While there are varying degrees of vegetarianism, let’s use the simplest terms. A vegetarian does not eat meat, fish or poultry. Veganism is where it gets a little more complicated. Vegans also abstain from meat, fish and poultry, with the addition of not consuming any animal products or by-products. They will not eat dairy, usually honey, or anything derived from an animal.While there are varying degrees of vegetarianism, let’s use the simplest terms. A vegetarian does not eat meat, fish or poultry. Veganism is where it gets a little more complicated. Vegans also abstain from meat, fish and poultry, with the addition of not consuming any animal products or by-products. They will not eat dairy, usually honey, or anything derived from an animal.
To clarify, here is a short list of some animal by-product ingredients you may have in your kitchen that would not be acceptable to a vegan:
Some breads (if they contain whey, butter, eggs or sugar)
Most beers (if they are filtered with gelatin, egg whites or sea shells)
Some salad dressings (if they contain lecithin, which are derived from animal tissue or egg yolk).
A good rule of thumb, Cunningham says, is this: “When in doubt, leave it out.”
Although there is no official guideline for restaurants to follow, Cunningham offers some helpful hints where vegetarian and vegan menu items are concerned. “It’s really helpful if the restaurant provides as much information as they can so the customer can make their own decision,” he says.
Cunningham also suggests providing an ingredients list, especially for items not made in-house. Kitchen and prep areas are vital to maintaining the authenticity of a meat-free offering. “Try to limit the opportunities for cross contamination between vegetarian and non-vegetarian items as much as you can in the limited space that you have,” he says.
Don’t forget to train your wait staff about how to answer questions about vegetarian and vegan offerings. Never let servers guess or suggest meaty menu items to those who have indicated that they abstain. “I’ve had servers who are eager to please me, so they tell me what they think I want to hear,” Cunningham says. “Actually what I really want to know was what the truth was.”
Carefully select items that appeal to a vegetarian or vegan. Vegetarians are looking for more than a cheese pizza. Diversify vegetarian and vegan options with ingredients that you already have in-house like veggies, fruits, beans and nuts. There are also a variety of meat substitute products like tofu and tempeh. There are a number of non-dairy cheeses based on the flavors of mozzarella, cheddar, Gouda, etc. Test them for consistency and be sure they melt to your liking.
“If you have to choose between a vegetarian and a vegan option, always pick the vegan option,” Cunningham says. “Even though there are fewer vegans than vegetarians, the vegan option is the most accepted to the widest range of vegetarians.”
It’s not just vegans and vegetarians looking for meat-free offerings. There are a number of reasons customers choose vegetarian or vegan pizzas. Some abstain from meat due to religious reasons. Those who follow a Kosher diet will often seek vegetarian and vegan options to be certain they do not violate animal restrictions. Some customers may not eat processed meat or are simply limiting their meat intake. “It could be people looking to reduce their calories or looking to cut back on saturated fat,” Cunningham says.
Peace o’ Pie, a vegan pizzeria in Boston, Massachusetts, has created quite the general public following. “The majority of our customers are neither vegan or vegetarian,” co-founder Miguel Danielson says. “In general, we think that more and more people are opening themselves up to eating more plant-based foods, and we offer a delicious and unique way to do so.”
Peace o’ Pie’s most popular pizzas include the EP, which features fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic and smoky tempeh crumbles, and the MD (vegan apple sage sausage, onion and zucchini, sautéed in herbs and spices).
Creating a well-thought-out meatless menu may do more than get vegetarians or vegans into your store; it could also possibly be just what your current customers seek.
Denise Greer is associate editor at Pizza Today.