Forget Paula Deen’s Lady’s Brunch Burger, KFC's Double Down, and the fact that New York's Governors Island was renamed Pig Island last weekend: There is a new wave of diners who are heading in a more restrained direction food-wise, whether that means being more mindful of their food's origins or going all-out gluten-free or vegan.
"In general, a lot more people care about where their food comes from," says Dan Kluger, chef at the James Beard Award-winning (and perpetually packed) ABC Kitchen in New York City. "For us, organic is more of a sustainable, green sort of culture whether it is good animal husbandry with the raising of the meats we use or sustainable agriculture and aquaculture. But there’s definitely more knowledge and interest among diners."
So how can restaurateurs tap this market, if they haven’t already? Terry Walters, nutrition expert and author of Clean Start, weighs in on the trend.
Have you noticed an uptick in interest in eating clean?
I've noticed a huge increase. Many factors have lead to the increased interest in eating clean, from difficult economic times, to increased illness among all ages, greater awareness of food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies, environmental changes and much more. Greater demand for locally grown produce has lead to greater support of our local farmers, more accessibility to locally grown produce and a greater connection between farms, farmers and the greater community.
How should restaurateurs to pay attention to this trend?
If a restaurant wants to make itself accessible to people following a vegan or gluten-free diet, then I think that’s fabulous. But if it’s simply not what they’re about, then that’s okay too. For instance, there will always be a demand for steak houses, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find many vegans dining there, and if the do they shouldn’t be surprised to find limited options.
Any other advice?
I get tired of the only vegan option on a menu being a stack of grilled or roasted vegetables. But just because I like to eat vegan and gluten-free, doesn't mean that everyone I dine with prefers that as well. I like a restaurant that's connected with local producers, whose menu changes with the changing season and according to availability, and who has something to offer to everyone. I'm not a fan of labels that perpetuate judgments about diet and nutrition, and find that they turn away more than they serve.