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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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
CAN WE EAT?
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.
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
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
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
Lecithin - usually from soya, but can be from eggs (likely to be
Margarines - often contain vitamins added in the
form of fish oils, or whey containing animal rennet.
Mousse - usually made with gelatin and eggs - often
Muesli - can contain whey, possibly from animal
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.
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
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
- 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
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
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
Glycerine/glycerol/glycerol compounds - can be derived from animal
or vegetable sources. Used as an emollient (skin softener) in creams
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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
and Vegetarian Society UK
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