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Readers may want to give a copy of this article to restaurant, cafeteria, or school food service managers.

This article was originally published in the July/August 1993 issue of the Vegetarian Journal, published by:


By Jennifer Raymond

More than ever, schools and businesses find themselves responding to requests for healthy, meatless meals. According to a National Restaurant Association Gallup Poll, when eating out about 20% of Americans are likely to look for a restaurant which serves some vegetarian items. Through my consulting work with food service operations, I have compiled the following suggestions for food service managers, or even individuals who wish to become more involved in helping to introduce healthier options to their school or work cafeterias.

First, it is important that the criteria for a vegetarian diet be clearly understood by all involved. Vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry, fish, or other sea animals. They also avoid hidden animal products such as beef and chicken stocks, lard, and gelatin.

Some vegetarians avoid cheese made with rennet, a substance taken from the stomachs of unweaned calves and sometimes from pigs and other animals. Vegans are vegetarians who also avoid dairy products, eggs, and honey; they generally avoid the use of animal products in all aspects of their lives, including in clothing, cosmetics, etc.

You of course may also be serving people who are not yet vegetarian, but headed in that direction. They may eat some red meat, chicken, or fish, but would like more vegetarian meals served. The easiest way to meet the needs of the different categories of customers is to offer menu items which are vegan. I would also suggest that you survey the people who want more vegetarian items to find out what type of vegetarian food they would like served.

The following criteria should be taken into consideration when planning vege­tarian options:

  1. When possible, start with minor changes to the existing menu.
  2. Changes should be easy to implement. Begin with changes that do not in­volve excessive staff time, retraining, or equipment purchases.
  3. The cost of new menu items should be equal to, or less than, existing menu items (including the cost of preparation). The potential cost savings of vegetarian options can be a selling point to administrators.
The first step is to examine the existing menu. Are there items already on the menu which are vegetarian: baked potatoes, salads, breads, soups (which don't contain chicken or beef broth), macaroni and cheese, meatless lasagna, pizza, etc.? These can be indicated to patrons by a special marking on the menu, by an information card at the point of service, or by posting a separate vegetarian menu.

Changes which can easily be incorporated into an existing menu might include:

  1. Make a vegetarian soup a daily menu item. The addition of salad and bread will provide patrons with a nutritious and satisfying meal.

  2. Offer a meatless prepared salad, such as a bean or a grain salad, every day.

  3. Consider adding a salad bar. Include leaf lettuce, spinach, a variety of fresh vegetables, cooked beans, sprouts, and seeds. Vegetarians and non- vegetarians alike will appreciate this option.

  4. Offer cooked pasta or a baked potato with one or more meatless toppings every day.

  5. If a selection of hot entrees is offered each day, make one of them meat­less.

  6. Have nondairy milks available for use on cereals, in hot beverages, etc. Nondairy milks, such as soy milk or rice milk, are available in aseptic packag­ing in both individual and one-liter portions. An alternative to soy milk is Vegilicious, a potato-based milk powder. (Contact A and A Amazing Foods, Inc., PO box 3927, Citrus Heights, CA 95611. Call 1-800-497-4834.)

  7. Keep a good supply of fresh fruit available at all times.
The addition of vegetarian items need not involve a complete overhaul of the menu. Often, simple modification of existing recipes will make them accept­able to vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians.

  1. Many soups can be made vegetarian simply by changing from a meat-based stock to a vegetable stock. Try tomato, minestrone, lentil, split pea, or potato-leek soups. Several companies offer vegetable stocks in powdered form, and their price is equivalent to meat stocks.

  2. Replace meat stock with vegetable stock in pilaf, other grain dishes, and sauces.

  3. Lasagna can be prepared with a meatless sauce, and vegetables such as spinach, eggplant, or zucchini can be substituted for the meat filling. Again, the preparation time and ingredient cost will be competitive with that for the meat-based version.

  4. When preparing a spaghetti or pasta sauce, prepare part without meat. This will make many existing pasta dishes acceptable to vegetarians. Like­wise, leaving meat off pizza will make it an acceptable alternative for many vegetarians.

  5. Use vegetable oil instead of animal fat for frying and sautéing. This simple change may make a variety of items acceptable to vegetarians. It will also be a popular change with non-vegetarians who are concerned about eating more healthfully.

  6. Prepare or purchase pastries, crackers, rolls, and cookies made with vege­table fat instead of animal fat. Offer non-fat versions, too.

  7. Prepare or purchase yeast breads without eggs or dairy products. Breads should be made from whole grain flours whenever possible, and should contain little or no fat. If fat is an ingredient, make sure that it is vegetable rather than animal fat.

  8. Milk can be replaced with soy milk, rice milk, or with water in most re­cipes, without altering the taste or appearance of the food.

  9. Buttermilk can be replaced with soured soy milk or rice milk. For each cup of buttermilk, use 1 cup soy milk plus 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Replace 1 cup of yogurt with 3/4 cup soy milk plus 1 tablespoon of vinegar.

  10. Crumbled tofu can be substituted for cottage cheese or ricotta cheese in lasagna and similar dishes.

  11. Offer vegetarian baked beans in place of pork and beans, chili beans instead of chili con carne, and refried beans made with vegetable oil, or no fat at all.

  12. Over 60 varieties of nonmeat burger patties made from soybeans, wheat gluten, grains, vegetables, and/or other ingredients are available for easy substitu­tion for hamburgers. Among them are the Garden Burger (vegetarian or vegan) made by GardenBurger Inc. and various types of burgers from Worthington Foods Inc. (For information about the Garden Burger call 1-800-636-0109. For information about the Worthington burgers call 1-800-628-3663.)

  13. Vegetarian hot dogs are also available from a number of companies and in natural food stores. (For information about fat-free Smart Dogs contact Lightlife, 153 Industrial Blvd., Turners Falls, MA 01376. Call 1-800-274-6001. You can also order Yves' fat-free dogs by calling 1-800-667-9837.)

  14. To produce a chewier, meatier tofu, freeze the tofu for about three days. Thaw, squeeze out water, and crumble. The tofu will have a chewy texture.

  15. Some people prefer not to go heavy on the beans in tacos, chili, and other dishes. Adding bulghur to the beans makes a great-tasting, easier-to-digest dish. You can also lighten up some dishes like tacos by using more vegetables than beans. As a variation, try pureeing the beans for tacos.

With just a bit of experimentation, additional recipes may be made acceptable for vegetarians by using the following suggestions.

  1. Eggs in baked goods can often be eliminated, with little effect on taste or texture. If the family-size version of the recipe calls for one or two eggs, just leave them out, adding a couple of extra table-spoons of water for each egg to maintain the intended moisture content. If more than two eggs are called for, substitute one of the following for each egg:

    1. 1/4 cup (2 ounces) soft tofu blended with the liquid ingredients of the recipe

    2. 1/2 small banana, mashed

    3. 1/4 cup applesauce or canned pumpkin

    4. 1 tablespoon flaxseeds pureed in a blender with 1/4 cup water

    5. 1 heaping tablespoon soy flour mixed with 2 tablespoons water

    6. 2 tablespoons cornstarch

    7. Ener-G egg replacer, a mixture of potato starch, flour and leavening, is available at most health food stores. Use according to directions. (Ener-G Foods, Inc., 5960 First Ave. South, Seattle, WA 98108. Call 1-800-331-5222.)

  2. To replace eggs which are used for binding, such as in burgers or loaves, try:

    1. Mashed potatoes

    2. Quick-cooking rolled oats

    3. Cooked oatmeal or cooked rice

    4. Fine bread crumbs

    5. Tomato paste

  3. Diced or mashed tofu can be used in some salads and sandwiches in place of chopped egg. Scrambled tofu is an excellent alternative to scrambled eggs.

  4. Tofu can be blended with a commercial vinaigrette to make a creamy salad dressing. Use a commercial dressing which does not contain animal products, and if possible, one which is fat-free. Add fresh herbs, such as chives, basil, oregano, marjoram, etc., if desired.

  5. Texturized vegetable protein (TVP) can be used to replace ground meat in items like chili, tacos, or sloppy Joes. The cost and preparation time will be equivalent to, or less than, the meat-based version.

  6. Replace the ham in bean or pea soup with sliced vegetarian hot dogs added at the end of the cooking time, or simply leave the ham out and add other seasonings, such as marjoram, cumin, black pepper, and salt.

  7. Liquid smoke may be added to soups for a "meaty" flavor, though some indi­viduals may object to this product due to personal health beliefs.

  8. Replace the meat stuffing in bell peppers or cabbage rolls with a stuffing of rice, nuts, and raisins.

  9. A number of meat-like products, such as tempeh or seitan, can be substituted for meat in recipes. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and normally is bought in blocks about 1/2" thick. Seitan is made from wheat gluten and is often more appealing taste-wise to the public than tempeh.

  10. Gelatin, which is an animal protein, may be re­placed with Superfruits, a plant-derived jello available from natural foods distributors. (Contact The Hain Food Group Inc., 50 Charles Lindbergh Blvd., Uniondale, NY 11553. Call (516) 237-6200.)

  11. Instead of clam chowder, prepare a corn/potato chowder.

  12. White sugar alternatives (Some vegans will not use white sugar since it may be whitened with animal bone char, depending on the source.): concentrated fruit juice, dates, raisins, sweet fruits, blended fruits, banana.

  13. Non-dairy frozen desserts include Rice Dream, frozen tofu desserts, sor­bet, etc. Beware that items such as sherbet may contain gelatin, dairy, or eggs.

  14. In chili, mix different varieties of beans, such as chickpeas, navy beans, and kidney beans. Add some corn for extra color.

The Vegetarian Resource Group has produced a collection of quantity vegetarian recipes. See the end of this article for ordering information. You may also want to adapt recipes from other vegetarian or vegan cook-books. Most vegetar­ian recipes can be multiplied to meet your needs with little difficulty, keeping the following in mind.

  1. The amount of oil used for sautéing or frying does not need to be multi­plied at the same rate as other ingredients. Often, the amount in the origi­nal recipe will be sufficient.

  2. The amount of herbs and spices often does not increase at the same rate as for other ingredients in the recipe. I recommend adding seasonings as late as possible in the cooking process, and starting with about half the amount you would add if you were multiplying them proportionately. Taste and adjust the season­ings. Keep track of the total amount of each seasoning used and record that measurement for future use.

  3. Like herbs and spices, the amount of salt does not increase at the same rate as other ingredients. When possible, add salt to taste to the finished product. Start with one quarter of the amount specified by proportional multipli­cation. In items such as baked goods, where salt must be added during prepara­tion, add only one quarter to one half the amount of salt. When the product is baked, you can determine if the salt should be increased or decreased next time and adjust your measurements accordingly. If using a vegetarian soup base containing salt, then eliminate the added salt.

An increasing awareness of the detrimental effects of a high-fat diet is leading to increased demand for lowfat and fat-free menu selections. Many recipes can easily be modified, as explained below, to eliminate or reduce fat without significantly altering the flavor or texture of a dish.

  1. Sauté
    In recipes where vegetables such as onions are sautéed in oil, use the follow­ing liquid-braise method instead: Put approximately 1/4 inch of liquid (water, vegetable stock, wine, dry sher­ry, etc.) in the bottom of a large pot. Bring to a simmer, then add the vegetables. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft. Add a small amount of additional liquid if necessary.
  2. Salad dressings
    Replace oil in salad dressings with seasoned rice vinegar, or any other mild- flavored vinegar, or with water. Cornstarch or modified food starch may be used to thicken fat-free dressings. Both Kraft and Sexton make prepared fat-free salad dressing in individual and four 1-gallon packs.
  3. Baking
    Removing fat from baked goods usually makes them denser and chewier, though it occasionally makes them dry. As a result, there is no set formula and exper­imentation will be necessary. In some recipes, the fat can be removed with no other modification of the recipe. In other recipes, applesauce, mashed banana, or canned pumpkin may be substituted for all or part of the fat. Use apple­sauce or pumpkin when you don't want to add flavor, and banana when a banana flavor is acceptable.
  4. Cream soups
    Cream soups are usually prepared with heavy cream or butter-based sauces. A fat-free alternative for making soup thick and "creamy" is to add a potato. For soups which will be pureed, simply cook and puree the potato along with the other soup ingredients. For other soups, cook a scrubbed, diced potato in enough water to cover it. When the potato is fork-tender, puree it in its cooking water in the blender and add it to the soup. Another alternative is to add cooked oatmeal to the soup and puree it along with the other ingredients.
  5. Sauces and gravies
    Sauces are traditionally prepared with fat, flour, and liquid. To omit the fat, toast the flour in a dry pan until it is lightly browned. Whisk in the liquid to remove all lumps, then cook over medium-low heat, stirring constant­ly until thickened.
  6. Nuts and seeds in recipes
    Eighty to ninety percent of the calories in nuts and seeds come from fat. Thus, omitting or decreasing nuts in recipes will eliminate significant fat. When you remove nuts, you lose texture as well as flavor. Try replacing them with a crunchy vegetable or fruit to add texture to the dish. In some baked goods, GrapeNuts cereal can be substituted to add crunchiness.

Food service managers and personnel are often concerned that the addition of vegetarian items to the menu will add to time and labor costs. This may be true initially if new ingredients and preparation techniques are involved. However, as recipes and ingredients become familiar, preparation time will be decreased. The following suggestions will be useful in streamlining the preparation of vegetarian foods.

  1. Canned beans offer a quick alternative to cooking beans from scratch.

  2. In some recipes, frozen or canned vegetables may be appropriate, and will save significant preparation time.

  3. Certain vegetables, such as chopped onions, which are used frequently may be prepared in quantity for use in several recipes.

  4. Prepare a basic sauce which can be used for several different dishes. For example, a basic marinara can be used to prepare lasagna, manicotti, spaghet­ti, or pizza. Use the same basic marinara sauce on a "Lasagna Monday" or "Pizza Friday." A peanut sauce can be used with a hot vegetable dish or a cold pasta salad. As you make each of these sauces, double the quantity for another use.

  5. Plan menus so that leftovers can be incorporated into subsequent meals.

  6. Label items, especially new products which the staff may not be familiar with, such as new grains, beans, soy items, etc.

  7. Herbs and spices are essential to flavorful vegetarian food. To save time and avoid confusion, label these seasonings clearly and arrange them alphabet­ically or by group, such as sweet, spicy, or Italian. Clearly mark your new organization plan on the shelf so the staff knows where to return items.

  8. Store grains, flours, and dried beans in 5-gallon buckets with labels. Arrange alphabetically.

  9. Evaluate the present layout of the kitchen and how functional it is. Rearrange the kitchen as needed. For example, the Hobart bread mixer may be in a corner that is hard to reach. You may need to move items to make more counter space for preparation. Look for ways to make a more vegetarian-condu­cive kitchen.

Having the right equipment for the job will make the preparation of new re­cipes infinitely easier and more enjoyable.

As much as possible, involve the staff in changes that are being made. Ex­plain the reasons for the changes, and let the staff make suggestions and sample new foods. They will be more enthusiastic about changes they are a part of, and foods with which they are familiar.

Modifications to make a menu more healthful can offer special challenges when children are involved. The reality is that many kids like junk food, and more nutritious options are not always well received at first. When fresh fruit is offered in place of sugary desserts, for example, the amount of food left on the plate may increase at first. This can lead to negative repercussions from administrators as well as bad feelings among food service workers.

Nobody likes to serve food which is unpopular; so it is important that workers be prepared for a transition time during which they may receive both positive and negative responses to the food. At the same time, it is important that changes being made in the food service be positively promoted to the students through their classroom curricula and through interesting educational displays in or near the cafeteria. (Obtain a list of educational materials available from The Vegetarian Resource Group, Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203.)

Another avenue for increasing acceptance among children and teens is to offer healthful versions of familiar foods. Pizza, burgers, tacos, and burritos are just a few examples of foods which can easily be offered in a healthful vege­tarian version. Some schools have had success using a student advisory board which provides student input on proposed menu changes. Be aware of certain words which may have a negative impact. For example, one school food service began offering vegetarian hot dogs which were labeled "Tofu Hot Dogs." Acceptance was very poor. On the suggestion of an employee, the hot dogs were relabeled "Meatless Hot Dogs." They are now one of the best selling menu items.

You can have special days to feature meatless options. For example, try:

Lunches can easily be made vegetarian if you use beans and other items. If you already have The Vegetarian Resource Group Quantity Recipes Packet, send a self-addressed stamped envelope for more ideas on what can be served in schools and qualify for reimbursement. Commodities such as pinto beans and peanut butter may be used. However, beware of overdoing peanut butter, since it is high in fat. Use a variety of foods. The USDA also offers approved vegetarian recipes for use in schools.

(This example is from Laura Gilbert, R.D., based on her work at Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico.) At the beginning of the school year we set up a meeting with all vegetarian students. This gives the food service staff the opportunity to meet them, to get their names, to tell them that there will be a vegetarian main dish option everyday, and to let them know that they need to ask for it. Our students eat family-style, not cafeteria style, and this method seems to work out best for us. In a cafeteria setting both vegetarian and non-vegetarian entrees could be offered on the serving line.

Some of our vegetarian main dishes, such as vegetable cheese lasagna and stir-fried veggies with almonds, have become so popular with the non-vegetarians that we have included them on the main menu. We keep a few servings of the meat version in the kitchen for the hard- core meat eaters. Of course, when the kids eat all the vegetarian food, it encourages the staff to cook more.

The vegetarian options that we offer are either lacto- vegetarian (with dairy products) or vegan (no dairy products or eggs). In planning them, they have to be simple (easy to do), fast (we haven't got much extra time or labor), and similar to the main dish meat item. (Middle and high school kids do not like to stand out too much.)

Here are some typical entrees followed by vegetarian alternatives: Teriyaki Chicken/Teriyaki Tofu (both marinated in Teriyaki sauce); Chicken Fajitas/Tofu Fajitas (Use Lawry's Fajita Seasoning); Beef or Chicken Tacos/Bean or Bean and Nut-Seed Tacos; Spaghetti with Meat Sauce/Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce; Lean Beef Patty or Chicken Patty on a Bun/Archer Daniels Midland Burger Patties (from dry mix); Chicken Gyros with Tzadziki Sauce in Pita/ADM Taco Filling in Pita with Sauce; Ground Beef or Turkey Lasagna/Lasagna with Meatless Sauce, Broccoli, and Cheese; Stromboli Sandwich with Turkey Ham and Mozzarella/Vegetarian Stromboli Sandwich with Mozzarella, Sliced Tomatoes, and Sliced Black Olives; Beef and Cheese Egg Rolls/ La Choy Vegetable Egg Rolls with Almonds. (These are Vegan. We call them spring rolls.)

The bean soup recipe in the school lunch recipe file put out by U.S.D.A. works great with split peas, navy beans, or lentils. We also use their lasagna recipe and leave the meat out of the sauce and put broccoli and/or spinach in between some of the layers. Center for Science in the Public Interest's Health­wise Quantity Cooking has some good recipes, but some are impractical for quantities greater than 100. Write to C.S.P.I., 1875 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20009-5728 or call (202) 332-9110.

Try these items for breakfast.

  1. Eggs -- Make scrambled tofu. Crumble tofu and add spices. A pinch of turmeric or curry powder will add color.

  2. Pancakes -- Use soy milk or water instead of cow's milk. If you eliminate the eggs, increase the amount of baking powder and add lemon juice or vinegar to make light pancakes.

  3. French toast -- Blend soy milk and banana to use as the dipping batter.

  4. Cold cereal -- Serve healthy cereals without added fat and minimal added sugar.

  5. Hot cereal -- for more variety, use other cereals besides oatmeal. You can also mix other grains. Try bulghur, millet, grits, amaranth, corn meal, and whatever else your supplier has.

  6. Polenta -- With minimal fat, fry polenta on the griddle. Serve with apple­sauce. Polenta is a coarse corn meal. Most distributors that have whole wheat flour can obtain polenta.

  7. Juices -- Use juices without added sugar.

  8. Bread -- Use more whole grain breads. If the ingredients say "wheat flour," that probably means white flour. The package should say "whole wheat." Be sure bread ingredients do not list animal fat. If you are catering to vegans, they should also not contain eggs, whey, casein, or other milk products.

  9. Try bagels for breakfast. They could be served with jam or bananas in­stead of cream cheese. Or try a low-fat cream cheese.

  10. Fresh fruit -- Should be served whenever possible.

  1. Use a variety of ingredients.
  2. Leave space for a soup.
  3. Basic salad bar: garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, thawed frozen peas (you do not have to cook), tofu cubes, broccoli, shredded winter squash, grated carrots, low-fat dressings, bean sprouts or other sprouts, cauliflower, raisins, sunflower seeds, leaf lettuce, spinach, three-bean salad with fat-free dressing, marinated potato salad, pasta salad, cabbage salad with Chinese noodles, mushrooms, radishes, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, hot or sweet peppers, and fruit.

  1. Basic salad bar.
  2. See The Vegetarian Resource Group Vegetarian Quantity Recipe packet for entree ideas.
  3. Sandwiches.
  4. Soups.

  1. Do I have to start over totally?
    No. Look at your current recipes and menus, and slowly integrate the new ideas.

  2. Will changes cost more?
    This is up to you, depending upon what type of supplies you wish to use. Most items can be ob-tained from your usual supplier. If you choose to use an item like flaxseeds, you will probably have to find this in a health food or ethnic store. If you stick to mainstream ingredients, you can keep the price down. If you are in a public school, you can continue to use many of the same com­modities.

  3. Will this take more time?
    There will be a learning curve, as in making any other changes. Cooking from scratch does take longer, and there will be more cutting and slicing. You can cut down on time by buying items such as canned and frozen vegetables, or canned beans, instead of cooking from scratch. Using fresh food, which is best, will increase your preparation time. Balance this with your consumers' wants and needs.

  4. Why do I have to do this?
    The staff may be asking this question. Whenever people have to change, they may feel challenged or stressed. Reasons for the changes should briefly be explained to staff or administrators. If people desire, give them a chance for questions. The staff may appreciate a short in-service program. Food sampling often wins support and relieves anxiety.

    Have a vegetarian burger taste-test for your staff. Offer many different options and have the staff sample and decide which they like best. People are often resistant and resentful with anything new and unfamiliar. This is human nature. If they can taste the burgers, or other new foods you are introduc­ing, there will be more enthusiasm.

  1. Burgers
    Natural food stores carry a variety of vegetarian burgers. The following burg­ers can be ordered directly from the manufacturer or your supplier. Harvest Burger (vegan)--Midland Harvest, can be ordered from the Mail Order Company at 1-800- 8-Flavor; Nature’s Burger (vegan)--Fantastic Foods, 1250 N. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, CA 94954, (707) 778-7801; Garden Burger (vegetarian or vegan)--GardenBurger Inc., 1411 SW Morrison Street #400, Portland, OR 97205, 1-800-636-0109.

  2. Nondairy milk
    Natural food stores and Asian markets carry a variety of nondairy milks in a variety of flavors. Look for varieties which are lower in fat (less than 20% of calories), unless a high-fat version is needed to achieve desired consistency in a recipe. Try Edensoy--Eden Foods, Inc., 701 Tecumseh Road, Clinton, MI 49236, (517) 456-7424; Rice Dream--Imagine Foods, 350 Cambridge Avenue, #350, Palo Alto, CA 94306, (650) 327-2011; Vitasoy, 400 Oyster Point Blvd., Suite 201, S. San Francisco, CA 94080, (650) 583-9888.

The Vegetarian Quantity Recipe Packet, which includes 28 vegan recipes serving 25 and 50, plus a list of suppliers, costs $15. Vegan in Volume, by Nancy Berkoff, is a 272-page cookbook with 125 vegan recipes serving 25. It costs $20. Included are ideas for breakfast buffets, college campuses, cooking for kids, holiday suggestions, dinner parties and elegant dining, fast food recipes, and un-hospital food. Send payment to The Vegetarian Resource Group, Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203.

Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update newsletter, edited by Nancy Berkoff, R.D., gives information, offers advice, provides quantity recipes, and spotlights leaders in the industry who are providing the healthy food options millions of consumers are looking for in restaurants, school cafeterias, hospitals, nursing homes, on university campuses, and other institutional settings. A one-year subscription to the Foodservice Update newsletter and the Vegetarian Journal is $30.00. Checks can be sent to VRG, PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203 or ordered online.

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