Vegetarians typically make up a single-digit percentage of a non-commercial operation’s customers. Vegans represent a fraction of that. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to gauge how much vegetarian and/or vegan food options to provide. In June 2005, Aramark released research showing that nearly a quarter of more than 100,000 college students surveyed said finding vegan meals on campus was important to them.
Many of the contractor’s clients have responded in kind. For example, the University of Pennsylvania now offers many vegan entrees and side dishes, including the popular Vegan Carrot Cake with Tofutti Cream Cheese Icing. At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Rams Head Center, one finds a station dubbed Lean & Green, hosting a full salad and fruit bar, soups, and made-to-order vegan selections.
And, Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, is home to the First Harvest Vegan Cafe, a “green” food bar that provides a wide selection of vegan offerings and incorporates local sustainable foods.
Vegan variations: Vegans refrain from eating meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, honey or refined sugar—in other words, no animals or animal byproducts. There are many variations of vegan living. Some vegans will eat honey and sugar, others won’t. Some avoid fermented products, such as vinegar or wines. All vegans generally include nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, grains, soy, beans and legumes, spices and herbs, and other plant-based foods in their diets.
Talk with your vegan customers to establish their preferences and needs. Vegan menu planning and preparation fits easily with many different types of cuisines, including Mediterranean and Asian. Vegan meals can be prepared from scratch or from dry, canned or frozen convenience foods.
If you have the time, “creamy” sauces can be prepared from soy products, such as silken tofu or soy milk, or from ground nuts, such as cashews or almonds. Grains, rice and soy foods can stand in for animal proteins, in the form of seitan (also known as gluten), tofu or tempeh.
The vegan patient: At MeritCare Health System in Fargo, ND, vegan fare is readily available on the room service menu, according to Lisa Zolondek, foodservice manager and department head. The facility, which serves more than 22,000 meals per month via room service and more than 1,500 daily in retail operations, offers a branded Hearty Vegetable and Triple-Bean Chili; orders of the chili tally 35 per week, she adds.
There’s also a Southwestern Salad that uses the chili as a topper and generates 30 orders weekly. Staff strain the chili slightly when using it to top salads.
Both items are identified on the menu as vegetarian selections, as is a “lacto-vegetarian” pasta dish topped with creamy tomato basil bisque from the same manufacturer.
More vegan ideas: Here are some methods for offering vegan menu items with lots of flavor and texture.
Is it or Isn't It?
The following can help as you attempt to decipher if particular processed foods are suitable for vegan menus:
Agar and Guar Gum
Both are very traditional, vegan thickening agents. Agar (also known as agar-agar) is a vegetable gum obtained from seaweeds used to thicken foods. Guar gum is also a vegetable gum.
Calcium lactate is generally fermented from corn starch or beets, and thus generally vegan.
Casein is a milk derivative. It is sometimes used to improve texture in soy and rice cheeses, yogurt and sour cream. This means that some soy and rice products may be vegetarian, but not vegan.
Some red food coloring is made from the shell of the cochineal beetle. This can be labeled as cochineal, carmine, or carminic acid. You can find cochineal in red-colored beverages, candy, salad dressing or spice blends. FD & C Red #40, the most popular red food dye, is made from coal tar derivatives and is considered vegan.
Enzymes are proteins added to foods to enhance flavor or improve texture. They can be animal-, vegetable-, bacterial- or plant-based. Those used in cheese-making are often animal-derived, so a vegetarian who eats cheese may still not eat brands of cheese made with animal-based enzymes. Examples of enzymes are: lactase (animal-based), lipase (animal or plant), papain (vegetable), pectinase (fruit), protease (animal, vegetable, bacterial, or plant), rennet (animal) and trypsin (animal).
Most commercial french fries are blanched prior to freezing. Blanching may be done in animal fat.
Gluten is a mixture of proteins from wheat flour, and is a vegan product. It may also be called wheat gluten or seitan.
Kosher gelatin can be made with fish or beef bones, thus not vegetarian.
Lecithin is naturally found in egg yolks, dairy products and meat, and some vegetables such as soybeans, peanuts and corn. Lecithin is commonly used in foods that require emulsification or blending. Most manufacturers use soy or corn as a basis for lecithin product, so it can be considered vegan.
Mono- and Diglycerides
These are common food additives used as emulsifiers and/or preservatives. The commercial source may be either animal (cow- or pork-derived) or vegetable, or they may be synthesized in a food laboratory. They are often found in bakery products, beverages, ice cream, chewing gum, shortening, whipped toppings, margarine and confections.
“Natural” does not equal “ vegetarian,” only that ingredients are derived from unprocessed products, such as vegan-allowable produce, herbs or spices or non-vegan eggs, dairy, meat or fish.
Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate
This can be an animal-mineral or vegetable-mineral compound; check with manufacturers. This is a common food additive, used to condition dough or as an emulsifier in salad dressings. You may find stearoyl lactylate in: cheese foods (such as grated Parmesan cheese), sliced cheese, cheese-flavored crackers or snacks; or in premade dairy-based dips.
Stearic is used as a binder or flavor agent in foods. Its source may be either animal or vegetable. It is found in vegetable and animal oils, animal fats, cascarilla bark extract, and in synthetic form. It is used in butter flavoring, vanilla flavoring, chewing gum, candy and fruit waxes, and may not be vegetarian.
Whey is the liquid that remains after most of the protein and fat is removed from milk during the cheese-making process. It is vegetarian, not vegan.