HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Role Reversal? Will we ever see the day ...


Will we ever see the day when plants and grains reverse roles with animal proteins on American menus?

We've all seen those silly food pyramids and heard the mantras spewed by dietitians and health experts that Americans should eat less meat and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

But the menu at most American style restaurants run counter to that.

Putting aside for a minute whether the menu selections are healthy. If one focuses just on the types of food being offered, animal proteins generally take center stage. Salads and soups are apps and things like roast chicken and pork chops are the mains.

No shock there.

But will there ever be a role reversal?

Will there ever be a day when one goes to a a steakhouse, lets take Luger's as an example, and see a porterhouse as an appetizer (at say a 4 ounce offering) and select from Caesar salads, Cobb Salads, Pasta Primavera, etc. as main course selections?

Maybe one day you'll go to McDonald's and get a "slider-sized" Big Mac and full-serving of sweet potato fries? One can dare to dream I suppose ...

  1. As a true carnivore I love this post. Not because I want to argue, but I find it so funny how things have changed. I grew up in a household that at everything, but we didn't ever have a theme (meaning we weren't strictly Italian, Irish, French, Vegetarian, Vegan, nor did we adhere to any sort of diets - Kosher, etc). My mother was an outstanding cook, but what I always remember and what has changed in my life due to others (especially the dining industry) is how we ate. A typical meal at my house was a protein and a veggie served. They were not ridiculous portions, but what would be considered small by today's neighborhood restaurant standards and surely by the standards of most homes. Say a chicken cutlet and a side of spinach. After the entree, we would dig into a monstrous bowl of salad. Usually helping ourselves to seconds, sometimes thirds. Then a small dessert. Two-three cookies, maybe a bowl of ice cream. As society changed, so did we...as did my waistline.

    It would be nice to walk into a restaurant. Have a nice 4-6oz steak with a side. Then dig into a lovely Caeser salad for dinner. I always felt better finishing my dinner with salad and when my father and I get together for meals, that's still how we do it! As did his parents and my mother's parents and most of my friends growing up!

    1 Reply
    1. re: jhopp217

      >>> It would be nice to walk into a restaurant. Have a nice 4-6oz steak with a side. Then dig into a lovely Caeser salad for dinner

      There is nothing preventing you from doing that right now. Eat half the steak and take the other half home ,.. or share the entree with someone. Tell your waiter you will have salad after the entree.

      Which is what confuses me about the OP. If you want a salad, order a salad. There are tons of fast food places selling mini burgers which are the trend o the moment. Nothing to prevent you from ordering the salad at the fast food joint instead of the burger.

      If people did that, restaurants would start changing their focus. Carl's Jr. once had a lovely salad bar ... heck, decades ago the salad bar was almost the staple everywhere ... and now they are mostly gone.

      Restaurants will sell what people eat. There is a mention of Ubuntu in another post. It is all vegetarian and does amazing things. You just never notice the meat is missing. No tofu, brown rice or other tasteless usual veggie stuff. Yet, despite having earned a Michelan star ... it it always a hard sell to convince a visitor to go there.

      One note about meat size on restaurant plates. I'm currently living in Central America and one of the shocking things to me is being served normal-sized portions at restaurants ... from high-end to low-end. No mega-American portions ... more like what an upscale New American restaurant would serve in terms of portion. It still continues to surprise me every time.

    2. If this happened you'd see even more fat and sick people than you do now. And many places offer salads as entrees.

      3 Replies
      1. re: MandalayVA

        "If this happened you'd see even more fat and sick people than you do now."


        1. re: cowboyardee


          I think Mandalay said:

          "If this (role reversal; eating more meat) happened you'd see even more fat and sick people than you do now....."

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            No, I meant "if swapping out meat for more pasta and potatoes happened you'd see even more fat and sick people than you do now." Of course, no one ever considers saying "hey, why don't we go back to how it was when eating out was an occasional event and not an everyday thing?" If that happened this would be a moot point over what got offered in bigger quantities. It would be an Occasion and enjoyed more.

      2. There is a practical reason for the shift from produce to meat:

        Produce involves more space and waste/risk of loss. While a lot of produce is fine being stored frozen, a lot is not; meat, as a rule, can be frozen.

        The best forms of non-flesh food in terms of space and waste are grains and pulses. So I would expect those would be what you'd have to shift to, not produce so much.

        1. I say, yes. First, I see the educated, American home meals trending in this direction. It follows that some restaurants will follow and offer balanced, healthy meals for its patrons. Consequently, those who are inclined to eat such a diet will not refrain from dining out as frequently.

          Second, with the increase of better quality and varieties of produce, the role of fruits and vegetables on the restaurant plate should logically increase. The increasing number of "farm to table" type approaches lends itself to this concept. From a chef's point of view, the great "growth" in these ingredients is exciting and therefore provides more to work with when creating a dish.

          Third, I am optimistic that the confort food thing will finally dwindle down. Yes, there will always be greasy spoons, fast food franchises, and deep-fried everything at County fairs. However, I think the "we feel sorry for ourselves" mantra from the zeitgeist has gotten old. It's time for a new song. Sooner or later I won't be the only one who can no longer stand to see "mac-n-cheese" on a menu . . .

          1. Plants and grains won't ever change places with meat due to humans' voluntary preferences.

            However, circumstances will continue to play a large role. I understand that Chinese meat consumption is rising, now that their economy can produce more of it..

            I think that inherently meat tastes better than grains or vegetables. This is not to say that I would want a purely Atkins-like diet, but a steak has inherently more flavor than lettuce, broccoli and cucumbers or potatoes.

            3 Replies
            1. re: gfr1111

              "I think that inherently meat tastes better than grains or vegetables"

              Really? I'm not disputing it nor arguing with you. I'm just curious where you get this opinion from.

              Certainly there are times when I crave a nice juicy ribeye, but if I sit down and think about it I'm not so sure that I "inherently" prefer a ribeye to a ripe juicy peach.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                I agree. Yesterday at lunch, I enjoyed an heirloom tomato that I had pulled from the vine perhaps 90 minutes before and dressed simply with some sea salt. Today, I enjoyed some beets I had roasted a couple nights ago on the grill and prepared the same way as the previous day's tomato. Each had more inherent flavor than the pork chops I am able to buy at the supermarket.

                On the other hand, on both days, I also enjoyed a couple slices of the beef jerky I made. The beef had more flavor than all of the rest. Then again, much of that flavor was derived from plant materials - soy sauce, garlic, Bulgarian carrot pepper.

              2. re: gfr1111

                I disagree that meat inherently tastes better than grain or vegetables. Taste is individual. I ate beef for the first 20 years for my life, and enjoyed it. For the past 20 years, I eat much more veggies, fruits, grains, and less so chicken and fish. I haven't eaten beef at all except for the occasional bite of someone's else's meal.

                Now, when I take a bite of beef, it tastes bland and boring to me, unless it is heavily seasoned. I have simply lost my taste for beef, and am no longer accustomed to it. It bores me. Chicken and fish are fine, but hold no special flavor allure.

                Tastes develop in part out of becoming accustomed to them. They are not inherent.

              3. I hope not.

                What you said about role reversal will be both unhealthy for human diet (who can afford it), increase energy consumption and have averse effects on hunger prevention.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  You're the second person to state something along these lines? Why? Are you just taking the OP very literally? (I agree that lettuce is not a good source of one's main sustenance, and that many salads and soups are in fact fairly unhealthy)

                  I'm not suggesting replacing all proteins with berries, lettuce, salad dressing and the like. Far from it. Proteins are important. But I don't think the OP meant that either. Maybe I'm just interpreting the OP differently than you are.

                  A trend away from 16 ounce steaks flanked by one or two 4 ounce sides and dessert would almost certainly be beneficial. There's plenty of room to scale back the typical American's meat consumption and still be healthy. And I am no vegetarian saying this.

                  I'm also not sure how you derive increased energy consumption and increased hunger from the OP's scenario. Countries with lower energy consumption than ours and fewer resources feed larger populations by treating meat as more of an accent to a dish than its main focus. The US doesn't quite have the infrastructure in place for an immediate shift in our dining habits, but sustained demand could fix that over time with no harm to either our energy consumption or national hunger - benefits to both more likely.

                  All that said, in response to the OP: no, it's probably not gonna happen any time soon. It's that 'sustained demand' problem - we don't have it on a large enough scale.

                  Personally, I doubt you'll ever see many places willing to serve a main course consisting entirely of vegetable and meats as a starter or side - that's just not appealing enough for most restaurants. More appealing are many Asian-style dishes where meats are an important part of the dish, but scaled back in proportion to other delicious elements. The upside is there are already a good number of American restaurants that already serve such dishes. They are traditional Thai and Korean and Vietnamese and Indian restaurants, among others.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    "I'm not suggesting replacing all proteins with berries, lettuce, salad dressing and the like. Far from it. Proteins are important. But I don't think the OP meant that either. Maybe I'm just interpreting the OP differently than you are. "


                    OP here ... no, cowboyardee, you are not interpreting me wrong.

                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      What's up cowboy. I am not 100% sure what you are addressing about. You know I love you man, but I am confused. Because I cannot address you directly, I will just reiterate my points in a more clear fashion.

                      I were saying that I hope this role reversal thing does not come true because if our society (USA) starts to treat meat as main primary ingredients and vegetable and grains as secondary ingredient, then it will be unhealthy for people. In addition, the energy requirement for growing meat is much higher than that of vegetables and grains, so it put additional energy constraint. Finally, shifting diet to meat may also increase hunger in third world countries. The third point is not as well-defined, but if you remember the corn ethanol thing (a few years ago), then you remember that it causes the price of corn and other grain price shot up and had adverse effects in many third world countries.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Oh, nothing but love, Chem - you are welcome for a home-cooked dinner any time you find yourself near my crap little 'burg.

                        I think we might be talking past each other. I took the OP as stating that the US already treats meat as main primary ingredients and vegetables and grains as secondary and was wondering whether that will ever change.

                        I believe we are in agreement about health, hunger, and energy concerns of a largely meat-based diet.

                  2. I think its a kind of chicken or egg conundrum. If more restaurants served beautiful produce dishes, more people would eat them, and be inspired to recreate them at home. If more people ate like that at home, more restaurants would serve beautiful produce dishes, because they would know people would buy them. Ubuntu in Napa serves inspired, delightful vegetable dishes, and they seem to be thriving. I don't, however, see this phenomenon coming to an Appleby's near you any time soon.

                    1. There is certainly at least some demand:


                      I was recently struck by the notion that, given expanding public welfare governmental excercises of authority, the continued course towards "collectivizing" health care/insurance, and consequently the necessity for future preventative approaches to well being, the 24 oz. "Cowboy Steak" could someday be outlawed!

                      20 Replies
                      1. re: MGZ

                        In fact, only partly being silly, there is a plausible argument to be made for caloric limits to any given restaurant dish. "No entree shall exceed 75% the RDA of calories."

                        Or better, in the vein of Dramshop laws, it could be made illegal to serve the visibly obese foods that are too sugary or fatty . . .

                        "Whatta ya in for, Mac?"

                        "I was framed. I served I fat guy a double chocolate shake and some chili cheese fries. I shoulda know he was FDA."

                        1. re: MGZ

                          Actually, I had this discussion with my friends. The argument went along the line of alcohol. Just like a bartender should not serve a visibly drunk person more alcoholic drinks, can a restaurant serve an obese person fatty foods? There is one major similarity here and one major difference.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            Well, as I've already donned the robes to advocate for Lucifer. . . perhaps, you could let me know what you believe to be the difference?

                            1. re: MGZ

                              Who? What Lucifer?

                              Anyhow, the one major difference is the mental capability. A drunk person can no longer make rational judgment. The same drunk person may not have wanted that extra drink if only he/she is sober. An overweight person, on the other hand, is not mentally impaired. Another difference is that a drunk person can hurt much more than him or herself. A drunk person behind the wheel is extremely dangerous and a drunk person also can get easily violent. An obese person is not putting other people in immediate dangerous. Sure, we can argue that an overweight person may impose a certain "sunk costs" to the rest of the society like health cost, but those are not clear and present dangerous.

                              Now, I can argue the other way for restricting fatty food to overweight people.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                I don't really see any debate here. There are no laws against public fattiness, while there are against public drunkenness.

                                1. re: Cachetes


                                  Law changes, so does public policy. MGZ and I are not talking about present, but future. Think tobacco. It won't surprise me that in 20-30 years that tobacco would be outright outlawed. Many recreation drugs were once legal, like cocaine and opium. Think Coca-cola.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    Thanks for the lesson in the social construction of law. For the record I found MGZ's comment "Whatta ya in for, Mac?" to be one of the funniest things I've seen on chowhound in a while. My only point is that there is no debate for someone at the restaurant level. Debating it here, on chowhound, in the streets, in Congress, is all well and good, and I think a lot of what you all discuss here is pretty close to what is likely to happen as we move forward. But fattiness will never be outlawed, like drunkenness will. Thus all of us will be denied the Cowboy Steak, not just those who are fat according to some overworked, underpaid server's conception.

                                    And unfortunately for our resident liberal rworange, I think she/he is as likely to be as disappointed with Rebublican intervention in our lives as he/she is with the Dems. Almost all part of very narrow spectrum of political behavior.

                                2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  No, I suppose we can forego further arguments as my initial tongue-in-cheek comments were probably sufficiently off-topic. I suppose, however, the mere fact that we can even discuss this as plausible lends itself as support for the notion that restaurants, as the OP wondered, may indeed voluntarily change their approach to food in time.

                                  Edited to add - (Since I can't resist another hypothetical.) Could we someday see a society where feeding an eight year old processed American cheese food melted on Wonder bread along with Doritos and washed down with a couple of Sunkists might be considered child abuse?

                                  1. re: MGZ

                                    A restaurant could give a fig about health. It is all about money and if serving slabs of fat on a platter had people rushing in the door they would do so. Until the general public cares about the choices they are making ... and make decisions with their buying dollars, there will be no change.

                                    Restaurants really only care about the drinking laws because they could be liable if someone walks out the door drunk and kills or injures someone.

                                    While the fat person might get behind a wheel after a calorie-rich dinner and have a heart attack, it is not that one dinner that is the problem, but years of bad eating habits.

                                    And I will comment that fat doesn't mean unhealthy. Is a 250 lb linebacker unhealthy? The problem is where do you draw the line? Do people need to step on a scale before entering a restaurant? That would really be great for business. Do you install an airline seat like the kiddie rides that says "if you can't fit in this chair you can only order salads".

                                    Like I said in the beginning, healthier choices are available currently in restaurants. If people were selecting them, restaurants would be inspired to put more on the menu.

                                    Think of all of McDonald's failed efforts to put out a marginally healtier product such as the McLean or veggieburgers.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      Why should the restaurant be looking out for my health? If I'm eating out its a treat, I'm wanting to indulge, not pay $20 for a salad. Same for if I go out for a drink, I don't want my bartender to offer me an organic smoothie instead. Its like saying the bakery should start making healthy birthday cakes.

                                      Now if a consumer is making unhealthy choices, the consequences of those decisions are on the consumer, not me. The business is just concerned with giving me what I want, both of these things are ok.

                                      Back the original topic though, I don't think the order is necessarily relevant. I think we're just seeing the result of very available cheap food, busy lives, and a couple generations of people who don't know how to cook or don't have time. If someone ends their dinner with a huge salad slathered in high calorie dressing as I suspect many would, we're not going to see healthier americans. We need to teach people how to cook delicious healthy food at home. Why kids have to take a health class that teaches the food pyramid but don't have to learn to actually cook is beyond me. If you don't have many options for a delicious or quick dinner because you don't know how, the high calorie meal out that should be a treat becomes more routine. How many 20-30 year olds do you think can tell you what briasing is and when you should use it?

                                    2. re: MGZ


                                      I sensed that tongue and cheek, but were not sure. This is a much more complicated issue than many think especially because of the healthcare cost. The healthcare cost in this country (USA) has been raising and is expected to rise. It appears that we are moving toward more of a public healthcare system (I don't mean we are going to be a public healthcare country, I mean it is leaning toward). This also means there is a slightly more shift toward "someone else health affects my wallet". When people start to share more and more healthcare cost, you bet there is more and more reason for a public health policy. At the end, it is about social warefare vs individual freedom. We cannot live in a pure social warfare country, nor can we live in a pure individual freedom system. We just need to strike a balance. Think about China. Why does China have a "one-child" policy?" Chinese government deems that the social benefit of controlling Chinese population trumps individual maternal freedom.

                                      Anyhow, I do want to point out that getting a child obese is indeed considered as child abuse -- in present tense. Certainly it is considered as an abuse from a moral point of view, and the government is considered that from the legal point of view as well.


                                      Edit: additional cases:

                                      "But obesity appears to be the primary reason South Carolina mom Jerri Gray lost custody of her 14-year-old, 555-lb. son in May"

                                      "Several other cases in recent years — in California, New Mexico, Texas and New York, as well as Canada — have garnered attention because a child's obesity resulted in loss of custody."


                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                        >>> At the end, it is about social warefare vs individual freedom. We cannot live in a pure social warfare country, nor can we live in a pure individual freedom system. We just need to strike a balance. Think about China. Why does China have a "one-child" policy?" Chinese government deems that the social benefit of controlling Chinese population trumps individual maternal freedom.

                                        Um, no.

                                        I am as wildly liberal as they come. However, all your arguments in that one paragraph are why there would be one hell of a fight against anything like this.

                                        A smarl lawyer would even challenge childhood obesity as being seen as child abuse.

                                        With the issues of drinking and smoking, the problem was not simply economic. It was the intrusion on other people's personal freedom and welfare.

                                        If someone is smoking, that affects my health.

                                        If someone is drunk and wacks me with their car or does something nuts while in a diminished capacity, that affects my personal safety.

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          No debate at all. I simply tried to use a little levity (apparently poorly) to point out that a society's priorities are not static. While I don't actually envision the types of regulations I suggest, I do think the expansion of "sin taxes" applied to food is inevitable. I also believe that continued scientific developments coupled with the fact that we are spreading the costs of health care across all Americans, the likelihood that governments will justify their exercise of authority over personal consumption will increase.

                                          1. re: MGZ


                                            No debate at all from me either. Really enjoy discussing with this topic with you. I agree with you that much thought and care are needed here. I have to say I am very uncomfortable of sin tax as you do too. However, if we are going to share healthcare benefits, then we will be sharing healthcare costs, which ultimately comes to sharing healhcare regulations and policies. Do I like it? Not, but like you say "the fact that we are spreading the costs of health care across all Americans, the likelihood that governments will justify their exercise of authority over personal consumption will increase." is pretty much the case.

                                            I added something to the previous post, but I figure you may have missed them:

                                            "But obesity appears to be the primary reason South Carolina mom Jerri Gray lost custody of her 14-year-old, 555-lb. son in May"

                                            "Several other cases in recent years — in California, New Mexico, Texas and New York, as well as Canada — have garnered attention because a child's obesity resulted in loss of custody."


                                            Best wishes

                                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                              Well, I suppose that over time the struggle between my inner Socialist and my inner Libertarian has left me simply able to ackowledge both sides of these issues. (Ultimately, it seems, my inner Existentialist defeated all other pretenders to the throne.)

                                              1. re: MGZ


                                                "my inner Existentialist defeated all other pretenders to the throne"

                                                Ha ha ha.

                                              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                Wow, you guys are making liberal old me look like a major conservative.

                                                NO, NO, NO. The minute MY decisions about my life and government intervetions comes down to $$$, I will fight the fight. Personal freedom is worth the cost. If I am not physically hurting anyone else, stay out of my life.

                                                You are very selective about that article.People luuuuuv to fat-bash.

                                                You neglect to mention the article stating how this could expand. A parent of a bulemic child could be arrested for child abose.

                                                What about the kid who takes drugs. Some really good, caring parents who did their best can not do a thing because friends from outside supply the kid.

                                                Lock the kid in the house? Oooops ... child abuse.

                                                You also don't mention that the mother could not do a thing about it. Friends were feeding this kid. This kid was getting food elsewhere.

                                                When someone reaches 555 lbs by age 14, something is physically wrong. Diet may help somewhat but this kid is never going to be what anyone considers a healthy weight.

                                                It is a hot spot for me. I was a fat kid. I exercised a lot. I took ballet, gymnastics and lots of other dance classes. I went daily. I was on a diet since the age of five. There are genetics at play here.

                                                I was in perfect health ... no high-blood pressure ... heart clean as a whistle ... no diabetes. I just retained weight. A lovely teacher in high school referred my mother to a doctor for my 'problem'. He put me on speed which was seen as the healthy solution at the time ... as is gastric surgery these days ... it is preferable to cut someone up rather than suffer the 'sin' of not being the acceptable weight.


                                                Keep the government out of people's lives if it hurts no one. The solutions are worse the than problem.

                                                Lord ... did I just write that? They are going to drum me out of the Democratic party.

                                                1. re: rworange


                                                  Dude, I am not arguing for or argue against. I am just trying to point out valid points from both sides, so we can think a bit. Cost is a valid concern. We cannot afford everything. Everyone would love to have the best kitchen knife (like me), best cookware, best surgery... That just isn't going to happen.

                                                  By the way, I never said anything about government full blown intervening your life. I said there is often (not always) a trade-off between what is good for society and what is good for individual freedom. I know you didn't like the Chinese one child policy. I will pick another: Lucky Charm. Lucky Charm is not exactly the best food on earth. Personal freedom argument would allow you to consume it -- it your choice to make that mistake. Social warfare argument would reduce your ability to consume it because it not good for you, people around you and the society. This is why you don't see many Lucky Charm in England:


                                                  P.S.: I eat Lucky Charm and in no way against people eating Lucky Charm. I am just using that as an example.

                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                    Love the disclaimer at the end. It made me laugh.

                                                    I'm not opposed to sin tax. I am opposed though to decisions being made for me ... even the Lucky Charms decision ... free enterprise ... there are people who can eat Lucky Charms responsibly.

                                                    That was a silly decision. It is just a great example of where do you draw the line.

                                                    Free enterprise ... keep the government out of our lives... let me just go and sign up for the Republican party ... or have a good stiff drink. This is what living temorarily in a third world country will do to you ... you cherish the freedom to be able to make your own stupid decisions. .

                                3. re: MGZ

                                  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-1069... is about recent debate in the UK over which agency should handle issues like food labeling and nutritional standards.

                                4. I see this happening if the cost of meat becomes prohibitively expensive. My take is that the OP is asking whether we can change the eating behaviour of Americans en masse and one way would be if it affected their wallets. If a restaurant has to charge $50 for a 8oz burger because the meat cost so much vs $20 for a veggie pasta or salad dish, I think a lot of Americans will start to quickly choose the latter. It's like the debate over how to reduce America's dependence on oil - I certainly saw a lot less drivers and ridiculous sized cars on the roads when gas shot up to $4 a gallon.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: SeoulQueen

                                    . . . and, hence, the sin tax.