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Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update
Healthy Tips and Recipes for Institutions

Volume VII, Number 2 Spring 1999  


Question: My vegan customers (I run a college dining hall) are very suspicious of any prepared items (such as cakes made from mixes and bottled salad dressings). I am very conscientious and my feelings are hurt. Why do they want to see the labels on everything?

Answer: Understand that your vegan customers have made a commitment to delete animal products from their food and may not understand that you are very concerned about offering them acceptable items. Many prepared (read: processed) items have hidden ingredients that don’t leap out as animal products and one has to be very diligent. What comes to mind is a new product I saw at a recent food show. It was a soft serve fruit whip, being advertised as "dairy-free, fruit only." I thought, perfect, a great item to use in our soft-serve machine for vegans and for customers avoiding milk. The salesperson assured me that there was "only fruit, no sugar and no milk" in the product. Upon reading the label, I discovered that the product had both sodium caseinate (a dairy derivative) and fructose (sugar).

Hidden ingredients are not just a vegetarian issue. Salt, caffeine and preservatives are ingredients that many people try to avoid, but can be buried on the label. Just the other day I picked up a bottle of salad dressing claiming to be fat-free (on the front of the bottle), but when I read the nutritional information, each serving offered several grams of fat! Labeling language can be very tricky for everyone.

Since your vegan customers are in tune with the ingredients they do not wish to eat, they may feel that they are more used to being "label-detectives" than you. Communicate (either through a newsletter or in meetings) with them that you are up on your vegan terminology (for example, explain that your vegan cheese does not contain "enzymes" or "rennet" and that the salad dressing has no "casein" or "lactose"). Let them know what brands of vegan products you use, and even let them know your philosophy on cooking with honey or refined cane sugar (since some vegans exclude these). Remember that knowledge is power! Empower your vegan customers with food information and they’ll love you and have more trust.

To show your true interest in the veggie lifestyle, you might do what several colleges are doing – form a vegetarian focus group that brings interested students, faculty and staff (food service and others) together. Activities could range from asking for suggestions and having discussions, to taste testing or field trips (one college foodservice director took the group to a local vegetarian restaurant to try out some menu items), or even add World Vegetarian Day to your list of days for special menus.

To be sure that every one is speaking the same language, you may want to provide some written material. Then you and your students have the same "vocabulary" when you are talking. The Vegetarian Resource Group has an informational booklet titled "Vegetarianism in a Nutshell," which outlines vegan diets and lifestyles. You can obtain this by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope and note to VRG, PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203.

Another short and simple handout is published by the Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Group of The American Dietetic Association, entitled "Making the Change to a Vegetarian Diet." This brochure gives some hints on meal planning and healthy eating. It can be obtained by contacting Vegetarian Nutrition DPG, c/o Carol Coughlin, RD, 191 Baldwin Street, Leicester, MA 01524.

Got a foodservice question? Visit our website at and query away!

Excerpts from the Spring 1999 Issue:

For the complete issue, please subscribe to the magazine. To subscribe to Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update, click here and check "Add 1 year Foodservice Update for $10 more  on whatever subscription form you choose.

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