Wondering what it takes to become vegetarian or vegan? First, let’s begin with a bit more understanding of the similarities and the differences. Both vegetarians and vegans exclude animal flesh and meat from their diets, but that is pretty much the extent of the similarities. Vegetarians will still consume foods derived from the living animal, such as dairy products and eggs, while vegans refrain from anything that is a byproduct of an animal, even if it isn’t used for food.
In fact, it’s been said that vegetarianism is a diet, whereas veganism is a lifestyle. However, both require more awareness, with not only what is eaten, but what is consumed. This is because more and more everyday products that we wouldn’t even think of as containing an animal product, are used not only in foods we think are safe, but in products we might be using outside of the kitchen as well. We found this article very helpful, and a good place to start understanding the ingredient labels of our favorite foods, and why they may not be as free of animal products as we might think!
Why It Works
There are several reasons why vegetarian and vegan diets have become so popular as of late. Documentaries like What The Health, on Netflix, and other research across the internet has led many people to reconsider what has always been taught about the Standard American Diet. Some prefer plant-based diets as a healthier option, while others have chosen to refrain from animal products as a moral choice. Many choose to be vegan or vegetarian as a way to eliminate the harmful toxins, chemicals, antibiotics, and pesticides that are part of food production and preservation. Whatever the reason, there is a growing support and acceptance for what use to be considered an unhealthy and unnatural way to eat.
Many food companies are actually catering to this new population of consumers, by offering certified vegan and vegetarian options. Specialty stores, like Trader Joes, Sprouts, and Whole Foods carry a wide range of compliant ingredients and items which help immensely with meal prep at home. However, what options do we have if we want to enjoy a meal at our favorite restaurant? It is much harder to read the labels of every ingredient used in the back kitchens of restaurants. In fact, it’s near impossible. So what are we to do?
First, we must understand that some restaurants have more options than others. We can’t expect their entire menu to be compliant, but by being open about specific dietary needs, they can usually offer something that will work. It might take some substitutions, or manipulating a side dish to become an entree, but there are so many options to be creative with. It also doesn’t hurt to look at the menu ahead of time, to see if that restaurant is the best choice to go to, or if another would work better. Another option might be to bring a food or an ingredient from home when eating out. Perhaps there is a great vegetarian rice bowl that is compliant, but the dressing or guacamole they offer is not. We can simply add our own guacamole to our meal and nobody needs to be the wiser.
The more that is understood about the vegetarian and/or vegan lifestyle, the less guesswork there is when it comes to what is compliant and what is not. It becomes less of daily decision to not eat meat or animal byproducts, and more of a way of eating that is freeing and nonrestrictive to our priorities. Although there is more awareness and more resources, we still have a long way to go with the acceptance of vegetarianism and veganism, and the broader availability of compliant foods and ingredients.