Dining without the meaty details

Fake chicken nuggets, fake bacon, fake burgers, a mock-chicken salad sandwich and a bag of soy chips. That’s how junior Michael Kreger budgets his diet. Despite the evidence, Kreger is not a vegetarian. When he

Fake chicken nuggets, fake bacon, fake burgers, a mock-chicken salad sandwich and a bag of soy chips. That’s how junior Michael Kreger budgets his diet. Despite the evidence, Kreger is not a vegetarian. When he goes out to eat, he orders the vegetarian General Tso’s chicken.

“Mock meat is very filling and you can eat it without worries of how bad and unclean it is,” the philosophy and English double major said. “Plus it is healthy and good for you.”

Kreger said he is not a vegetarian because he needs the protein from meat, which he eats occasionally. But he still eats as many vegetables and health foods as possible. It’s not hard to eat vegetarian since it no longer means that your only meal option is a bowl of pale iceberg leaves, stale croutons and bitter dressing.

Although only about 2.5 percent of U.S. adults follow a consistent vegetarian diet, 20 percent to 25 percent eat four or more meatless meals a week, according to a 2000 report by the American Dietetic Association.

Those who are vegetarian say they believe more people are eating vegetarian meals not only for health reasons, but also because today it tastes better. “Someone may have a hard time finding good vegetarian food maybe 10 years ago,” said senior finance major Sagar B. Patel, a life-long vegetarian.

“But nowadays restaurants are offering meals with more complex tastes.”

Vegetarian foods are also more accessible
today. Kreger said he has no trouble getting his faux meat products at Essene Market & Cafe, located at 719 S. 4th St. or Whole Foods, which has many chain locations
throughout the city. He can also easily
dine vegetarian in most restaurants.

“It’s definitely easy – especially in Philadelphia,” Kreger said. “Anywhere you go, you can order something vegetarian or make it vegetarian by ordering it without meat.” Vegan Christina Pirello, host of the national vegetarian and health-food cooking
show, “Christina Cooks” on CN8, said there is wide variety of dishes to choose from.

“Now there are a lot of interesting vegetarian dishes, especially with things like [soy products]. There is no excuse not to try it,” she said.

Pirello, a South Philadelphia resident, said she has no trouble dining out in Philadelphia.

Chinese, Thai and Italian restaurants
are sure ways for her to order a meal without meat or dairy products in it.

Restaurants, food manufacturing companies and cooks are finding different ways to mold tofu, a bean curd made from soy milk, into different food products. Tempeh is a meat analogue made from fermented soy beans and seitan, which is wheat gluten, also known as “wheat meat.”

It is becoming a common meat substitute in the vegetarian world. Because of these products’ presence, the scope of vegetarian products offered has “expanded big time,” said Allison Geiger, director of Club VEG, the Philadelphia chapter of the vegetarian education group.

Geiger has been a vegetarian for more than 10 years and said she noticed how the vegetarian product selection has changed dramatically.

“There are so many food options, especially
prepackaged items like veggie burgers and frozen foods, … you even see these in regular supermarkets now,” Geiger said.

Essene Market & Café offers one of the widest varieties of vegan (meaning non-meat, non-dairy) and vegetarian products in the city. In addition to its grocery store, Essene has a cafe with a vegetarian hot food bar.

For those on the go, Essene also has an array of sandwiches, wraps and burritos – all prepared in the store with natural and organic products. And for dessert, its vegan bakery offers sweets such as carrot cake, cookies and brownies.

“We have a diversity of people who come to the store,” said Essene store manager Kerry Palanjian. “We have the old hippies who live in the country and come in once a month to buy grains. We have meat eaters who like organic produce. We get those who have had bad health reports and want to change their diet, and we get kids who are strictly snackers.”

Restaurants are taking notice and answering
to the demands for more vegetarian options. The ADA report noted that the National
Restaurant Association found that eight out of 10 restaurants in the U.S. offer vegetarian items. Rich Landau, owner of Horizon’s Cafe, a vegan restaurant, said that 85 percent of his customers are not vegetarian or vegan. At his South Philadelphia restaurant, a popular item is the grilled seitan.

“We want to give our customers the same satisfying feeling that meat gives them – without the meat,” Landau said.

His wife, Kate Jacoby, the restaurant co-owner and pastry chef, makes the most popular dish in the restaurant – the cheesecake, which is made without any dairy products.

“I can’t tell you what’s in it. She won’t even tell me,” Landau said. “But I can say that it’s soy-based.” The ADA report also expects the vegetarian food industry to generate $2.8 billion in the U.S. this year. Pirello, who also hosts cooking classes at Essene regularly, said that the vegetarian bandwagon is one that everyone should jump on – even if it’s for the health benefits alone.

“Everyone should eat vegetarian at least one day a week,” she said.

Diana Huynh can be reached at diana.huynh@temple.edu.

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