is responding to numerous environmental and societal challenges, ranging from climate change to sustainable ingredient sourcing.
When it comes to providing diners with healthier food options, significant progress has been made on both portion and calorie control.
Caloric restriction has been an especially important victory as it signals a shift away from the so-called “low-fat paradigm” where diners essentially replaced fat calories with the same number of carbohydrate calories, leading to even worse health outcomes.
In the report, Walter Willett, chair of Harvard’s department of nutrition and the Menu of Change scientific council, attributes this change in part to the Food and Drug Administration’s recent proposal to ban artificial trans fats from food. While obesity rates are still increasing, this rate of increase appears to be flattening out, an important public health change.
The Food Service Industry Has an Obligation to Positively Influence Consumer Attitudes
While these are important victories, the report did note that restaurant chefs can do more to influence consumer attitudes. While chefs are positively impacting consumer attitudes with a push towards sustainable food sourcing, more can be done to educate consumers about nutrition and public health concerns like obesity.
Chefs, especially celebrity chefs, have become American food superstars. Arlin Wasserman, a founder and partner at the consulting firm Changing Tastes, believes these culinary celebs have an obligation to use this position for the greater public good.
“We are getting paid more than ever to make more of the choices about what people eat, and the opportunity is only going to grow,” Wasserman said, arguing that chefs must use their growing influence to educate their guests about nutrition and sustainability.
Greater Progress is Necessary for Improving Consumer Attitudes Towards Sustainability
The Menu of Change’s report detailed six areas where the food service industry should be doing more to improve sustainability, consumer attitudes and overall public health. These areas include:
- protein consumption and production
- sustainable seafood sourcing
- local food and farm-to-table support
- innovations in the food service industry
- drug and chemical use in agriculture
- consumer attitudes and behaviors
For example, when it comes to sustainable seafood sourcing, although efforts have been made to improve sustainability, the report cited difficulties in tracing the source of meat and produce as a “threat to success.”
Locally sourced food and the farm-to-table movement has been one of the hottest trends in dining over the last five years. However, while sales of locally grown food are on the rise, the report argues that more dramatic change is necessary. A few token restaurants in major cities are not the same as industry-wide change.
In terms of industry innovations, the report cited a general lack of ideas and argued that even if new, effective ideas were to emerge, it could be difficult for food service professionals to know which ideas and technologies to pass on to consumers to allay the persistent confusion that remains regarding which foods they should choose not only as part of a healthy lifestyle, but also to support sustainability and local production.
At the end of the day,the food service industry is making great strides to cater to the evolving eating habits of Americans, but the industry can’t get stuck playing catch-up-- it needs to take decisive action to lead the way on a number of important fronts, including water sustainability, supply chain resiliency, and transparency.