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Understanding Vegetarianism

03 June 2017

By Jo Campos

A few months ago, I was asked to cook some dishes for a private dinner in Quezon City where the guests were all journalists. While planning the menu, I was informed that one of the guests was a vegetarian, but I said this should be no problem as I was used to cooking all-vegetable meals. All I needed to know was whether the guest was a simple vegan, or was among those who also shirk from eating any food with dairy products like cheese and eggs. But after a few more exchanges with the host, I was faced with a real challenge. Not only was the guest a vegetarian, she also did not eat anything with onion or garlic mixed in. I scratched my head thinking what I could possibly use to flavor her dishes with. Worse, I was requested to cook vegetarian kare-kare, bearing in mind the spices that were off-limits. I have cooked countless versions of kare-kare, from those with beef, pork or seafood as the main ingredient, but never with just vegetables. To top it all I was unsure about what I could use as substitute for bagoong (shrimp paste) which is the main condiment for the dish.

Realizing my dilemma, the guest relayed the information that pechay or pak choy stalks could be used to sauté all the ingredients. I did as told and was pleasantly surprised to realize that it did give flavor to the dish, like the garlic and onion mix that most of us use in sautéing vegetables.

Apart from the meat, seafood and other fish and seafood derived sauces, all the other ingredients were included in cooking the kare-kare dish. Another surprise was the vegetarian barbecue sauce that the guest brought along as substitute for bagoong. I tasted it and was again surprised to realize that it had the same texture and saltiness of bagoong.

I completed the vegetarian fare with steamed tofu cooked according to the guest’s preferences. For the non-vegetarians, I cooked arroz valenciana, and rounded up the simple spread with traditional ginataang halo-halo, which got the nod of everyone, vegetarian or otherwise.

Below are a few facts about vegetarianism which I found on Wikipedia. These should be very helpful to those who might encounter the same dilemma I faced, and eventually learned from.

* Vegetarianism is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat of any kind, from red meat to poultry and seafood, as well as the flesh of any other animal, including its by-products.

* Vegetarianism is taken up by those who object to taking sentient life, whether for religious, philosophical, or other reasons. Other motivations for vegetarianism are health-related, or could be just a personal preference.

* There are variations of the diet as well: an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet includes both eggs and dairy products, an ovo-vegetarian diet includes eggs but not dairy products, and a lacto-vegetarian diet includes dairy products but not eggs.

A vegan diet excludes all animal products, including eggs and dairy. Some vegans also avoid other animal products such as beeswax, leather or silk clothing, and goose-fat shoe polish.

* Packaged and processed foods, such as cakes, cookies, candies, chocolate, yogurt, and marshmallows, often contain unfamiliar animal ingredients, so may be a cause for concern among vegetarians

* Often, prior to purchase or consumption, vegetarians will scrutinize products for animal-derived ingredients, such as fat or oil. Vegetarians’ feelings vary with regard to these ingredients. For example, while some vegetarians may be unaware of animal-derived rennet’s role in the production of cheese, and may therefore unknowingly consume the product, other vegetarians may not take issue with its consumption.

* Semi-vegetarian diets consist largely of vegetarian foods but may include fish or poultry, or sometimes other meats, on an infrequent basis. Those with diets containing fish or poultry may define meat only as mammalian flesh and may identify with vegetarianism. A pescetarian diet has been described as “fish but no other meat”. The common use association between such diets and vegetarianism has led vegetarian groups such as the Vegetarian Society to state that diets containing these ingredients are not vegetarian, because fish and birds are also animals.

There are a number of vegetarian diets that exclude or include various foods:

Buddhist vegetarianism. Different Buddhist traditions have differing teachings on diet, which may also vary for ordained monks and nuns compared to others. Many interpret the precept ’not to kill’ to require abstinence from meat, but not all. In Taiwan, su vegetarianism excludes not only all animal products but also vegetables in the allium family (which have the characteristic aroma of onion and garlic): onion, garlic, scallions, leeks, chives, or shallots.

1. Fruitarianism permits only fruit, nuts, seeds, and other plant matter that can be gathered without harming the plant.

2. Jain vegetarianism includes dairy but excludes eggs and honey, as well as root vegetables.

3. Macrobiotic diets  consist mostly of whole grains and beans.

4. Lacto vegetarian-ism includes dairy products but not eggs.

5. Ovo vegetarianism includes eggs but not dairy products.

6. Ovo-lacto vegetarianism (or lacto-ovo vegetarianism) includes animal/dairy products such as eggs, milk, and honey.

7. Sattvic diet (also known as yogic diet), a plant based diet which may also include dairy (not eggs) and honey, but excludes anything from the onion or leek family, red lentils, durian fruit, mushrooms, blue cheeses, fermented foods or sauces, alcoholic drinks and often also excludes coffee, black or green tea, chocolate, nutmeg or any other type of stimulant such as excess sharp spices.

8. Veganism excludes all animal flesh and by-products, such as milk, honey (not always), and eggs, as well as items refined or manufactured through any such product, such as bone-char refined white sugar or animal-tested baking soda.

9. Raw veganism includes only fresh and uncooked fruit, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. Vegetables can only be cooked up to a certain temperature, for instance using a dehydrator.

10. Within the “ovo-” groups, there are many who refuse to consume fertilized eggs (balut being an extreme example); however, such distinction is typically not specifically addressed.

11. Some vegetarians also avoid products that may use animal ingredients not included in their labels or which use animal products in their manufacturing; for example, sugars that are whitened with bone char, cheeses that use animal rennet (enzymes from animal stomach lining), gelatin (derived from the collagen inside animals’ skin, bones and connective tissue), some cane sugar (but not beet sugar) and apple juice/alcohol clarified with gelatin or crushed shellfish and sturgeon, while other vegetarians are unaware of or do not mind such ingredients.

12. Individuals sometimes label themselves “vegetarian” while practicing a semi-vegetarian diet, as some dictionary definitions describe vegetarianism as sometimes including the consumption of fish, or only include mammalian flesh as part of their definition of meat, while other definitions exclude fish and all animal flesh. In other cases, individuals may describe themselves as “flexitarian”. These diets may be followed by those who reduce animal flesh consumed as a way of transitioning to a complete vegetarian diet or for health, ethical, environmental, or other reasons. Semi-vegetarian diets include:

13. Macrobiotic diet consisting mostly of whole grains and beans, but may sometimes include fish.

14. Pescetarianism, which includes fish and possibly other forms of seafood;

15. “Pollo-pescetarian”, which includes poultry and fish, or “white meat” only;

16. Pollotarianism, which includes chicken and possibly other poultry;

17. Semi-vegetarianism is contested by vegetarian groups, such as the Vegetarian Society, which states that vegetarianism excludes all animal flesh.

Here are some dishes that will surely delight vegetarians.

Steamed Tofu with Mushrooms

1 block soft tofu
Fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms
Salt and pepper to taste
Corn starch and water mixture
Finely chopped chives and parsley for garnishing

1. Boil enough water in a steamer.
2. Cut soft tofu into cubes and scoop the middle to make a hollow, arrange in a heatproof dish and set aside
3. If using dried shiitake mushrooms, soak in warm water for at least an hour to soften. Chop mushroom finely and stuff them inside the hollowed tofu cubes, season with salt and pepper.
4. Steam for about 12 minutes.
5. Drain juice from the steamed tofu and transfer in a small saucepan, then thicken with the cornstarch mixture.
6. Sprinkle finely chopped chives and parsley on top of the steamed tofu and pour prepared sauce. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower Cheese in Bechamel Sauce

1 head cauliflower
Plain flour
Cheddar cheese, grated
Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
Fresh sweet basil (optional)

1. Boil cauliflower in salted water until slightly soft, drain and set aside.
2. To make the béchamel sauce, melt butter in a saucepan until bubbly, making sure that it does not burn.
3. Gradually add flour into the melted butter and stir constantly until well combined, resembling a buttery dough.
4. Add milk gradually until the sauce is creamy and smooth. You may also add some cream to make the sauce even creamier.
5. Add half the amount of prepared grated cheddar cheese and continue to stir.
6. Arrange cauliflower in a greased ovenproof baking dish and pour the béchamel sauce over.
7. Add grated parmesan cheese and the rest of the cheddar cheese.
8. Bake in preheated oven, 180 degrees Celsius for about 15 minutes until bubbly and the cheese has slightly browned.
9. Remove from the oven and garnish with chopped fresh basil.

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