What the U.S. Could Learn from England's Vegetarian Food Labels
We're all familiar with U.S. food labels, and they've come a long way in how they inform consumers. But, as a vegetarian and registered dietitian now living in England, I've seen how much more labels can do to educate consumers.
Though it's a voluntary program, English food companies regularly label products made without meat as vegetarian. I'd say about 90 percent of the vegetarian products I have checked include prominent wording — "suitable for vegetarians" (you can see a selection of the labels above) — or the symbol of the Vegetarian Society on the label. While there is no legal definition here for use of the terms "vegetarian" or "vegan," it seems that "vegetarian" seems most tied to a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.
What makes eating as a vegetarian in England even better is that we have many more options than vegetarians in America! While many prepared foods such as rice dishes, vegetable soups and sauces are made with chicken stock or other animal-based flavorings in the U.S., those same foods are made with vegetarian ingredients here. It's almost like the baseline in England is to make foods vegetarian. Because of this, I've found that my options at grocery stores have expanded significantly since my move.
And, the expanded options for vegetarians in England don't end at the grocery store. Even in the small town where I live, I routinely see vegetarian options noted on restaurant menus. Some restaurants even have separate vegetarian menus. Many restaurateurs have caught on with other food restrictions, too, as gluten-free and allergen-free notes are very clearly labeled on many menus.
For anyone who is used to asking servers tons of questions about what exactly is and isn't in dishes, this type of labeling turns dining out into a much smoother experience. Personally, I am thankful to not have to make my server run back and forth with questions for the chef about ingredients.
So far, I have found that, in England, they just "get it." Vegetarianism is widely known here and seems culturally accepted. There is almost always a vegetarian option. The "suitable for vegetarians" wording is time-saving and reassuring — and it's a downright pleasure to see! I'd love to see something similar become standard in the U.S.
Melinda Boyd, MPH, MHR, RD, is a registered dietitian and military spouse living in England. She is co-author of Train Your Brain to Get Thin, and blogs at NutrFoodTrvl.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter.
(Photo: Melinda Boyd, MPH, MHR, RD)