New York moves forward: Plant-based meals in all city hospitals


Eric Adams, the mayor of New York who was elected last year, immediately began to reform the city's health system. Starting from Meatless Mondays (English Meatless Mondays) and Vegetable Fridays (English Plant-Powered Fridays) initiatives in schools that encourage children to include more plant-based products in their daily diet, the new mayor joined forces with a non-profit organization The Better Food Foundation, to make plant-based meals available as the main option in all city hospitals. Although animal products continue to exist, hospitals offer plant-based alternatives for every meal of the day, and patients who want meat or dairy products must request them separately.

Eleven hospitals in America's largest city serve about 3 million lunches and dinners each year -- the new feeding the policy will ensure that at least 850,000 servings this year will be plant-based. 

In keeping with the multicultural population of New York, the new hospital dishes are inspired by the flavors of South American, Asian, European and other cultures. Patients can expect meat-free pasta with Bolognese sauce, a plant-based version of Sancocho, a popular beef stew in Latin America, as well as pea stew served with butter-free cornbread and eggs, vegan Pad Thai, or Spanish vegetable Paella with yellow rice.

A few months after the changes began, the initial data was optimistic, with 60 % patients choosing a plant-based diet and even 95 % saying they were satisfied with their choice. These are staggering numbers considering that only 1 in % patients self-identified as vegan or vegetarian. 

This year we received even more good news. According to data officially published by the mayor's team, nine out of ten patients continue to choose plant-based meals, and the satisfaction level remains above 90 %. As a result of the changes, hospitals managed to reduce food-related emissions by as much as 36 % during the year. Along with that, the cost-saving benefits of plant-based diets have been noted, with hospitals switching from animal-based to plant-based diets saving 59 cents per serving, and while that amount has fluctuated since then, it still remains less than the cost of a serving of animal-based products. 

The world is choosing a plant-based diet

Similar changes have been made not only in New York. in 2019 Amsterdam became the first city to serve plant-based food at all government events. At the same time, the Amsterdam government is encouraging the city's residents to change their eating habits, hoping that by 2030 at least 50 % of their diet will consist of plant products, and in 2040 this number will rise to 60 in %. in 2021 Hayek Hospital in Lebanon has become the first in the world to completely abandon animal products and serve its patients only a plant-based menu. In 2022, following the example of New York, a group of medical workers in Scotland wrote an open letter to the National Health Service of Scotland (English NHS Scotland), encouraging the removal of animal products from hospital meals, and equating the provision of meat in hospitals with the distribution of cigarettes in the pulmonology department. British students from 20 of the country's leading universities are pursuing a similar goal, who have demanded from their university representatives that only plant-based food be served to them.

Meanwhile, in Lithuania, it is not uncommon to still hear stories about low-quality plant-based or vegetarian menus in state institutions. It happens that a side dish is served instead of a complete meal, dishes are prepared without any vegetable protein sources, they are not saturated. 

However, we also have initiatives such as the Ministry of Economy and Innovation. Evaluating the fact that the meat industry is one of the most polluting of nature, they made a decision to refuse to order food containing meat and fish products at events. Instead, the ministry tries to choose plant-based snacks.

Changes are easier than expected

Recent studies show that providing plant-based meals as a main option increases the choice of such meals from 7 % to 87 % percent without consumer resistance. Similar results were recorded in a study conducted in the cafeterias of three American universities, which showed that 81 % students chose plant-based food as their main choice. These results are supported by examples of success in New York, Amsterdam, and other cities. 

This shows that making a plant-based diet a more accessible option and not taking away consumers' right to choose made it significantly more attractive. This data can become an excellent incentive not only for state institutions, but also for cafes and restaurants to more boldly include plant-based dishes in their menus and to observe how consumers react. It is true that it is important to note that the food is not only plant-based, but also tasty, attractively served and offers a variety of choices. It is worth informing users about the importance of such changes: it not only contributes to people's health, but also significantly reduces the CO2 pollution of the city or country.

The text was prepared by Milda Zibalaitė

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