Encouraging Healthier, More Inclusive Food Choices through DefaultVeg
Eating at a Meeting Podcast Episode 68
DefaultVeg Encourages Healthier Eating
Laura Lee Cascada is the Campaigns Director for the Better Food Foundation, where she works to make institutional food menus more inclusive and sustainable through an innovative strategy called DefaultVeg. She has over a decade of experience in environmental and food advocacy and has helped major brands like Starbucks, Subway, and Nestle introduce plant-based options to their menus. She has a master’s degree in environmental policy from Johns Hopkins University.
What do safe, inclusive & sustainable food and beverage experiences look like to you?
DefaultVeg is a flexible new food strategy that can help institutions and events from offices to dining halls and weddings reduce their environmental footprint and become more inclusive of those with different diets. Animal ingredients like dairy, fish, and eggs are particularly resource-intensive and are also major allergens or sources of food intolerance in vulnerable populations like Black, Latino, and Asian Americans. The concept of DefaultVeg is simple: offering plant-based foods like vegan milk or mayo by default, and diners can opt in to the animal ingredients.
Do you have an example of a situation that negatively effected you and/or other individuals or groups’ food and beverage experience?
Often, folks who wish to eat differently than the default, usually meat-heavy option are given one meager option or have to jump through hoops to even request something different. This happened to me on a group trip years ago, and ultimately I ended up with a lettuce and onion salad. This kind of meal structure precludes many people from making better choices for their own health and the environment, and makes menus feel restrictive and not inclusive of diverse types of eating. DefaultVeg turns that on its head by resetting the default.
What do you wish people knew about what you do?
DefaultVeg is all about choice: by resetting what we think of as “normal” to healthy and delicious plant-based ingredients, we provide a powerful motivator for people to choose more sustainable meals–without depriving anyone of choice. People can still opt in to animal products, but because of the impact of this simple behavioral “nudge,” events and institutions greatly reduce their own footprint.
What is a best practice you use/or have seen to create safe and inclusive F&B experiences?
Defaults shape our culture! In America, food is usually served in a way that reinforces the idea that meat should be a normal part of every meal. However, when people see delicious plant-based meals presented as the recommended option, and when they see their co-workers, classmates, and family members eating mouth-watering plant-based meals (not just salads!), it reshapes their thinking about what a normal meal can look like. And over time, these individual choices add up to the big changes in our food system and our world.
What is your favorite food and your favorite drink?
Vegan macaroni and cheese and Coconut caramel latte