Vegan Sugar

wholesome foods sugarWe received a comment from one of our readers (hi Addie) questioning the validity of  PETAs list of  "I Can't Believe It's Vegan."  She says she used to use that site as a reference tool, but has since learned that sugar is absolutely not vegan, and since it is in many of the products on their website, she feels that the list does not give an accurate portrayal of vegan products.  "I researched the heck out of sugar to save those white Oreos for myself (an item listed on the site as Vegan), but finally had to just let them go :( ." Well Addie, you can put your Oreos back on your shopping list.

Most refined white sugar is processed over bone char and that rules it out as a vegan product.  However, there are sugars that are not.  These are the brands of sugar we know to be vegan:

You can use these tidbits to help you navigate through the sugar aisle:  Beet sugar is vegan. Raw sugars or turbinado are also vegan.  Other acceptable vegan sweetners include:

C&H refines their sugar over bone char, so they are definitely not a vegan option.  And supermarkets buy their private label sugars from a variety of refineries, so it is likely they are not vegan.  Brown sugar is usually made from refined white sugar with molasses added.  So if you know the manufacturer to use bone char in refining their white sugar, you can bet the brown sugar will not be vegan either.

Since the processing methods are not indicated on the packaging, it is very difficult for consumers to know which sugar is indeed vegan.  And it becomes much more difficult to make that determination when buying packaged foods. If the ingredient list contains beet sugar or evaporated cane juice instead of "sugar", you're good to go.  If the list says sugar, you have to decide for yourself. You can do the legwork and contact the individual manufacturer, but it's unlikely that you will get an honest answer. Most manufacturers  source out sugar that is cheapest at the time, and so they don't even know how it was processed, also the sugar used may  vary from batch to batch.

I trust Peta to have actually contacted the manufacturer and done the legwork.  If they give a product their seal of approval, that is good enough for me.  But then again, I'm not all that concerned with by-products (I do my best to avoid them, but don't make myself crazy about them.  I do however strictly avoid milk byproducts especially caseine).  Bone char is a cheap throw away.  Once animals are no longer slaughtered for food, I would expect the refining of sugar to be done in some other manner.  No one is going to raise animals for their bones.  It wouldn't be economically viable.

Kosher Doesn’t Mean Vegan

kosherSometimes we forget that food labels are important.  It gets a little tiring reading labels for all our grocery store purchases.  After a period of time, we feel we've come to know certain products and feel comfortable buying them, but manufacturers often change their recipes, and the packaging doesn't necessarily reflect this.  Luckily many companies are including allergy information in bold at the bottom of their ingredient lists.  It usually looks something like this:

Contains:  Milk, Peanuts (or wheat, or soy).

So that is our first benchmark.  We also rely heavily on the V that stands for Vegan on many food products.  We used to look for Kosher or Parve when we first went vegan, but subsequently found out that Kosher ? Vegan... or vegetarian for that matter.  If fish is less that  1 2/3% of the finished product, then it is considered "nullified." and not necessarily indicated on the label.  Also:

Kosher Parve products are allowed to contain, according to Jewish laws, eggs, honey, and fish. So you still need to READ THE LABEL! In this matter, Jews Kosher does not concur with Hindu and Jain Ahimsa. But still it is a good help for buying processed food.  ~ Source:  Jiv Daya

PETA’s List of Animal By-Products

I stumbled across a list of animal ingredients and their alternatives as compiled by PETA. This list is a great reference point, and I wanted to share it with you, we've added it to our vegan resources page as well.

Animal ingredients are used not because they are better than vegetable-derived or synthetic ingredients, but because they are generally cheaper. Today’s slaughterhouses must dispose of the byproducts of the slaughter of billions of animals every year and have found an easy and profitable solution in selling them to food and cosmetics manufacturers.

Jane and I feel that avoiding these by-products is not nearly as important as avoiding the animal products from which they are derived. If the number of animals slaughtered is reduced, the availability of animal by-products will also be reduced, therefore driving up the price so other alternatives will be sought out by the manufacturers. In the meantime, they are everywhere. This list, while not comprehensive, provides some information for anyone confused about what they're reading on the labels of the products they're buying.

– If you haven’t signed our petition to Oprah asking her to do a piece on factory farming, please consider doing so. We can all work together to make a difference.

Naan – It Isn’t for Vegans!

I had lunch with a colleague today. We went to an Indian restaurant he knew of, very close to our meeting site, which was important since the weather wasn't cooperating much. The restaurant shall remain nameless, since it isn't one I care to refer to anyone!

Regardless, our server was great. He helped me find a vegan meal and as our food was being brought to the table, he grabbed my naan (an Indian flat bread usually served to help sop up all the delicious sauces), and said he'd provide a vegan alternative for me. Apparently, naan is made with milk and eggs. Who knew?

Again the food was actually pretty bad, but the service was stellar. I was really impressed that this person cared enough to ensure that my dietary requirements were being met. He certainly would not have suffered in any way if I'd been served the naan, and quite frankly, I never would have known it wasn't vegan.

So, once again I've learned you cannot make any assumptions... ASK, ASK, ASK!

Cream Cheese Alternative

Jane and I read labels now, religiously. Adopting a vegan diet has ensured that we read labels because who knows what they're sneaking into your food! The thing that makes me most insane is the milk product in most soy cheeses. If you're not manufacturing a dairy based cheese, why would you put in a dairy product, thereby alienating a good portion of your consumers!?!

After a while you "know" certain products are ok to eat. Somehow or another, we thought Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese was one of those, but as I was eating my "bagel with a schmear" (NY speak for bagel with cream cheese) for breakfast this weekend, I read over the list of ingredients.

  • Water
  • Isolated soy protein
  • Maltodextrin
  • Tofu....

GRRRR! We have three containers in the fridge. We love this stuff. It's the container on the left in the photo above.

However, we were able to find "good" tofutti cream cheese at Whole Foods (container on the right in the photo above). The ingredient list reads as follows:

  • Water
  • Expeller pressed natural oil blend (soybean, palm fruit, and olive)
  • Maltodextrin
  • Soy protein
  • Tofu...

Now, we just have to get our local Trader Joe's to carry the good stuff. Since they tend to advocate healthy eating it shouldn't be too much of a challenge.

If you eat Tofutti Cream Cheese, the "good" product is in a yellow/white container versus the blue/white container the "bad" stuff comes in, an it says "non-hydrogenated" on the lid.

Live long, eat healthy!

Vegan Chili

Jane used to serve home-made chili and beer to me and my friends during football season. (Have I mentioned how great my wife is?) Prior to this vegan diet we were not red-meat eaters. Jane would have the occasional cheeseburger or pork product (she was completely addicted to bacon when we went out for breakfast), but other than that it was poultry or fish for us. During games, Jane would make ground turkey chili for us.

I had a few guys over on Sunday for the Patriots / Redskins game and dinner. We've told a few people that we're vegan, but none of these guys knew. So, Jane served us guacamole and chips and beer early on. We have plenty of non-vegan beer on hand and we still have loads of Guinness from our pre-vegan days. And here's my confession: I had three bottles of Guinness. Do I feel guilty? Kind of, but hey, it's Guinness...

(See this post for the disturbing news on non-vegan beer.)

For dinner we had vegan chili with brown rice and a salad. No one noticed the chili was vegan. Jane used red, black, and pinto beans along with TVP (that textured vegetable protein stuff). The TVP provides a little chewy meat-feel to the chili and since everything is smothered in sauce and spices it's not easy to tell you're not eating ground beef/turkey. (I'd say impossible, but I haven't had red meat intentionally in 20+ years.

Needless to say, everyone liked the chili a whole lot more than the game as the Patriots crushed the Redskins.

Beer Here

I'm a guy. And on Sunday's I become the typical American Guy. I like to sit around and watch football on TV with my friends, drinking beer.

You can imagine my dismay when I read that beer may not be entirely vegan!@!##$%!%! I was looking through Vegetarian Sourcebook and came upon this horrific paragraph on page 174:

Beers: As a general rule, traditional, cask-conditioned beers ('real ales') are usually clarified (cleared) with isinglass finings. Isinglass is a very pure form of gelatin obtained from the air bladders of some freshwater fishes, especially the sturgeon. The addition of the finings speeds up a process which would otherwise occur naturally. Keg, canned, beer-sphere, and some bottled beers are usually filtered without the use of animal substances. Lagers are generally chill-filtered but a few may involve the use of isinglass. The only possibly animal-derived ingredient used in the production of keg beers is E471. Animal-derived finings continue to be used in all Guinness- and Bass-produced beers.

HORRORS!!!!! I love Guinness.

Further down the page, I came across their vegan recommendations:

Vegan Products: Beers/lagers - Whitbread Kaltenberg Pils, Heineken Export Lager, Labatt Blue Lager, Labatt Ice Lager, Scottish Courage, Beck's Bier (keg, bottle), Budweiser (keg, can, bottle), Coors Extra Gold (keg, can, bottle) Holsten Pils (keg, can, bottle), Grolsch (keg, 450 ml swingtop bottle - not the 250ml/275 ml bottles or 500ml cans).

That put a frown on my face. I'm not sure how comprehensive that list is. One of these days I'll have to get around to contacting my favorite vendors (Sam Adams, and Pete's Wicked Ales) to see what they have to say for themselves.

I never gave beer a thought. How could it not be vegan? Hops, Barley, Malt... Water... no animal products there. Some days this vegan thing feels much more complicated than I anticipated it would be.