On June 7, Penn’s Houston Market opened the doors of its newest eatery: Chef José Andrés’ Beefsteak.
The misleadingly-named franchise, which has additional locations in Maryland and Washington, D.C., celebrates vegetables as the central feature of a meal. Its name refers not to red meat, as one might assume, but to the beefsteak tomato variety.
According to Beefsteak’s official website, “vegetables are undeniably the star here.” Offerings include vegetable bowls, such as the “Frida Kale,” and beefsteak tomato burgers. With ingredients like kale, quinoa, edamame, and various other foods hipsters might name their kids after, the restaurant appeals to a health-conscious demographic. Beefsteak is not for the meat-and-potatoes crowd; the “something meaty” menu options include avocado, chicken sausage, mozzarella, egg, and salmon.
Beefsteak’s opening reflects a larger trend towards healthy dining options at and around Penn. In the immediate area around campus, one can find options like Sweetgreen, HipCityVeg, Saladworks, and Honeygrow. Even local food trucks have picked up on the trend, working with the Philadelphia Food Trust on an initiative that certifies healthy dining options. One doesn’t need to look very far to see that Penn has influence on the Food Trust and its initiative, with involvement from the Penn Institute for Urban Research, the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, and Penn Campus Health.
On campus itself, Penn has moved towards healthier options and food sustainability. Last summer, Pure Fare opened in Houston Market, replacing Einstein Bros. Bagels, in an effort to cater to “the growing population that wanted to eat healthy” foods. As a result, gluten-free, organic, and vegan options were all offered. Beefsteak joins Pure Fare as a green-centric option on campus this year.
The trend towards green, clean eating is somewhat surprising given stereotypes about college students’ diets, but, as is often the case in an ever-polarizing culture, there may be politics involved here. Past studies indicate possible correlations between food preferences and political leanings. For instance, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, which are known for featuring organic food, are the most popular grocery stores among liberal shoppers, according to an Experian Marketing Services study. There tends to be an overlap between groups that identify as progressive liberals and those that identify with special diets such as gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian lifestyles.
When it comes to Penn’s community, the link between new healthy dining options and politics may even go beyond the notion that liberals are more likely than conservatives to pursue organic or vegetarian options. Beefsteak founder Chef José Andrés, an immigrant himself, has spoken out against Donald Trump based on the presidential candidate’s remarks about immigrants. Likely referring to Trump’s divisive comments and persona, Andrés stated at the grand opening of Penn’s Beefsteak: “When you really decide to work together and embrace each other, America will always be better,” adding, “So yes, that’s a political statement, and you can make with it whatever you want. Here is to showing that, working together, we can do great things.” He also stated that he believes that his role as a chef in this cooperation towards American progress involves making change “one plate at a time” by “pushing the boundaries in how we should be feeding America.”
With the addition of the Beefsteak restaurant on campus, it is clear that Penn has a great deal of influence regarding our community’s eating and lifestyle habits.