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Shopping Guide

Although 'vegetarian' food is widely available in many shops, not all of it is really suitable for vegetarians. Animal by-products can be found in a surprising number of foods. This guide will help you spot and avoid them. The inclusion of any products mentioned in this guide does not mean they are approved by The Vegetarian Society. Such approval is restricted to products which carry the Society's official 'V' - symbol.

At first sight shopping can seem much more difficult if you are vegetarian and want to avoid products that contain animal products or by-products. It's easy enough to spot the obviously animal products - such as leg of lamb or a tin of tuna fish. But what about all the animal by-products that are 'disguised' under an obscure generic or chemical name?

Some people find it easier to avoid the obviously meat first and then gradually learn about and cut out the animal by-products. But to be truly vegetarian, you should avoid any products that contain slaughterhouse ingredients. It's not a case of being too fussy or paranoid about food - even if a product contains only the tiniest amount of an animal derived ingredient, the manufacturer is nonetheless buying these substances from the slaughterhouse on a grand scale.
Many vegetarians are also concerned about ethical issues such as the conditions in which intensively -farmed animals are kept. For this reason The Vegetarian Society does not approve battery or other intensively farmed eggs, although free-range eggs are regarded as suitable for vegetarians. If you definitely don't want to use any animal-cruelty or slaughterhouse products you can be faced with quite a dilemma.

The labelling set out on food products is often confusing, to say the least. If you want to make conscious decisions about buying cruelty-free goods, this guide will help steer you around the potential pitfalls in supermarkets and other shops - and ensure that your vegetarian principles aren't inadvertently compromised.

Food labelling laws are nothing if not haphazard. Not every packaged product has to show a full list of its contents, and even if they do, they're usually couched in such obscure terms as to be meaningless to the ordinary consumer.

The good news is that more and more animal-free products are appearing on shop shelves and once you get used to deciphering labels, you'll have no problem finding animal and cruelty-free products. It may take a while to get used to reading food labels, but with practice it soon becomes easy to spot the things vegetarians should avoid.
The Vegetarian Society has its own V- symbol. This means that the product has been thoroughly checked to ensure that it is suitable for vegetarians. You can rely on the symbol as the definitive statement as to whether you can eat the product.

However, some manufacturers are producing their own 'suitable for vegetarians' symbols. Not only does this add to consumer confusion - as some products bearing such labels do contain 'suspect' ingredients - but it also means that manufacturers are not supporting The Vegetarian Society's objectives of ensuring that food products are indeed suitable for vegetarians.

Some products are obviously vegetarian - fruit and vegetables and dried beans and pulses, for instance, but some fruit may be waxed with shellac, derived from insects. Other products may seem to be vegetarian when in fact they are not always so. For instance, cheese, the traditional standby for vegetarians, is usually made with animal rennet, an enzyme taken from a slaughtered calf's stomach.

These are some of the animal-derived ingredients that often creep into everyday products such as food, drinks, toiletries, cosmetics and household goods:
Fish scales, fishmeal, isinglass, marine oils and extracts (eg fish, shark, seal and whale oils), animal fats (eg tallow, lard, suet, dripping), amino acids, aspic, bone, bone charcoal, bonemeal, bristles, collagen, dried blood, fatty acid derivatives, gelatin, glycerine/glycerol, hair, hides, hoof and horn meal, oleic acid, oleic oil, oleostearin, pepsin, proteins (eg elastine, keratin, reticulin), rennet, skins, stearates, stearic acid, stearin, carmine, cochineal, crushed snails or insects, fixatives (eg musk, civet, castoreum), hormones (eg oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone), ivory, lanolin, silk, shellac and for vegans, albumen, beeswax, casein, honey, milk, urea and whey.

The problem for conscientious vegetarians are made worse by the fact that some manufacturers are either reluctant to state which ingredients used in their products are animal-derived, or they may alter the ingredients so that a product which was suitable for vegetarians suddenly is not. Watch out for changes - such as 'new and improved' - on food labels, which may mean that the formulation has changed, and further scrutiny of the ingredients is required.

Vegetarians can't afford to be shy and retiring - if you're not sure what ingredients are used in your favourite food, write and ask the manufacturer, and if animal ingredients are used, ask for them to be changed!

Foods that are not suitable for vegetarians:
Anchovies - don't forget, anchovies are fish!
Aspic - savoury jelly derived from meat and fish.
Chicken - vegetarians don't eat chickens turkeys or other birds.
Cochineal - a red colouring made from crushed beetles, found in many red foods.
Collagen - the connective tissue from meat.
Dripping - made from animal fat.
Fish - vegetarians don't eat fish or shellfish!
Fish oils - also known as marine oils.
Gelatin - made from the boiled-down bones and connective tissues of slaughtered animals. It's found in confectionery, desserts and sweet and savoury jellies. Vegetarian alternatives are available.
Lard - solid animal fat.
Pate - apart from obviously meat-based pates, some vegetable pates contain gelatin or are coated with jelly of some kind, or contain battery eggs.
Roe - fish eggs.
Suet - solid animal fat.
Whey - not considered suitable for vegetarians as it is derived from milk but it is usually made using animal rennet as a by-product of the cheese industry.

These foods can contain either animal or vegetable ingredients. Find out either by reading the label, or if this does not give enough detail, writing to the manufacturer and asking what exactly they use in their products.
Biscuits - look out for 'animal fats' on the packet label. If it contained butter it would say butter.
Bread - some breads are made with non-vegetarian additives although many manufacturers now use vegetable-based emulsifiers. Breads may be baked in tins greased with animal fats, or are sometimes glazed with milk or eggs. Very few bakers actually use emulsifiers which can be verified as containing no animal derivatives.
Cakes - sometimes contain animal fats and dubious additives. There are some egg-free cakes available.
Capsules - most capsules, such as those used for vitamin supplements, contain gelatin, which is made from crushed animal bones and skin. New non-animal capsules now exist.
Cheese - most cheeses contain animal rennet, an enzyme which is taken from the stomach of a dead calf . So-called &qt;soy&qt; cheeses are often normal cheeses with part of their fat replaced with soybean oil. (See NV Vol.3 No2, page 18 on Dairy Consumption)
Chips - may be fried in animal fats or in the same containers as meat, fish and chicken.
Crisps - the production of crisps often involves the use of lactose, a milk sugar unsuitable for vegans, or whey, which sometimes contains animal rennet and is considered unsuitable for vegetarians, as flavour carriers. The only safe bet is to check the label carefully.
Edible fats - may mean animal fats.
Eggs - for animal welfare considerations, it's better to buy free-range rather than battery eggs. Most mass-produced convenience foods are made with battery eggs. Unless the package clearly states that the eggs used are free-range, it's safest to assume they're not. The Vegetarian Society only approves free-range eggs.
Fatty acids - may be animal or vegetable.
Flavours - if unspecified may be suspect.
Glycerine/glycerol - can be manufactured from petroleum, from the fermentation of sugars (rarely), or as a by-product of the soap industry.
Gravy - usually made with animal fats or meat stocks.
Hydrolysed protein - may be animal or vegetable derived, depending on the source of the protein.
Ice cream - can contain non-milk fats whose source is not given, gelatin, non-vegetarian additives, and battery eggs.
Isinglass - a clearing agent used in the manufacture of beer and wine. It's derived from the swim bladder of fish.
Jam - usually made with gelatin, although vegetarian varieties exist.
Lecithin - usually from soya, but can be from eggs (likely to be battery).
Margarines - often contain vitamins added in the form of fish oils, or whey containing animal rennet.
Mousse - usually made with gelatin and eggs - often battery eggs.
Muesli - can contain whey, possibly from animal sources.
Oils - can be made from fish, liquid animal fats, vegetable oils or mineral oils. Even &qt;pure&qt; vegetable oils may be contaminated by as much as 10% animal derived fats if the processing of the one product followings the other without thorough cleaning of the machinery.
Pasta - sometimes contains battery eggs. A black variety of pasta is coloured with the 'ink' from squids. Watch for &qt;emulsifier&qt; as it may be animal based.
Pastry - animal fats are used in most ready-baked pies, pasties, etc. and in frozen pastry. Flaky pastry is usually made with lard.
Salad dressings - may use battery eggs.
Sandwiches - ready made sandwiches can contain non-vegetarian margarine or cheese, battery eggs, mayonnaise containing battery eggs, etc.
Shortening - can be animal fats.
Soups - in restaurants they are often made with animal fats or stocks or contain tiny pieces of meat. Real French Onion isn't vegetarian as it's made with beef stock. Some tinned varieties may use animal-derived additives.
Spices - if unspecified may be suspect.
Stock - restaurant kitchens often have a pot into which all scraps, including meat, is put to make stocks for soups. Vegetarian restaurants will have stock that's suitable for vegetarians, but restaurants that serve meat might not.
Stuffing - most stuffing mixes contain beef suet.
Sweets - chewy sweets and mints may contain gelatin, while animal fats may be used in biscuit-style confectionary. Non-vegetarian colourings may also crop up, so it's wise to check the additive.
Vegetarian burgers and bangers - some brands may contain battery eggs or have collagen casings.
Vitamins - sources can be dubious.
Whiteners - "non-diary" whiteners usually contain casein, a dairy product.
Worcester sauce - often made with anchovies. Avoid it as a flavouring in other foods. Vegetarian alternatives exist.
Yogurts - often contain gelatin.

There are almost 4,000 additives that can be added to food and other products to improve their flavour, colour, texture and shelf life. Additives include colourings, preservatives, antioxidants, thickeners, emulsifiers, sweeteners, stabilisers and acidity regulators but the most common sort are flavourings.

There's a lot of debate whether these additives are really needed or, from a health point of view, whether they are good for us. Additives have been linked to allergies and illnesses including asthma, hyperactivity, headaches and rashes. As far as vegetarians are concerned, they are even more suspect because many of them are derived from animal products or have been tested on animals.

Food isn't the only area that can cause problems for vegetarians. Animals are widely used as ingredients or testers for a variety of other products such as beverages, cosmetics, toiletries and household goods.

Enjoying a drink with friends can be more difficult if you're vegetarian. Not because you suddenly develop a dislike for the taste of alcohol when you give up meat, but because the use of animal-derived products in the production of alcoholic beverages is widespread. Animal products are mainly used in the fining or clearing processes of making beer and wines.

Beers - cask conditioned ales need fining to clear the materials, especially yeast, suspended in the liquid. This is usually done be adding isinglass, derived from the bladders of certain tropical fish. Bottled naturally conditioned beers don't go through a similar fining process.
Keg beers - are pasteurised and passed through chill filters, as are canned and some bottled beers. An animal ingredient is occasionally used as a foam-control agent in some keg beers.
Wines - again the fining process of wine making causes problems for vegetarians. Fining can be isinglass, egg albumen, gelatin, modified casein (from milk), chitin (from the shells of crabs or lobsters) or ox blood (rare today). Organic wines made without animal derived products or chemicals are becoming available through bottle shops.
Spirits - are usually acceptable with the possible exception of some malt whiskies, blended whiskies or Spanish brandies which may have been conditioned in casks which previously held sherry. Tequila may have agave worms added for flavour.

The use of animal products and testing in the cosmetic industry has become a major consumer and political issue in the last few years consumers are waking up to the fact that animal testing on cosmetics is often both cruel and unnecessary. Companies such as The Body Shop, Cosmetics To Go, and Beauty Without Cruelty offer popular and cruelty-free alternatives, although some may contain beeswax and lanolin (ask to see a product list denoting which are suitable for vegans). As well as the cruelty-free issue, vegetarians also need to be aware that some ingredients in cosmetics are based, not merely tested on animals. If you feel queasy about eating animal by-products, just think how you'd feel if you knew you were smearing them all over your face and body!

These are some not-so-pretty ingredients that can be found in cosmetics and toiletries.
Chitin - from shrimp and crab shells, chemically treated to form chitosan, which is used as a thickener in shampoos, conditioners and skin care products.
Casein - a diary product can be used in the manufacture of latex products (eg Durex condoms and Marigold rubber gloves.
Collagen - a slaughterhouse product made from animal connective tissue. Used in moisturising creams to help the skin retain moisture, in hair conditioners too add 'body' and in some bath products.
Elastin - animal protein from the slaughterhouse. Has film-forming properties and can be used as a moisturiser.
Fatty acids - can be derived from animal or vegetable sources.
Glycerine/glycerol/glycerol compounds - can be derived from animal or vegetable sources. Used as an emollient (skin softener) in creams and lotions.
Keratin - animal protein which can be from wool or from the slaughterhouse. Used in hair and nail conditioners.
Lanolin - 'wool wax', an emollient and emulsifier made from the natural grease on the sheep's wool. Often found in lipsticks.
Moisturisers - sometimes made with snails.
Reticulin - animal protein in moisturisers.
Shellac - a glue secreted by insects, used in lip sealer and hairspray.
Silk - gathering silk from the cocoons of silkworms usually involves the killing of the worms before they hatch out as moths. Silk is used in products for moisturising and conditioning the skin and hair, in hair mousses, and in some face powders and eye shadows.
Squalene/squalane - squalene is obtained from olive oil or shark liver oil and hydrogenated to become squalene, which is used in many products - creams, moisturisers and sun tan lotions.
Stearic acid/stearates - mostly animal derived but there is a vegetable alternative. Used as emollients in creams, lotions, lipsticks, pressed powders, cream shampoos. Some stearates are used in fragrances.
Tallow compounds (eg sodium tallowate) - always from the slaughterhouse.

What happens if you buy a product that claims to be suitable for vegetarians, then when you get it home you discover that it contains some animal by-product?

Your first choice, obviously, is to write to the manufacturer or retailer and complain. More often than not you will receive an apology and either replacement goods or vouchers. But if you think the problem is serious enough to be taken further, you can call your state consumer affairs office who has the authority to instruct manufacturers to change misleading labels on their products.

The first thing they will do is to find out from the manufacturer what went wrong. If it's just a case of the wrong product getting into the wrong box on the production line, they will probably ask them to improve their quality control.

But if, in their opinion, the manufacturer is making claims about their product which they cannot live up to, Consumer Affairs can instruct them to change the label, or even prosecute. If you have a problem with any vegetarian food, this is what you can do. First keep the offending item of food (refrigerated if necessary!):
* Write to the manufacturer or retailer to complain. If you do this, it's best to keep a record of all correspondence in case you want to take it further.
* Write to your State Consumer Affairs Office (listed in the telephone directory), giving them full details of your complaint. Send them a sample of the product you bought, keeping the rest yourself.
* Ask your Vegetarian Society to help you resolve the problem. The Vegetarian Society, which exists to promote vegetarianism, is obviously interested in hearing about problems you may encounter with incorrectly-labelled food.


Thanks to and Vegetarian Society UK

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