Monday, December 27, 2010

Meatless Monday: Vegetarians Beware

Those of you not snowbound may find yourselves off to the movies this post-holiday Monday. And while you are there, you just may find yourself indulging in refreshments, a box of candy, perhaps. 

A recent email from a college classmate prompted me to look into candy coatings and to  share the information with my vegetarian and vegan friends, as well as with readers who are neither but wish to adhere to a strict observance of Meatless Monday. 

My classmate wrote that as a vegetarian she always checks the ingredients lists on candy packages to make sure there is no “confectioner's glaze.” Confectioner’s glaze, also know as “resinous glaze,” is defined as the “food grade” version of shellac (used as a wood finish), a product harvested from the secretions of Laccifer lacca, a plant-sucking insect known as the “shellac” scale. While lac (the secretion) is clearly a problem for a vegan, I wonder if some vegetarians might still be OK with this as the Glee gum site claims. Is ingesting lac somewhat akin to eating dairy? I welcome comments on this one.

There is another “hidden” ingredient which I am sure vegans and vegetarians alike would choose to eschew — carmine, often used to impart a red color to a food, beverage, or lipstick. Carmine is manufactured by crushing the bodies of the cochineal insect, also in the scale family. Carmine is still listed as an ingredient in some yogurts and other foods and beverages, but beet juice is a viable substitute. Stonyfield uses beet and red cabbage juice to achieve that pretty pink color in its strawberry flavor. You can use this handy site to check out the ingredients on a number of products.

The message of this relatively short post? Read your labels, and look up any term you don’t understand. Something as pleasant sounding as “confectioner’s glaze” or “carmine” might actually translate to “insect juice.”

The aforementioned classmate is May Berenbaum, editor of Honey, I’m Homemade. Those of you interested in either bees or cooking with honey should really check out May’s book. Proceeds benefit the University of Illinois Pollinatarium—the first freestanding science outreach center in the nation devoted to flowering plants and their pollinators.

I often blog on food or food issues on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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