Itís noon. Youíre hungry. Unfortunately, you left your eggplant casserole on the kitchen counter this morning, and you donít have time go home and get it. You dash into the nearest pizza joint and order a slice of the veggie special...heck, itís not the healthiest option in the world, but at least itís vegetarian, right?
Hidden meat is still a big problem for vegetarians who eat out. Sometimes that meat hides in unexpected places. A month ago, someone caused a furor on a vegetarian (Internet) bulletin board by insisting that Pizza Hut uses beef stock in its pizza sauce. A month before that, someone raised the question of chicken meat in the rice at Taco Bell. While both rumors proved to be unfounded, our calls turned up information on hidden meat in other products from those restaurants.
The regular pizza sauce at Pizza Hut is indeed vegetarian, but the sauce on the stuffed crust pizza contains chicken fat, and the pasta and bread stick sauce is beef-based. Both the plain and the Mexican style rices at Taco Bell are meat-free, but the sour cream contains gelatin, and the quacamole is made with the sour cream. In addition, the sauce used on the new Veggie Fajita Wrap contains both chicken meat and clam extract (a special concern for people with seafood allergies).
Some would say that the best option is not to eat out at all, or at least to avoid fast-food restaurants. But what is a hungry veggie on the run to do? ASK. Never assume that, just because there are no visible chunks of meat in a product, that it is vegetarian (at least not unless youíre really desperate!). And donít just take a harried employeeís word for it - ask to see the package, or speak with a manager. If youíre dealing with a national chain, you can often call a consumer hotline for a rundown of ingredients (usually these are toll free numbers, which you can obtain by calling 1-800-555-1212).
Just for the sake of comparison, we called a few local pizza places. Hereís the scoop:
Sbarro (various mall locations, including South Square and Northgate in Durham): Pizza and pasta sauces contain no meat or meat by-products. The pizza crust used to contain lard, but the recipe was changed in response to requests from vegetarians (our calls and letters do make a difference!). The crust is now meat-free. Meat is served on the side with such items as spaghetti and ziti, so these, along with the veggie calzone and spinach lasagne, are also vegetarian options.
Domino's (take out/delivery, multiple locations): No meat-related ingredients in sauce or crust.
Amante Gourmet Pizza (Highway 54, next to Mardi Gras Bowling Center, Chapel Hill, 493-0904; formerly Pizza Chef): No meat in the sauce (the person I spoke to was appalled at the very thought) or in the crust (which does, however, contain eggs). Many tasty and unusual veggie toppings available, including my favorite, artichoke hearts!
Pizza Inn (multiple locations throughout the Triangle): This one was disconcerting. When I called the store on Chapel Hill Road in Durham, I was rudely told to call the North Duke store. The fellow there seemed rather confused by my questions, but did eventually say that the sauce was nothing more than "tomato bits and water". He did not check the ingredient list, however, so I would do some further checking before eating here - I get suspicious when I get this kind of runaround!
Lilly's Pizza (1813 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh, 833-0226): A real vegetarian find! The owner is a vegetarian, and knows how to take care of his veggie clients. The crust is made with organic flour, extra gluten, natural honey, olive oil, salt and water. The sauce is vegan and veggie toppings abound. The owner mentioned that he had tried a soy cheese a while back, but got a poor response from customers (if anyone knows of a good soy- or rice-based option without whey or other dairy products that is tasty and available locally, he would love to hear from you!). Clearly a veggie top-pick.
Peppers (127 E. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill 967-7766): Another good choice. No animal products in the crust or the sauce, and many veggie toppings available. Highly recommended to me by several pizza lovers in the area.
Maximillians (1284 Buck Jones Rd., Cary, 460-6299): I have to admit, I started salivating talking to this guy. Not only are the crust and the regular sauce vegetarian, but they also offer a red chili pesto sauce that touched my California soul! Lots of exotic veggie toppings, including baked eggplant, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, portobello mushrooms, and roasted red peppers! Another excellent choice. (Editor's note - these past three are my favorites in the area! -- Your pizza loving editor)
Pulcinella's (Woodcroft Shopping Center, 4711 Hope Valley Rd., Durham, 490-1172): No animal products in sauce or crust on these classically Italian pizzas. Many vegetarian toppings. I havenít had the pizza here (it looks wonderful!), but I can attest that the pasta is outstanding (try the capellini peperonata - mmmmm!). Excellent local family restaurant.
In sum, most pizza places are a good bet for vegetarians, featuring typically vegan crusts (the exception here was Amante, which uses eggs, and Lilly's, which uses honey), vegan sauces, and a variety of vegetable toppings. Obviously, these are only a few of the many pizza and other fast-food options available in the Triangle. Given limited time, and the difficulty of finding a knowledgeable person in a busy local restaurant, I wasnít able to do more than a brief sampling, based on raves (or rage) from fellow pizza lovers.
While itís a much nicer world for vegetarians than it was when I first took the plunge (10 years ago), the restaurant world is still very much a minefield. When in doubt, ASK! Even better, call your favorite food chain and suggest they be more vegetarian friendly.
If youíre a web surfer, the internet can be an excellent source of information on all things vegetarian, including the latest scoop on restaurants. Here are a few sites you might want to check out:
World Guide to Vegetarianism (http://www.veg.org/veg/Guide) Find restaurant listings for major cities just about anywhere in the world! Definitely the first place to check if youíre traveling.
Vegetarian Resource Group Restaurant Guide (http://envirolink.org/arrs/VRG/fast.html) A listing of major restaurant chains, with a rundown on ingredients for each. Also provides a link to the latest news from VRG.
Vegsource (http://www.vegsource.com) Includes interactive bulletin boards on such topics as animal rights/activism, restaurants, recipes, parenting, animals & spirituality, books, health and veganism. Other features include a weekly on-line magazine, recipe database and chat room.
Veggies Unite! (http://www.vegweb.com) Similar to above. Excellent recipe database. One-time $15 membership requested, but not required.
Dilip's Vegetarian Pages (http://www.cs.unc.edu/~barman/vegetarian.html) Many links to good vegetarian pages, including most of the above.