A Vegetarian Journey – Packaging Woes

Food packaging - Dairy Selection

Now I’ve made my mind up to give up meat and take the steps towards a vegetarian lifestyle, I’ve got to be pro-active about it. I’ve already talked before about my the first steps in my journey towards vegetarianism but now it’s really happening. After only a couple of days of planning, the discrepancies with food packaging is starting to leave me a little bewildered though…

Packaging Blues

Food packaging really isn’t helping with the new regime at all at this early stage. While you would expect foods to be clearly labelled (apart from the obvious single ingredient items), it doesn’t seem to be that simple.

Apart from the blindingly obvious meat products, it’s not easy knowing what foods are suitable for vegetarians. Food packaging has improved over the years with more nutritional information, but it’s still lacking elsewhere. Some don’t make it clear if they’re suitable or not and for others it’s hard to understand why.

But There’s No Meat…

My initial thoughts have worked on the (primitive) assumption that no meat = vegetarian friendly. That’s turned out not to be the case and I’ve found that out quite quickly. Some products contain meat derivatives so understandably they’re not suitable (gelatine springs to mind) but I’m at a loss to understand others. I’ve found some meat flavoured foods that are safe yet others that aren’t. In every case no meat or meat product seems to be present unless I’m missing something.

Cheese is another that’s leaving me confused at the moment. I know it’s not suitable for a vegan diet but I’m still not sure why some are and some aren’t suitable for vegetarians. Being a pasta lover I’m trying to figure out why certain types of pasta sauce aren’t suitable and I think the types of cheese are the problem.  haven’t found a vegetarian pesto yet so I’d guess hard cheeses are something of a problem. Maybe there’s a guide out there explaining all of this?

Is It Vegetarian Or Not?

This really is where things are getting difficult for me right now. I know what I want to eat but I don’t know if I can. Some packaging makes no mention of food being suitable for vegetarians at all. In those cases it’s left on the supermarket shelves as I look for alternatives. Food labelling is almost as confusing with different producers using their own vegetarian identifiers.

Some products are endorsed by the Vegetarian Society so these are easy to spot. Others from established brands such as Quorn and Linda McCartney equally so, but others make life unnecessarily difficult. What I can’t comprehend is why stores choose to use their own symbols rather than an industry standard for vegetarian food. It only makes things harder for people like myself to make informed choices.

If the food industry can agree on standards when it comes to nutritional information and details on food allergies, is it really so hard to have a uniform indicator on their food packaging? I’ve seen green ticks, green ticks in squares, Vs in circles, leaves, and nothing apart from a few words saying that food is suitable. There’s just nothing standardised.

A Helping Hand…

Fortunately social media came to the rescue. After being frustrated with packaging on some of my favourite products, I turned to Twitter. Having no luck on the official websites of different brands, I approached manufacturers directly to ask if their products were suitable. The last thing I wanted really was to have to give up on some basics foods that I felt should be vegetarian so I sent messages to a few to their Twitter accounts or asked them publicly.

Within a couple of hours, I was pleasantly surprised to get responses from several. Lucozade Sport confirmed that almost all of their products were okay – not essential but I think I’d miss the raspberry version of the drink. One that impressed me even more was Quaker Oats who not only replied but emailed me with a full list of all of their vegetarian friendly products.

The Easy Option

I think it’s going to take me a while to get to understand everything so I think I’ll play it safe for the first couple of months. I’ve already started buying in regular and specific vegetarian food that I know is friendly so I’m going to stick with those, at least for the time being. As I find more foods I can eat and learn more about ingredients I’ll expand my choices. For now, I think I have a lot more learning to do…

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