Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Process of Choosing Our Foods

Perhaps I am just in a snotty mood, but I'm distressed as I read this month's Vegetarian Times.

As usual, the magazine is full of beautiful pictures of food, great cooking advice, some terrific-sounding recipes (especially those by vegan chef Myra Kornfeld who also has one vegan and one flexitarian cookbook), and interesting food news from people who share many of my commitments to sustainable agriculture.

I'm not thrilled about all of the recipes, but I am almost used to those calling for processed ingredients like a particular brand's frozen potatoes or fake-food processed soy sausage. Fine--I just won't make those.

I am also almost used to all the ads for commercial supplements--advertisements promising to fulfill an emptiness in your life more than an inadequacy in your diet. (And now that I think about it, I realize that a food magazine would not want to advertise that a diet following their recipes might be inadequate.)

What bothers me this month is an article about how to avoid non-vegetarian foods often found in foods that might appear to be vegetarian or vegan.

Up to a point, I get the point.

While I don't want to switch from Guinness and Bass and other cask-conditioned fine ales (and even some Chardonnay) to Budweiser, it might make sense for those of you who do not want to imbibe isinglass, a protein from fish air bladders. (Yep--thousands of years ago people stored their beer in fish air bladders because they did not let anything go to waste. They discovered that it improved their beer. Wild, isn't it?)

While I don't want to switch from aged and imported European cheeses, or from the local cheeses made from raw milk, to Land 0' Lakes Mozzarella (named by the article) or even Horizon Organic Cheddar, it might make sense for those of you who do not want to ingest animal rennet, an enzyme from the stomach of calves, an enzyme discovered thousands of years ago when calf stomachs were used to hold milk--and lo and behold it made cheese. Wild, isn't it?) Vegetarian rennet is made from fungi and fig leafs instead. And some "cheeses" are rennetless, like most goat cheeses and cottage cheeses.

You should also skip the Horizon Organic Milk and Promise Light margarine, fortified with Vit D-3 made from lanolin (!) or fish oil, and go instead for a milk that is fortified with Vit D-2, made from plants and not as easy to absorb. Personally, I'll stick with organic whole milk from a local creamery. Whole milk does not need to be fortified with Vit D at all, unlike skim and 2% which legally must be (the D is in the fat). Nevertheless, I realize many people are worried about the saturated fat or the calories and want a reduced-fat milk.

We no longer have to depend on the old ways. I personally like to, but I realize there are competing ethical issues and health issues at play here and for many people, the balance would not fall where I put it for myself.

So while I don't plan to follow their advice, I am supportive so far.

What makes me crazy is that we should replace commercial strawberry yogurt that might have cochineal, a coloring derived from insects, NOT with real yogurt (if you are not vegan) and real strawberries (when they are in season) but with--get this--"foods with synthetic colorings (such as FD&C Red No. 40)". Make sure THAT is on your label.

Perhaps I should relax. After all, a vegetarian diet is not by definition a diet based on natural foods or environmental concerns.

But so many vegetarians, and so many writers in Vegetarian Times, share my concerns about natural foods and the environment--and in fact choose vegetarianism for precisely those reasons, or at least partly for those reasons. I see vegetarians and this magazine as fellow travelers. If you are in that camp, shoot them an email reminding them.


Anonymous said...

I just sent off my e-mail letter to the editor and feel better already.

Sheepish Annie said...

It certainly does seem like the editors didn't think that one through very carefully. I am not a vegetarian, but I do like to make informed choices about what I eat and I'm glad that they pointed out the whole "insect" thing. But replacing the wriggly things with plasticky things isn't going to make a product more appealing to people who want to eat whole foods with traceable and natural origins!

Anonymous said...

funnily, I was just looking at a container of fruit juice yesterday and it mentioned cochineal and I started thinking about just this topic. I was also thinking about silk-- hydrolyzed silk used often in shampoo/conditioner/soap/lotions/food items.

It's not just VT that is saying goofy things like that (though perhaps we expect more from VT?), it's all over. Convenience taking over... it's frustrating!

Mouse said...

I'm no longer a vegetarian (I was for years though..) but I remember when I went vegan and drove myself and everyone around me nuts by reading labels. Personally I'd rather eat cochineal than red dye 40 any day! That fish bladder thing with the beer makes me really glad I don't drink.. but I really do need to mention it to some Guiness drinking vegan friends.

Sue said...

That's crazy! Recommending people opt FOR synthetic dyes? {shaking head}

Unknown said...

Just found your blog, and am really enjoying reading your thoughts and experiences.

I find it interesting that the vegetarin media has such a strong opinion about alternatives to animal products. As a vegetarian with a mostly vegan diet, I am thrilled that more people are becoming educated about the animal content in their food (who knew that sugar wasn't suitable for vegans?), but articles like this just muddy the waters.

It's great to present the information to an intelligent audience, but even better to let them draw thier own conclusions.

Amy O'Neill Houck said...

Funny, that one caught me today too--I mean really, would you rather be eating carmine or PETROLEUM which is what synthetic coloring is made of--but what strikes me is, why does yogurt need coloring at all?? Maybe if it's not pink enough it needs MORE STRAWBERRIES? There's also beet powder which will turn almost anything a lovely pink color.

By the way--did you also catch the piece about genetically modified ingredients--it mentions that 70% of our food is genetically modified, and you can't avoid it if you eat any processed food. But it doesn't say that certified organic foods are not allowed to contain gmos. Where was that little tidbit? Or did I miss it. (I did like the look of the recipe for Grit/Chickpea patties--I think it was Myra's too).

beadlizard said...

Whoa! Whatever happened to eating plain, homemade yogurt with fresh fruit?

A few years ago, DD had a trip to the ER courtesy of some artificial dye in something she was served at school (so no label to read).

What's been grating on my soul lately is the prevalence of plastic, all the pre-packaged servings, ubiquitous shrink-wrap, etc. Much of it cannot be recycled, and that which is takes a huge amount of energy and water to process, and usually only becomes shredded matter, not "true" recycling. Sad.


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