The Conscious Foodie


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Years ago on my honeymoon in Mexico, I strayed from my comfort zone at the resort’s buffet and ate things so foreign to me that I couldn’t tell if I was eating fish, poultry, beef, or none of the above.

Things are different now that I’m vegetarian – I like to know exactly what I am eating at all times. I’d like to assume certain menu items at restaurants are vegetarian friendly, including such staples as mac and cheese, bean burritos, and eggplant parmesan. But unfortunately, it’s not so simple.

Here are a few things to consider the next time you go out to eat and may want to discuss with your server. And even if you are not vegetarian, it’s a good thing be conscious of what you consume.

– Mac & cheese, rice, and mashed potatoes may be made with chicken broth at some restaurants and delis.

– At some Mexican restaurants, lard may be used in the preparation of refried beans, tortillas, tamales, and rice.

Mexican Food

– Parmigiano-Reggiano and other authentic imported cheeses contain rennet, which are enzymes from animal stomachs.

– Bagels, pizza crust, and other bread products may contain a dough conditioner known as L-cysteine/L-cystine that is made from human hair, hog hair, and duck feathers. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

– Many seemingly vegetarian Asian dishes contain fish sauces.

– This one might be obvious, but some people may not know that Worchester sauce contains anchovies.

– Cheesecake may contain gelatin, which is made from animal by-products.

This list is obviously by no means exhaustive. If you would like to know more about ingredients in foods and whether they are vegan and/or vegetarian friendly, the Vegetarian Resource Group ingredients webpage is an excellent place to start.

Amanda will be doing some follow-up pieces to this article, including one that talks about surprising non-vegetarian ingredients in some popular snack foods (Sun Chips, Starbursts, Twix, BBQ chips, etc.) and one that talks about surprising ingredients in common household items. Stay tuned! Mexican Food Plate image from BigStock.

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  1. If you are vegetarian for ethical reasons, please consider going vegan. The dairy/cheese/egg industry is just as cruel (if not more so) than the meat industry.

  2. Eric, I’m definitely working my way toward veganism. I’ve significantly reduced my dairy and egg consumption throughout the past 3 years. Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment. Take care.

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