Since becoming a vegetarian a year ago, I’ve had to put up with the most ridiculous nonsense. So I’m going to go through a few of the basic misconceptions of vegetarianism and veganism, since apparently this stuff isn’t common sense by now.
Vegetarianism is defined as “the principle or practice of excluding all meat and fish, and sometimes, in the case of vegans, all animal products (such as eggs, cheese, etc.) from one’s diet” (1). I’ll break this down into two very simple categories.
Vegetarianism - if it kills an animal, don’t eat it.
Veganism - if it is made from an animal, don’t eat it.
(The distinction between the two lies primarily in animal by-products. For instance, a vegan wouldn’t eat milk or cheese because they come from a cow, same as they wouldn’t eat eggs as they come from chickens, same as they wouldn’t wear wool as it comes from a sheep. Vegetarians, however, eat and use these things since they do not /kill/ the animal. But a vegetarian wouldn’t wear leather, for instance, because you have to kill the cow to obtain it.)*
So, let’s knock some misconceptions out of the way, shall we!
1.) Vegetarians can eat chicken.
No. Seriously, just no. This doesn’t even make sense. If you think this, you clearly did not read the definition I just posted. Chickens are animals. To eat chicken, you have to kill the chicken. Because of this, vegetarians can /not/ eat chicken! Seriously.
2.) Vegetarians can eat fish.
No. This is probably the /biggest/ misconception there is about vegetarians, but it’s completely wrong. Firstly, fish /are/ animals. I don’t know who put it in people’s heads that fish aren’t animals, but they are. You don’t believe me? Well, conveniently, I have science and logic on my side. Fish are part of the Animalia Kingdom, and therefore are animals (2). Beyond basic classification, fish are a very advanced category - to label them as anything but animals is almost disgracing.
The above being stated, if you have a vegetarian friend that eats fish (or you /are/ this person) then you are not labeled vegetarian. There’s actually a label for vegetarians that still eat fish, though! It’s pescitarian (3). Use proper terminology, please, so the plague of stupidity doesn’t spread.
3.) Vegetarians can eat gelatin (in some places spelled gelatine).
No. Gelatin is a bonding agent made of the ground up bones of animals, used frequently to create a gummy-like food. Examples of this are most all gummy worms, gummy bears, Starbursts (outside of Europe - good for you, Europe!), gummy vitamins, Jell-O products, and the formation of some juices. Now, if you aren’t paying attention, because ground up animal bones involve killing an animal, gelatin is /not/ vegetarian! (There are other agents that are not vegetarian as well, and I’ll get into those near the end of the page.)
4.) Vegetarian diets are not healthy.
Ha. This just amuses me. Given the crap most people eat, a vegetarian diet can actually /improve/ your health. For instance, eliminating red meat from your diet is /very/ good for you. I encourage people, even if you don’t want to be vegetarian, just to eat less red meat simply for health reasons. To take this misconception a step further, people also assume that a vegetarian diet will not give you all the vitamins you need without taking a multivitamin daily. This isn’t true either. The two big vitamins people use to exemplify this lie are Vitamin D and protein. Vitamin D you actually just get from standing in the sun. Seriously. I’m a social recluse and even /I/ don’t have a Vitamin D deficiency. Protein is even easier, though. Nuts, seeds, and eggs. Tofu also has a lot of protein. I usually eat a lot of peanuts - they’re my favorite.
5.) When dining with a vegetarian, you have to order a vegetarian meal.
This actually happened to me. And let me say, that’s just bullshit. I’ll discuss it later more in-depth, but the bottom line is that you make your own decisions. If you want a burger, you eat a damn burger. And if the person across from you wants a salad, they can get a salad. It’s a matter of preference, and in no way should you give up your personal values for someone else. This works /both ways/.
6.) Vegetarians and vegans are all trying to convert people to being vegetarian or vegan.
This one, I can understand. People are preachy about the way they feel about things, and it’s a psychological fact that most people feel that their “path” is right and yours is wrong. And yeah, you’ll probably run into a few vegetarians or vegans that do try to push on you what you’re actually eating. But you know what’s even /worse/? The meat-eaters that push me to eat meat! You have /no idea/. I don’t preach. I find it annoying in all regards, be it about diet or about what sports team you like most. I don’t care. I don’t preach. I don’t eat meat because I decided a year ago that I didn’t deserve to eat something I couldn’t watch be prepared. Because I can’t watch an animal die, I don’t deserve to eat it’s body, especially because I don’t need it to survive in modern-day society. But you know what? That’s just me. That’s /my/ preference, and it’s /my/ decision. And if you really want people to stop pushing their beliefs on you, stop doing it to them. Because it really pisses me off when I have to deal with someone taunting me about how their chicken is so fucking good. I know chicken is good. I have eaten chicken. But it doesn’t mean I’m going to give up my morals just because you’re an asshole. And you know, this goes out to the preachy vegetarians and vegans too. Stop giving us a bad name. People can do whatever the fuck they want.
7.) All tofu is bad.
No, /most/ tofu is bad. XD
I actually don’t like tofu very much. It’s not something I regularly eat unless it’s prepared at a very good Thai restaurant or at Noodles & Company. (Seriously - if you have a Noodles & Company by your house, try their tofu. It’s amazing.) It’s all about the way it’s prepared. I’d also like to point out in this section that veggie burgers are rarely made of tofu, and the same as normal burgers, some suck and some don’t. It’s just the way the world works.
8.) All vegetarians and vegans support PETA.
I don’t. My best friend - who is a vegetarian - doesn’t. I believe my cat is still /my/ cat. I believe he’s a pet. I don’t believe he should go roam free in the wild (mostly because he’d die). Humans have a higher level of thinking than most animals, and because of this, I don’t consider animals as equals. Granted, you’ll probably find a lot of people who differ on this point of view. But it’s my opinion. My not eating meat is simply a personal morality thing - it has nothing to do with animal rights.
If anyone has any questions regarding vegetarianism or veganism or anything of the like, they are welcome to send me a message. If you don’t want it published, just say so.
(2) http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=1006011202948 — I know this is a Yahoo Answers link, but I couldn’t have worded it better myself.
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pescetarianism — A link for all the pescitarians out there.
*Vegetarianism and veganism are technically defined as diets. This means it has to do with your intake of food. I know I used an example earlier that had to do with materials, though, such as wool or leather. By technicality, vegetarianism (as a diet) does not include not wearing certain clothes. For example, you could still be vegan and still wear leather. It’s just that more often than not the diet and the lifestyle choice line up because of the person’s morality. But I know a girl who went entirely vegan for health benefits and had no moral inclinations about animals who still wears wool. So yes. Veganism and vegetarianism are diets. If you wish to take on the lifestyle choices commonly associated to them, or if you don’t wish to, it doesn’t change if you are vegetarian for vegan.
(If you’re curious, I personally do not wear leather. I do, however, wear wool. That fits the vegetarian lifestyle, and it fits my moralities as well.)
I also made an earlier note that I would mention other byproducts that come from animals. I have a personal short-list in my purse at all times that specifies what I can and can’t eat. I know the list is not a complete list of all things that can contain animals, but I don’t want to waste my life away reading labels and calling companies. By following this list, I waste very little of my time while still cutting animals out of my food 99.99% of the time.
The list is as follows:
Anything with meat, meat flavoring, or something with the name of an animal in it. Examples include chicken seasoning, chicken fat, beef fat, et cetera. You’d be surprised to know, though, that some chicken salts /are/ vegetarian!
Gelatin - made from the bones of animals.
Rennet - uses enzymes from the stomach lining of certain animals. This is only commonly founded in cheeses now, and even then not often. It’s too expensive for companies to use. (By the way, if you use fat free cheese there is probably gelatin in it.)
Carmine (or carminic acid or cochineal or Natural Red 4 coloring) - this is made from the crushed up bodies of beetles and is often used for bright red coloring. It’s illegal in some countries, however the United States is not among these countries.
Bone phosphate - it says /bone/ in the damn ingredient name! Seriously!
Disodium inosinate - this is where things get complicated. You’ll find this flavor enhancer in just about /every/ strong tasting chip on the market. It’s also in almost every ramen flavor package. The reason for this is, it’s a very cheap way of making very strong flavors. Thing is, some DI is vegetable derived and some is animal derived. Regardless, it’s not exactly healthy for you, so you should avoid it anyway. I don’t, personally. Every time I see it, I call up the company and ask them personally if it’s animal or plant based. These are my findings. You cannot eat /any/ Maruchan flavored ramen, though you can still use the noodles and not the seasoning. You /can/ however, eat Oriental or Vegetable Nissan brand ramen. I have the tendency to get Maruchan noodles and use Nissan Oriental flavoring. They’re so cheap that it hardly matters. Pringles and most Frito-Lay products are also vegetarian, despite the inclusion of DI. Frito-Lay actually has a web page of products with no animal bases, and that includes their DI ingredients! Sadly, though, Flaming Hot Cheetos are /not/ vegetarian. That made me very sad.
Most things you need to call a company about, though, have already been explored. You can Google almost any brand and find out what is and isn’t vegetarian.