Non-Vegan Vegan Products!

pug in food bowl

Non-Vegan Vegan Products!

It’s easy enough to do… you’re running through the aisle at your local healthfood store, in a hurry, needing a pick-me-up and think aha! A lovely vegan greenfood powder for some extra energy, let’s try the Vegan Formula from Greens Today! Then you get home and start using it and one day you’re idly reading the label and, lo and behold, it isn’t actually vegan!

I can imagine this has happened on numerous occasions to many a vegan. Having recently moved to Canada I’ve been looking at the available options for wholefood powders and after careful scrutiny I noticed that this one contains Royal Jelly, a bee-derived non-vegan product. Luckily I hadn’t bought it or eaten it (after being ‘burned’ previously I’m damn good at reading labels now! Even ones that say ‘vegan’ on them). Again, depends on where you draw your vegan line. Lots of ‘vegan’ protein and snack bars that on careful inspection contain honey, D3, royal jelly, propolis, and even milk.

Here’s a quick(ish, I like to ramble) run-down of some frequently hidden non-vegan ingredients…

A Spoonful of Sugar…

Let’s look at another commonly thought vegan food that’s as likely to be vegan as it is to not even be vegetarian: Yoghurt! Yes, yes, I know yoghurt is generally dairy, but I mean soy yoghurt. How is that not vegan or vegetarian? Lots of ways.

Firstly, does is contain sugar? If it does, where has that sugar come from? Let’s remember that a lot of sugar is filtered with bone char, making it non-vegetarian if you consider some bone may be left, or non-vegan at the very least. Also the sugar can be in the form of lactose, stupid in a soy/coconut product, but who knows what manufacturers are thinking a lot of the time.

Secondly, the yoghurt may contain animal-derived ingredients in the form of calcium phosphate. Again, this can be plant-derived or come from animals and most products don’t bother labelling either way. Yet another reason that calcium supplements are not necessarily vegan, so check the origin of yours.

Thirdly, does the product contain gelatin? Lots of yoghurt manufacturers use gelatin as a thickener, in both dairy and soy yoghurts… so read your label carefully and write to the maker if unsure. The more we ask, the more likely they are to be transparent in their labelling and switch to vegan-versions (in this case guar gum, or agar-agar for thickening purposes).

Beware the casein...

Beware the casein...

Non-Vegan Dairy-Free Cheese? ScheeeseLouise

Soy cheese is another one of those weird foodstuffs that in the UK would pretty much always be vegan, but I’ve found in Canada that it often has whey and casein and other milky ingredients in. Odd. I really don’t understand the market for this stuff. It tastes bad, looks bad, isn’t allergen-free for lots of people, and isn’t vegan. Who buys it!? If it has rennet in it too, then it ain’t even veggie!

Other things to watch out for in so-called vegan cheese are ‘natural colours’ or ‘natural flavours’. A common source of the red/orange colouring in foods is carmine, carminic acid, or cochineal, which is basically the crushed up bodies of the female cochineal insect.

Not a vegan book, she mentions silk...

Vegan Vitamin D: Ergocalciferol Ergo Vegan!

Other non-vegan products include those which contain vitamin D from animal sources like lanolin/sheep fat, or fish’s liver oil. The vegan version of vitamin D is ergocalciferol, rather than cholecalciferol. This should be labelled as D2, the D3 is cholecalciferol and is definitely not vegan and may not even be vegetarian. If someone tries to convince you that D3 is lanolin-derived and, ‘therefore’, does not harm the sheep, try to think a little further…

Firstly, D3 may not be lanolin-derived at all, most products don’t bother labelling the origin of the D3 so it could be from fish oil or other non-vegetarian sources.

Secondly, if the cholecalciferol is from lanolin then this does not mean it is cruelty-free. Lanolin is the grease that is washed out of sheeps’ wool when it is sheared from them. Clearly, raising sheep for either consumption of their flesh, or use of their coats is exploitation, and proclaiming that sheeps’ wool is a ‘renewable’ resource is a prime example of using one ethical argument (in this case environmentalism) to overlook another moral issue (cruelty).

Mulesing sheep

Examining the issue of shearing further it becomes clear that sheep have been bred in a selective fashion to produce more wool. This is done by breeding sheep who have more and more wrinkles in their skin. The downside of this breeding pattern is that the sheep with more skin wrinkles attract more flies which lay eggs in those skin crevices, which leads to the sheep essentially being eaten alive by maggots/fly larvae. To prevent this the practice of ‘mulesing’ has come about, which I understand to be fairly standard in Australia (correct me if I’m wrong, please). Mulesing is where large pieces of flesh are excised from the sheep to remove the infected skin. This is commonly done without anaesthetic and can involve extensive area of the legs, and around the tail. Just for good measure, when the sheep stops producing wool at a ‘cost-effective’ rate they are slaughtered and sold for meat.

This is also the reason I don’t use wool that is animal-derived. Cotton, hemp, or synthetic fibers when I knit! Gets you funny looks in knitting shops when you ask for non-wool wool!

Toiletries etc.

Another range of products you might think are vegan, but aren’t are the Tom’s of Maine toiletries range. I’m not saying that they label their products as vegan, they don’t, I’m just saying that it is a fairly common misconception (which I also had for a while!) that their stuff is all cruelty-free and vegan. Remember ‘natural’ does not equal ‘vegan’. An example of an ingredient in their toothpaste that isn’t vegan is the propolis, which, while great for your gums and general health, should really be keeping the bees’ hives antiseptically sealed as intended (I wonder why bees are dying out… hmmm….).

<em>I\’m covered in bees!</em>” title=”bee beard” width=”273″ height=”300″ class=”size-medium wp-image-595″ /><p id=I'm covered in bees!

Mind your Beeswax

Loads of cosmetic products, furniture polishes (who actually polishes furniture… jeez), and even baking parchment uses beeswax as it is cheap. Unfortunately it can cause allergic reactions, and involves the death and exploitation of our busy little friends (the bees). I know lots of ‘otherwise vegans’ who still eat honey and use cosmetics with beeswax in. Some say it’s easier to empathise with a cow than it is a buzzy little creature that may have stung you as a child. Still, in my opinion, if you’re vegan, you don’t eat honey or use bee-derived products. Here’s why:

Bees are commerically used to produce honey, royal jelly, propolis, beeswax, and as pollinators taken across the country in huge trucks from farm to farm to farm exhausting the poor devils to the point of, oh, y’know, extinction maybe? The bee problem is a big problem, and I realise that it’s hard to know where to draw the line as bees are used to pollinate plants that we, as vegans, most likely eat every day. That is not a reason to give up altogether though, more a reason to keep educating yourself and others.

In commercial honey production bees are selectively bred, culled at a certain point, and often have their legs pulled off by automated closing mechanisms on pollen-collection trapdoors. Their sustenance, honey, is stolen and replaced by cheap sugar which is not the same. Honey contains a plethora of amino acids, antibacterial agents, immune-boosting compounds, and is very very healthy – for both humans, bears called Winnie, and bees. Replacing it with simple sugar only substitutes the energy component and compromises bees’ immune systems and health in general. Millions of bees die as a result. Does that lipbalm really look so necessary now?


Lots of other animal-derived ingredients crop up in cosmetics too, such as shellac in nail-varnish (from insect secretions). For an alternative try Beauty Without Cruelty’s products – their bright red nail varnish that is crushed-up-insect-free is excellent for giving you wonderfully scarlet talons!

Other non-vegan cosmetic ingredients include squalene (from shark liver oil, although some may be from plant sources), tallow in soaps (made from animal fat, particularly pigs), castoreum (from beavers’ anal glands, yes, really), badger hair used (traditionally) in men’s shaving brushes, and keratin in ‘thickening’ ‘repairing’ shampoos, conditioners, and creams (from feathers, hooves, hair and horns). The there’s some of the really disgusting stuff in intimate lubricants, and the casein that is often an ingredient in condoms (yes, I know you don’t eat them…).

There are numerous other animal-derived ingredients to look out for too, the list of ways animals are abused and degraded seems endless. That means that, as vegans, our diligence must also be ongoing even, unfortunately, where the vegan label has been applied to a product…

Green Web Hosting! This site hosted by DreamHost. Want carbon-neutral webhosting with great customer service? Try DreamHost and use code 'Vegans' for a third off!

Comments on this entry are closed.