For many, just cutting the obvious non-vegan items from your life can be difficult – like when you have to navigate being a vegan during holiday dinners with your family, or need to pay exuberant amounts to order a vegan belt online. This is hard enough and I’m sorry to break it to you, but you are probably still using a lot of non-vegan products in your life. Unless you are living completely off the grid or making all of your own foodstuffs and products, then a few surprising animal products are probably going to slip into your life.
I don’t tell you this to make you feel defeated. Rather, I hope that it will motivate and empower you to make even more meaningful purchasing choices and also to become more self-reliant by making some of your own products (like making your own beauty products).
It is impossible to be perfect in an imperfect world. Just by reading this and becoming more aware of what is in the foods you eat and products you use is a reason to congratulate yourself 🙂
Most condoms are made from latex. To make latex smooth, the milk derivative casein is used in manufacturing. Because of this, pretty much all latex condoms are not vegan! Luckily, there are some companies which are making vegan condoms. The best options for vegan condoms that I’ve found are Sir Richard’s Condoms, L. Condoms, and Glyde Condoms. Even if you aren’t vegan, you might want to consider switching to these brands of condoms because they don’t use parabens, glycerine, or chemical spermicides like nonoxynol-9 — all of which are bad news for your intimate parts. Read more about vegan condoms here.
Coffee, Chocolate, Tea, Rugs, Gold, and Diamonds
Vegans obviously abstain from using any products which were made from animals or as a result of animal suffering. Well, humans are animals too. And many products are made by humans in conditions which are arguably no better than factory farm conditions.
It would be impossible to dissect how every single product you use is made in order to determine whether it was made “ethically,” meaning made without forced labor or slave labor, in brutal working conditions, or by child labor. For example, a report found that prisoners in China were being forced to make the disposable headphones for global airlines. I doubt you are going to call the airlines every time you fly to ask where every component of their airplanes comes from. However, there are some products which stand out as being particularly unethical. These are coffee, chocolate, tea, rugs, gold, and diamonds.
Coffee, chocolate, and tea are commonly harvested by child labor or, in some countries, even by forced slave labor. I wrote about this in my post about why I am giving up coffee. The good news is that you can easily avoid consuming unethical coffee, chocolate, and tea by choosing products with the Fair Trade label.
With handmade rugs from India, children are often stolen from their families, or their families are tricked into selling their children, thinking they will be given a better life. Then they are taken to work camps and forced to make rugs. Rugs labeled Fair Trade or Rugmark are not made with illegal child labor. As for gold, there is upwards of 20 million gold miners in the world – and child labor and slave labor make up a large part of the workforce. And there isn’t even enough room to address the diamond trade…
Just like how veganism is about boycotting products made from animals or tested on animals, we can take the same steps to protect human animals by boycotting products like gold and creating a demand for Fair Trade products.
We all know that plastic bags are bad for the environment and even those “biodegradable” plastic bags probably take years to break down because they require light and air to degrade, things not available in covered landfills. But it also turns out that your plastic bag might have animal ingredients in it.
To make plastic bags more slippery so they can be opened easily and come off the machine easier, manufacturers sometimes add chicken fat to their exterior. This is just one more reason to bring your own bags to the grocery store!
White AND Brown Sugar
A lot of vegans know that sugar is often processed with bone char to make it white. You might think that brown sugar is better because it isn’t white. But most brown sugar on the supermarket shelves is processed just like white sugar, and then has molasses added to it to make it brown.
To make sure you are getting vegan sugar, only buy organic sugar, as bone char is not considered an organic ingredient. Or you can buy beet sugar, which isn’t refined using bone char like cane sugar is.
Paint and Art Supplies
I went to an art school where there was a high percentage of vegans. For some reason, I guess a lot of artists are vegan 😉 But a lot of the supplies they use aren’t. At Empty Easel, there is a great rundown of animal ingredients which might be in your art supplies, like ox gall from cows used as a wetting agent in watercolor paints, animal bones in ivory black pigments, and squid sacs in sepia ink. The good news is that there is finally a market for vegan paints, including vegan art supplies, vegan kids craft supplies, and vegan household paints, plasters, and wood finishes.
Some brands of vegan paint and supplies include:
- Unearthed Paints (wall paints, plaster, wood finishes, thinners, pigments)
- Natural Earth Paints (oil paint, face paint, canvas, gesso, solvent)
- Colors of Nature (artist paints, pigments, brushes, and other art supplies)
At Amazon, you can find lots of vegan paint brushes.
Shampoo and Conditioners
Ever read through the ingredients on a shampoo or conditioner bottle? You’d probably have to be a chemistry major to understand half of them. Not only are the chemicals in hair products harmful to your body and your hair (and sometimes carcinogenic), they might also be derived from animals. And then there is the issue of animal testing…
Rather than trying to decode the hundreds of ingredients found in hair products, why not ditch shampoo completely? Or opt for one of the vegan brands of shampoo, like Giovanni, Kiss My Face, Avalon Organics, and Jason.
This will probably come as a surprise, but a lot of juice has animal products. Yes, juice. There are a few ways that animal products can sneak their way into your juice. First there are all those juices fortified with vitamin D. The vitamin D might come from lanolin, which is derived from sheep’s wool. This is ironic since many vegan sites say that fortified juice is a good source of vitamin D.
Another problem with juice is that it can be filtered or clarified using animal products. For example, apple juice is often clarified with isinglass (fish bladder). This is the same substance which makes some beer and wines not vegan.
This issue is a bit harder to avoid and may entail you researching tons of individual companies. According to VRG, the juice brands Apple and Eve, Motts and Juicy Juice all claim to be vegan.
Artificially-Red Foods and Products
This one gets talked about a lot, so maybe you already know that some red dyes are made from cochineal, which is basically ground-up bug shells. Some of the products made with bugs include Ocean Spray Ruby-Red Grapefruit Juice, Nerds Candy, and some lipsticks and nail polishes. The product doesn’t even have to be red per se. For example, Mango Snapple is orange but contains cochineal. Since the bug dye is often only called “color added”, you are best avoiding foods with any artificial coloring. While you are at it, avoid processed foods completely!
Anything Fortified with Omega 3
Omega 3 fatty acids came to the public’s attention a few years ago and the food industry responded by adding omega 3s to their products. Well, the omega 3s they use to fortify foods often comes from anchovies, so be wary anytime you see a package spouting off claims that it is a good source of Omega 3s or contains added Omega 3s. Like this JIF peanut butter, which is NOT vegan! You shouldn’t be relying on fortified foods for your nutrients anyways. These are much better vegan sources of Omega 3.
Most tampons are made from cotton which is bleached with chlorine, and chlorine is tested on animals. Some tampons are directly tested on animals, such as by being shoved into rabbits. Since there are dozens of chemicals in tampons, including ones like dioxin, you are better off ditching them for good and using a menstrual cup instead (I’ve been using a Diva Cup for 10+ years and can’t imagine life without it). Read my complete guide to using menstrual cup here. Or, if you still are stuck on tampons, buy organic tampons. They are vegan.
8 More Products That Are Surprisingly NOT Vegan
When dealing with fresh, whole foods, being a vegan is quite easy. Yet, with packaged foods and healthcare items, you need to learn a whole new language. As a result of this new language, you’ll distinguish what is and is not vegan.
Dairy Free Butter
Many people assume a dairy product labeled dairy free means no dairy. Dairy free can be misleading, and consequently dangerous for people with sensitive allergies.
While there are no straightforward dairy ingredients in these products, they will oftentimes contain lactic acid and/or casein (milk protein). Hence, one would think the labels are untrue, yet labeling as such is legal in the United States.
Lactic acid can be derived from dairy, and most likely is. Unless the lactic acid specifically notes “no animal sources” or “vegan, it probably contains dairy. Casein, which is milk protein, can be an ingredient in your non dairy butter or cheese. However, casein is, quite literally, milk protein. Casein is not vegan. Rather, it’s the specific protein in milk that Forks Over Knives discusses in depth as turning on the cancer gene.
Bagels and Bread
Almost all vegans know bagels and bread can contain milk or egg wash. But what many vegans don’t know is glycerides are typically derived from animal sources. Glycerides are used as emulsifiers to strengthen the dough, while L-Cysteine (E920 on labels) extends shelf life. Most noteworthy, L-Cysteine is an amino acid typically derived from duck feathers, cow horns, pig bristles, or even human hair! So, your bagel is not vegan unless it has a vegan-specific label.
Sprinkles and Coated Candies
Thanks to an ingredient innocuously labeled as confectioner’s glaze, many sprinkles and coated candies are shiny. Confectioner’s glaze is a fancy way of saying bugs. Also called resinous glaze, confectioner’s glaze is comprised of about 35% shellac.
Furthermore, and most noteworthy, shellac is the chemical sold in hardware stores. Shellac is used for sealing and varnishing wood floors. And shellac is, quite literally, melted down bugs. Yuck.
Pharmaceutical and Over the Counter Drugs
Many pills are coated with resinous bug glaze, too. Seems like coated candies and sprinkles, right? Rather, in this instance, it’s called pharmaceutical glaze. Different name, same bugs.
Many people assume that gum is a vegan-safe product. However, the ingredient listed as gum base is made from non-animal ingredients like lanolin, glycerin, stearic acid, and latex. In simple yet scary terms (in that same order), these ingredients are a wax secreted by animals with wool, animal fat or oils, and milk derivatives.
Many supplements can come from animal sources or even human hair, unless specifically labeled as vegan. Vitamins B-12, D, and Omegas are commonly consumed by vegans. If you are a vegan who is into fitness, you may currently take BCAA’s or some other form of amino acids. Again, you’re more than likely consuming human hair, duck feathers, or some other type of animal product. Unless of course your product is specifically labeled as being vegan.
Contact the supplement company for details and confirmation of vegan or non vegan status of all supplements you take.
Items Containing Natural Flavoring
Natural flavoring is another fun generalized name given to a disgusting slew of potentially animal derived. You can find natural flavoring in flavoring syrups, fruit snacks, etc. According to Title 21, Section 101, part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations, natural flavoring is described as:
… the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.
This pretty much means that it can be anything approved for use in food. Therefore, unless the source is noted on the label, you’ll have to contact the company to find out if it is sourced from animals or not. Why? WHY?
Strawberry or Raspberry Flavored Items
Apparently, the secretion from a beaver’s behind tastes like raspberry. Also commonly referred to as a natural flavoring, castoreum is the correct name for this lovely stuff. Raspberry flavored candy, alcoholic beverages, baked goods, pudding, soft candy, hard candy, and chewing gum are just a few popular foods that contain castoreum.