I have been a vegetarian for around eight years, and when my brother told me Jell-O wasn't vegetarian. I laughed and brushed it off. Who can trust a teasing brother? Well, little did I know that a couple years later I'd be searching the internet for a research paper on gelatin and finding out, much to my dismay, that my brother was right.
Every time summer rolled around and my mom broke out the cherry-flavored jiggly delight, I'd been eating crushed up animal bones and was completely clueless. Since then, I have come across many other foods that are hiding behind the facade of containing no meat.
Here are five common foods that are not as vegetarian-friendly as they seem. I hope this brings some enlightenment to my fellow vegetarians or people looking into making the switch to no meat or maybe even meat lovers who enjoy hearing about where a vegetarian seriously failed at doing her thing.
Walking down the candy isle at Target, I used to practically fill the cart with Lifesavers and gummy worms. I loved that crap. Eating those at sleepovers or during a movie made the experience so much better. Those lifesavers, gummy bears and worms, however, have gelatin in them. And since gelatin is made from animals, the candies are not vegetarian-friendly.
Other candies that fall under this devastating umbrella are candy corn, Junior Mints, marshmallows, Starbursts, and more. With Halloween right around the corner, I figured a recipe for some festive vegan candy corn was necessary. In the future though, I would recommend searching for gelatin in the ingredients of candies before buying them.
I love cheese, okay? Let's just get that on the table. Cheese used to be one of the reasons I could never go vegan. However, pretty recently I have found out that cheeses do not just use a cow's milk, many use animal rennet. Animal rennet is an enzyme found in the stomach lining of baby calves, sheep, and/or pigs and is used to harden the cheeses before the selling process.
Animal rennet is also known for hiding behind the alias "enzymes," causing people like me to shrug, not knowing what that means, and eat it anyway. By saying "enzymes," companies may be referring to a calf's stomach extractions. The types of cheeses that typically use animal rennet include cheddar, Parmesan, mozzarella, some ricotta cheeses, and many more. The safest bet is to search the ingredients for enzymes or animal rennet. Luckily, there are alternatives. If it says non-animal or "microbial enzymes," the cheese is vegetarian-friendly.
Many soups are made with chicken or beef broths, even veggie soups. I always knew to eat potato soup with caution, since a lot of the time it's cooked with bacon. But I usually poured soups that were labeled "veggie" right into a bowl and consumed them as fast as possible. It seemed safe. Well, it's not. Soups such as broccoli cheddar soups, French onion soups, pea soups, and even lots of tomato soups contain animal broths.
Just last week, I was beyond excited to grab a heaping bowl of broccoli cheddar soup and just as I grabbed the handle to pour it in, I saw the words "chicken broth" and my heart dropped. I had completely forgotten that just because a soup doesn't have meat in the title doesn't mean it isn't there.
Luckily, there are many recipes for soups like carrot, sweet potato, veggie, broccoli cheddar, and butternut squash soups that have remained truly vegetarian. There are definitely ways around the issue. Still though, watch out.
4. Junk Foods
This is both a blessing and a curse, since you either want junk food and have to say no, or have a valid reason for saying no and, in turn, are eating healthier. Either way, sometimes having the option is nice, but for vegetarians (or vegans) the option before us is either avoiding junk food or eating lard (animal fat).
Popular junk foods that usually contain lard are French fries, Hostess cupcakes, Twinkies, certain potato chips, most cake mixes, and most pies. Even white sugar is known for containing bone char. While there are plenty of recipes that combat the issue of finding available sweets, it's devastating that we even have to go there.
5. Everyday Foods
Many normal foods you never think twice about contain all sorts of animal-related innards. Many cornbreads, refried beans, tortillas, non-fat yogurt, even Activia Light contain any range of animal products, from gelatin to lard. Because of this, I find myself second guessing what I put on my plate while going to social events. It's hard when you have no way of knowing where things came from or what brand, but sometimes it just takes some courage to ask or make a judgment call. Of course, there are ways to get the same taste but avoid all the animal products.
Being a vegetarian is harder than "I don't eat meat." Products like gelatin, lard, and animal rennet hide in the basic foods reached for on the daily. It's pretty rude of companies to be so sneaky, but it's the truth. I hope this serves as some type of wake up call to my fellow vegetarians. Veggie lovers beware.