Food: It’s not easy being Green!

by Sandra Fletcher

The rice looked delicious!

Everything always looks delicious at the Job Finding Club “pot luck” lunch on the second Tuesday of each month. And, since most of the food brought in by our clientele — who are all newcomers to Canada — is vegetarian, I am always excited to try new vegetarian things.

The participant who had brought the delicious rice explained that it was a dish that her mother used to make back in India every weekend for her family and now she, in her newly adopted country, makes the same dish each week for her family too. She made the dish to share with us, her new friends, in the job finding club.

The rice did look delicious and it was vegetarian (vegan even!) but, it was blow-my-head-off spicy! Good. But spicy!

It took me several hours to recover from my spicy Indian rice. At least I had the Canadian dish that I’d brought to soothe me: carrot, ginger and maple syrup soup. While this wasn’t a dish from my childhood, it is a culturally relevant dish in that it lets me serve authentic Canadian maple syrup without serving pancakes!

It’s not easy being a vegetarian in Canada some days. Especially at lunch time if you are in a hurry!

While many other country’s cuisines feature fantastic vegetarian options to take with you on the run, North American fast food can make you bloated and fat and is often full of meat!

Middle Eastern cuisine gives us falafel – beautiful balls made of chick peas, served in a pita with what amounts to a salad of toppings. It’s portable, healthy and fast.

In Japanese restaurants, vegetarian sushi style rolls can be filled with veggies and even fruit. These are delicious with spicy wasabi and soy. Tempura veggies are just as good.

While ethnic cuisine is not always accessible, there is a slight shift in the fast food places in North America to try to cater to the growing vegetarian population.

Most Canadian fast food chains: Harvey’s, A&W, Burger King and Lick’s, offer veggie burgers but many still do not.

Vegetarians do have a multitude of other options that are more healthy and just as fast and convenient as the drive thru.

Quick, easy and nutritious

All submarine shops offer veggie subs and wraps.

Tim Horton’s has vegetarian soups and sandwiches.

And every pizza place on the planet has some kind of vegetarian pizza.

Add into that the wide veggie menu at Taco Bell and the new vegetarian sandwich from KFC and the fast food world for those who don’t eat meat is HUGE – and growing!

But veggies beware! Some vegetarian food isn’t all vegetarian! Did you know that some veggie patties contain veggie stuffing but beef lard in the pastry?

Always read the labels!

There are a lot of different kinds of vegetarians.

  • Lacto vegetarians are vegetarians that eat dairy products however, they do not eat eggs.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarians are like lacto vegetarians, except they include eggs in their diet.
  • Pesca vegetarians eat everything that lacto-ovo vegetarians do but they also consume fish.
  • Vegans differ from all the other types of vegetarians as they eat only plant based foods and consume no animal products of any kind.

Whether someone has adopted vegetarianism because of cultural, ethical, religious or health reasons those reasons are their own.

In the last several years with the popularity of international cuisines which focus more on vegetarian based foods, Canadian supermarkets have tried to keep up with demand for new products.

Now, in most supermarkets, you can find a wide range of vegetarian products from around the world including Japanese rolls, Indian Naan bread, West Indian plantains, Thai chilies, Mexican chilies, Italian cheeses, Chinese noodles, etc. There are large sections of most chain stores now carrying not only international foods but international brands as well.

Faking it!

Grocery stores are also making significant strides in including meat substitutes in their new product offerings.

If you are a vegetarian, you know that keeping a balanced diet is not as easy as it seems. Legumes, beans, nuts and other mean substitutes need to be part of your diet to keep you healthy.

Tofu is readily available now in all supermarkets – but that doesn’t make it taste good! (Kidding. Just kidding… I can’t be the only vegetarian that hates tofu right?)

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. And vegetarianism is no different. There are many health benefits associated with a vegetarian diet. A change in diet can reduce your risk for certain cancers, diabetes and heart disease. It can also lower your weight, cholesterol and fat intake.

In the UK where recently there have been food born illnesses, the number of vegetarians and indeed vegans has increased a lot over the last decade.

When we explain the concept of our “pot luck” lunch to our newcomer clients we often start with the explanation that food, in Canada is an incredibly social thing. It’s not just about what you eat but about who you share food with. It’s nice to see that a lot of restaurants and supermarkets are making it possible for vegetarians to share their foods with others.

As for my contribution to the next pot luck lunch at the job finding club, I think I’ll try making my own “Canadian” version of spicy vegetarian rice - just maybe not so spicy!

CNM