Tag Archives: environment

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Living with Dietary Restrictions: Vegetarian and Vegan

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.”

Image from MorgueFileUnlike 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?

Image from MorgueFileFor 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. 

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Central’s Week in Brief: April 22, 2011

Since today is Earth Day, we thought it would be helpful to wrap up the week with a list of five things to do today (or any other day of the year) that will help the environment.  We’re especially fond of #5!

1) Visit Good Guide’s website to find out what products are the most environmentally friendly.  They even have a free iPhone app to use while shopping.   Just scan the barcodes of food and household products, to see the rating on how environmentally responsible the items are on a scale of one to 10.

2) Why not pamper yourself while saving the Earth?  Book a night (or even a weekend) at an environmentally friendly resort and enjoy rooms and restaurants in green style.

3)  Start a garden re-using common items.  This will not keep extra waste out of landfills, but will also give you some tasty, super-local food to use in your dishes.

4) Go paper free!  With all of the technology at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to abstain from using paper for one day.  Use e-mail, save and share forms or sign up for paperless billing (all of which can be kept in handy electronic folders) and you can save a few trees while making your life a little more organized.

5)  Download Central’s brand new Whitepaper, How to Make Your Restaurant Environmentally Friendly, to learn all about what to do to make your restaurant beneficial not just to customers, but also the planet! 

Trays That Give Lunch a Boost

traysCurrent issues with school food cover a pretty broad spectrum, from the amount of healthy food being taken in to how much the average school lunch costs.  With all of these concerns at the top of mind, it can become very difficult to figure out an effective plan of action.  However, what if one item could help contribute an answer while also helping the environment?  Would you purchase it for your school?

The quick, easy and affordable answer to get on the right track: lunch trays!   Looking back at how many cafeterias used to work, it’s amazing to think that a product that was once so common has now been replaced by disposables.  In fact, according to an article on informinc.org, the Office of School Food and Nutrition Services for New York City found that NYC public schools serve 800,000 meals per day on disposable trays.

While disposable trays may cut down on water by eliminating washing, they create other issues with the amount of trash created and the expenses for constantly buying new items.   Re-usable lunch trays can actually solve both matters.   Since the trays are being used by several students every day, the cost is cut down.   There is simply the initial cost of buying the product and the daily cleaning.   This re-use is also beneficial in reducing the amount of daily waste from a school and lowering air pollution due to the transport of the trays from a factory to the school on a regular basis.   Lower delivery frequency means fewer delivery fees as well.

In terms of health, re-usable trays can also make a significant difference.   Brian Wasink, a Cornell economics professor, studied how items like school trays can increase the amount of healthy items.  In an article with The Boston Globe, Wasink shared that, “providing lunch trays increased the likelihood that children will choose healthy items.”   His team also found that when children have to carry they food, they are more likely to grab for quick, comfort items.

With benefits like this it’s difficult to deny that lunch trays really do have a purpose in the school cafeteria (other than just transporting food).    To help you better consider the switch from disposable to re-useable tray, Central has created a tray buying guide especially for schools to assist you in making the most informed decision.  Once the buying guide has helped you decide which trays are right for your school, we’ll give you one more incentive to make the upgrade!  From now until June 30, 2011, Central is featuring 25% off select compartment tray colors (Models 250-288 and 250-345 only)!

Once you’ve made the switch, comment below on how it has helped your cafeteria!  If you haven’t switched yet, but have made the choice to, comment on what helped you make the final decision.