Cafeterias — whether in the workplace, in schools, or in other institutional settings — are a cornerstone of the French agroecological transition. Researchers at INRAE Occitanie-Toulouse Center investigated last spring to better understand the practices, constraints and drivers of using legumes in the kitchen, as well as their position in menus and corresponding supply chains.

In an attempt to reassert the value of seed legumes such as lentils, garbanzo beans, and kidney beans, PNNS 4 (the Health and Nutrition National Program) invites consumers to eat more of these foods. However, the Frenchare among the lowest consumers of legumes in the world (4.4 pounds perperson peryear, compared to 254 pounds/person/year for cereals). Changing food habits is not as easy as it seems. Cafeterias represent a key driver, as they reach all types of consumers, and can be mobilized as a vector for new nutrition patterns.

INRAE researchers conducted an unprecedented online study on legume consumption in cafeteria facilities, to shed light on current patterns and steer national and local public policies in the right direction. The study surveyed more than 500 directors and managers in educational, social and health facilities as well as companies and public administrations. The questionnaire included 75 questions on frequency of use, types of legumes, modes of preparation, popularity, supply chains, etc. Some questions focused on alternative diets (vegetarian, vegan) as they represent a significant factor in the introduction of legumes in menus.

Legumes are an interesting component to include in diets in terms of nutrition; they represent a gluten-free, plant-based source of iron, proteins, and fibers, with a low glycemic index. It is worthy to note that the EGAlim law highlights the need to introduce more plant-based proteins in menus, and implemented a weekly vegetarian meal in nationwide canteens in November 2019. As a crop, legumes also present a wide range of agronomic advantages — for example, fixing the atmospheric nitrogen or diversifying the cultivated crops.

The results (in French, here) show that more than 59% of the survey sample consume legumes less than twice a week. Only 9% eat them every day, and 18% have them twice a week. The most popular legume is lentils, followed by beans and chickpeas. 77% of the respondents are willing to increase their consumption of these foods and already recognize their nutritional value in alternative diets. However, many respondents pointed to the requisite soaking time of these foods as a constraint, and a large majority (85%) believed that legumes are not subject to sanitary precautions.