Many people who choose a lacto-ovo (that means dairy and cheese are still okay) vegetarian lifestyle think that if they simply pass up that burger and those chicken wings, they have accomplished their goal of cutting out all meat from their diet. However, as a long time vegetarian and a careful consumer, I would like to point out several categories of foods to eat with caution if you are serious about this lifestyle:
1. Watch that Cheese!
Many vegetarians assume that cheese, though an animal byproduct, is a perfectly acceptable vegetarian food. Well, I hate to break it you, but that is not always the case. Many cheeses are coagulated using a product called rennet. According to this website, rennet is an enzyme derived from the fourth stomach of a baby cow. So not only does most cheese contain meat, it contains meat from adorable baby animals! Never fear though, just use resources like this site to cross-reference cheese brands before purchase, and you should be fine. If you take a list of acceptable brands with you when you go out to eat, you should be able to scope out a menu just fine for rennet-free cheeses.
2. Ask About the Soup
It’s happened to me countless times at bakeries and cafes: the option for the soup of the day is something like minestrone, and I instantly am filled with joy that I can actually eat something! Fifty percent of the time, however, when I ask if the soup contains chicken broth as a base, the answer is yes. Even if a soup is being sold as “vegetable noodle” or something else that sounds perfectly innocent, it’s a simple fact that chicken broth is one of the more common bases used in soups, and many places won’t think twice about it. So even if my heart leaps when I see that soup dujour, I always ask first!
3. The Gelatin Issue
Gelatin is a common additive in food that is created by boiling a lot of the icky, barely edible parts of a slaughtered animal (i.e. skin, tendons, bones). There is a comprehensive list on this site , but some products that you may come across quite frequently are Jell-O, Skittles, Gummy Bears, and even some frozen vegetables! Gelatin is often an ingredient used in capsules for vitamins. Thankfully, this is sort of an easy one to avoid because simply checking labels on bags of candy or other products will instantly reveal whether or not it contains gelatin.
4. Beware Pie Crusts!
The Dictionary definition of lard is “the rendered fat of hogs, especially the internal fat of the abdomen.” Maybe it’s just because I’ve been a vegetarian for so many years, but that sounds super gross to me. This fatty substance is unfortunately found quite frequently in pie or pastry crusts that use shortening in their recipes instead of vegetable oil or butter. Many is the time that I have passed up a slice of hot fresh apple pie because the ingredient list was nowhere to be found!
5. Assorted Dangers
I recently discovered that Worchestire sauce contains anchovies (thank goodness I never liked the stuff anyway). According to this Live Science article, powdered bugs are used to create a coloring known commonly as cochineal, carmine, or natural red 4, all of which create a crimson color in candies. At your local fast food joint, make sure that the frying oil is not animal fat based before you order that medium fry! According to Veggie Global, some wines and beers use animal products such as gelatin, isinglass, casein, or chitosan in their fining process. Ask the merchant at your beer or wine store if they have any way of checking which drinks are truly vegetarian.
I know that it seems like a lot of work to avoid animal products to maintain a true vegetarian diet, but believe me, if you’re serious about the lifestyle, then it won’t seem that difficult at all.