Veg•an: a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products; also : one who abstains from using animal products (as leather)
Most people understand that being vegan means a diet completely free of animal products of any kind. What might surprise you though is just how many animal products are used in food. For example, carmine is a red dye commonly found in many processed foods and cosmetics. It gets it’s color from the crushed body and eggs of cochineal, a small insect. Gross. And obviously non-vegan.
A few other often surprisingly non-vegan foods: beeswax/honey and some refined cane sugars. Beeswax and honey are pretty self-explanatory (bee products). Sugar is a little more complicated. Get the rundown here.
I should mention that not all vegans agree on ingredients like carmine, honey and sugar. As much as it pains me to link to wikipedia, their article on veganism does a pretty solid job of explaining the differences of opinion that exist.
You can probably guess where I sit on all this. As always, I make the best effort I can to avoid any non-vegan product, but for things like carmine, honey and refined sugar I’ll compromise more easily than I might for dairy and eggs.
More Than Food
Something else many people don’t immediately realize about veganism: it’s not just about what you eat. Like foods, you’d likely be surprised at the wide variety of products that contain some kind of animal derivative. There’s the obvious things like leather, fur and feathers, but don’t forget about wool, silk, glue and bee products (which are used just as often in non-food products as edible ones!). Any product that is tested on animals is also non-vegan.
For many, the “lifestyle” side of veganism is tougher – if only because the use of animal products seems so ubiquitous and sometimes difficult to recognize. This part of veganism is actually easier for me than the diet. Unlike food, there is always at least one good replacement for non-vegan household products, clothing or cosmetics. It’s also a whole lot harder to justify. Humans require food. We don’t require lipstick or wool pants or any other material thing.
If you’re thinking about giving veganism a go, there are TONS of vegan starter kits available from a variety of knowledgeable and fantastic organizations that can help you get off on the right foot. Here’s a few of the best:
- PETA’s free Vegetarian Starter Kit (they say vegetarian, but they mean vegan)
- Vegan Outreach Starter Guide
- Mercy for Animals Vegan Starter Kit
- Vegetarian Starter Kit from PCRM
- The Ultimate Vegan Guide from Vegan.com’s Erik Marcus
Search for veggie-friendly restaurants near you at HappyCow.
Here’s a few of my fave vegan product lines/ shopping sites:
Try to remember not to be too hard on yourself. Be vegan however it works for you – sometimes, usually or always.