By MC3 Michael Lopez

Navy Public Affairs Support Element East, Detachment Southeast

Sailors assigned to Naval Station (NAVSTA) Mayport's Oasis Galley partnered with the Humane Society of the United States' (HSUS) Forward Food Initiative to learn to prepare and implement more plant-based food items to serve to Sailors during a three-day training event concluding Sept. 28. 

The HSUS Forward Food Initiative has partnered with over 80 healthcare organizations and the DoD to implement plant-based culinary training to produce health and environmental benefits, including lower obesity rates, lower cholesterol, water savings, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and less water pollution. 

 "Our goal here is to work with the culinary specialists to inspire and increase the amount of plant-based options on their menu by adding a greater emphasis on vegetables and meat alternatives," said Wanda White, executive chef of the Forward Food Initiative. 

White piloted the first ever all-vegan dining hall at an American university while working with the University of North Texas in 2011 before she began her work with the HSUS.

 "This initiative is all about inspiring and educating food service professionals with a hands-on experience to further encourage more vegetables being incorporated into the dishes they serve," said White. "Most of it is just making minor tweaks to the recipes they already use."

The training experience works in concert with the DoD's Go for Green program, which is geared towards service members eating for wellness and fueling the body for optimal performance by increasing awareness of differences in the quality of food and empowering service members to make informed decisions about the foods they choose to eat.

"I think this experience has helped us see how we can contribute to Sailors being within physical standards," said Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Destiny Hart, assigned to the Oasis Galley. "We want to make sure we're doing what we can to give our Sailors more options to help them get the nutrition they need to keep them ready for the fleet."

During the training experience, culinary specialists adjusted their usual recipes by incorporating non-animal product substitutions including serving egg-less pancakes, a gourmet oatmeal bar, vegan-based deserts, and vegan based entrees. 

 "The forward food initiative has a goal that is consistent with the DoD's Go for Green Program," said Capt. Kristi Sidebottom, a Naval Reserve surface warfare officer and a Forward Food Initiative volunteer. "This has been a great opportunity for us to ... increase awareness and show how easy and enjoyable healthier options can be."

Hart said the training experience changed how her and some fellow culinary specialists viewed meal preparations.  

 "When we hear healthy or going green, a lot of us can get scared and think all that means is eating salad, but this showed me that it's really all about enjoying the same foods we eat but taking some of the animal products out of them," said Hart. "This taught us how to make the foods we all enjoy with small changes that actually taste really good."