Meatless Monday programs debuted in the retail cafes of four campuses of the NewYork-Presbyterian healthcare system on Feb. 26. The four are NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Westchester Division.
The initiative does not ban all animal protein products from the cafes on those days, but it does mean more prominence for meatless menu items, says NewYork-Presbyterian Executive Chef Joseph Weems.
“On Mondays, I put a strong emphasis on vegetarian dishes and back off on the other protein items so we can highlight the Meatless Monday [dishes] as much as possible,” he explains. Dishes with animal proteins are still available, he emphasizes, but in a smaller proportion, maybe a 70-30 mix in favor of meatless, he estimates. The initiative also extends to education, including table tents with information on the effects of a meatless diet on the human body and on the environment.
Café participation has not suffered at the first few Meatless Monday events, Weems says.
In fact, customer reaction “has been very positive,” he notes. “Our sales have not decreased. If anything, they have even risen a bit.”
As for complaints, “the one thing I can say is that in the past, I used to get complaints about not having enough variety of vegetarian items, and I haven’t been receiving those” since the program went into effect. There’s also been little blowback from the unrepentant carnivores in the customer base, perhaps because there are still options containing meat for those who want them as the deli and hot carving stations remain operative on Meatless Mondays.
The meatless selections featured on Mondays were created by Weems specifically for the Meatless Monday events, with the plan being to rotate various dishes through the cafes every four or five weeks to maintain variety. Each Monday also includes a special discounted meatless combo meal to encourage participation. Weems says he uses his longtime experience as a chef in the hotel/resort/cruise ship business (he joined NewYork Presbyterian last July) to create meatless dishes that might especially tempt customers.
NewYork-Presbyterian’s employee health and well-being program, NYPBeHealthy, defines a meatless meal as one containing plant-based foods such as grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and/or vegetables, and does not include red meat (beef), pork, poultry, fish or shellfish, though it may contain dairy or eggs.
Among the items Weems created for the program are vegetable quesadillas, a black bean and sweet potato cake, a sweet potato casserole, spinach pies, a vegan stuffed pepper, tofu Parmesan, a carrot ginger soup and vegetarian chilis. While each of the four sites participating in the Meatless Monday program currently creates their own menus at this point, the plan is eventually to standardize around items that seem to have the most customer appeal, Weems says.
To date, the sweet potato and black bean cake, the vegan stuffed pepper and a number of soups such as the carrot ginger, the roasted butternut squash and a corn chowder with a Jamaican twist have proved the most popular for him, he notes.
Meatless is, of course, not confined only to Mondays in NewYork Presbyterian cafes, Weems stresses. “I have a meatless entrée every day.”
The Meatless Monday program is aligned with a research study of NewYork-Presbyterian employees from across the four campuses. Led by NewYork-Presbyterian’s department of food & nutrition in partnership with Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, the study aims to track employee response to the Meatless Monday initiative after six months of implementation.
The study included a preliminary survey of attitudes toward meatless items, which will be compared to a follow-up survey of attitudes after the Meatless Monday program has been in effect for the six-month period.