As the plant-based movement has exploded over the past five years, proponents have encouraged those on the fringes to get involved and cut out meat for one day a week.
Online think pieces talk themselves into a hopeful tizzy, imagining all the animals (over three per person, per year), water (100 billion gallons, all told), money (on average, a pound of chicken or beef is at least four times pricier than a pound of fruit or vegetables) and hearts (cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death in this country; meat isn’t helping) that could be saved if people would only wake up and set aside one meatless day out of every seven.
And by and large, their approach is sound – less than a fifth of the planet is vegetarian. People are stubborn. They aren’t going to change overnight. A more fruitful dialogue is in courting so-called “flexitarians,” a swelling subsection of eaters reportedly eager to cut back on the amount of meat in their diets. According to a recent One Poll survey, 47% of Americans aged 24-39 now consider themselves flexitarians (if not by that focus-grouped moniker, at least by its working definition).
Still, the challenge is in getting flexitarians to think of a meatless day as an opportunity, not a punishment. After all, you could go to bed at the end of a day having eaten very little, or only eaten French fries, and checked the box as complete. But where’s the sustainability in that?
A new service from Eleven Madison Park – the famous Flatiron restaurant that won the distinction of World’s Best Restaurant in 2017 – might have a solution. It’s launched its very first meal kit, Eleven Madison Home, which is as pricey as it sounds. Think Blue Apron for the bourgeoisie. But in the restaurant’s mission to champion plant-based consumption and cuisine, it’s managed to make Meatless Monday the very best eating day of the week.
You may recall that Eleven Madison Park emerged from the worst of the pandemic with a new conceit: an entirely plant-based menu, which debuted last summer. The reviews were… not great. There was some praise for chef and owner Daniel Humm’s newfound fervor (“The current food system is simply not sustainable, in so many ways,” he said at the time), but frustrated critics pined for pig bladder.
Complicating matters: later in the year, it was revealed that Eleven Madison Park was operating a carnivorous speakeasy in a back room, where the old classics were still on offer.
This newest venture, though, sees Humm doubling down on plants. If his team can’t yet wow the city’s snob with plates of fermented beets, purpose they travel a more wholesome path, and convince at-home chefs that a day of plant-based eating can be worthwhile, breezy, even decadent. That mission has a charitable component, too; for every box of Eleven Madison Home that sells, Humm and company are donating a plant-based meal to a food insecure New Yorker, through a partnership with non-profit Rethink.
How does the service work? For starters, you’ll need a Manhattan zip-code. (Or, perhaps, an office address where you’re comfortable receiving a box of perishable food.) While Eleven Madison Home is a “weekly” subscription, it sends food for a single day of eating. It’s a full day, though – breakfast, soup, lunch, snack, dinner, dessert. And most items on the menu could be comfortably shared with a partner, while some of the box’s ingredients actually take days to finish.
I tried out Eleven Madison Home for myself last week, in a kitchen that definitely doesn’t rival the unit at the corner of 24th and Madison, but got the job done nonetheless. Have a look at the menu here:
- Breakfast: Whole-grain oatmeal with rhubarb compote and roasted pecan butter
- Soup: Tortilla soup with hominy, black beans and crispy tortillas
- Lunch: Celery root salad sandwich with focaccia, pea greens and matbucha from New York Shuk
- Snack: Chickpea crisps and olive tapenade
- Dinner: Mushroom kebab with Israeli couscous and roasted carrots
- Dessert: Snickerdoodle cookies with turbinando sugar
My favorites were the oatmeal, the tortilla soup and the focaccia bread, though everything was delicious. (The snickerdoodle cookies were unbelievable, but c’mon… snickerdoodle cookies better be unbelievable.) The details throughout were also next-level, like the pecan butter, which came in a generous jar – I was able to spread it on toast for two extra days – or the matbucha spread for the sandwich.
It’s rare for these ingredient delivery companies to tackle an entire day of meals, and for good reason. No customer wants to feel like a meal-kit sous chef, alternating between sending emails and preparing dishes all day. Eleven Madison Home is toeing a delicate line; both the work and the food itself need to be light enough that subscribers feel gratified, satisfied and inclined to keep using the service.
They’ve succeeded on that front. I’m not a particularly talented chef, and had no trouble preparing any part of that menu. The packaging makes sense (it’s also an aesthetic achievement, by the way), and the directions were clear. On top of that, the food, which changes week to week, wasn’t so rich that I tired of opening up the box every few years. It probably relied on way more sugar than I’d normally eat on a weekday, but then, maybe that’s exactly what a plant-based day needs – a burst of flavor and fun.
It’s possible that some customers might end the day desperate for a steak. And it’s probable that many will balk at the $ 150 fee, which could’ve been spent on a host of basics at the grocery store, instead of a single day of eating. But Eleven Madison Park isn’t trying to shift lanes here. They’re not Whole Foods. They’re one of the most respected restaurants of this century. And luxe dining, like any other space, could benefit from a little more intention. This is one hell of a start.
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