Global demand for meat is projected to rise 50% between 2013 and 2050.
Considering animal agriculture’s outsized impact on the environment, this could have dire consequences for Earth’s life-supporting ecological systems. But diets are hard to change. Despite decades of advocacy, the percentage of Americans following a plant-based diet has barely budged. In fact, in 2018, per capita American meat consumption was within two pounds of being the highest in U.S. history.
Over in Southeast Asia, rising incomes, growing population and increasing urbanisation have contributed to growth in livestock production and meat consumption, particularly poultry and pork. According to a Research Dive study, the Southeast Asia Meat Product Market forecast shall cross US$117,259.2 million by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 5.1%, even with dampening effects resulting from the Covid pandemic.
Propelling Singapore Further In The Global Race For Sustainable Food Alternatives
The demand for plant-based foods and transition to flexitarian lifestyles has doubled since the onset of Covid-19 in Singapore, driven by heightened consciousness of social, environmental and health issues. Sodexo’s partnership with Chef Bjorn Shen aims to expand its current plant-based offerings to customers in Singapore, which include LinkedIn and United World College.
Through Shen’s elevation of plant-based foods, Sodexo hopes to inspire its consumers to get creative with simple, everyday alternatives. Augustman caught up with Shen and Abel Ariza, President, Singapore & Malaysia, Sodexo.
While there is a lot of consideration for eco-friendliness, diets are very personal and so there are more challenges in getting people to adopt vegetable based diets – what does the data tell you?
Ariza: With sustainability in Southeast Asia projected to generate US$1 trillion worth of economic opportunities annually 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. It’s thus not surprising to also see more food service providers joining the waves by offering more yummy plant-based options to cater to the increasing demand.
You are sourcing locally produced plant-based food, but Singapore is land scarce and hydroponic based plants don’t exactly convey the same flavours as soil-based ones. Where does Sodexo see its future in 10 years?
As part of Sodexoʼs Better Tomorrow 2025 Corporate Responsibility Roadmap, we are committed to propose 33% plant-based dishes in our menus by 2025 and are actively working with various partners to develop new plant-based innovative solutions that encourage consumers to prefer healthy, sustainable foods that are good for the planet.
The future of food is extremely promising, and we’ve seen exciting innovations in agritech that we’ve also introduced to our consumers. In 10 years, many wonderful developments can happen! In the past, vegetarian food was often associated with mock meats, but today, there is an exciting plethora of tasty options. There are definitely opportunities to protect our planet and promote good health, while allowing for culinary experimentation.
Bjorn, having launched Artichoke and Small’s, is working only with vegetables/alternatives feeling restrictive? Do you feel constrained creatively?
Shen: No, in fact, I much prefer working with vegetables than with meat/seafood. I feel that there are so many more plants to choose from than there are animals and fish, and that it is more satisfying to surprise diners with vegetable-centric dishes as opposed to animal-centric ones.
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 feels very much in my comfort zone and in line with my personal eating habits.
Big meat eaters tend to think of vegetables as an accompaniment and herbs rather than the main attraction. Did it require a re-think for you as a chef?
Contrary to popular belief, I am not a “big meat eater”. I do like my big flavours and I do show myself bingeing on meat on social media; but something that not many people know, and something that happens off -camera is that I am 50% vegetarian, meaning that 50% of my meals are nonmeat. When I watch food shows on YouTube or other streaming services, I find myself being drawn to the sight of vegetable dishes more so than I am to those meat/fish ones.
Vegetables are already at the centre of my life, and the main attraction of my meals. Case in point ‒ my most typical order at a mamak stall would be biryani rice with 3-4 veg dishes plus rasam and extra poppadom; I tend to not order any chicken or mutton. But I do understand how others may view vegetables as side dishes, and not as a food group that can take the centre-stage.
That is also why plant-based meat alternatives are so popular right now ‒ such as food from Impossible and Beyond. They appeal to the segment of the market that typically needs meat at every meal but wants to eat in a more self/eco-conscious and guilt-free way. These products form somewhat of a gateway into a plant-based diet without sacrificing the tastes and textures of meat for which their audience still desire.
What do you think it would take to get mass adoption of more vegetable-based diets?
I am not passionate about it because of ethical or moral causes (as much as I acknowledge that there are many grounds for these causes that others may fight for). I am excited about this for one very simple reason ‒ I love cooking and eating my vegetables!
As a chef, I take more pleasure in cooking and transforming humble vegetables than I am in something predictable, like throwing yet another expensive steak on the grill ‒ anyone can do that. But to create a plant-based dish that is both healthy and flavourful takes a lot of creativity and innovation ‒ something which Chef Bjorn Shen I enjoy challenging myself into doing.