By Veggie Tom.
Hello there. I’m Tom Hay and I’m joining the Can I Eat It? Team as the in-house vegetarian. From here on out, you’ll know me as Veggie Tom.
I’ve been writing about food for a few years as the Food and Drink Editor of the Harrogate Advertiser series, a group of newspapers in North Yorkshire, and this year I’ll be a judge for the Great Taste Awards. One of the only vegetarian judges, in fact – so when they wheel out the bacon, I’ll just be the guy making notes.
I’ve been veggie since birth – 33 years and counting – though I’ve fallen victim to the odd case of mistaken identity. Chicken spring rolls, for example (which taste exactly like the vegetable ones) and a memorable guzzle through half a bowl of chorizo in tomato sauce. Pretty clueless, but surprisingly easy to do when you’ve never had a sausage.
Growing up in the 80s, vegetarians were a bit sidelined. Barbecues involved cheese and ketchup sandwiches, a trip to McDonalds entailed fries or (if I was lucky) large fries, and when I stayed at friends’ houses… well, it’s a good job I like baked beans.
It’s much easier now. Restaurants, shops and producers have twigged that we spend money just like meat eaters, and there’s much wider availability of food from countries where plenty of dishes are vegetarian by default, rather than by design – places like Thailand, Japan and the Middle East. And gone are the days when veggie substitutes meant a cardboard burger. Companies like Quorn, Cauldron and Linda McCartney are forever expanding and refining their ranges, and lately supermarket own brands have got in on the act too.
Nevertheless, it remains a minefield. It’s simple enough to spot a Sunday roast, but a lot of foods remain reliant on cheap, functional animal ingredients which you’ll need a fine-tooth comb to spot.
Take beer, much of which uses isinglass finings – the dried swim bladders of fish – to filter out the yeast. Much more common in cask ale than bottled, but it’s still something to watch out for, depending on how strict a vegetarian you are.
For a veggie-friendly beer, you could try a bottle of Kelham Island Pale Rider. Made in Sheffield, it’s a 5.2% ABV pale ale with everything in balance – gentle, rounded malts and sharp citrus giving way to bitter, lingering hops. A phone call to the brewery confirmed its vegetarian status in bottle form (though avoid the cask version, which still uses isinglass).
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