New event to bring more plant-based foods to post-secondary campuses

Three-day conference promotes healthy, inclusive and, most importantly, tasty options

Veganism and plant-based eating is on the rise. According to a recent poll, younger Canadians are more likely to choose plant-based items, and that’s clear on Instagram, where a search for #plantbased will get you millions of results.

That’s reflected on campus, where students and staff are asking for more of such options on campus. Plant-based choices focus on whole food, with minimally processed ingredients, including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Diets built around plant-based eating aren’t vegan or even necessarily vegetarian, as they can incorporate the occasional animal product.

almond gifOn May 30, the polytechnic’s food services team will take a big step toward meeting the demand by hosting the NAIT Forward Food Leadership Summit.

The event will be attended by NAIT food services chefs, culinary students and representatives from other Alberta post-secondary institutions who hope to boost their knowledge of plant-based cooking. Part of it is also open to the public.

“We live in a world where nutrition and health seem to be the top conversations,” says NAIT’s registered dietitian and event organizer Nick Creelman, who was inspired to host the conference after recently attending something similar.

A healthy diet for everyone

Creelman says many people turn to plant-based eating as a way to clean up their diet.

“It’s always something people are trying to figure out how to do better,” he says. “We know there’s not one perfect way to eat to make you healthy, but we’re trying to keep everyone happy.”

Different cultures require more inclusive options as well.

“With our increase in international students, we’re finding that more people are looking for creative and delicious options for their dietary needs,” says Kathryn Howden, director of NAIT’s retail and ancillary services. Eat at NAIT, the polytechnic's food services team, offers halal, gluten-free, vegetarian and some vegan options on the current menu, along with select healthier options.

“[The summit] offers a really interesting way to learn these [plant-based] skills,” Howden says. “There’s no other training like this available.”

“There’s no other training like this available.”

eggplant gifWhile the first two days of the event will feature instruction, the third is free for anyone to attend. It will include discussion about sustainability through plant-based cooking, how to market healthy meals, cut food costs and more.

“[The summit is designed] to get chefs more excited and creative with plant-based items,” says Creelman.

A win-win for vegans, vegetarians and more

Michelle Robinson (Culinary Arts ’10) of Good Stock Restaurant, a vegan eatery in southwest Edmonton, is one of the featured speakers.

She says plant-based meals are a delight to cook. “A lot of animal products are brown, white and beige, but I can have a rainbow of colour,” she says. “It’s really eye-catching. It’s different and it’s fun.”

Robinson, who opened Good Stock last June, says there’s a changing perception about vegan and plant-based meals.

“It’s such a growing movement,” she says. “There are a lot of athletes going plant-based. It’s not just lettuce. It’s big, hearty meals.”

"It’s not just lettuce. It’s big, hearty meals.”

Robinson tends to cook comfort food, with items like mac and cheeze (made with cashew cheese), lasagna and shepherd’s pie on the menu at Good Stock. She says you don’t have to compromise flavour in order to cook vegan food.

avocado gif“We just have to marry the nutrition side with the taste side, and it’s a win-win for everybody.”

Creelman hopes to have that philosophy reflected in food options at NAIT after the summit.

“[We’ll be making] healthy recipes, and have them be flavourful and exciting,” he says. No boring salads. “We’ll be getting some different things in there.”

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