The other day I was reading an article in which the (vegan) author mentioned that she typically doesn’t sweat trace amounts of animal products in ingredient lists when she’s shopping. In the comments, I noticed some people expressed shock at this and more than a few also used it as an opportunity to question her commitment.
As you might expect by the name of this blog, I’m totally with her on not driving yourself bananas (not to mention, everyone around you) to be absolutely, positively sure that no animal product of any kind ever passes your lips. Certainly, it’s a noble goal, and I think one that most vegans, by definition, generally do strive for. But, if you’re driving yourself crazy trying to follow some set of invisible rules rather than living life as an example of cruelty-free health and happiness, I’d venture to say you’re missing the point.
Would it surprise you to know that PETA (yes, that PETA) agrees with me (be honest!)? Totally true. PETA’s official position on small amounts of animal products in processed foods is “don’t worry about it:”
The goal of sticking to a vegetarian or vegan diet is to help animals and reduce suffering; this is done by choosing a bean burrito or a veggie burger over chicken flesh, or choosing tofu scramble over eggs, not by refusing to eat an otherwise vegan food because it has 0.001 grams of monoglycerides that may possibly be animal-derived.
I love that. It completely flies in the face of everyone who criticizes PETA as a bunch of crazed radicals who wouldn’t know compromise if it socked them in the nose.
PETA actually goes on to point out that obsessive behavior about trace ingredients can end up hurting the cause more than it helps. Grilling waiters about ingredients (a tiny bit of dairy in a veggie burger for example) or insisting that food be cooked with separate equipment not only discourages your companions and the restaurant staff from going vegan or vegetarian, but also makes restaurants less likely to bother offering vegetarian choices at all. Who would that help? Yup, nobody (animals especially).
If the idea of trace ingredients really does bug you, endeavor to cook as much of the meals you eat yourself, using as many whole foods as possible. When you buy processed food, shopping at places like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or a local specialty store can also make the process of finding 100% vegan items much, much easier.
I’m pretty fortunate that I live very close to several specialty grocers and can afford to do the bulk of my shopping there (and that I have the time to cook almost every day). For many people though, that’s not the case and I don’t think there’s any shame or blame in cutting corners when it comes to trace ingredients (or otherwise) if you need to.
Be vegan however it works for you!