Fifteen chefs gathered around a marble countertop, eagerly filling plates with yakissoba noodles stir-fried with fresh carrots, broccoli, and cabbage; black beans and rice topped with diced green onions; and a mouthwatering pasta casserole with corn and seasoned soy protein.
Between bites of food, smiles, and laughs, the women commented on the tastiness of their final products. Vegetable dishes—often relegated to the sides of the plate—had moved to the center, and meat had no place in this healthy, plant-based spread.
For these enthusiastic chefs, this savory moment was the culmination of a long, but rewarding, day at a Conscious Eating chef training session in Sinop, Brazil.
The day had started four hours earlier when chefs who work in the city’s public schools and homeless shelters filed into the demo kitchen.
MFA senior food policy specialist Mariana Vidotto extended a warm welcome and congratulated Sinop for being the first city to commit to a groundbreaking 40 percent reduction of meat, dairy, and eggs served in its major institutions. To accomplish this plant-based shift, vegan meals will replace animal-based fare two days a week.
Next Mariana inspired participants with promising words about their role in a global movement to create a sustainable food system that promotes healthy eating.
Chefs broke into groups. In a smaller room with three rows of food prep counters, the chefs—now with hairnets on and sleeves rolled up—sat on stools studying recipes from MFA’s Receitas Alimentação Consciente booklet.
Conscious Eating nutritionist Vanessa Menck selected four recipes specifically for Sinop. She examined the city’s current menus, its most popular recipes, schoolchildren’s preferences, and ingredients that are easy to find and affordable in the area.
The chefs split into even smaller groups. A team of five diced tomatoes, squeezed limes, chopped onions, and rinsed black beans. They asked questions, referenced their recipe instructions, and shared ideas.
The group’s final product, feijoada, is a traditional Brazilian stew, commonly made with beans, pork, and chicken. But today these chefs learned how to prepare the dish without meat.
"I'll take what I've learned here for the rest of my life,” commented Eunicia Marçal, a training participant. “I felt very important and at home.”
Renata Scarellis, food policy manager for MFA in Brazil, said she hears this sentiment often.
“Many chefs enter the training with the belief that meat needs to be a central part of a Brazilian meal,” Renata said. “But the meal preparation and tasting shows them that everyday recipes can easily be made without meat. They leave the training excited to try plant-based recipes not only at work but at home.”
While chefs may enter the training unsure, they leave with confidence, added Renata. They share stories about loved ones with health problems, and they are hopeful that plant-based eating will help them.
The training in Sinop is just one of many trainings MFA’s food policy program has offered. More than 400 school chefs—who cook for more than 40,000 students—attended a similar training in the Brazilian city of São Gonçalo earlier this year.
MFA adapts the program to each city’s needs. In Veracruz, Mexico, chefs learned from a series of training videos.
MFA’s food policy program started in 2016. Since its inception, seven cities and two states have committed to reducing their consumption of animal products, providing over 26 million more vegan meals and sparing 500,000 animals each year.