LECTURE 2: Vegetarian Food Service: Career Opportunities

Required: Vegan in Volume, Appendix C
Recommended: visit restaurants, college snack bars, caterers, etc, offering vegetarian menu selections. If that's not possible, call an airline and find out about their vegetarian offerings.

By the end of this lecture, the student should be able to:
1. Explain the commercial and noncommercial food service segments
2. Identify vegetarian opportunities in the various food service segments

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up

If you want a career with variety, food service is a good place to start. You can have a fine dining establishment offering "tasting" menus for $100 (such as Charlie Trotter's in Chicago - and yes, he offers vegetarian options) or you can prepare meals at a community kitchen for the homeless. And in between these two are thousands of options. Let's list just some of the categories of food services where you might consider working (and add your veggie touch):
None of these categories are specifically vegetarian. They can become so, if you get in there and show them how it's done!

Commercial (for profit, open to the public, etc.)
1. Restaurants

2. Hotels

3. Entertainment

4. Transportation

5. Catering

6. Specialty Food Shops

Noncommercial (generally not open to the entire public, less-for-profit, etc)

And these are just SOME of the areas in which you can have a food service career. Most people who get into food service tend to work in several areas at the same time. For example, a hotel executive chef may own a fast food franchise or have a small catering company; a hospital cook may have a mail-order candy company or have a small specialty shop and a school food service manager may have a food consulting company.

You know that many food operations have several types of food businesses going at the same time, as well. A natural foods store may have an in-store café or restaurant, a prepared foods counter and a bakery may offer catering services and some type of diet counseling, as well. A hospital may provide meals for patients, employees, staff and family members, offer catering services and community education courses, and have several food outlets, such as convenience stores and to-go food counters.

Business and industry is the segment of food service that involves meals and food services for private industry. For example, a large factory may offer full-service restaurants or dining areas for day-shift workers and vending services for evening workers, have an executive dining room and catering services. A corporate chef we know coordinates the employee dining services for a large frozen food manufacturer and runs the executive dining room. The really fun part of his job, he says, is getting to develop new food items. The company provides him with a small kitchen and staff to do his "experimenting." His company also has him teaching advanced culinary classes in several universities across the country. Not bad!

So, where does vegetarianism fit into all this? Everywhere! There's not a segment of the food service industry that can't be tempted to do some vegetarian applications. Health care, schools, universities, airlines and caterers have had to learn about vegetarian cuisine. Their customer base demands it. Sports venues have added various levels of veggie menu items, depending on the available kitchen facilities; easy ones being soy hot dogs and veggie burgers and the more elaborate are hot veggie entrees prepared by a chef.

Everyone's getting into the veggie mode. At a recent high-level United Nations dinner with representatives from 100 countries, the executive chef had 52 minutes to serve a three-course meal. He included both a vegetarian and a vegan (see Lectures 3 & 4 for more on veggie and vegan) entrée and dessert. The vegan entrée was an aromatic lentil stew with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and basil served over jasmine rice. Everybody's doing veggie, from baseball fans to diplomats.

What are your options? If you're not going to change careers, you can still impact the food services in your area. If your local natural foods store has a deli that needs some sprucing up, show the manager some of your favorite recipes (from this course alone, you've got lots from which to select). Sometimes people just get stale, and don't know where to go to get new menu ideas. If your local grocery store has an in-house salad bar or deli case, make some suggestions for veggie offerings (or get the natural foods store manager and the grocery store manager talking to each other - maybe they can work something out). Offer your suggestions to local community kitchens. Many cooks for community kitchens may be volunteers, with limited training. Even if they are tuned into vegetarian ideas, they may not be able to implement them. Even better yet, find some time to volunteer at a local community kitchen.

Local schools and universities may also be appreciative of veggie information. Many universities form student focus groups, to better serve the students. Find out if there is a vegetarian group and offer to be an information source. There are lots of ways to be involved.

If you are thinking of making veggie food service a career, you can seek out veggie restaurants and caterers in your area (to date, I'm not aware of a national clearing house for that kind of info) and see if you can do an apprenticeship with them. The same goes for natural food stores, organic growers, etc.

If you want some initials after your name and are looking for a more formal career, you may want to try your vegetarian philosophies in the world of dietitians, chefs, and food technologists. To begin your search for information on food careers, here are some websites: - The American Dietetics Association has information on becoming a registered dietitian or a registered dietetic technician. You can also access the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (VNDPG), a group of dietitians interested in vegetarian topics, at: VNDPG - The American Culinary Federation is the professional association for chefs and the certifying board, as well. Get information on culinary schools, chefs' certification, etc. - The Institute of Food Technologists is a professional organization of food scientists, research and development food techs, food engineers (for packaging, not for genetic modification), and educators. Explore the site and its links.

None of these sites are specifically vegetarian. You'll have to make those inroads and make your presence known in the field!

This lecture has given you an overview of some vegetarian food career choices. Let's go on to give you a deeper understanding of the vegetarian world. See you in Lecture 3!

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Last Updated
December 6, 2000

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