Researching vegetarian diet, I have questions about milk, animal cruelty, beef products and Omega 3's. I can't seem to find the answers.
1) I keep reading things about soy milk and other milk alternatives. It was my understanding that not drinking milk would fall under Veganism. Is there something in the process of getting milk that hurts/kills a cow (animal cruelty)?
2) Growing up, I had a friend who was vegetarian, and once I offered her some sort of mass produced baked good product (think Hostess). She looked at the wrapper and said that she couldn't eat it because there was a beef product in it. When I looked at the wrapper I did not see it anywhere and she mentioned that it was called something else - a name I can't remember.
Are there things like that nowadays (this was about 8 years ago) that I should be checking for on labels, or do companies spell things out better?
3) When I mention becoming a vegetarian to others, I am warned continuously about getting enough Omega-3 for my brain and that this is strictly in fish oil. Is there another source for this? - J.R.
Milk Production and Animal Cruelty: In conventional dairies, and in many organic dairies, cows lead short, unhealthy, and stressful lives (3 - 5 years, instead of their normal life span of 15 - 20 years - maybe a few years longer in organic dairies), and all of them end up in the slaughter house.
In conventional dairies, cows don't have access to pasture. Organic dairies may or may not pasture their cows some of the time. The cows are milked three times a day. They live in small stalls, with constant lights and noise (milking machines are extremely loud). The cows are pumped full of drugs to boost milk production - they are considered milk production machines. Their calves usually become veal, unless they're female. The normal cow life cycles are completely disregarded.
Organic dairies sometimes treat the cows more humanely, but they're still considered production units, not family pets (with some exceptions).
Going dairy free doesn't mean that you're a vegan. Veganism means not consuming any animal foods or products.
It's not true that you need to drink dairy milk to get enough calcium. There is plenty of calcium in plant foods, e.g. green leafy veggies, and nuts & seeds. Non-dairy milk alternatives include almond, soy, coconut, hemp, oat and rice "beverages" which are availabe plain or flavored & sweetened.
Beef Products in Packaged Food: It could have been gelatin, stearic acid, or glycerin. All are used as binders, and have various trade names. It could have been lard. Beef by products are found in many consumer products - here's a list.
It's always a good idea to read labels - ingredients like that are usually listed. But labelling requirements are getting looser, not stricter. It's safe to assume that there could be nasties in processed foods that aren't mentioned on the labels - maybe hidden under a broad category such as "natural flavoring" which can include things like MSG.
Vegetarian Sources of Omega 3's: Yes, there are plant sources of Omega 3's! It's just another anti-vegetarian myth, that there aren't. Flax seed oil and ground flax seeds are a good source of Omega 3's, as well as walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sea vegetables. There is a small amount of Omega 3's in avocados, olive oil, whole grains, green leafy veggies.
It's important to have some of those foods everyday. Most people, including non-vegetarians, don't get nearly enough Omega 3's in their diets, even though you don't need much.
It's easy to incorporate flax seed oil in salad dressings, or mix it with steamed veggies or cereal - it shouldn't be cooked. Ground flax seeds or chia seeds can be used in cooked cereals, or in baked goods (they are also egg replacers). Flax seed oil is highly volatile, and goes rancid quickly. Keep it in the fridge, and use it up quickly.
If you can, it's best to grind your flax or chia seeds fresh, in a coffee grinder (not used for coffee beans). Ground flax and chia seeds will keep in the fridge for a few weeks in a sealed container.
Walnuts are good in salads, or as a snack (nice with raisins and sunflower seeds, or in baked goods or cereal. Make sure they're fresh, not rancid. Soaking overnight reduces bitterness. Hemp seed milk is a balanced source of Omega 3 and Omega 6. Keep all shelled nuts and oils in the fridge.
Good questions! Thanks for writing - Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian