Potato cheese Charlotte may not appear on as many menus as it used to, but such is the story of trendy eats. Like stewed prunes, Raggedy Ann salad or tomatoes stuffed with chicken livers, food has a way of waxing and waning in popularity.
While there are always those who prefer familiar, traditional fare to serve at their events, a new trend has emerged and Pittsburgh’s kosher caterers have noticed: People want healthier choices, and there has been a rise in orders for vegan food.
“People are watching what they’re eating, they want healthy,” said Judah Cowen, owner of Elegant Edge Catering.
Given the desire for “healthier options,” the kosher caterer, based out of Congregation Beth Shalom, removed monosodium glutamate and other once familiar items from his kitchen.
“The days of canned or frozen vegetables are gone,” he said. “People want healthy, organic, fresh.”
Studies confirm a move toward healthier eating in the United States and abroad. U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods grew 11.3% in 2018, while overall food sales rose just 2%, according to a SPINS report commissioned by the Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association. Between April 2017 and April 2019, plant-based sales increased 31.3%, reaching a total of almost $4.5 billion.
Veganism, once a fringe movement, has gone “mainstream,” noted British reporter Dan Hancox in The Guardian. “Veganism is no longer niche or difficult and, as industrial agriculture bends to adapt to consumer demand and its own crisis of sustainability, it is only going to get more accessible — and more popular.”
Hancox also noted a “35% rise in the number of vegans in Britain from 2006-2016; 542,000 people said they were vegans in 2016.”
But not all those claiming to be vegans are vegan all the time, according to “The retreat from meat,” an Oct. 2018 article in The Economist.
“In general, polls seem to find many more people claiming to be vegan than they do people abstaining from all meat, fish and animal products,” the magazine reported. “It seems safe to say that the number of people sometimes or regularly choosing to eat vegan food is growing much faster than the growth in people deeply committed to a meat-, egg — and dairy-free life.”
Food fad or not, caterers have responded accordingly.
In recent years, Aaron Siebzener has provided a soup and salad bar spread after services at Shaare Torah Congregation.
“That was very different,” said the owner of Milky Way, Grilliance and Shabbox. “It wasn’t your herring/kichel kind of kiddush.”
Noticeable changes are certainly occurring, agreed Beth Markovic.
“People are asking for more vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free,” said the owner of Murray Avenue Kosher. “It’s definitely not mainstream but there is a demand for it.”
Markovic, whose involvement in food services spans three decades, estimated that within the past five years, “five to 10%” of her customers have ordered vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free items. As for the latter, it has been “for health reasons, mostly. There are a few people who are allergic to gluten, but most of the people who ask for it think that it is more healthy when it’s gluten-free.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org