Healthy Eating on the Fly: How Airports Are Leading the Way to More Plant-Based Diets


It seems unusual, yet true: Airports are modeling support for the healthy basics, the same prescription outlined in the scientific report for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The call for plant-based fare—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes—at a variety of price points, in a myriad of forms, and embodying vast cultural preferences, is now underway inside our nation’s busiest airports.

As a physician, I applaud these efforts. I hope other public venues and restaurants follow this path, creating a new shift in how we consume food. Imagine if football stadiums swap black bean burgers for hot dogs, and oranges for chili cheese fries, at every game. This would slash the risk for colorectal cancer, not to mention obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and tackle the latest medical news headlines.  

This is what’s so impressive about airports, they’re leading the way. Depending on which city you visit, you’ll likely find lush greens, delivered from local farmers’ markets, or if you’re in Chicago O’Hare, growing in the form of Bibb lettuce in Concourse G. More than 70 percent of airport restaurants nationwide offer at least one plant-based entrée, a 25 percent jump from 2001, making healthful eating on the fly a reality.

The more menus vegetables dominate, the more likely our body weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol will continue to drop. This way of eating has the ability to flip our nation’s health statistics, which illustrates what happens—to our health and health care spending—when less than 10 percent of Americans eat enough leafy greens.

To continue to drive this trend, public venues should capitalize on the demand for hyper-local fare, often sourced within a 150-mile radius. Farmer’s markets are no longer archaic, but trendy. We can celebrate this milestone like the cities of Los Angeles, Charlotte, and Minneapolis, who are setting up local vegetable shops inside airport terminals, while John F. Kennedy, is taking the party outside, where crops are harvested for families in need.  

Last, but not least, is the ability to let consumers call the shots, but in a healthy domain. From fast casual to Korean food trucks, restaurants, including those in airports, are recognizing the need for customizable dishes, from real food bowls to Mediterranean vegetable plates, catering to local tastes, price points, and cultural preferences.

For businesses or policymakers not sure how to implement the plant-based advice outlined in the scientific report for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, take a tour inside an airport terminal. Regardless of your stance on health, food, and federal spending, you’ll likely find common ground and a brightly-hued path to follow.

The next step, to make progress in restoring our nation’s health, is to put the guidelines—a return to the healthy basics—into practice immediately, outside of terminals, starting today, right here in Washington.

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