Friday, January 6

What is vegetarianism and veganism?

So I guess the first thing to discuss (briefly) are some of my beliefs surrounding vegetarianism. There are so many reasons that vegetarianism and veganism are awesome and I can't possibly write them all here or go into much depth, I could lecture on each one for days!

So first off, what is the difference between being a vegetarian and being a vegan? Well, vegetarians, as a general rule, do not eat anything that required an animal's death to make. There are different 'types' of vegetarians such as laco-ovo-vegetarians (they eat dairy and eggs), lacto-vegetarians (they eat dairy but no eggs), and ovo-vegetarians (they eat eggs but not dairy). Some people say that they are vegetarian but they still eat fish. This does not make them vegetarian. Similarly, some people say they are vegetarian but they still eat fish and 'white meats' such as poultry and pork. They are even more not-vegetarian! I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian as are most vegetarians. This obviously means that they do not eat meat. But I have found that many people do not understand what this really means. I have had many people say to me "But you eat chicken". No. "What about fish?" No. "But fish aren't animals!" Let's go back to the biology classroom for a moment. There are 3 and a half forms of life on this planet. There are animals, there are plants, there are fungi, and there are viruses (I only call this half a life form though as their inclusion in the definition of 'life form' is disputed as they need a host cell in order to reproduce their DNA). A fish is not a fungus, nor a virus, and is clearly not a plant. Therefore, it's an animal isn't it? And animals (mostly) have brains. Brains of any size or shape feel pain, they have to, how else would animals know about danger? The brains of more complex animals (that includes fish!) would at least feel fear (I believe other emotions too but let's not get into that argument), and their physical sensations would basically be the same as ours. Therefore, yes, all animal flesh etc is out of the question.

That's pretty easy, no meat. But beware! There are some sneaky animal-death products to watch out for that are not so obvious!

Gelatin: This is made from animal skin and bones. It is found in many products that you wouldn't think of, I have been vegetarian for 5 years and I'm still discovering it in some of my food so I suggest if in doubt, read the packet! Mainly it is found in jelly (obviously), lollies, marshmallows, some puddings, and some yogurts or custards. It can be substituted for vegetable gums etc which are all animal-friendly so read the packet :)

Rennet: This is an enzyme obtained by doing something icky to the stomach lining of a newborn calf, lamb, or kid. It is used in cheese production, mostly for hard cheeses. Again, check the label as some brands use non-animal rennet. I have found that cheap brands usually use non-animal rennet, such as Coles, Woolworths Select, and Devondale. I use Woolworths Select cheese slices and Devondale shredded cheese. Soft cheeses such as feta, ricotta, and cream cheese are generally ok but I still check the label to be sure. The main problem I have is with finding parmesan cheese that has no rennet. The only brand I've found is South Cape Fine Foods' Australian Parmesan Cheese which I get from Coles or Woolworths, I think it's Coles. However, it only comes in a large wedge which we don't eat fast enough. For this reason I'm thinking of trying vegan parmesan cheese substitutes but I'm hesitant after I had a horrible experience with another vegan cheese. Something that has recently been brought to my attention is the possible inclusion of rennet in some chip flavours. Some flavours use 'cheese powder' or whey but don't give the ingredients for these, which could include rennet. It's up to the individual whether they want to avoid possible trace ingredients such as this, personally I am undecided on the issue. You could always ring the company's customer information line and enquire about the ingredients used in the supplier's cheese products.

Pepsin: Like rennet, this is derived from the lining of pigs' stomachs. This is used in a wide range of foods for a wide range of reasons so read the ingredients.

Cochineal, carmine, or colouring (120): This is a red dye made from crushed insects. Some people are allergic to it and it is one of the dyes that can cause hyperactivity. It can be used in products that say 'natural colours' because it is not synthetic. Mainly watch out for Asian foods, lollies, and cosmetics. Read your labels.

Suet or lard: This is animal fat and is used mostly in baked goods such as shortbread and mince pies.

Chitin: This is derived from the exoskeletons of animals such as crabs. It is used as a thickener and stabilizer in some foods.

Aspic: Another type of gelatin.

Isinglass: This comes from the swim bladder of some fish and is used to clarify some types of alcohol, such as wines and beers. Guinness uses isinglass as do most stouts.

Musk or civet: An oil which is scraped or otherwise collected from the anal and genital glands of musk deer, muskrats, beavers, civet cats, or otters. It is used in perfumes though animal rights campaigners have made it unpopular. 'White musk' is not animal derived.

Leather: Though it obviously comes from dead animals, many people do not think of leather as being non-vegetarian. Shoes, jewellery, clothing, bags and furniture are the main sources of leather in our lives.

Vegans do not consume any products that come from animals. This means all of the above plus dairy, eggs, honey, beeswax, and wool. There are other products that vegans avoid, as are there more vegetarian ones that I have not (knowingly) come across. The PETA website has a great list of these things if you want to avoid them.

But don't worry about what you don't want to eat, and think about all the things you do want to eat: everything else! If you're just starting out being vegetarian, vegan, or cooking for a vegetarian or vegan, don't worry. It will get super easy once you get some regular brands that you buy, realise how much food actually is vegetarian and vegan, and get intuitive about what products might contain animals ingredients. My best advice is, if in doubt, read the label. Also, Google is your friend. Happy eating :)

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