Earlier this week, I met my friend Wendy for lunch at an absolutely amazing Vegan restaurant called Luna’s Living Kitchen. I have been enjoying their food and serving as an unpaid spokesperson for years! My non-veg friends can even find plenty of menu options to excite their palette. The restaurant has a great vibe and is located in a sweet spot of town…along the light rail in the rapidly developing South End. My meal selection included a vegan burrito with a house salad. Wendy selected the Pad Thai. Both meals were amazing.
I commend Wendy for her adherence to a true Vegan lifestyle. I would classify myself as a strict vegetarian. I do not eat meat or fish. I do not consume eggs directly, but I don’t question the ingredients when they are “buried” in a dish. I will not eat animal flesh that is in a meal, but if there are eggs and cheese in there, I tend to turn a blind eye. While I don’t consume cheese as a main staple, I don’t turn down a savory vegetarian sandwich with melted mozzarella. Wendy, on the other hand, cooks most meals at home to ensure the ingredients meet her standards. I’m certain that she leads a true vegan lifestyle, with regard to food consumption and also when it comes to the clothing she wears, cosmetics she uses, etc. I admire that. I feel that I’m doing my part to reduce the impact that my food choices have on the environment, and I’m okay with it. I also purchase cruelty free cosmetics, but I happen to own a few leather handbags. I don’t feel great about it, but I love the bags. Shame on me.
Our food conversation turned to a topic that often puzzles me. I believe that one of the main problems with the American diet is the amount of processed food that we consume. Be it sugary snacks, processed cereal, cookies, fast food, or even “healthy” foods like protein bars, the nutritional labels on our food today read like a English-to-Greek bible. I can’t pronounce the name of many of the ingredients, and I’m sure that their chemical composition is nothing like the real food consumed by generations past. My mother didn’t grow up with meal replacement bars containing dl-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate, Cyanocobalmin, or Pyridoxine Hydochloride.
So in order to get the “right” amount of protein, many vegetarians and vegans turn to meat alternatives. We are all familiar with tofu, which is relatively simple in composition. But what about the ingredients in tempeh, seitan, TVP, and those magical mystery meatless hot dogs? Outside of the animal flesh category, what about vegan cheese? Are there just as many (or more) chemicals in vegan cheese as there are in pasteurized processed cheese products?
I truly believe that I’m doing the right thing by eliminating meat and fish from my diet. Animal agriculture and the fishing industry are depleting and polluting our natural resources at an unsustainable pace. But for my own health, I cannot feel good about switching to a “faux” meat based lifestyle. I try to rely on only tofu and beans for my heavier protein sources. But occasionally it’s just easier to zap a veggie burger in the microwave. And seitan is an awesome alternative when you are serving a meal to non-veg eaters and you want to appear to fit in. For instance, I enjoyed an amazing holiday “loaf” alongside the traditional Thanksgiving turkey this year. No one even noticed that my plate held a turkey-alternative! But who consumed the most “natural” meal during that holiday celebration? What random non-food ingredients did my holiday loaf contain that my non-veg friends and family avoided by eating a traditional meal?
I welcome comments and/or feedback from the vegan and vegetarian community on this issue. I think there are many elements of this topic that deserve discussion!