Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Marshmallows and Me

Before I got an allotment, at the weekends I used to do some voluntary work for an outdoor activity organisation which worked with excluded and disadvantaged young people from all social, religious and cultural backgrounds. The organisation would have weekend residential where they would take small groups to a bothy. It’s a great organisation, it gave young people an opportunity to gain skills in outdoor activities: hill-walking, mountain climbing, canoeing, conservation and so forth, as well as develop wider social skills. On this particular weekend, I found myself working with a number of young men who were refugees from countries such as Eritrea, Somalia and Iraq, they also happened to be Muslims.

The main co-ordinator of the group who happened to be from the Antipodean and had brought along some marshmallows. I totally understand the social aspect of sitting around a campfire, wrapped warm in your hat, scarf and gloves, snuggled up next to friends, sipping something hot and burning mashmallows and having a sing a long. But as a vegetarian I know many marshmallows contain gelatine, usually derived from pork or beef. Since becoming aware of this, I have stopped eating them melted in hot chocolate. I am also aware that Muslims do not eat pork and meat that is not halal. It is not just Muslims that do not eat pork, nor do Rastafari’s and practicing Jewish people. I made the co-ordinator aware of this and requested that if he was going to be handing the marshmallows out, that he should inform the participants of its unsuitability for certain diets. He assured me that he would. When we all sat round the fire and things started getting ‘friendly, he did not say a thing. Understandably, he just wanted people to chill, relax, have fun and so did I, but not under pretense. It may have suited his conscious to now knowingly feed Muslims pork, but it did not suit mine. It was wrong. Therefore, I found it my responsibility to make the lads aware of this fact. I remember informing them that I was a vegetarian and 'that these marshmallows were not suitable for my diet as they were made of pork gelatine', so I would not be eating them. I told them that I knew Muslims did not eat pork, so just want to make them aware of this, but the decision was ultimately theirs. The co-ordinator gave me the biggest, meanest looking glare you can imagine which angered me as I realised it was more about his ego and how he wanted to be seen as ‘da cool ... man’. Anyway, these lads thanked me for letting them know. What they did was take pleasure in the joy of sitting around the campfire. They burned the marshmallows on the fire flames, but then passed the marshmallow stick over to a person who would enjoy eating it. They enjoyed the moment and the environment, as did I.

As a vegetarian of sorts, I would appreciate it if people informed me that the soup was made of meat stock; or if a dessert was made with meat gelatine. It gives me the right to choose, the final decision is mine. It also gives me more respect for that person or establishment.

Oh back to the marshmallow, I actually don’t really like them, I just like the idea of them melting in my hot chocolate. So if I did ever come across a vegetarian or vegan friendly version of them, of course I would have to get them and indulge in this notion of heavenly bliss made for wintry evenings.

Recently, I also noted that a book that is on my Christmas wish list Terre a Terre has a vegetarian recipe for marshmallows. I wonder if it will be under the Christmas tree???


  1. I definitely think you did the right thing - it's always better to have an informed choice!

    Having grown up vegetarian, I had never eaten a marshmallow until earlier this year; I ordered some (rather expensive) veggie ones from the internet and blogged about it. I also have a recipe from a friend's cookbook, so I may try making some, some time.

  2. I totally get where you are comming from, especially as I grew up in a multicutural, multireligous country. You learn very early to not only tolerate differences but to truley respect others and their beliefs regardless of what you feel.

    I find that the society here thinks they know what it is to respect someones else's belief but in reality, they don't truley understand what that entails, hopefully with time they would.

    Anyway, well done you :)

  3. Good on you for letting the guys know about the marshmallows. I hate when people try to conveniently forget to tell you that a food is unsuitable for you to eat. My dad is a vegetarian and my mum tends to get real annoyed at me when i tell him a certain food is unsuitable for him to eat.


  4. What a great story of marshmallow! I usually don't eat marshmallow but my son does so I should tell him about this. I loved the end of this post. What a lovely question! and that book sounds very interesting, thanks for sharing such wonderful thoughts:)

  5. Urrrghh- this is one thing that really annoys me! I'm not a vegetarian as I eat fish but I don't eat meat/meat products. I am now very aware of gelatine popping up in a variety of products (usually deserts) such as choc mousses or some fat-free dairy products. However I know that there are alternatives that are gelatine-free, so why not just make all these products gelatine-free? I know a lot of non-veggies who don't particularly relish the thought of eating some boiled animal bones in their pudding.
    The co-ordinator in your story just sounds incredibly arrogant. Why would he think he could remove anyone's choice in what they do and don't eat?

  6. Oh I love marshmallows. I think you did the right thing. Everyone has the right to choose what they eat and with the correct information about food, they are able to make that choice.

  7. There are certainly kosher marshmallows, I've had them in the US. And thinking about them with melted dark chocolate made me google http://sweetvegan.co.uk/store/ :)

  8. Obviously I'm keener on marshmallows than you are... not that I'd thought about them for years till reading this... here's a vegan recipe http://veganmarshmallows.blogspot.com/2009/04/vegan-marshmallow-recipe.html

  9. Ooh Rachel,
    I had seen the vegan ones over the internet, but as you mentioned the price - really did put me off. I wasn't that tempted, but what has tempted me is the fact that you have a recipe.
    If you don't mind, can you please please e mail me the recipe from your friends cookbook. There is no guarantee I will make it this year, but it is good to have, should I feel the urge to make them one evening. Thanking you well in advance.

    Thanks Kella,
    Sometimes I feel maybe I am too sensitive to others peoples 'values' and 'needs' and should back off and allow them to speak or stand up for themselves, but sometimes I cannot. If I have the strength and will power to intervene, I shall (sometimes to my detriment of course), but there are always consquences. I often get accused of being too 'politically correct' (PC), but I assert I am not being PC, but am being 'proactively sensitive'. Anyway, I digress. Thanks for sharing your feelings and experience on this, it was most appreciated.

    Hey Rose,
    Thank you for sharing your experience of your Mama and vegetarian Papa, it actually reminds me of a young Muslim mama i know. She is a good Muslim in every way, but when her little boy wants some jelly babies; or those gelatinous strawberry chewies made from non-halal gelatine, she buckles to her sons screams and cries and buys them for him. So there are some people who knowingly eat products that their religion or faith forbids them to consume, but here it is their informed choice.

    Thanks Oraphan.

    Hi there the Fastest Indian,
    You are so right to point out that gelatine appears in other various products, including moussy yogurts which I found out by accident about two years ago. I was feeling a bit low, so to sweeten me up a friend at work bought me a rhubarb mousse yogurt. I smiled and was about to tear off the lid, when the labelling leaped out at me 'contains pork gelatine'. Of course it went into the bin. Since then I have been extra vigilant with desserts, especially cheesecakes.

    It is good to know that alternatives that are gelatine-free, but as you posed 'why not just make all these products gelatine-free?' Exactly why not???

    And finally, in retrospect, your right the co-ordinator was arrogant. He was too lost in the moment to care about other peoples values and beliefs.

  10. Sorry Kella,
    I mean't PROACTIVELY CONSIDERATE, but sensitive is good too.

    Thanks Jo.
    Everyone has the right to choose what they eat, but not little, fussy kids refusing to eat their vegetables and greens - I'm only joking!

    Thank you Margaret.
    Like kosher marshmallows made for the Jewish diet, I came across halal marshmallows for Muslims at a Mela (Festival), but these were still not suitable for a vegetarian diet, as the product was still made form meat deritives.
    I don't know about the kosher marshmallows as I have never seen them anywhere in the U.K, but will definitely check them out should I come by them.

    Thanks for the link to the store I will check it out :) and THANKS YOU SO MUCH for the vegan marshamallow recipe which will not only be appreciated by myself, but by my readers, some who happen to be vegan. Thank you.

  11. I'm so glad that you said something! Sorry about Mr. Cool Guy, what a bummer. You did the right thing! :)

  12. You are right, it is really difficult to avoid the meat products that are 'snuck' into foods. Logan no longer asks if food is 'vegetarian' but will ask more specific questions like - "what kind of broth is used as the base of this soup", or "what are the ingredients in this sauce". We have found that we get very different answers asking these questions instead of just the 'vegetarian' question. I think maybe because vegetarian means different things to different people.

    At the same time though, I make assumptions based on the restaurant I'm at. For example, at my favorite Indian restaurant, I never ask about how the desserts are made, but I probably should :-(

    I loved this post. I am always so proud of you.

  13. Thank you Sarah. I hope your feeling better now.

    Thank you Leah.
    I think it is right that people ask 'specific and direct questions about their food' as many places are so vague. It is one reason I don't eat often, I never find a good vegetarian option, plus D doesn't like eating out either (boohoo). He thinks I cook better than the vegetarian outlets we have here :D but he is biased!

    Your assumption about Indian restaurants re sweets I think is a safe one, but I would question certain 'saucier - gravy based' dishes. I guess it is better to make sure it is suitable for your diet.


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