Tackling climate change with a tasty plant-based menu

Fighting climate change, according to Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Chef Matt Beaudin, should “taste amazing.”

With that in mind, Chef Matt and his team have designed a sumptuous—and almost entirely plant-based—menu to show just how delicious climate-friendly meals can be.

Chef Matt portrait
Executive Chef Matt Beaudin gets creative with a seasonal, plant-based menu.

In developing the latest seasonal menu for the Aquarium Restaurant, Chef Matt wanted to both lower the carbon footprint of each dish, and to delight customers’ taste buds with new and enticing flavors.

“This menu takes forgotten ingredients and makes them the star of the show,” says Chef Matt, who sources a significant portion of the Aquarium’s food from Evergreen Acres farm in nearby San Benito County.

For the Aquarium, this winter menu is all about providing people with an opportunity to try something new—and to embrace the power we hold when deciding what to eat.

A sustainable tradition

Since the launch of our Seafood Watch program in 1999, the Aquarium has been a leading global voice for sustainable food choices. We encourage consumers and businesses worldwide to choose seafood caught or farmed in ways that don’t harm the ocean.

Bang Bang shrimp plate - The Restaurant - Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Bang Bang “shrimp,” made from algae and soy beans, is heavy on flavor, light on ocean impacts.

The Aquarium’s recent partnerships with major seafood businesses—such as Red Lobster restaurants, Thai Union’s Chicken of the Sea and leading shrimp distributor Minh Phu—suggest we’re at the cusp of a sea change in the global food industry.

Seafood Watch, which provides science-based information to shape seafood purchasing decisions, recently launched a new Carbon Emissions Tool. Developed by Senior Fisheries Scientist Lisa Max and partners at Dalhousie University, the tool ranks different protein sources relative to their carbon emissions.

According to these data, plant-based proteins (such as soy beans) and some seafood products consistently rank among the lowest emitters of heat-trapping gas.

Chef Matt took this information and ran with it. By giving plant proteins and veggies the leading role, his new menu suggests we don’t have to choose between enjoying our favorite flavors and cutting our climate impacts.

Plant based tuna poke bowl - The Restaurant - Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Restaurant’s vibrant new poke bowl features veggie “tuna” made from tomatoes.

“Showcasing a seasonal menu with a variety of plant-based dishes in The Restaurant complements our longstanding commitment to sustainability,” says Ryan Bigelow, Seafood Watch senior program manager. “Plus, like all of Chef Matt’s food, these dishes are really tasty.”

Meals for a world of plenty

What’s the best course of action when visiting a restaurant that doesn’t offer sustainable seafood? Do we throw our hands up and eat the resource-intensive hamburger? The greenhouse gas-heavy lamb? A simple salad of lettuce? Chef Matt offers another choice:

“If I couldn’t find a Best Choice or Good Alternative seafood option, I’d ask for a meal where fresh vegetables and grains take up most of the plate.”

His suggestion echoes a new report released by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health. Backed by the latest environmental and nutrition science, EAT-Lancet’s “planetary health diet guidelines” promote a global transition to a largely plant-focused diet.

Crispy Brussels sprouts - The Restaurant - Monterey Bay Aquarium
Crispy Brussels sprouts with pistachios and pomegranate play up the the best of the plant kingdom.

“Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50 percent,” states the report’s lead author, Dr. Walter Willett. “A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

The report emphasizes that sustainable seafood, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and fruits are the best choices we can make to provide much-needed relief to the natural world we all depend on.

Plant yourself at the Aquarium

Luckily for patrons of The Restaurant, Chef Matt’s menu features myriad opportunities to

Impossible Burger - The Restaurant - Monterey Bay Aquarium
The Impossible Burger, with house sauce and pickled onion jam, tackles greenhouse gas emissions at lunch.

explore a whole new world of flavor, texture and aroma that just happens to resonate in near-perfect harmony with the findings of EAT-Lancet’s research.

The menu features wholesome fare such as crispy Brussels sprouts with pistachios and pomegranate seeds, quinoa-stuffed Poblano peppers, and savory alternatives to shrimp, sausage and tuna from plant-based food innovators New Wave Foods, Ocean Hugger Foods and Beyond Meat.

Also gracing the menu is the wildly popular Impossible Burger. When cooked, this entirely plant-based burger patty even “bleeds,” thanks to specially synthesized heme iron compounds. (Insider tip: You can also try the Impossible Burger in the Aquarium’s Cafe.)

“The only serious difference between the Impossible Burger and a traditional beef burger,” says Chef Matt, “is the resources required to produce it.”

Chef Matt and Adam Young flour shot
Flour power: Chef Matt and Chef Adam Young celebrate how whole grains help fight climate change.

According to the Impossible Foods 2017 impact report, its plant-based burger uses a whopping 75 percent less water, generates about 87 percent fewer greenhouse gases, and requires around 95 percent less land than a conventional ground beef patty.

“There’s a little something for everyone on this menu,” says Chef Matt. “Like choosing sustainable seafood, choosing plant-based meals offers yet another fantastic opportunity to make a positive difference for our living world.”

Chef Matt’s seasonal, plant-based menu will be available at The Restaurant through the end of winter.

—Athena Copenhaver

3 thoughts on “Tackling climate change with a tasty plant-based menu”

  1. Thanks, Chef Matt. I’m on a. plant based diet and had difficulty finding options in the restaurant the last time I ate there. I’ve been settling for salads at the cafe. The article says that the menu will be available through the winter. Will you offer a new plant based menu after winter?


  2. Kiddos to you. Thank you for taking this stance. Not living on the area it would be very much appreciated if there were a website sharing your recipes. Better yet an app where new recipes were posted. Something like Forks over Knives. I am always looking for something really tasty I can serve to my carnivore friends to help them realize how good plant based food can taste
    Keep up the good work?


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