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Food trend: plant-based eating

As the move to plant-based eating gathers even greater momentum, Vanessa Leuenberger tells us how this type of food has transformed her life and why she wants it to do the same for others

Here’s something to think about. According to the University of Oxford’s Oxford Martin School, a global switch to diets more dependent on fruit and vegetables than meat could prevent up to eight million deaths by 2050 and save US$1.5 trillion in healthcare and averted climate damage.

Interest in reducing the amount of meat and dairy we eat has been increasing for years, with Google search trends revealing a steady rise for ‘vegan’ over the last decade that has sharply intensified since 2014. The shift has been driven by factors including medical evidence that a balanced, low-fat, plant-based diet can contribute to overall health and wellbeing through weight management and potentially decrease the risks of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Plant-based eating also contributes to climate wellness by reducing the production of greenhouse gases through the meat and dairy industries.

Increasingly, we are realising that plant-based foods taste as good as, if not better, than meaty alternatives, and vegetarian and vegan options now share centre stage with meat-based dishes on the world’s finest dining menus. Around the world, exclusively vegetarian and vegan restaurants boast Michelin stars, from NIX in New York to Joia in Milan, Tian in Vienna to Tokyo’s Daigo.

The benefits of plant-based food

For businesswoman Vanessa Leuenberger, the wife of the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel Managing Director Richard Leuenberger, plant-based has long been a way of life. She says simply: “For me, there is no other way to eat.”

Now she has been instrumental in the evolution of the hotel’s food and beverage offering to reflect interest in plant-based cuisine, although she says non-meat eaters were already well served: “One of the great things about the Palace is that they individually cater to your needs. The Palace is everything to everyone.”

Through La Mesa de Vanessa, her plant-based nutrition coaching and consulting company, Mrs Leuenberger has provided recipes for plant-based dishes for the start of this year’s summer season. She says: “I’ve prepared plant-based selections for the individual outlets and room service. This way, the vegans are happy and the non-vegans can explore the cuisine. The focus should be to provide a comprehensive plant-based programme with well-executed dishes that taste delicious.”

Mrs Leuenberger describes her own move to plant-based eating as “transformative”, in relation to food and throughout her life. “It has connected me to my body, to my community and to the planet more than anything else that I have done,” she says.

“The planet was the main reason why I made the transition. It not only affects the way you eat but many different aspects of your life, in the choices you make. I’m always very conscious about packaging, waste, reuse and so on. I believe that we can all do more to help.”

And she is keen for others to turn what could be a passing trend for plant-based food into a long-term, sustainable way of life. She says the first, and most important, step is to help people realise that this type of food can be utterly delicious. “People know that they should be eating healthier, but they see it as sacrifice of taste and satisfaction,” she says. “This is why diets don’t work. People can’t wait to go back to the food that brings them pleasure. But when they can appreciate the tastes for themselves, and see the effects that it has on their bodies, they are more likely to make it a change of lifestyle. No one that eats plant-based has ever said that they regret it!”

“That said, it is a personal choice that cannot be forced upon anyone. My family does not eat a purely-plant based diet but the majority of the food eaten is plant-based. They have the awareness and hopefully in the future they will join me.”

Making plant-based food simple

Mrs Leuenberger is an enthusiastic cook whose dishes reflect both her birth country of Puerto Rico and influences from around the world through her career in hospitality. “I’ve travelled throughout my life, lived in many places, and eaten many kinds of food. Keeping an open mind to different things – ingredients, styles of cooking – gives you the freedom to explore. Sometimes it’s a disaster! But sometimes you stumble upon something absolutely delicious.

“I love to cook and try out new recipes. I cook every day and my cookbook collection could be classified as an addiction. Sometimes there isn’t time to devote hours to every meal, so I make sure to always have some staples ready – things like pesto, hummus and almond butter – at hand and do batch cooking.

“I have some ingredients – such as beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, avocado, cilantro and cumin – that I love and try to incorporate in as many dishes as I can. As a family, we are big fans of burrito night and also love sushi. And the crew loves Papa’s lasagne!”

La Mesa de Vanessa – Vanessa’s Table – is a natural evolution of Mrs Leuenberger’s enthusiasm for a plant-based lifestyle. The company offers wellness and nutrition coaching to individuals and groups as well as food consulting with a plant-based perspective to hotels and restaurants.

Though it is at an early stage, there are three clear strands to its work: individual, group and corporate. “Many people are curious about the plant-based diet but are overwhelmed somehow,” Mrs Leuenberger explains. “We help them get acquainted with the diet, demystify it, discover the tastes, teach them how to cook, how to build complete plates while they learn what their bodies need for optimum health.

“On the group side, we want to help companies or schools develop programmes to provide healthier options for employees or students. We help with nutrition education, plant-based food programmes and overall wellness strategies. And our Green Boost programme gives hotels and restaurants a helping hand to boost current food and beverage selections and cater fully, and successfully, to the healthier and plant-based demands of the guests.”

Mrs Leuenberger concludes: “What drives me is helping people and making the world a better place.” With the benefits of plant-based food including cutting your carbon footprint and saving water supplies, by incorporating plant-based eating we could all help Mrs Leuenberger in her ambition, as well as benefit our own health and wellbeing.

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