Word Nerd: Cool Words You Should Know if You’re a Vegetarian in the USA

4 Jul


Today, 4th of July, is USA’s Independence Day. It’s a day which will be celebrated with fireworks, parades and fare sampled outdoors – beer butt chicken, Louisiana crawfish boil, Cajun fries, and the regular hot dogs.  If you’re like me, most of these dishes probably sound as mysterious as they sound tempting.

Except hot dogs, which everyone knows about! But what if you’re vegetarian? Well, then you could go for the not-dogs. Just like hot dogs, they don’t involve dogs either, but unlike hot-dogs, they are vegetarian. Not-dogs or veggie dogs are usually made of tofu, which is a soy protein, and served variously (with sauerkraut or cream cheese), across the country. This is the option I resorted to, while at a baseball game in the USA last month. And so did many of the vegetarians in our group.

During the trip, I came across words which were new – whether food or slang, which piqued my curiosity and helped me to understand the culture better, as well as my relation with it. This was especially true of food, since Indians have so many factors to consider when choosing what to eat. Especially abroad! So, not-dogs came high up on the list (because they’re also not-pork, not-beef, not-chicken, although not so sure about not-egg). Another American savoury that was a delight was kettle chips. Being in Philadelphia, the kettle chips capital of the world, this was hardly a surprise. The difference in kettle chips is their texture – thicker and way crunchier than the all too familiar bag of crisps. Highly recommended. But later, researching my favourite snack, I found that kettle chips are sometimes cooked in lard – that’s pig fat. Naturally, this caused a little concern. So look out for that word in the ingredients list of your pack of fried snacks.

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Chipotle, a Mexican restaurant which has many branches across the USA. The word itself stands for a hot pepper used in Mexican food. Normally, the cuisine offers several options for vegetarians – namely, tacos, burritos, or rice bowls. Chipotle will offer options in white or brown rice, soft shell or hard shell taco, and various kinds of beans. You will also be asked if you want some carnitas or barbacoa in your meal. Say no, if you’re vegetarian. Carnitas is pork cooked in lard while barbacoa is made from beef. To sofritas on the other hand, you can say yes. This is a sauce with peppers, onions and garlic, etc.

But sweets on the other hand should be safe. Yes? Maybe not. On offering a packet of gummy bears to one of the steadfast vegetarians in the group, I was surprised when he turned it around to read the ingredients. “What are you looking for?” I asked. “Gelatin,” was the answer. Gelatin, found in pop tarts, marshmallow, jell-O, Skittles, Starburst, and gummy bears among other things, is a tasteless and odorless substance, which makes things, well, gummy. It is made by boiling the bones, cartilage and skin of animals – basically meat industry leftovers. So, while I don’t know how strongly you feel about your vegetarianism, this has made me balk a bit at the thought of another pack of gummy bears.

So, if you’re out and about in the USA today, or any other day, but face some diet dilemmas, these are some of the words you can add to your nerd repertoire.

Have you any such words to share? Tell us in the comments below.

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