When you’re a new vegetarian, it’s easy to make mistakes. Chances are, you’ve already messed up by eating something you thought was safe, only to realize later that it contained, say, chicken broth. Or in my case—yum—stomach enzymes and fish bladders.
If so, shake it off. Consider it a lesson learned and give yourself a pat on the back for caring enough to even think twice about what you eat. And know that by reading this list, you’ll have avoided a bunch more potential mistakes, every single one of which I’ve made during my first year as a vegetarian.
Many, many soups, especially in restaurants, are made with chicken stock, beef stock, or fish stock. And you’ll find ham stock in most split pea soups. Even Campbell’s Vegatable soup isn’t so mmm-mmm-chicken-friendly; look for their Vegetarian Vegetable instead.
French onion soup is one that seems so obvious now, but when we were fresh new vegetarians, my wife and I most definitely chowed down on some. Thankfully, 1000 Vegan Recipes (affiliate link) has a good animal-free version of this classic.
Lots of restaurant salad dressings (often the best tasting ones, sad to say) start with bacon fat, even when the menu doesn’t mention bacon. Caesar dressing, of course, contains anchovies, if you’re being served the real thing (but here’s a vegan one from Post-Punk Kitchen).
There are going to be times when you eat out and salad is the only decent vegetarian choice for lunch or even dinner. Just make sure it actually is vegetarian.
Yep, now I’m going to be that jerk who tells you not all cheese is vegetarian. I was traumatized to learn that Parmigiano-Reggiano, the nuttiest, most flavorful, most classic cheese in the world (in my opinion, anyway) is made with rennet. And rennet, for the unenlightened, is a nice way of saying “enzymes from animals’ stomachs.” And guess how they get those enzymes out?
Parmigiano-Reggiano is actually required by law to be made with rennet, and you’ll find rennet in many other authentic imported cheeses (Pecorino Romano is another one). While some domestic cheeses list rennet as an ingredient, others simply say “enzymes,” leaving the buyer unsure whether or not any stomachs are being ripped open to get those goodies.
Your best bet, if you’re unsure, is to choose “vegan parmesan,” a combination of nutritional yeast and, sometimes, nuts that actually does a pretty good job of pretending.
Standard Worcestershire sauce is made with anchovies. Annie’s Naturals makes a vegan Worcestershire sauce that tastes exactly the same, and in most vegetarian recipes you can probably substitute soy sauce and some spices.
And that’s about all there is to say about Worcestershire Sauce.
Remember that elementary school story that kids liked to pass around at lunch about the middle of Oreo cookies being pure lard? Well, it’s not true; Oreos don’t contain lard anymore, if they ever did.
But guess what does? If you said “tortillas,” I say si! Fortunately, many brands have removed the animal fat from their tortillas, but it’s still worth a check. And if you’re eating out at a Mexican restaurant, it’s probably more likely that the tortillas are made with lard.
Now, if you’re talking really classy Mexican restaurants, rest assured that Taco Bell’s tortillas (andrefried beans, another seemingly-vegetarian food to look out for) do NOT contain lard, according to Vegetarian-Restaurants.net. Neither does anything at Baja Fresh, but I can’t tell for sure about Chipotle. Proceed con cuidado.
[Update: Chipotle tweeted to me that their tortillas are lard-free. Their pinto beans, however, are not veggie-friendly.]
Gummy BearsSorry, vegetarian marathoners—those gummy bears the nice people hand out at mile 20 are not for you. Most likely, they contain gelatin, which comes from animal bones, connective tissue, and organs. Sweet.
According to Wikipedia, some gummy bears are made with pectin or starch instead of gelatin, so these are veggie-friendly.
Of course, a no-gelatin rule means you also need to look at the ingredient lists of any gummy sports chews that you eat. Sharkies and Clif Shot Bloks are both gelatin-free. I’m not sure about GU Chomps.
Marshmallows, Jelly, and Jello
Lots more gelatin here. Since most No Meat Athlete readers probably don’t eat much of the sugary stuff, I’ve grouped these sweets together. For marshmallows, jelly, and Jello-type desserts, your best bet is to check the ingredient list. Most of them, unfortunately, do contain gelatin.
So at your next all-night rager, skip the Jello shots and drink a beer. Err, wait a minute…
Yes, sadly, even some beer isn’t strictly vegetarian. You can get much more info in this guest post on vegan beer by Billy from BillyBrew.com, but the least you need to be aware of is that many beers are clarified with isinglass—that’s fish bladders to you and me. Most isinglass probably doesn’t end up in the finished product, however. (Gelatin is also occasionally used.)
One of the world’s most popular beers, Guinness Draught, is off limits to strict vegetarians, since the beer is treated with isinglass. But all is not lost, Guinness-lovers: Guinness Extra Stout is one product that’s thought to be vegan.
Surely there are lots more common seem-vegetarian-but-aren’t foods. Which ones have tripped you up in the past? (I hope I’m not still eating them!) Let me and everyone else know with a comment.