MSN on Agar Agar

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MSN has a story on—of all things—agar-agar, the seaweed-based vegetarian gelatin alternative. It’s a surprisingly substantive article, considering the obscure topic.

(The article originally appeared in the Washington Post.)

Three-legged chicken gets reprieve

Have you heard about the three-legged chicken? I’ve got to say, I agree with VP on this one: why is it that the deformed animals are always spared death at the slaughterhouse? Wouldn’t it be nice to read once, “And because they were so touched by the three-legged chick, the family decided to not only let their entire flock of chickens live out their lives on the farm, but to stop eating meat all-together.” Instead we get: “In about 14 weeks, the 99 other chickens will have their their heads lopped off and their feathers plucked.”

Picky eaters

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Chefs Bite Back: In Some Cases, the Customer Isn’t Always Right

This Washington Post article discusses how some chefs won’t change their dishes at the request of a patron, whether it’s for dietary reasons or simple preference. Though the article doesn’t mention vegetarians, this is something that we deal with anytime we’re eating out at a non-veggie restaurant.

I’m of the mindset that if you’re extremely picky (close-minded) about your food and how it’s served, you shouldn’t be eating at a restaurant. Especially nice ones. If you have well-trained chefs, trust their taste and try what they has to offer. At the same time, I also believe that chefs should have a little bit of flexibility, when it’s reasonable.

For instance, if a dish comes with a meat side, then it’s not unreasonable for a vegetarian patron to request a vegetable side in its place. It won’t ruin a dish’s artistic integrity, it’ll please the patron, and it has the added benefit of saving the restaurant money (a bowl of lightly seasoned steamed broccoli will be cheaper than almost any meat-centric side).

As vegetarians, though, I think we need to be conscious of how we come off when we visit a restaurant. It’s one thing to ask whether a particular dish is cooked with chicken broth, it’s quite another to ask a chef to replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth, leave out the Worcestershire sauce, and add tofu in place of chicken chunks. I also don’t think it’s reasonable to ask that your meal be cooked on a surface separate from where meat is cooked… again, if you’re worried so much about personal purity or unavoidable traces, you probably shouldn’t be eating at a restaurant that serves meat. Of course, that’s also a compelling argument for supporting vegetarian restaurants… these things aren’t nearly as much of an issue.

Yes, restaurants and businesses in general strive to be customer-centric. However, visits to restaurants are more enjoyable when the customers themselves aren’t too customer-centric. As vegetarians, we’re automatically labeled by many as a hassle not worth dealing with (remember this article where chef Anthony Bourdain referred to vegans as “a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn”?). It’s in our best interest to be friendly—not confrontational—and flexible without compromising our beliefs.

ADA’s new position statement on vegetarian diets

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The ADA has issued their new position statement on vegetarian diets. This is one worth getting familiar with, as you’ll surely see it quoted many times in the coming years.

The two that will surely get the most press:

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

… and …

“Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.”

Beware the Poultry Vacuum

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Poultry in Motion: With Invention, Chicken Catching Goes High-Tech

Convincing chickens to go to slaughter ain’t easy. Imagine that! It’s a job that’s done by hand and seriously stresses out and injures the birds along the way… in addition to the stress and injuries they receive just existing in a factory farm environment, of course.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a new $200,000 machine that looks like “a combination airport baggage carousel and tank” is now being used in many plants to capture up to 150 birds a minute, without causing the birds pain or stress. Animal rights groups, including PeTA, are supporting the machine, as it reduces “the panic, fear and horror of chickens.”

The title of this entry isn’t a joke, interestingly… apparently earlier (failed) devices to do a similar job included a chicken vacuum “which sucked up birds and shot them through tubes to waiting trucks.” Birds frequently got caught in the vacuum, died, and clogged it up, so it wasn’t a reasonable solution.

Of course, while this more “humane” way of slaughter eases some of the suffering of the birds, there are two things that will remain true: 1. the birds will still live their lives up to that point in miserable, disgusting, filthy conditions, and 2. the birds still end up dead and on someone’s plate.