If you’re taking part in Veganuary, welcome to the club! Many of us here at The Food Rush are also taking the plant-based pledge. Whether it’s your first time or you’ve been taking part for years, it’s still a learning curve.
Knowing what you can eat, use or wear can be tricky. It isn’t only a case of avoiding meat, fish, dairy and eggs. There are some surprising foods and everyday items that aren’t suitable for vegans, that are easy to miss. Here’s some of the most common, and some that may need further thought.
Foods You Might Think Are Vegan, but Aren’t
Supermarkets and restaurants are full of non-vegan foods that might catch you out. Get ready – you’re about to become a label-reading, menu-scanning pro!
Honey can often be overlooked when you’re avoiding everything else that’s animal-based. It’s an animal product and therefore isn’t vegan. Bees don’t make honey for our toast, they need it to survive!
Sweeten the deal with agave, maple, date, rice or golden syrups instead.
Sauces and Condiments
Be on the lookout for sauces and condiments that contain eggs, milk and fish. You don’t want to make the perfect vegan meal, then fall at the final hurdle by adding a dash of Worcestershire sauce (anchovies) or a spoonful of tartare sauce (eggs).
Beer and Wine
Alcohol is another one to be wary of. Many beers and wines are filtered using animal-derived products as a fining agent. These make the drink less cloudy, and more appealing to the eye. Fining agents include isinglass (made from fish bladders), milk protein, gelatin and bone marrow.
Many supermarkets now add a vegan symbol to the price label on the shelf, rather than the bottle. If you’re given a bottle or you’re in a bar, it can be tricky to know if your drink is vegan. If in doubt, use Barnivore, which has a database of 42,000, beers, wines and spirits. Search for a specific drink, and it’ll tell you if it’s suitable for vegans.
There are certain vitamin supplements that aren’t suitable for vegans. Watch out in particular for vitamin capsules made from gelatin. They’re generally the ‘jelly’ type capsules, but plant-based alternatives do exist.
Omega 3 supplements are often made from fish oils, so look for omega 3 derived from algae instead. Vitamin D supplements can also be made using animal products – this time, lanolin from sheep.
Thankfully, most health food stores clearly label vegan-friendly vitamin supplements.
Red food dyes are often made using crushed up female cochineal beetles. Such foods will list cochineal in the ingredients, and it can also be listed as carmine.
You’ll find cochineal lurking in many brands of tortilla chips and in red sweets. Jelly sweets and desserts also often contain gelatin – made from boiling up animal bones and skin.
Are Avocados Vegan, and Other Plant-Based Predicaments
You may have seen the recent storm that erupted after QI presenter, Sandi Toksvig, said that avocados weren’t vegan. Vegans the length and breadth of the country were outraged at such a staple food being branded non-vegan.
Also brought into the debate were almonds, cucumbers, broccoli and butternut squash. The question mark over these foods is all down to ‘migratory beekeeping’. This involves transporting bees over long distances to where they’re needed for pollinating crops. This, Sandi argued, is unnatural and “involves humans interfering with animal behaviour”.
The Vegan Society disagrees. Spokesperson, Dominika Piasecka made The Vegan Society’s stance on things clear, saying,
“Vegans avoid using animals as far as possible and practicable. We are aware that many forms of farming involve indirect harm to animals. But we do not consider that because it is not possible to avoid 100% of animal cruelty, suffering and exploitation, that we should not bother at all. Vegans make a huge contribution to the reduction in suffering and death caused to animals. We welcome any changes made to farming practices that support this.”
I couldn’t agree more! To think that moving bees to a new home in order for them to do what comes so naturally makes a food non-vegan is pure nonsense. As long as their journey is gentle, of course.
Figs though, are a grey area. Female wasps lay their eggs inside young figs and often become unable to escape from the fruit. They then decompose inside the growing fig. Figs contain an enzyme which breaks down the wasp, so there’s no whole wasp inside, waiting to upset your vegan plans. But technically, this makes figs non-vegan.
But when we think of the number of insects that must perish in the picking and transportation of fruit and veg, perhaps figs still make the v-grade. As with many aspects of living a vegan life, personal moral debates are going to be commonplace. It’s up to you to make peace with them – we can all only ever do our best.
Being Vegan – It’s Not Only About What You Eat
There are many other things to consider when going vegan, including what you wear. Leather, wool, silk, pearls, cashmere, angora and fur are all derived from animals. There’s still plenty of other options. Cotton, denim, linen and – everyone’s nan’s favourite – polyester, are all vegan-friendly.
What you sleep on doesn’t escape either. Duvets filled with feathers and down aren’t strictly vegan. Neither are beeswax candles or condoms containing latex (some of which contain casein, a milk protein). Skin products containing lanolin aren’t suitable for a vegan. Lanolin is an oily substance taken from the skin and wool of sheep.
You may already have clothes and other items made from animal-derived materials. It’s not logical to change your entire home to a cruelty-free one, especially if only for one month. It also goes against the environmental principles of veganism to throw useful items away. Doing so would also mean taking or disturbing the life of an animal unnecessarily.
Instead, you could make a conscious decision not to wear, or buy, these products during Veganuary. If after January you decide that veganism is for you, then you could donate them to charity and choose never to buy animal-derived products again.
Vegan vs Plant-Based
There is a difference to being vegan, and being plant-based. Being vegan means avoiding all animal products completely. This includes everything you eat, consume and use. Being plant-based means following a plant-based diet – everything else is then up to you. (It’s all about those moral debates!)
Since doing Veganuary 2018, I’ve been pretty much plant-based ever since. I still wear woolly jumpers and carry a leather bag, but they were bought before I went (mostly) plant-based. I’ve now made the decision not to buy non-vegan items ever again, but it doesn’t stop me wearing what I already have.
Making Veganuary 2019 Count
Deciding to go vegan for a month is a learning curve. It opened my eyes and made me question my own ethical credentials. There’s always going to be those who will try to make you question your beliefs and trip you up with another avocado-gate. When you know better, you do better. Arm yourself with plenty of information, or show them this article, and don’t doubt yourself.
Don’t punish yourself for unintentionally (or intentionally) making mistakes either. Each vegan meal you eat has an impact. Follow The Food Rush on social media for helpful tips on being vegan, throughout Veganuary, and beyond!