Gelatine and the Newbie Pitfalls
Detailing the many pains in our scrawny asses.
Vegetarianism sounds easy: Avoid butchers and settle back into a life of quiet self-righteousness. If only it were so. When yer basic God battered through his six day to-do list he made sure an animal’s usefulness went far beyond the odd chop or sausage. Need a gelling agent for trifles? You’ll find that in a cow’s ligaments. Want something to separate curds and whey? Go scrape a calf’s stomach. What with that and cancer you can’t help wishing he’d stopped inventing things midweek.
But what’s done is done, and now vegans and vegetarians risk eating pieces of zoos in blissful ignorance. The only solution: Eternal vigilance! Listed below are the 48,000 animal products used in foods you’ve never suspect were pro-anti-animal.
Bits and pieces
The Sunday names for various bits of egg white, albumen/albumin/albumXn can trip up the newly vegan. They’re the headliners in meringues and eggular things of that nature, but they’re also shoved into a ton of processed foods to bump up their protein.
A 70s gelatine knock-off, aspic’s a jellyish substance that’s all bones and cack.
Casein is a whole bunch of proteins found knocking about in milk. Okay if you’re veggie, evil-bad-wrong if you’re vegan. It’s used as an additive in cheeses, coffee creamers and processed foods.
Chitin is found in fungi (vegetarian) but also in crab and shrimp shells (less so). I’m not entirely sure what it is. I read the definition twice but I don’t know what a long-chain polymer of N-acetylglucosamine is, and suddenly I was looking at a diagram of a molecule. Still, it’s something to look out for on ingredients lists as it’s used as a stabiliser and thickening agent in a bunch of food.
Cochineal, or E120, is made from insects found in North and South America. It’s a food dye, so eyes out for anything vaguely pink or red if you want to avoid trouble. Insects might not be as cuddly as your average lamb but every year millions of these creatures are kidnapped and taken to factories where they’re stamped on by boots the size of a house.
Gelatine, or E441, is a gelling agent that comes from animal skin and tissue, and from collagen found in bones, cartilage and ligaments. It’s used in a wide variety of foods, typically in jellies, marshmallows, chewing gum, jelly sweets and pastry glazes, although vegetarian alternatives are available. As an added inconvenience, you’ll find most medicine capsules and many tablets – including vitamins – are made with gelatine. So that’s helpful.
Glycerine and glycerol can be made from animal fats but vegetarian alternatives are available, making for a delightful amount of unnecessary confusion. There are vegetarian products that contain glycerine, non-vegetarian products that contain glycerine, and vegetarian products that contain vegetarian glycerine but don’t bother saying they’re vegetarian. Keep an eye on soap, handwash, shower gel, mouthwash and toothpaste for starters. Say what you like about meat eaters, at least their lives are simple.
In terms of ubiquity, isinglass is the boozehound’s gelatine. Taken from the swim bladders of tropical fish it’s a fining agent used to clarify wine and beer. Chances are if you’re getting tanked, you’ve just Found Nemo.
Fine for veggies, less so for vegans, lactose is that stuff that comes from milk and makes Jamie Lee Curtis shit wrong. It’s found in a bunch of foods and sneaks its way into some tablets and medicines.
Rennet is an enzyme taken from the fourth stomach of newborn calves and added to milk as part of the cheese-making process. This renders many cheeses unsuitable for vegetarians and leaves the first three stomachs feeling unwanted and depressed. Vegetarian alternatives are available, making rennet all the more dickish.
Shellac, or E904, is a secretion of the Kerria Lacca insect from the forests of Assam and Thailand. You probably know this already. Shellac is scooped from the trees where the females have left their secretions so there’s a chance they’ll be scooped and killed along with it. You know. It’s used as a glazing agent for pills, sweets and fake nails, and can be used in dentistry. You know all this. I’m just patronising you now. Shellac.
D3 comes from lanolin, which comes from sheep’s wool, which means only D3 that comes from sheep’s wool that comes from live shearing is vegetarian and D3 that comes from sheep’s wool that comes from the slaughterhouse is not vegetarian. Simple, really. And pointless, given vegan D3 also exists.
Whey, whey powder
Whey comes from the cheese-making process, drained from the curds after rennet has curdled and separated milk. So whey, like cheese, can be vegetarian if the milk was separated with a vegetarian alternative to rennet. This can lead to confusion, with tons of foods that list whey powder as an ingredient without mentioning whether or not they’re vegetarian. If in doubt, don’t put it in your facehole. It’s better to miss out on a few vegetarian foods because of poor labelling than chew on what used to be calf stomach.
It’s a long shot, but your baker might glaze their buns with eggwash and grease their tins with animal fat. ‘Grease their tins’ sounds vaguely like innuendo. You might get a slap for asking but it’s worth it to avoid second-hand corpses.
Assuming you still eat dairy, butter’s ok for you – with some exceptions. Many low fat spreads use animal fats, and some are enriched with omega 3 from murdered fish.
Fish eggs aren’t as simple as chicken eggs. While a chicken can plonk down an egg and carry on with its life – at least in theory – fish are killed and their ovaries harvested so Lord Snooty can put something on a cracker. You could consider soy-based fake caviar if you want to keep up appearances.
See rennet. I’m too busy organising soy-based canapés for tonight’s soiree with Henry Kissinger to explain it twice. But bear in mind cheese doesn’t just come in blocks; it’s an ingredient that can rule out types of pesto, pizza, and such and such. Parmesan – real Parmesan – is never vegetarian, so a restaurant’s veggie option can easily be unveggied by the careless sprinkles of a waiter’s teaspoon.
Does your local chipper use animal fat in its fryers? Better ask; even the meekest of potatoes can be an animal’s deadliest enemy. The animosity between them is fierce, the tension palpable. Ask yourself why cows are fenced in behind barbed wire, and why potatoes in the field next to them hide underground. There’s a history there. You’re looking for vegetable or palm oil, and you want your chips cooked separately to the meat and fish. And while we’re on the subject of fast food, your veggieburger may be cooked on the same grill or hotplate as the meat so be sure to ask before chowing down on cow-soaked bean curd.
It’s not uncommon for chocolate bars to include whey or animal fats so always do a pre-scoff check to be sure. Masterfoods, which makes Mars, Maltesers, M&Ms and Galaxy, have a particularly turbulent on/off relationship with animals so caution is advised.
Crisps (potato chips)
Whey powder is often used as a flavour carrier, which takes us back to whether or not rennet was used in its production. And because crisps typically use artificial flavourings you could find a pack of Cheese and Onion isn’t vegetarian but the Beef and Kipper is animal-free. It’s a topsy-turvy world out there.
Thanks to rennet, gelatine, cochineal and whey powder, ice cream is a minefield even if you’ve not gone vegan. One false step and a bomb could go off. But this wouldn’t be your normal bomb, more a bomb of exploding bloody calf stomachs, smushed hooves and icky crushed insects. Tread carefully.
Some brands – though none I’ve found – contain fish oil, so pay attention to what you’re slapping on your veggieburger if you’re veggie, or your chips if you’re European. And avoid it completely if you’re vegan, cos it’s egged up out of its tits.
Pastry is often made with lard. Lard is basically melted pig. You should avoid that because of the vegetarianism. This could rule out any number of pies, tarts and third examples, but vegan and vegetarian pastries are out there.
Propolis is not just Glasgow’s Blue Lives Matter campaign – that’s as niche as a joke can possibly get – it’s also a sticky-ass thing bees produce, meaning it’s no good for vegans. It tends to appear in pretend healthy foods and tablets. As if bees are in great shape. I could take them.
I’ve managed to nearly eat lentil soup made with meat stock, and vegetable risotto with fish stock. Never trust brown water. And never feel silly asking when you’re eating out; it’s better than the alternative. And ask ingredient-specific questions as waiters and chefs will often assume anything without the word ‘beef’ in it is vegetarian.
Usually made with animal fat, suet is found in foods so old fashioned if you disown your grandparents you’ll probably be safe. We’re talking dumplings, mincemeat (which means mince pies), suet crust pastry and haggis, that type of thing. Haggis isn’t ruled out on suet grounds of course, but because it includes every animal that ever walked on God’s green earth. It’s essentially Noah’s Ark in a condom. Vegetarian suet is available.
This is where gelatine has a field day. We’re talking marshmallows, chewing gum, jelly sweets, mints; scan the ingredients and find alternatives.
May contain gelatine. May not. And don’t assume if one product from a brand is vegetarian they all are; Muller caught me out once because one pot was fine and another was hoofed up to the gills. (It didn’t have gills).
Some brands contain anchovies. You know the one I’m talking about. Go for a generic knock-off, check the ingredients, and enjoy fish-free non-rennet plant-based cheese on non-animal fat-tinned toast. Easy.
And here I was thinking it was just a gimmicky description. Turns out it’s a bluntly honest one. First you take your porcelain, then you take your heated ox bone, smush the two together and come out with nice white china. Eat tofu off a bone china plate, you’re not dotting every T.
Down and feathers
Down, the soft feathers from geeses and duckies that fill our pillows and duvets, can come from live plucking but, says the Vegetarian Society, more than 90% comes from the slaughterhouse. Best avoided, unless you can snuggle up in bed with the foul stench of death around you.
Cavemen wore fur. We’ll let that slide because they were simple folks but we’re civilised enough we can let Foxy Loxy keep his skin.
Leather is the outside of a cow. It’s hard to keep living when your insides aren’t inside your outsides. Vegan leather substitutes are available so you can still have your shoes, your belts, your wallets, your biker gear, your fetish wardrobe.
Contains gelatine. And you wondered why that cow looked grumpy and uncomfortable at its photo shoot last month. It wasn’t just because of the things you made it do. Go digital. And be less lecherous with bovine starlets.
Silk comes from the cocoon of the silkworm larva, taken in a process that kills the larvae. I guess your decision to wear it depends on how you feel about larvae, an issue we all have to confront in our own time and in our own way.
Many soaps, shower gels, shampoos, toothpastes and mouthwashes use animal fats, glycerine or gelatine. Which is odd, because most animals stink. It’s always worth checking: When I switched to veggieness my shower gel looked all innocent sitting on my bathtub but was mocking me all along, knowing it was full of hooves.
In terms of life and death (as opposed to quality of life) wool can be animal friendly, but about a quarter of UK wool comes from slaughtered sheep, according to the Vegetarian Society. I guess that makes us 75% ethical if we still wear it.
How a spider spurred my veggie awakening and with it my wider Zero awakening and with it your wider Zero awakening and with it a general saving of animals, humanity and the planet.
Bits of animals are hidden everywhere: in marshmallows, in red food dye, in fake fingernails, even in meat and fish and everything. Swot up on what you need to miss out on.
Because even being ill is an ethical pickle for the self-righteous vegetarian. Between gelatine capsules and mandatory animal testing, you’re best just maintaining perfect health forever.
What should we feed our fellow omnivores? Should we force our morality on other creatures? Will a leopard ever want a bit of tofu? Just three of the questions I’m not all that into but wrote about anyway.
As Veganuary hit and I finished updating the Veggieness section of this here website, I was lightning-bolted by one of my many micro-epiphanies: Ever since Covid demanded I spend less time in the kitchen and more time in bed I’ve become a lousy, lazy vegan.
Veganuary aims to get people trying veganism for a month, drawing them in with time-limited new year faddishness. Last year it had more than half a million sign ups, with about 85% committing to cutting down on meat and dairy thereafter, and a solid 40% aiming to stay vegan for all time. That’s decent, given the most popular new year’s resolution – getting and using an annual gym membership – has a success rate of less than 3% I assume.
As with many hells, the road to veganism is paved with good intentions…
You’ll recall they made a stem cell burger a while back. It was funded by one of the guys from Google taking a break off reading your emails and spying on what you spaff to. He gave a few hundred grand to a couple of mad scientists taking a break off stitching hitchhikers’ mouths to hobos’ bumholes.
As you’ll recall I’ve been terribly ill, mummy’s brave little soldier keeping his chin up through the flu, a chest infection, a spot of whooping cough and very little in the way of blogging. Throughout this charming episode I’ve had a number of very helpful people explain it’s all down to my vegetarianism, there having been no documented cases of illness among meat eaters.
In the days before my epic post-qualifying/pre-job slouchfest, back when I was an overworked and increasingly tetchy student, I bashed out a few new year’s resolutions to fill up a bit of space on what was becoming a seriously neglected blog. However, comeuppances being what they are, I’m now forced to put some effort into doing whatever it was I said I’d do, and all to satisfy an audience of precisely no one. How I hate myself.
As the days count down and 2011 draws to a close I have some unfinished business to attend to, an outstanding resolution yet to be instood. I speak, of course, of Operation Parmesan, the unprecedented assault on the world of cuisine that will make the Hiroshima bombing look like an inappropriate historical event to make reference to.
It’s a hard and trying task, all this Zero business. All this research, all this protesting, all this motivating the troops and doing the groupies. At times I grow weary. People cannot live on self-righteousness alone. It can’t be all hard work and hand wringing and so from time to time I put down my tools, tramp down from the moral high ground to the sewer in which the rest of you live, and have a night off. A couple of nights ago I watched a film. Naturally, I was able to turn it pretty quickly into hard work and handwringing.
You’ll recall how I’ve been writing for my uni’s studentmag. It’s some full on proper do-gooding, converting everyone on campus to my splendid way of life and raising issues usually neglected by right-on students such as Fairtrade, vegetarianism, feminism, environmentalism… Oh. Right.