Vegetarianism

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Although diets based on animal based foods are generally the most valued sort of human nutrition, millions of people around the world choose to practice vegetarianism. Vegetarianism is defined as ‘a dietary pattern that is characterized by the consumption of plant food and the avoidance of some or all animal products’ (Perry, McGuire, Neumark Sztainer and Story, 2001, p. 406). The staples in a vegetarian diet are vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Vegetarians are, however, a heterogeneous group that consists of a range of vegetarian types. They can be categorized based on the foods they include or exclude from their diet. Types of vegetarians include:

  • Occasional Vegetarians (also known as Flexi tarians) on the whole, eat animal based prod ucts, yet aim to balance their diets with vegetarian products or adopt vegetarian diets for limited periods of time.
  • Semi Vegetarians avoid red meat only, while consuming other animal based foods.
  • Pesco Vegetarians avoid meat and poultry, but consume fish and other animal based foods.
  • Lacto Ovo Vegetarians often perceived as the ‘classic’ vegetarians, eat dairy and egg products, but exclude from their diet meat, poultry, and fish.
  • Lacto Vegetarians similar to the lacto ovo, except do not consume eggs or egg products.
  • Vegans avoid any kind of food of animal origin.
  • Raw Vegans eat only uncooked and unprocessed plant based foods.
  • Fruitarians consume only fruits and, often, plants that are categorized as both vegetable and fruit (e.g., cucumbers and tomatoes).

The most recent national poll of American adults by the Vegetarian Resource Group revealed that 2.3% are lacto ovo vegetarians or stricter, while 6.7% stated that they never eat meat (pesco vegetarians or stricter) (Stahler, 2006), indicating that the number of vegetarians has remained relatively steady in comparison to the 2003 poll. Approximately 1.4% of the population was found to be vegan, and they are considered to be enthusiastic and heavy consumers of vegan friendly products, often generating significant word of mouth recommendations to other vegetarians. The number of vegetarians in some European countries, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, has been found to be higher than in the United States.

The complexity of the vegetarian population is manifested in the wide range of reasons people become vegetarians. Shani and DiPietro (2007) suggested an alternative vegetarian typology based on motivations, which ranges from ecocentric vegetarians (those who practice vegetarianism for altruistic motives) to anthropocentric vegetarians (those who practice vegetarianism for self interested motives). The ecocentric category cites ethical, environmental, and humanitarian reasons, and the anthropocentric category claims health, weight, sensory, religious, economical, and social motives. Although many vegetarians are likely to cite more than one reason, most vegetarians have a dominant motivation in their pursuit of this alternative lifestyle. While ecocentric and religious vegetarians might be expected to be stricter in observing a vegetarian diet, since they are driven by ideology or religious obligations, anthropocentric vegetarians might adopt a slightly more flexible lifestyle, allowing themselves to occasionally deviate from the vegetarian diet, especially when dining out.

In the past few years, there has been a growing recognition among food companies of the rising popularity of vegetarian products, which has resulted in a variety of alternatives to animal based foodstuffs (e.g., soy products, veggie burgers, veggie steaks, vegan pizzas, and other dishes with meat substitutes like seitan, tempeh, textured vegetable protein, and tofu) becoming available to vegetarians and non vegetarians alike. The foodservice industry, on the other hand, has been slower to recognize the vegetarian purchase power and its potential, which has slightly limited vegetarians partaking in the dining out experience. In many restaurants, vegetarian food is perceived as dull and uninspired, which deters them from developing adequate vegetarian menu choices. British celebrity chef Simon Rimmer stated that vegetarians are ‘so much harder to cook for. Unlike meat, you can’t age vegetables to change their flavor. It’s tough to get the right balance of flavor and texture in a vegetarian dish’ (Ku¨hn, 2006, p. 9).

Despite the increase in the number of vegetarian restaurants and the growing awareness of vegetarians’ needs, many vegetarians are still faced with certain difficulties when dining out at non vegetarian places (Shani & DiPietro, 2007) as follows:

Many servers lack knowledge regarding menu items suitable for vegetarians. In many cases, servers also assume that vegetarians are a homogeneous group, unaware of the different types of vegetarians and/or the various motivations behind becoming a vegetarian.

Often, there is no indication in menus as to which items are vegetarian and/or which items can be made vegetarian; for example, by using meat substitutes or excluding animal ingredients.

Many restaurants (and other foodservice operations) only offer a few vegetarian options, which often causes vegetarians to get bored with the restaurant.

In some cases, vegetarians find bits of meat in what is supposed to be a vegetarian dish. In addition to customer dissatisfaction, such incidents might lead to negative publicity for and even lawsuits against the foodservice operation.

There is little dispute that the appeal of vegetarianism and its various types and motivations offers important opportunities, but also challenges, to the foodservice sector. Better awareness of vegetarians’ wants and needs, as well as an understanding of the diversity within vegetarianism, would likely result in more vegetarian customers patronizing restaurants. It should be noted that sources of vegetarian information, such as magazines, Websites, and seminars, tend to recommend vegetarian friendly restaurants that offer suitable options for vegetarian customers, in addition to strictly vegetarian restaurants. In many cases, non vegetarian people are accompanied by vegetarians, who often have a say in deciding where to go out to eat. Thus, greater attentiveness to vegetarians will likely have a positive effect on non vegetarian restaurants as well.

References

Ku¨hn, K. (2006). A minute on the clock: Simon Rimmer. Caterer & Hotelkeeper, 196(4453), 9.

Perry, C. L., McGuire, M. T., Neumark Sztainer,D., & Story, M. (2001). Characteristics of vegetarian adolescents in a multiethnic urban population. Journal of Adolescent Health. 29, 406 416.

Shani, A., & DiPietro, R. B. (2007). Vegetarians: a typology for foodservice menu development. FIU Hospitality and Tourism Review, 25(2), 66 73.

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