Thursday, June 7, 2012

Are You Really Vegetarian?



I've always been proud to be a vegetarian. Sure, a lot of people look at me weird ("What do you eat?") when I tell them, but eating animals grosses me out. It started when I was probably five or six and my dad read the ingredients in our canned sausages, and I asked what "pork" was. (Apparently I wasn't a very worldly child.) I had literally never imagined that what I was eating was an animal…moreover a dead one. They don't deserve to die just because we're hungry; what gives us the right to slaughter them just to satisfy our needs? Are we really any better than them? And on top of that I'm really not a blood-and-guts person (remember I nearly passed out looking at my own MRI), so thinking about eating intestines, muscles, organs….

…and hooves. Bones. Marrow. Yep, I'm talking about gelatin. All these years I've been a vegetarian. A vegetarian who ate Jell-O as recently as my freshman year of college. A vegetarian who takes supplements encased in gel capsules. The whole time I was satisfied that I was not harming any animals. And then I found out that so many of the foods I like contain gelatin.

Marshmallows. That means the Peeps I put in my peanut butter sandwiches. Lucky Charms (my favorite cereal). Rice Krispies Treats. This really depresses me because I ADORE just dipping marshmallows in peanut butter, but I don't know if I can do it anymore knowing that there are horse hooves in there.

Yoplait. I had no idea. If I did I might have picked a different brand to try when I started eating yogurt. Apparently it's "kosher" gelatin, which is fish bones or beef skin. According to LiveStrong.com, "regular gelatin is made by boiling the bones, skin and tendons of animals, usually cows or horses." Now just thinking about Sydney and then thinking about eating boiled horse tendons makes me imagine him ending up in someone's s'mores. It makes me want to hug him and cry and tell him I'm sorry I ever ate Jell-O.

Vegetarian hazards are everywhere. NoMeatAthlete has a list of just eight, but it really gets you thinking…the probability that you eat an animal product (nondairy) in a day, even if you're vegetarian, is really high. Some restaurants prepare their “meatless” food with lard. Lots of seasonings contain meat products as part of the flavor (I remember in seventh grade my vegetarian friend ate part of a bag of barbeque chips before reading the label and discovering that it contained chicken). It's in all kinds of candy, like nougat and Junior Mints. Trident Layers gum, my favorite. You can't get away from it.

There has to be some way to avoid using these ingredients and processes. My Greek yogurt has six ingredients, five of which are under the umbrella of "live active cultures" (the other is milk). Nice and simple. How hard is that?

Part of the problem is that it’s so easy to hide these ingredients in on the label, under names like gelatin and mono- and diglycerides (fatty acids that may come from either plants or animals, you never know). Frankly, I hate being deceived in such a sneaky way by companies who don’t respect my choices enough to give me an explicit warning.

Being vegetarian is a lifestyle choice, and I think manufacturers need to accept that and take animal products out of the manufacturing and ingredients of products that are assumed to be vegetarian. Either that, or product labels should OBVIOUSLY show that the item was made using animal products. We shouldn't have to find out after the fact (and often by accident). How many people out there would be disgusted to know that the yogurt they're eating is not, in fact, meat-free?

I love Rice Krispies, I often eat those Milk & Cereal bars for breakfast, and yogurt…well, not all yogurt contains gelatin, but I really do love the taste of Yoplait. I don't know whether to try to avoid these things, or just give in because it's pretty much inevitable that I'm going to eat something non-vegetarian. Life without peanut butter and marshmallows sounds so depressing. But if I stay away from marshmallows, gummy bears, yogurt, etc. there's sure to be something else (cheese, maybe?) that violates the vegetarian lifestyle anyway. It's a losing battle. I almost think you'd have to go vegan to really be vegetarian these days.
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