Friday, July 22, 2011

Common Items That Are Not Suitable for Vegans (but that are often overlooked by non-vegans)

In the past few months I have been far more social, particularly with new people, in large part because I have been going out with the kids.  I think that it is terrific that so many people have been willing to go out of their way to prepare animal-free foods for us.

However, during that time, I have come across many a misconception, or at least, a general ignorance about some of the animal products that are in our food.  So, here is a quick run-down of foods that are available locallly that are simply not suitable for vegans.


Not all sugars are a problem, but practically every refined white (and brown) sugar on the market in Quebec has been refined with animal bones to remove impurities.  The exceptions to this are raw sugar cane and most organic sugars, and beet sugar, most of which can be found in large box grocery stores like Loblaws, in local health food stores, or in West Indies grocers.

Soy Milk

Ok, obviously, not all soy milk is a problem, but believe it or not, there are a few brands that are.  Soy Sensational and Beatrice are both subsidiaries of Parmalat (and if that isn't ringing bells for you, you need to read more about Parmalat!), but aside from their corporate parent, both of their soy milks contain vitamin D3, which is made from sheep wool, instead of D2 which is made from fungi.

Something to watch out for in some Montreal coffee shops as well, as Soy Sensational is often the milk that is used if you ask for a dairy-free milk.

On the subject of corporate ownership, it should also be noted that WhiteWave Foods, who make Silk Soy products is a subsidiary of Dean Foods. While that doens't immediately disqualify them,it should at least make the ethical consumer pause and look at the alternatives.  

My personal preference is So Nice which not only is suitable for vegans, but also "local", in the sense that they have production facilities and farms on both coasts, reducing the shipping footprint of their products from farm to factory to store.


Margarine was never intended to be a non-animal product.  Early versions were made out of whale blubber, but that is not politically correct anymore, so now they tend to use a mixture of plant oils and dairy.  Up until recently it was quite difficult to get a margarine that was suitable for vegans in Quebec.  Now that we have done away with their law disallowing yellow coloured margarinea.  Up until that time, many people assumed that Fleichmann's was suitable for vegans.  Much like Soy Sensational, it is not simply because of the use of vitamin D3.

There are now two brands that are labelled vegan on our shelves: Becel Vegan Margarine and Earth Balance.

While it was nice to see Becel's introduction into the market, I am pretty sure that it is an attempt to jump onto the trend bandwagon.  Aside from the issues of buying products from a non-vegan company, Becel unfortunately includes palm oil sourced from unknown plantations. Since veganism, contrary to how it is portrayed by much of the media, is not about food, but rather about not-exploiting other animals, this palm oil can potentially be a real problem.  That being said, in a pinch, it will probably do.  I do not think, however, that vegans are actually the primary target of Becel, so much as people who prefer to avoid consuming dairy.

Earth Balance does only slightly better, buying only from legal palm plantations that do not engage in slash & burn deforestation, and they also have a soy-free version which eliminates similar issues with soy oil going on in Brazil.

That being said, oils, especially these kinds of oils, are pretty much luxury items.  They are not sustainable on a global scale, they are not healthy for us, and pretty much they just taste good.  If you can do without them, I would.  I use them almost exclusively when I am doing something special, such as baking a birthday cake.  Otherwise, I prefer to simply not use refined oils, or if I am, I use an organic raw coconut oil.


This one should be obvious, but it is surprising how often it still pops up.  I have another post coming about the use of honey in "vegan" establishments, so keep your eyes posted.  If you still need more info on why honey isn't vegan, here is a good resource.