Should Your Next Conference Have a Plant-Based Menu?

This year’s Golden Globes served an entirely plant-based menu for the first time. With more of your attendees going meatless and looking for meetings to have a smaller environmental footprint, should your conference menu be plant-based too?

You may have tuned in to the Golden Globes last Sunday night to find out if your favorite movie or TV show won, to see what the stars were wearing, or to check out who gave the funniest (or most long-winded) acceptance speech.

If you happened to catch Joaquin Phoenix’s speech after he took home the Golden Globe for his performance in Joker, you may have noticed he thanked the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which co-produces the awards show, for serving a plant-based menu as part of its sustainability efforts.

The menu, the first of its kind for any major awards show, included an appetizer of chilled golden beet soup and a main dish of king oyster mushrooms presented and cooked to call to mind scallops.

According to The Washington Post, organizers said the move to go vegan “was meant to send a signal about the impact of animal products on climate change.”

While the menu and stance had its share of both fans and critics, I think it signals what’s likely to be a fast-emerging trend in the conference food and beverage space: creating more sustainable menus.

For example, a North American market research study published late last year found that 35 percent of millennial guests are looking for more vegetarian options on menus. And the International Food Information Council’s 2019 Food and Health Survey found an increased interest in plant-based diets.

Some associations already have been working toward more sustainable menus. After embracing a “meatless Monday” campaign at past annual conferences, the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education introduced an all-vegetarian menu in 2017 for its 2,000 attendees. And Kara Ferguson, a meeting planner with the American Society of Anesthesiologists, told my colleague Tim Ebner in the Fall 2019 issue of Associations Now that it’s part of her job to create a sustainable menu for attendees.

“Associations and groups should absolutely team up and work together to source food that has a low carbon footprint,” Ferguson said. “Plant-based food options are an excellent way to do that. Of course, you’ll always have a few meat eaters, but you can limit items like beef or pork [whose production processes are high greenhouse gas emitters] and do something more environmentally friendly like chicken or turkey.”

In addition, meeting planners should no longer be concerned that caterers and convention centers won’t be able to deliver delicious plant-based meals and menus. For example, Desiree Neal, executive chef for Distinctive Gourmet, the Virginia Beach Convention Center’s onsite caterer, recently told Convene magazine that she’s getting more requests to create plant-based menus and that some of those dishes are cultivated from the venue’s onsite garden. And large convention center caterers like Levy and Centerplate are also putting more focus on plant-based foods. From the looks of it, associations will have a lot more options when it comes to building entirely plant-based menus.

As sustainability becomes more of a priority and as attendee dietary preferences change, how are your conference menus evolving? Please share in the comments.

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Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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