If you're anything like me, you've been averting your eyes the last few days when headlines like "Your Vegetarian Hot Dog Might Contain Meat!" showed up on your social media feeds. And while the "what I don't know doesn't hurt me" approach did work for a while, I've been feeling a nagging urge to find out more about this surprising bit of news. You too? Great. Let's explore together.
What I found is that these findings are pretty crazy...but somewhat overblown. Here's what I learned:
A company called Clear Labs uses gene technology to analyze the molecules in food. In a recent analysis they looked at 345 different hot dog and sausage products, ranging from turkey sausages to veggie dogs and chorizo to Kosher beef franks. What they found was surprising, particularly when it came to the vegetarian products.
10% of the vegetarian products contained meat. You read that correctly. Keep reading.
Four out of the 21 vegetarian products the company tested had hygienic issues. Ick.
Now, that 10% of vegetarian products containing meat stat made me shudder, and I hate to think that anybody would unexpectedly eat chicken in a vegetarian sausage and pork in a veggie hot dog—I know I certainly don't want that to happen to me. But let's put this number in perspective. Ten percent out of 21 products is two. Two products too many, yes. But still, a small minority of products tested. So the problem is not as widespread as some of the headlines would have you believe.
Another thing to consider is that Clear Labs isn't telling us much about what they looked at when they analyzed these foods. Did they find actual chicken in the veggie sausage? Or a shred of DNA that could be traced back to chicken? I'm not saying it's OK...it's not, not one bit! But I think it's important to know what we're talking about here before we go too crazy.
As for the human DNA stat, it turns out that what this means, most likely, that a trace of a hair or fingernail was found in the food. Gross, no doubt. But not as awful as it sounds at first read.
Here's what's frustrating me the most about this report. While Clear Labs will publicize the products that did the best in their analysis (Trader Joe's for the win!), they are not sharing the products that failed the test. So I can't know—or tell my readers—which ones to avoid and which to eat.
Now, on the positive side, this report may nudge food companies that make vegetarian products to step up their sanitation games. But in the meantime, or until we know more about which companies are doing a good job and which are not, here's what you can do: Back off from processed foods.
I'm not saying that some processed foods aren't perfectly nutritious—some are. But if you're concerned about contamination in the foods you eat, you'll want to stick with foods that are as close to the ground as possible. The reason: The more steps it takes for a food to get from the field or factory to your kitchen, the more opportunity there is to introduce unexpected guests.
Fake meat products take the place of beef, chicken, or turkey on the plate of many vegheads. But, as in any product that has a long ingredient list, it's hard to know exactly what you're getting. If you're looking to replace the meat in your diet, here are some one-ingredient protein foods to include:
*Garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas)
What do you think? Will this report impact how much fake meat you'll be eating?