Remember back when you were younger and you parents demanded you eat your veggies? This more than likely happened to all of us, but for some it was a message that really stuck. Much of that growing population falls into the vegetarian (and on the stricter end, vegan) category. A study done by Vegetarian Times found that the U.S. alone has, “7.3 million people follow a vegetarian-based diet” and “1 million, of those are vegans.”
Unlike our previous Dietary Restriction blogs on being dairy and gluten free, going vegetarian or vegan is most often a choice rather than a dietary necessity and often the reasons behind it are different depending on the person. Many make the decision based on the need or want to personally be healthier while at the same time it can be done for the health of the Environment. There is also a high concern for animal welfare that brings many to the conclusion of eating sans meat and /or dairy. For a vast majority one glimpse into the horrifying realities of factory farms and their treatment of animals used for food is more than enough to both turn their stomach and switch their outlook on consuming animal products of any type. Taking these motivations and concerns into consideration, it is becoming increasingly common to see more options, creativity and innovation in the vegetarian and often vegan items available. Often one taste of these delicious dishes (more often than not accompanied by increased education on the subject) is just enough to open new eyes to the vegetarian and vegan world.
What’s the difference between vegan and vegetarian?
While vegetarian and veganism may sound one in the same to many there is a strict difference between the two. Often vegetarianism is seen as more of a food choice while veganism is seen as a lifestyle due to the whole-life philosophy behind the decision.
Vegetarian: Vegetarians are the more lax of the two in terms of animal products that they are willing to consume. According to VegetarianVegan.com, “Vegetarian is a blanket term used to describe a person who does not consume meat, poultry, fish, or seafood.” This means that there are several sub-categories of vegetarianism, but the basic understanding is that a vegetarian does not consume any type of animal meat, yet does occasionally use milk, eggs and other animal products or by-products. Sub-categories of vegetarianism include more strict eaters such as ovo-lacto-vegetarians (do not consume eggs/milk), ovo-vegetarian (do consume eggs, not milk), lacto-vegetarian (do consume milk, not eggs) and the strictest for which is vegan.
Vegan: While vegan is a form of vegetarianism, as stated previously, it is the strictest version. Those considered vegan do not eat any animal products or by-products including everything from meat to dairy to even honey. Many vegans are also against using animal products like wool and silk in daily life as well.
What products should be avoided?
For both choices it is important that all meat products including poultry and fish are avoided. However, vegans take the restrictions just a bit further to avoid animal byproducts as well. The most obvious of these byproducts are items like eggs and dairy (milk, cheese, ice cream, etc.). However, there are also many common products that come from animals that we may not even normally be aware of. Kidshealth.org gives the following examples: gelatin (made using meat byproducts), lanolin (made from wool), rennet (an enzyme found in the stomach of calves, young goats, and lambs that’s used in cheese-making), honey and beeswax (made by bees), silk (made by silkworms), shellac (the resinous secretion of the tiny lac insect) and cochineal (a red dye derived from the cochineal insect).
What are some alternatives?
Because animal products aren’t on the top allergen list, it can sometimes be difficult to know what does and doesn’t work. One benefit to eating vegan is that oftentimes items that are dairy-free may also be vegan due to the lack of milk product used. This also means that there are a ton of different lines of milk and cheese alternatives made from soy, rice, almonds and even hemp (Indy Vegans has a great list comparing each type to help in making your decision). However, there are many other great food options as well.
Another great option are the Follow Your Heart products. This line offers everything from eggless mayonnaise (called Vegenaise) to vegan cheese, sour cream and cream cheese which is all animal product free. If you’re in the mood for something a little sweeter online stores like Chicago SoyDairy and Literally Divine have got great options for your sweet tooth. Chicago SoyDairy specializes in items like marshmallows (even non-animal product Easter Peeps called Tweets) and ice cream. Literally Divine offers a wide array of truffles and toffee that is all natural, organic and vegan.
Eating Vegan and Vegetarian on the Go
The nice thing about vegetarian and vegan eating is that while they may be few and far between one or two options are usually available at most restaurants, even if it means a veggie only salad with oil and vinegar dressing. If that’s not necessarily your idea of a worthwhile restaurant tip, then Happy Cow may be just your ticket to finding some tasty, creative dining outside of your own home. Happy Cow is a search engine that allows you to enter in where you’ll be dining and then provides you with different nearby options and the degree to which the food is vegetarian. VegGuide.org is another similar site that allows users to give a description and rating of the restaurants vegan and vegetarian friendly options.
Just as in our previous dairy-free post, it’s extremely important to be aware of the possibility of cross-contamination if you are dedicated to eating vegetarian or living a vegan lifestyle. Whether you’re out to eat at a chain restaurant or at a family pitch-in making sure that you know the ingredients included in a dish can truly help you maintain your dietary choices. Indy Vegan instructs, “Being vegan means reading labels. I don’t care how much you hate it and how much time it takes, it’s just something you have to do. And if you don’t know, ask!” And in situations like pitch-ins, it’s a great opportunity to introduce non-vegans/vegetarians to your dietary habits, but remember to do so in small doses as not everyone is apt to dive right in to the tofu salad, but may be more willing to try out a smaller dose of something like non-dairy cheese.
In the meantime, if you’re on the go and curious as to where it’s safe to eat, you can rest assured that there are options available. One huge and ever changing option is the sandwich shop. While it is important to make sure that bread is made without using animal products, this is often your best bet. One national food chain that offers a great vegan/vegetarian array is Which Wich. They have everything from a traditional veggie blend, to a hummus based sandwich all of which are served on bread that contains no animal ingredients. If you’re in more of a sharing mood, Barcelona Tapas, a Spanish tapas chain has many great vegan options like grilled and marinated vegetables and even churro’s for dessert. Even bigger chains like Chili’s have a few vegan options here or there. While many of the foods are blatantly booked as vegan, items like fajitas and veggie quesadillas can be specially ordered to fit your needs. In general many Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants also very easily fit into the vegan lifestyle since many dishes are already vegetarian due to religious reasons. Items to try are samosas, hummus, falafel and Dal.
Delicious Vegan and Vegetarian recipes to try at home
Mac and Cheese Pizza from the Tolerant Vegan
Green Dream Soup from Indy Vegans
How do you or your family members deal with being Vegan and/or Vegetarian? Please share your story.