Sodexo partners with chef Bjorn Shen for a sustainable plant-based menu

Global demand for meat is expected to increase by 50% between 2013 and 2050.

Given the outsized impact of animal agriculture on the environment, this could have disastrous consequences for Earth’s vital ecological systems. But regimes are hard to change. Despite decades of advocacy, the percentage of Americans following a plant-based diet has barely budged. In fact, in 2018, US meat consumption per capita was less than two pounds from being the highest in US history.

In Southeast Asia, rising incomes, population growth and increasing urbanization have contributed to growth in animal production and meat consumption, especially poultry and pork. According to a study by Research Dive, the Southeast Asia meat products market is forecast to exceed US$117,259.2 million by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 5.1%, even with moderating effects resulting from the Covid pandemic.

Propelling Singapore further in the global race for sustainable food alternatives

Abel Ariza (left) and chef Bjorn Shen (right)

The demand for plant-based foods and the shift to flexitarian lifestyles has doubled since the onset of Covid-19 in Singapore, driven by increased awareness of social, environmental and health issues. Sodexo’s partnership with chef Bjorn Shen aims to expand its current plant-based offerings to clients in Singapore, including LinkedIn and United World College.

Through Shen’s elevation of plant-based foods, Sodexo hopes to inspire consumers to get creative with simple, everyday alternatives. Augustman met with Shen and Abel Ariza, President, Singapore and Malaysia, Sodexo.

While there is a lot of consideration for environmental friendliness, diets are very personal and therefore it is more difficult to get people to adopt vegetable-based diets – what does the data tell you?

Ariza: With sustainability in Southeast Asia expected to generate economic opportunities worth $1 trillion a year by 2030, largely derived from sustainable production and consumption, Singapore is quickly establishing itself as Asia’s central node in the global supply network serving socially responsible consumers. So it’s no surprise to also see more foodservice providers joining the waves by offering more delicious plant-based options to meet growing demand.

You buy locally produced plant-based foods, but Singapore is a rare earth and hydroponic plants don’t impart the exact same flavors as those in the ground. Where does Sodexo see its future in 10 years?

As part of Sodexo’s Better Tomorrow 2025 Corporate Responsibility roadmap, we are committed to having 33% plant-based dishes on our menus by 2025 and are actively working with different partners to develop new innovative solutions plant-based products that encourage consumers to prefer healthy and sustainable dishes. foods that are good for the planet.

The future of food is extremely bright and we have seen exciting innovations in agritech which we have also introduced to our consumers. In 10 years, many wonderful developments can happen! In the past, vegetarian food was often associated with fake meats, but today there are a plethora of tasty options. There are certainly opportunities to protect our planet and promote good health, while enabling culinary experimentation.

Bjorn, having started Artichoke and Small’s, only works with vegetables/alternatives, do you feel restrictive? Do you feel creatively constrained?

Shen: No, actually, I much prefer working with vegetables than meat/seafood. I feel like there are so many more plants to choose from than there is. There are animals and fish, and it’s more satisfying to surprise diners with dishes that focus on vegetables rather than animals.

Artichoke, a 12-year-old restaurant, has always had about 50% of its menu based on vegetarian/vegan dishes since the early days. Working on this plant-based menu with Sodexo seems completely in my comfort zone and in line with my personal eating habits.

Heavy meat eaters tend to view vegetables as a side dish and herbs rather than the main attraction. Did it ask you to rethink as a chef?

Contrary to popular belief, I am not a “big meat eater”. I love my big flavors and show myself eating meat on social media; but something few people know, and something that happens off-camera, is that I’m 50% vegetarian, which means 50% of my meals are non-meat. When I watch cooking shows on YouTube or other streaming services, I’m more drawn to the sight of vegetable dishes than meat/fish dishes.

Vegetables are already at the center of my life, and the main attraction of my meals. Example ‒ my most typical order at a mamak stand would be biryani rice with 3-4 vegetable dishes plus extra rasam and poppadom; I tend not to order chicken or mutton. But I understand that others may view vegetables as side dishes, not a food group that can take center stage.

It’s also why plant-based meat substitutes are so popular right now, like Foods from Impossible and Beyond. They cater to the segment of the market that typically needs meat at every meal but wants to eat in a more self-conscious/eco-friendly and guilt-free way. These products offer something of a gateway to plant-based eating without sacrificing the tastes and textures of meat that their audience always desires.

What do you think it would take to get the mass adoption of vegetable-based diets?

I am not passionate about this for ethical or moral reasons (much as I recognize that there are many motives for these causes that others may fight for). I’m excited about this for a very simple reason – I love to cook and eat my vegetables!

As a chef, I take more pleasure in cooking and processing humble vegetables than something predictable, like throwing another expensive steak on the grill – anyone can do that. But creating a plant-based dish that’s both healthy and flavorful takes a lot of creativity and innovation — something Chef Bjorn Shen, I like to challenge myself to do.

(Images: Sodexo)

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