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cheese stands alone

I have a friend who is a pretty strict vegetarian—so strict that he doesn’t eat cheese that’s made with animal rennet, because to get animal rennet, the animal has to be killed. This doesn’t bother me, of course, because I’m a meat-eater, but I do respect his choice. The thing is, he only avoids animal rennet cheese if he knows it has animal rennet in it. If he doesn’t know—because he doesn’t get to inspect the label, or because the label is unclear—then he happily eats it.

So here's my dilemma: When he comes to my house for dinner, shall I tell him that the cheese I put on the table is made with animal rennet? Or do I let him eat it in blissfully ignorance? Is the onus on him to ask or on me to share what I know?

Farmer in the Dell

Aberrant in Allentown says: Normally, the onus would be on your friend to ask and do his own checking if he were, say, eating out at a restaurant. But you aren’t a restaurant; you’re a friend who already has knowledge of his food choices. It’s too late to pretend you don’t know. So it’s pretty simple. Avoid using cheese made with animal rennet. If it’s unclear because it isn’t labeled, give him a warning it’s unclearand by the sound of it he’ll chow it down anyway and everyone is happy. It’s your friend, be honest with him.

Catering to picky eaters can be annoyingbut in this case it’s not hard. Most commercial cheeses aren’t made with animal rennet first placevegetable and microbial sources are far more plentiful and cheap to produce so of course they’re used a whole lot more often. Almost all the common stuff in the dairy aisle uses non-animal rennet (i.e. your typical cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, etc), so it’s really easy to find choices that comply with his diet without having to question the labeling. Things get trickier if you’re looking to pick up something fancy or “artisanal” from the cheese counter. Either way, it takes about 30 seconds of Google searching to find lists of vegetarian-friendly choices and you can just avoid the mystery in the first place.

The Shutterbug says: What kind of host are you? Many people have dietary restrictions, some by choice and some for health reasons. Suck it up and do your research. There are plenty of rennet-free cheeses available. Not only will you be a kind, considerate host by catering to your guest, but you also might learn about what you are eating while you do so. It is never a bad idea to step back and give some thought to your food choices rather than thoughtlessly grabbing the first block of cheddar you see.

The Back Room Guy says: It’s not your job to be the Vegan Police. If he asks, tell him. If he doesn’t, don’t. If you want to be really thoughtful though, you could easily find some vegan cheese at a store like the Lexington Co-op and offer him that as an alternative. It’s not that bad, in fact I bet if you tried it without knowing you wouldn’t even think to ask if it was real cheese.

Strictly Classified says: Should you welcome people into your home and you are aware that they have particular dietary needs, you should be accommodating. I have a lot of friends who are vegan and vegetarian, and I always make sure I have animal free products available for them when they are my guests. You should tell your friend if you are serving cheese made using rennet.

The Sales Guy says: I’m under the impression if strict vegans are invited over for dinner they should bring their own food. How else can they be truly happy vegan with all the doubt and dread of possible contamination lurking with every bite? Dinner party’s should be happy fun affairs the host should of course be aware of certain guests diets but Geez Louise!

The Practical Cogitator says: If your friend is a strict vegetarian and you have invited him to dine, then you should prepare a menu that you know he can eat. You do want your guest to be comfortable don’t you? If you choose to offer foods your guest cannot eat they should be properly identified and there should be several alternatives he is able to enjoy. If it is important to you to serve foods containing rennet, then you may want to consider revising your guest list for this particular occasion. If it is important to have you friend at the party, then it seems simpler for you to revise your menu.

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