Meatless Meals

Pamela Anderson, Gandhi, Leonard DaVinci, Carl Lewis, and Lisa Simpson all have something very important in common: they are all vegetarians. A growing interest in where our food comes from, natural and organic products, and improving our overall health has led to a rise in vegetarianism. According to a 2008 study published by Vegetarian Times Magazine, 7.3 million Americans are vegetarians. Of those, 1 million lead a vegan lifestyle.

It has become commonplace to know a vegetarian or flexatarian (an occasional vegetarian), and restaurants have taken notice, as have our grocery stores and food manufacturers. There are entire lines of vegetarian products and many brands have begun clearly labeling their products to avoid any questions or concerns from the average vegetarian consumer.

When a recent headline claimed that Natalie Portman had abandoned her vegan diet to quell her pregnancy cravings, vegetarians everywhere lamented the news. Did Natalie really need that cheeseburger? Not at all. In fact, it wasn’t meat that Natalie craved. According to numerous reports, it was a desire for eggs and dairy products that proved to be Natalie’s undoing. Baked goods, after all, are rather hard hard to come by sans milk and eggs.

Not willing to forfeit their lifestyle and without the luxury of a personal chef, many vegans and vegetarians are often forced to wonder about what exactly is in their food. Both vegetarian and vegan lifestyles can be challenging and are significant growing and learning processes. For those who might question the significance of eating an egg or who are embarking on a meatless journey of their own, here are a few common vegetarian and vegan pitfalls to keep in mind:

  • Sauces, dressings, and soups: You wouldn’t believe the uses for beef stock. It magically appears in everything from marinara sauce to vegetarian soups. Anchovies manage to find their way into just about anything you can think of as well. The claim is always that they add flavor so read menus and labels carefully and don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Breads: Yes, breads. Animal lard is a common ingredient in both baked goods and dry mixes. Cornbread is the number one culprit.
  • Pasta: Vegans rarely account for the fact that many dry noodles are made with eggs. Even if eggs aren’t an actual ingredient, many brands label their pasta as being prepared on the same machines as other egg-containing products.
  • Refried Beans: They seem harmless enough and beans are often touted as an ideal source of protein; however, both black and refried beans are often cooked in lard.
  • Rice: Again claiming flavor, many restaurants use chicken stock in their rice.
  • Cheese: Besides the obvious vegan implications, cheese is often made with animal rennet. To elaborate, the enzymes from animal stomachs (typically calve stomachs that are a by-product of veal production) are used to coagulate milk into cheese. Many common cheese manufacturers openly admit to using these animal enzymes in their cheese production.
  • Sugar: Bone char is often used during the refining process. Bone char is exactly what it sounds like: charred animal bones. In your sugar.
  • Gelatin: Derived from the collagen inside animal skin and bones, gelatin is used as a gelling agent in marshmallows, gummy candies, yogurts, cosmetics and gel-tab medicines.

For the record, Bac-Os are actually completely vegetarian. Go figure.

Jennifer Bouso

By day, Jennifer puts her writing skills to work creating training materials for the corporate world. The rest of her time is spent writing in a more creative fashion, experimenting in the kitchen, traveling with the husband she has forced vegetarianism upon, and laughing at her beagle. You can read all about her adventures both on and off the stove on her blog

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