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If you're confused about going veggie, here is the perfect resource for basic nutrition information, great tips, a helpful Q&A, and recipes for vegetarian meals even nonvegetarians will love!
Vegetarianism can help the environment, raise your consciousness, and make a cow very happy. But for teenage vegetarians—and perplexed parents—there seem to be more questions than answers: What can I eat? How do I know I'm getting enough protein and vitamins? What's a ...
If you're confused about going veggie, here is the perfect resource for basic nutrition information, great tips, a helpful Q&A, and recipes for vegetarian meals even nonvegetarians will love!
Vegetarianism can help the environment, raise your consciousness, and make a cow very happy. But for teenage vegetarians—and perplexed parents—there seem to be more questions than answers: What can I eat? How do I know I'm getting enough protein and vitamins? What's a lacto-ovo? Does all veggie food taste like cardboard? Vegetables Rock! answers these questions and more on what going vegetarian is really all about, including—
How vegetarians help save the planet
A primer on the history and values of vegetarianism, from veganism to macrobiotics
The lowdown on foods containing hidden animal products
Tips for braving the perils of cafeteria dining
What to say to meat eaters who give you a hard time
Survival strategies from successful vegetarian teens
What to eat in restaurants, diners, and fast-food places
Lists of veggie-friendly colleges, restaurants, websites, and mail-order sources
60 delicious recipes—all made with ingredients from your local supermarket!
Choosing vegetarianism is the first big step. Vegetables Rock! is the next.
To be a successful vegetarian in this somewhat schizophrenic world, you're going to have to wrestle with a couple of inconsistencies and puzzles. One: if it's clear beyond a shadow of a doubt how much healthier you'll be if you eat lots of fruits and vegetables and pretty much stay away from meat, how come so many people still choose to eat meat? How come there are approximately six thousand steak houses in America today? And what's with the poll commissioned by the National Cancer Institute in 1991 that showed only 8 percent of Americans thought vegetables were important? (Once you figure that out, maybe you can figure out why my husband still smokes.)
Two: if you've decided not to eat meat and you don't want to compensate by eating lots of junk food, how come everyone seems to make it so hard to do this? Ever try to find hummus or tabouli or whole wheat pita or a really fresh fruit salad at the neighborhood deli? Ever go to a Major League Baseball or National Basketball Association game and ask the guy selling red hots if he has tofu dogs instead? Ever try to find anything nonfried, let alone nonmeat at the food court in a mall?
And one more thing: if foods that are filled with fat are so bad for you, how come they taste so good? "I jog, I watch what I eat, I meditate," says a California dietician. "And when I go to the movies I always get a big tub of popcorn, the kind that was popped in that awful coconut oil and I eat the whole thing." A nutritionist told me about the time Dr. Nathan Pritikin, the guru of low-fat, went to a university nutrition conference and proudly offered everyone his newest find: a nonchocolate, nonfat, nondairy chocolate cake that had fewer calories than a small grapefruit. While everyone else politely nibbled this tasteless wonder, one lone dietician politely declined. When asked why, she explained that she would rather have one gorgeous, rich, gooey, incredibly decadent piece of real chocolate cake once a year than have to settle for a perfectly engineered, perfectly awful mutation you could eat all the time. Even the dieticians can't stay on their diets!
To make it all work, you need to be realistic, you need to be flexible, you need to be creative, you need to be tolerant, you need to be well-informed, you need to read labels, and you need to believe that you can survive in vegetarian-challenged places like ballparks, rib joints, airplanes, fast-food courts, and school cafeterias, even in New Hampshire.
Dilemma of a Hungry, Health-Conscious Vegan
"I can't eat the cookies I like, even though they're all natural because 'natural' means they have eggs and milk and butter in them. But, as a vegan, I can eat the cookies made with chemicals and additives and preservatives and artificial ingredients and fake colorings. What's wrong with this picture?"
Some survival tips. First, school cafeterias. The good news is that junior high schools, high schools, and colleges are trying harder than ever. They know there's a lot of you, and they are offering vegetarian options. Colleges are better than high schools. Nine out of ten offer a complete vegetarian menu; and many offer vegan alternatives, sometimes with interesting results. According to Karen Dougherty, executive dietician at Yale, "We have definitely noticed students are eating down the food chain—meat-eaters eat vegetarian a couple of times per week and vegetarians regularly eat the vegan option." Colleen Reid, at Brown University, offers one reason why. "I've found that many people who would normally eat meat, don't at college, because dining hall food is just not very good, especially the meat. This causes some people to become vegetarians and others to only eat meat at home or when going out to dinner."
Some Tips for Making It Easier
—A seventeen-year-old vegan who occasionally misses meat and who is not all that crazy about vegetables, likes to sprinkle A.1. sauce on his steamed broccoli, carrots, etc.
—To make grapefruit taste a little sweeter, vegetarian chef Ken Haedrich spreads raspberry preserves on a grapefruit half.
—Make one monthly trip to a food co-op or health food store and stock up. Mail-order stuff.
—If the vegetarian entrée in your college cafeteria is unacceptable, make nachos. Just put cheese on chips, microwave, and add salsa (from Saisha Uma-Michelle Grayson).
—In a pinch? Get plain rice in the cafeteria and sprinkle on tamari sauce (from Saisha Uma-Michelle Grayson).
—Freeze green grapes. They taste sweet and icy.
—Peanut butter turns an apple or banana from a boring fruit to a surprisingly delicious snack.
—Puree cottage cheese in a food processor. Add some herbs, then use as a spread on toasted bagels.
The bad news for many younger vegetarian teens, who have no time to eat and zero interest in following the Food Pyramid ("let's see . . . let me get my two daily servings of legumes . . ."), vegetarian food is most likely to be a bagel or French fries or slice of pizza. By college, the food is likely to be better, and their diet is likely to be, also. According to a survey done by the Vegetarian Journal, many schools are actively looking to add more nonmeat options. Some universities are on the verge of creating vegetarian dining halls. And in some remarkably enlightened colleges, more than half the student body is vegetarian, which makes for some great vegetarian food and some unusual complaints. "The only prejudice I've found," writes a Sarah Lawrence freshman where half the student body is vegetarian, "comes from the carnivores who feel we've dominated food services. For example, our school serves very little red meat and will have meals once in a while with no meat options." A sophomore at an Ivy League college says, "It's actually easier to be a vegetarian at school than at home. Here there's always tofu and beans and rice and baked potatoes and salads."
Most Popular Dishes in College Cafeterias
1. Pasta with meatless sauces
2. Vegetarian lasagna
4. Mexican specialties
5. Vegetable stir-fries
—From a National Restaurant Association survey
Some schools get rave reviews. "Some of the best vegetarian food I've ever had was at college," says a Tufts University alumna, who explains that because of the enormous influence of the health and nutrition center at Tufts, an inordinate amount of energy and resources have been spent on creating healthy and delicious meals for undergraduate and graduate students. And some schools make you work a little harder. A vegan freshman at Columbia University says that putting together a good lunch in the cafeteria is like everything else at a large university—you have to learn the drill. "After a few months," she says, "I learned you get vegetables from the grill, go over to the salad bar and get the rice, go back to the vegetarian table and add the tofu, then take it all back to the grill guys and ask them to sauté it."
Of course, one of the best ways to find out whether a college is sympathetic to a vegetarian lifestyle and dedicated to presenting an appealing vegetarian cuisine is word of mouth. Ask your friends who go there. And don't expect that because a college is in a health-conscious kind of town that it will be an ideal choice for vegetarians. "Boulder is a really cool place," says a University of Colorado senior, "but I found that the food in the cafeteria was surprisingly boring—not much variety . . . very few fresh vegetables." And for all of a college's good intentions, don't expect miracles. "As always," e-mails a freshman at a small liberal arts college, "finding decent vegetarian food is a challenge. In fairness, making good food for large amounts of people in a cafeteria style is not easy; and from what I can tell, the quality of all food choices, meat or nonmeat, seems to be pretty consistent in its general mediocrity."
Maybe the only thing harder than making good food for large amounts of people is making it fast. Getting healthy and nutritious food (vegetarian or not) in fast-food restaurants is hard. And most people don't go to fast-food places when they want a healthy, well-rounded meal. But in general, keep in mind that a ridiculously high percentage of the calories in a fast-food meal comes from fat, and try to choose sensibly. You're probably better off at places that serve burritos instead of burgers. Wherever you go, choose something that's broiled or grilled, not fried. At the salad bar, stay away from the macaroni salad, potato salad, and fattening dressings. Skip the (meaty, fatty, artificially made) gravy. Have skim milk or fruit juice or a fruit smoothie instead of a milk shake. At breakfast, skip the cheese and egg croissants and settle for poached or scrambled eggs or have pancakes or French toast without the butter and syrup.
Things to Worry About When You're Eating Out
1. What did they cook the French fries in?
2. The vegetables were grilled on the same grill as the meat.
3. There is MSG in the stir-fried vegetables.
4. The vegetable soup was made with chicken broth.
5. The knife that cut the meat cut the vegetables.
6. There's cheese in the burritos.
7. There's lard in the pie crust.
8. There's egg in your vegetable dumplings.
9. Your vegetable fried rice or lo mein is made with an egg.
10. There's butter and cream in your pasta primavera.
11. The rice was made with butter.
12. There's milk, eggs, and/or butter in the bread.
13. The salad croutons were fried in lard or made with egg.
14. The refried beans were made with lard.
Some good choices at fast-food places are garden salads, vegetarian pizzas (cheeseless for vegans), bean burritos, baked potatoes (top with vegetables and skip the sour cream), an assortment of vegetable side dishes, and veggie burgers or heroes. Vegetarian Journal, published by the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG), surveyed over one hundred fast-food and casual restaurant chains (what they serve, fat content, hidden nonvegetarian ingredients, etc.), and they periodically update their findings. If you send $3.00 to VRG, P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203, they'll send you the latest information. Some of the findings are encouraging: almost all the restaurant chains surveyed now use all-vegetable shortening for frying. VRG points out that even fast-food chicken places now offer vegetarian offerings: a vegetarian can go to KFC and lunch on an ear of corn, mashed potatoes, and cole slaw. At Boston Market and Kenny Rogers Roasters, you can get a choice of three side orders on a sampler plate. Subway is now offering the most enlightened array of nonmeat, low-fat subs.
Oh My God, I Ate a Chicken McNugget!
Part 1: "Listen to your body. Your needs have a lot to do with your growth. If you ever do eat meat, you shouldn't feel guilty about it. It's just like dieting. You need to realize you haven't violated anything."
—Dr. Harriet Blumencranz
Part 2: "After you lapse you feel bad. You know you're kind of mad. Then you take it all a little easier. Because it's really all about reverence for food. Maybe it sounds a little New Age, but vegetarianism is about putting things in your body you should feel proud of."
—Isabell Moore, Columbia University
Is it vegetarian or vegan? If you're not sure about something that's served in a restaurant, ask. If the employees aren't sure, don't order it. And you can't tell by looking. The flour tortillas at Wendy's contain whey, so they're not vegan; but Wendy's taco chips, taco sauce, and taco shells are vegan. The Italian dressing at Pizza Hut is vegan but contains MSG. Some pizza crusts contain dairy products. Some guacamole is made with mayonnaise. Ask.
If fast-food places are a little challenging, dining out in regular restaurants can be vegetarian heaven. Especially ethnic restaurants. Especially ethnic restaurants where the emphasis is so skewed toward grains and vegetables that your choice is huge. Japanese, Tibetan, Thai, Vietnamese, Egyptian, Indian, fusion cuisines, macrobiotic—there's a world of amazing tastes and flavors out there. You might not like everything, but chances are you will be rewarded for your willingness to try new foods. The Japanese know how to make incredible tofu dishes. They should—they've been doing it for centuries. Vegetables aren't something you have to eat in Italy; they are the stars of a dazzling pasta primavera or rich minestrone soup. And at the risk of sounding corny, a country's cuisine can be an introduction to that country's entire culture.
What else is great? Crunchy Chinese stir-fries, vegetable fried rice, tangy hot-and-sour soups, vegetable tempuras, cucumber sushi rolls, Japanese soba noodles simmered in vegetable broth, vegetable curries served with cool mango chutney and potato bread, freshly stuffed grape leaves, vegetable paellas, creamy Italian risottos flavored with wild mushrooms, golden polenta cakes, Spanish onion and potato frittatas, Moroccan green sauce, Vietnamese spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce, sesame noodles with spring asparagus. I have to stop. I'm getting hungry.
And if you're lucky, there are American restaurants and cafés near you where tofu and fresh broccoli rabe and chickpea beans are not considered foreign foods but are part of the growing American vegetarian cuisine. There are the meccas like Moosewood in Ithaca, New York; Blind Faith in Evanston, Illinois; Angelica Kitchen and Souen and Zen Palate and Blanche's Organic in New York; and Greens and Millennium in San Francisco. And there are thousands of other places from Florida to Oregon where people really care about wholesome, delicious, natural foods. Where it's all about fresh herbs and seasonal produce, wonderfully savory stews served with loaves of sourdough bread still warm from the oven. Where dishes as basic and homey as vegetarian chili, black bean soup, macaroni and cheese, vegetable lasagna, fried green tomatoes, and bread puddings are perennial favorites.
And you'll be happy to know that this is one area where you're In with the In Crowd: a recent poll commissioned by the National Restaurant Association showed that one in five diners say they now go out of their way to choose restaurants that serve at least a few meatless entrées (Health magazine, May-June 1996). Again, most of the same fast-food rules apply: stay away from really fattening foods, remember that deep-frying is the enemy of the people, ask if you're not sure about an ingredient or an additive, and go for grains and beans and greens. And I would suggest (I am a mother) that you try new cuisines and new foods as often as you can. Be open-minded.
Phoebe's Warm White Bean Puree (v)
Stephanie Pierson and Phoebe Connell
South Salem, New York
makes about 4 cups
Chances are, you'll make this so much that it will soon be your own. Then you can give it your name. Phoebe loves this on toasted slices of French bread. Try not to use dried rosemary; it doesn't work anywhere near as well as fresh, and since just about every supermarket (even in January in Nebraska) sells fresh rosemary, you can probably find it.
1 medium garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
4 cups cooked cannellini beans or two 19-ounce cans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper
1. In a medium skillet or saucepan, bring 1/4 cup water, the garlic, olive oil, and rosemary to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer 1 minute. Stir in the beans. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the bean mixture is heated through. Remove from the heat.
2. Mash the warm beans into a chunky puree with the tines of a fork or pulse in a food processor until coarsely pureed.
3. Transfer the puree to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Grilled Fresh Mozzarella Sandwiches with Olive Paste and Roasted Red Peppers
makes 2 sandwiches
Grown-up grilled cheese, bursting with sophisticated flavors. When it comes to mozzarella, the fresher the better. The fresh mozzarella in water is by far superior to the refrigerator-case variety. Local Italian markets are always a good source. Use smoked mozzarella, if you want.
4 teaspoons prepared olive paste
4 slices European-style country bread
3 ounces fresh mozzarella, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 cup, lightly packed)
2 ounces prepared roasted red peppers cut into 1/2-inch strips
Freshly milled black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove
1. Heat a heavy 12-inch skillet over low to medium-low heat.
2. Spread 1 teaspoon prepared olive paste on each slice of bread. Sprinkle two bread slices evenly with half the cheese; top each with half the roasted pepper strips and a few grinds of black pepper; cover with the remaining cheese and slices of bread.
3. Brush the sandwich tops completely with half the olive oil; place the sandwiches, oiled side down, in the skillet. Brush the remaining side of each sandwich completely with the remaining oil. Cook until crisp and deep golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes per side, flipping the sandwiches back to the first side to reheat and crisp, about 15 seconds. Rub the toasted sandwiches with the raw clove of garlic. Serve immediately.
Creamy Peanut Butter and Banana Pudding (v)
Feeding the Healthy Vegetarian Family (Bantam, 1998)
makes 4 servings
Peanut butter and banana take a whirl in the blender together. And a good time is had by all. On a more serious culinary note, Ken Haedrich explains: "When you purée tofu with the right ingredients, you get a smooth, creamy dessert very much like a regular dairy-based pudding. But unlike those puddings, this one is not cooked. You just buzz everything right in the blender, pour it into custard cups, chill, and serve. It's that easy. It tastes wonderful plain or dusted with finely chopped peanuts and flaked coconut." If you don't like bananas, you can make a plain peanut butter pudding instead.
1/3 cup maple syrup
4 tablespoons plain soy milk
1/2 ripe medium banana
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup smooth, natural salted peanut butter
1/2 pound firm or extra-firm tofu
1. Put the maple syrup, 2 tablespoons of soy milk, the banana, lemon juice, vanilla, and peanut butter in a blender in the order listed. Cut the tofu into three pieces; working with one piece at a time, squeeze out most of the liquid from each piece using your cupped hands. Crumble all of the tofu. Turn on a blender and gradually add tofu. Gradually add as much of the remaining soy milk as needed to make the pudding smooth; scrape down the sides.
2. Scrape the pudding into ramekins or custard cups. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
Posted December 5, 2001