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The Essential Vegetarian Vegan anyone?

By Katie Jeffreys

This week’s issue will focus on two main topics: my miserable trip to Chili’s and alternative non-meat diets. First, vegans (pronounced vee-gun). A vegan is a person who extends the vegetarian diet of no meat to exclude animal by-products, primarily eggs and dairy. This can sometimes extend to excluding certain dyes that are made by crushing insects. (Yes, they really do make a red dye called cochineal out of Dactylopius coccus, an insect found on cactuses). Another product that is inconspicuously animal based is gelatin, which many vegans will not consume. It is made from bones or hooves of animals such as cows and horses. Most vegans also eliminate leather and other animal fibers (silk, wool, etc.) from their wardrobes.

There are many vegan alternatives to animal derived products, most of which are soy based. These range from milk and cheese, to eggs and ice cream. While this may seem overly restrictive, many people find it more healthy and kind to the environment than a vegetarian diet.

Eggs can be replaced by a variety of things when cooking and baking. In addition to commercial non-dairy egg substitutes, one egg can be replaced by two ounces of soft tofu (blended with some water), half of a mashed banana, or one quarter cup of applesauce or pureed fruit.

Some people go so far as to adopt a “fruitarian” diet, which consists solely of foods that do not kill the organism as a whole. So they would eat an apple off a tree, for the tree won’t die due to their consumption, but a carrot is a root, so eating it would destroy the plant. Fruits, of course, include things such as apples and oranges, as well as foods that are typically considered vegetables, such as tomatoes and cucumbers.

Adopting a more strict diet can have many health benefits and has a much lower impact on the environment that a meat eating or even a crop-based diet. By eliminating root vegetables and grains from your diet, you reduce not only the impact that raising livestock for human consumption has on the environment, but the lesser impact of farming. In any case, I am not a vegan or fruitarian, although I admire their pursuits.

I went to Chili’s last weekend to partake in what I thought would be a reliably adequate meal, served promptly in a friendly and fun environment. I called ahead, and when I arrived to their Harvard Square location, I was seated immediately. The waitress who served us was less than exciting. In fact I don’t think she ever smiled. She was slow to greet us, slower to bring us drinks, and even slower yet in bringing our meals. We waited for nearly an hour while our waitress wandered around the restaurant.

When the food was finally brought out (by other wait staff) my dining companions found it was cold. My food was served a few minutes after the rest, but it was in fact hot and fresh. The displeasure of the group was somewhat relieved by an accommodating manager who approached our table.

Chili’s only has three vegetarian entrees: spinach and mushroom quesadillas, black bean vegetarian burger, and vegetable pasta. The burger, served with fries, is always a safe bet. The quesadillas are tasty and filling, but are sometimes a bit greasy.

There are also delicious unhealthy appetizer options, most notably the Awesome Blossom -- a fried onion, sliced to look like a flower. It is served with a yummy dipping sauce, and is enough for six people. Desserts are equally grand, from apple pie with ice cream, to chocolate filled cake served with ice cream covered in chocolate and caramel sauces.

I have eaten at the Copley Place Chili’s, which is located next to the movie theater in the mall. I have generally had a better experience at this location, both in service and food quality, than at the Harvard Square restaurant.

My recipe this week is hummus, which I personally like as a dip for pita bread or as a spread on bagel sandwiches. As always, feel free to contact me with any comments, questions, or concerns at my (new) E-mail address,


3 tablespoons tahini

1 tablespoons sesame oil (or olive)

1/2 lemon, juiced

1/2 cup water

1 large garlic clove, mashed

1 cup chick peas

salt & pepper, to taste

Slowly add water to tahini, oil, and lemon juice. Combine sauce, chick peas, and salt & pepper in a blender. Blend to desired consistency.

Serve with raw vegetables or chips as a dip; on crackers as a spread; or stuff into warmed pita bread halves with grated carrots, shredded lettuce, or fresh alfalfa sprouts on top

Variations: Add spices such as cumin and coriander; blend in vegetables such as red pepper; or stir in chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes, etc.