November 1st, 2007


Animals are mostly pretty different from plants

Ran across an enjoyable post and comments where the comments are brief descriptions of people's favorite vegetarian recipes. Most of them look really tasty but this one caught my eye for a different reason:

Easy, and one of my favorite recipes - Vegetarian Risotto. I use veggie stock, sundried tomatoes, spinach, white beans and parmesan (it's even vegan).
lekkercraft at 3:50PM on 10/29/07

This kind of thing makes me crazy. Any recipe that involves parmesan? Not vegan, unless it's brazil nut parmesan, i.e. nut shavings that look like powdered parmesan and are tasty in a very different way. Often, recipes that involve parmesan are not even technically vegetarian, because most parmesan is made with rennet (calf stomach), which you have to kill the calf to get.

It really is not that hard to remember what makes something not vegan, or not vegetarian, for that matter. If it contains something that came from an animal, it's not vegan. If an animal involved in the process has to be dead for you to use the item, it's not vegetarian. Just think through that, read your labels, and you should be all set.

Gelatin: not vegetarian. (Use agar instead.) Chicken stock: not vegetarian. Fish: not vegetarian. Chicken: definitely not vegetarian. I wouldn't even write it down, except for the number of times that every vegetarian I know has heard, "So, you're vegetarian. But you eat chicken, right?" Is chicken a fruit, vegetable, bean, grain, nut, seed, or fungus? No? Is it still alive when you eat it? No? Okay then.

Eggs: not vegan. Butter: not vegan. Honey: to be avoided if cooking vegan, unless your favorite vegan has told you they eat honey. Cheese: may not be vegan or vegetarian, read the label. Processed foods? Always read the label. Casein? Whey powder? Not vegan; they come from milk.

There are marginal cases that can get a little confusing, basically because contrary to stereotype, not every vegetarian/vegan is an absolutist. For example, some vegetarians eat cheese made with rennet. Some people who call themselves vegetarian also eat fish, though common definitions of vegetarian exclude this possibility. (The debate about nomenclature here is a whole other entry, which I will write if demanded but otherwise would prefer to skip.) Sugar is also a case where you should be aware: some sugar is bleached with bone-char (burnt animal bones), so you can use unbleached or buy a brand of sugar that states clearly that they don't. But many people don't actually worry about this. I certainly would not quiz anyone who told me that something contained sugar about what kind of sugar it was. But some people would. And some beer isn't vegan/vegetarian because it's clarified with isinglass (...ew). But basically, the animal/dead animal proscription is a safe one to follow.

Cooking vegan isn't hard and it is tasty, but it takes a minor amount of forethought, or better, a vegan recipe or cookbook. Don't butter the foil, don't saute the vegetables in butter, don't stir in cream in the last step, and don't garnish with parmesan! And don't lie to the person you're cooking for about what you used. It could make them ill, perhaps seriously so, because many vegetarians and vegans are intolerant of the proteins in the foods they don't eat either because of pre-existing sensitivity or because of lack of exposure. Plus, it's just disrespectful. If you like someone enough to cook for them, you should like them enough to take the extra steps to be careful and to be honest with them about what you made.