( Photo by The Packer staff )

I’m getting a lot of e-mails from recipe bloggers and public relations agencies about plant-based treats. 

This buzzword is everywhere these days. But what does “plant-based” really mean? 

What it doesn’t mean is avoiding all your favorite juicy burgers, fried chicken and tuna melts. 

I’d argue that it’s a softer version of vegetarianism that puts the focus on what you eat more of, rather than what you restrict completely. It’s not an all-or-nothing lifestyle, but a forgiving one. Consumers hate hearing what they shouldn’t eat.

Guilting consumers into eating healthy doesn’t work in the long term. And there are good nutritional arguments for meat and dairy.

With a conscientious approach, fresh produce companies can tailor their messages to, as Michael Pollan famously put it over a decade ago, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The first and third parts help the fresh produce industry. 

What we sell is real food. Whole food. And the more that retailers and foodservice sell, the more money in our pockets and the healthier consumers are. 

“We are the original plant-based diet, and we are letting other people lead that conversation,” Produce Marketing Association CEO Cathy Burns said in an April 17 Packer article by Ashley Nickle. “My biggest fear is that all of a sudden people are going to think by eating a plant-based sausage, a plant-based burger, a plant-based cheesesteak, that’s three of my five-a-day.”

This doesn’t mean swapping your faves for Beyond Meat burgers, soy dogs and quinoa balls. 

The joy of eating a plant-based diet is that there are no strict rules.

Vegetarians eat no meat, seafood, poultry. Vegans have even more restrictions, eating no meat, seafood, poultry, dairy, eggs or honey. Keto dieters avoid starchy vegetables and sugar-laden fruits, often eating a lot of meat, although it’s supposed to be sustainably raised and organic.

But plant-based eaters enjoy it all, especially fruits and vegetables. Meat is a garnish, a flavor enhancer, an afterthought and a treat a few times a week or just once a day.

Produce for Better Health Foundation’s new slogan, “Have a plant,” takes this same tactic, according to Tom Karst’s April 23 article in The Packer.

And the Culinary Institute of America uses the word “plant-forward” to describe a cooking and eating style that emphasizes and celebrates — but is not limited to — plant-based foods, according to an article by CIA’s Greg Drescher and the Produce Marketing Association’s Lauren M. Scott on PMA’s website. These include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, soy foods, nuts and seeds, plant oils, and herbs and spices. 

“Plant-forward also reflects evidence-based principles of health and sustainability,” Drescher and Scott write. “As food professionals, we know plant-forward can be tasty, versatile, and satisfying.”

That’s what we all want, no? It’s not a hard sell, when you look at it that way.

Amy Sowder is The Packer’s Northeast editor. E-mail her at [email protected]

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