Hold the Meat: How to Shop Vegetarian

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Making the switch to a vegetarian diet is a great way to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Meat production requires a great deal of energy, creates a massive amount of carbon waste and can take a significant toll on your health. By rethinking the way you eat, you can do your body and the planet a huge favor.

Transitioning to a vegetarian diet can be challenging. Find out how to tackle your grocery shopping and dining as a new vegetarian!

Step One: Find a good substitute for your favorite foods.
The obvious staple of a vegetarian diet is, well, vegetables. The produce isle (or your home garden) will be your main source of sustenance, but it doesn’t have to be your only food supply. There are plenty of great vegetarian alternatives for the foods you love. Nearly every meat type has a veggie alternative. You don’t have to deprive yourself of great food, just because you’ve committed to not eat meat.

  • Soy is a great alternative to meat because it is packed with protein. When most people think of soy products, they only think of soybeans or tofu, but soy can also be the primary ingredient in lots of different meat-free “meat.” Check your local grocery store (Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods typically have more vegetarian items) for goodies like soy chorizo, corn dogs, breakfast sausage, lunchmeats, and even chicken nuggets.
  • Black beans have long been considered the “meat of the poor” because they are inexpensive and provide a great alternative to animal protein. Plus, black beans are a great source of fiber, they are heart healthy and they taste good in just about anything. Black beans make great hamburgers. Throw in a whole-wheat bun and some fresh fixings.
  • Veggie recipes. It’s an adventure to find pre-packaged meatless foods, but the freshest way to go veg is to anchor to some great recipes and take the time to cook with fresh ingredients. Invest in a great cookbook, or use the web to track down recipes. There are thousands of great veggie recipes just a click away.

Step Two: Avoid hidden meat products.
While some packaged foods are easily labeled “vegetarian” or “vegan” to make your grocery shopping simpler, many packaged foods that seem vegetarian include hidden meat products. Make sure you read the labels thoroughly before eating any packaged food. Here’s what you need to watch for:

  • Gelatin is in almost everything. Gelatin is made from boiled animal bones, skin, and tendons. Not quite vegan and definitely enough to make anyone lose their appetite. Gelatin is also a congealing ingredient in other foods like marshmallows, gummy bears, cream cheese and of course, Jell-O. Also, check the labels of soups and sauces for gelatin ingredients.
  • Chicken stock (or broth) is the base of most of the canned soups at the grocery store. Read the list of ingredients on anything you plan to buy to check for chicken or beef stock.

Step Three: Shop veggie brands.
Shopping vegetarian is a lot easier when you know what brands to look out for. Choose Veg has a great list of companies that produce vegetarian food exclusively. Here are a few to get you started that you can find at pretty much any supermarket:

  • If you’re opting to bypass dairy products altogether (or are lactose intolerant), Silk makes a soy alternative to cow’s milk. It’s rich in protein and fiber. If soymilk isn’t your think, you can try rice milk or almond milk.
  • Boca and Garden Burger make great veggie hamburgers in every variety you can think of.
  • Amy’s offers pre-packaged microwavable vegan and vegetarian meals, like tofu rice bowls. Easy to heat up if you’re on the go.
  • Morningstar Farms makes several meat alternatives, like breakfast sausage and bacon. They also offer veggie ground beef you can use for spaghetti sauce or tacos.

Step Four: Ask lots of questions.
Eating out can be especially difficult for vegetarians because even if you ask for a no-meat meal, there’s a good chance that some kind of animal product will find its way onto your plate. There are some great resources, like, to help you track down local vegetarian restaurants. When eating out, don’t be afraid to quiz your server on all of the ingredients in your meal. Here are a few questions you should always ask:

  • Are there any meat products in your sauce? You already know about gelatin, but also watch out for fish sauce (especially in Thai food) and various meat broths. Most soups and dips are made with chicken stock. If there is meat stock, ask if they have a vegetable stock alternative.
  • Has my food been cooked in same oil as meat? Restaurants aren’t in the habit of discarding oils every time they cook something in them so there is a good chance a fatty steak was sitting on the grill right before your eggplant. It doesn’t hurt to ask and chances are the kitchen won’t mind cleaning off the grill so your meal will truly be meat-free.
  • Can I have extra veggies instead of meat? Since you’re skipping the meat, but are essentially paying for it, ask if you can substitute some greens in the place of meat. Remember that chefs are artists and most don’t mind showing off their culinary prowess. Who knows, maybe your veg request will lead to a new menu item.

If you aren’t ready to go vegetarian yet, you can still cut back on your red meat consumption to reduce your carbon footprint—and your cholesterol!

By Sarah Nelson for Causecast


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