Eliminating animal products from your diet is a process. The more you learn the easier it becomes to be label savvy. Here are some common ingredients in some foods that you may not realize are not vegetarian and/or vegan friendly. Checking for ingredients requires reading the ingredients portion of the nutrition label. This is not a comprehensive list of all animal ingredients, but is instead a curated short list for those new to plant-based eating and deciding which category they fall into.
Gelatin is the collagen from animal body parts. Gelatin is used as a gelling agent in foods and also as a thickener or stabilizer. Gelatin can be found in Jell-o, marshmallows, many gummy candies including candy corn, gelatinous desserts, most gel capsule medications, and even sometimes in ice cream and yogurts! Luckily there are vegan and vegetarian friendly options for some of these foods including vegan marshmallows, yogurts and ice creams.
Rennet is found in many cheeses and is derived from the stomach of a calf. It is used to thicken the milk during the cheesemaking process. This means that many cheese options available on the market are not vegetarian friendly. To know if a cheese product has animal rennet or a microbial or vegetable rennet requires reading the ingredients label. If the rennet the cheesemaker used is vegetarian friendly, it will say whether it’s microbial or vegetable rennet. Another tip is that usually if the ingredients label uses the word “enzymes” or simply “rennet”, this is likely animal rennet and not vegetarian friendly.
Honey is produced by honey bees. This makes it an animal product. Bees produce it and we steal it. Therefore consuming honey exploits the work of bees. There’s also issues with how the bees are treated. Many large scale bee operations can harm the bees, which would again be an argument against the use of honey. But within the vegan community you will find that some individuals allow honey. Remember that when someone identifies themselves as vegan, this includes their lifestyle. Like anything in life there are elements that make a vegan lifestyle contradictory, but that’s for another post. I firmly believe that individuals can make exceptions for certain products without being considered fake or not truly vegan. But I digress. For now just know that honey is technically not vegan but is vegetarian friendly.
Shellac / Confectioner’s Glaze
Confectioner’s glaze (also known as shellac) is used to give foods a shiny appearance. Shellac is hardened Kerria lace bug secretions and therefore not vegan friendly. You can find shellac in many candies like jelly beans and malted milk balls. Whether or not this ingredient is vegetarian friendly is somewhat up for debate. Shellac isn’t made from the Kerria bug bodies but from the bug’s secretion. This makes it similar to honey as honey isn’t made from bee bodies but from the work the bees have conducted.
Two of the most comprehensive lists I’ve found are available on vegan.com and peta.com. Remember that lists of animal products are meant to be a guide and not necessarily a rule. You ultimately decide what ingredients are acceptable for you.