Staying away from animal products is easy when they resemble pieces of animals, but it can be harder when you venture into the murky world of processed foods.
It’s amazing how many of the items on grocery store shelves that you’d think were vegetarian or vegan really aren’t. Several groups are lobbying the FDA to require labeling of ingredients derived from animal or dairy sources. Vegan Action awards a “Certified Vegan” logo for approved products, much like kosher logos, but it’s not widely used because not many businesses have applied for it. In the meantime, here’s a list of foods you might not know have ingredients that came from animals.
Veggie burgers: There’s no meat in them, but many veggie burgers contain egg or cheese products for texture and flavor. Only half of the varieties of Gardenburger, for example, are vegan. The nonvegan ingredients are listed on the label, however.
Soy cheese: Though created specifically for people trying to avoid dairy, many soy cheeses contain whey or casein, found in milk. Also look out for ingredients lists that include rennet (as opposed to vegetable or microbial rennet), which contains an enzyme found in cow stomachs and is used in cheese making. Kristine Vandenberg, executive director of Vegan Action, says she knows of only two brands of soy cheese that are really vegan: Follow Your Heart and Galaxy Foods.
Nondairy creamer: Often contains casein or sodium caseinate (also milk derived) to create better consistency.
Bread and other baked goods: Unless labeled vegan (and even then you should check the ingredients), bread often contains whey and a host of other controversial-among-vegans ingredients. Lecithin, an emulsifier, can come from soy, corn, eggs, or animal blood, though its source is usually listed in the ingredients list. Oleic and palmitic acids are fatty acids found in olive and palm oils, respectively, but can be synthesized for commercial use from beef tallow. Their source does not have to be listed on labels.
Worcestershire sauce: Traditionally made with anchovies, though vegan versions like The Wizard’s Organic Vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce can be found online and at specialty stores.
Pudding, yogurt, sour cream, and marshmallows: All of these can contain gelatin, a protein thickener derived from animal bones. Even kosher and halal gelatins often come from fish or cows, so look for vegan substitutes like agar, carrageenan, or pectin (but not isinglass—see below), which are plant or algae carbohydrates that have similar effects. A truly vegan gelatin will say it was derived from one or more of these. Stonyfield Farm makes a line of gelatin-free yogurts and also makes O’Soy, a vegan yogurt substitute.
Beer and wine: Many of these, especially cask ales, are clarified with isinglass, a form of gelatin obtained from the swim bladders of sturgeon and other fish. Though the isinglass is filtered out with the impurities it helps remove, some trace amounts remain in the finished product. Some wineries use egg whites or casein instead, making their products somewhat more vegetarian, but not vegan. Neither beer nor wine is required to list ingredients on the label. You can find a list of vegan wines at Vegan Wine Guide and an extensive directory of beers with their vegetarian status at Vegetarian Food, Beer, Cider and Wine.
Teriyaki sauce: May have fish oil in it. Read the label.
Campari and other red, pink, or purple beverages, yogurts, and ice creams: These are often colored with Natural Red 4 (not FD&C Red Dye #40—that coloring is vegan), also known as crimson lake, carmine, carminic acid, or cochineal. The dye is made from an insect called the cochineal, which lives on cacti in Mexico and South America, and is neither vegetarian, kosher, nor halal.
Cane sugar: About half of the nation’s cane sugar (but none of its beet sugar) is whitened using bone char, a powder made by burning animal bones. All the bone char is removed before packaging, but some vegans might still have a problem with sugar that was produced using an animal product. Most, but not all, cane sugar is labeled as such, so something called just “sugar” probably came from beets.