Why It's IMPOSSIBLE To Be A Vegetarian
(Magazine Article from: Vegetarian Times, May 1991, by Carol Wiley, p.59-62, 89.)

Wait a minute, run that by me again. It's impossible to be a vegetarian?

Well, if you mean it in the very strictest sense...
Technically, of course, anyone who doesn't eat animal flesh is a vegetarian. But many vegetarians try to avoid all animal products. The problem is, it's virtually impossible to live that way. Sure, you can read ingredient labels, but unless you're a chemist, you probably don't know the difference between oleic and linoleic acids. And even if you know your terms, they may not be listed on the label. For example, if the flour in a loaf of bread was treated with hog enzymes to make it rise faster, all the label will say is "flour".

The fact is, almost everything — no we're not exaggerating — contains animal products, and we're not just talking food here. When you learn that your rubber soled canvas shoes contain animal fat, that the video you rented last night contains gelatin, that even the steel in your car contains animal products, you begin to fully understand that statements like "do the best you can" and "Make an impact where it will be felt the most" aren't just copouts for vegetarians.

Just to give you an idea of how pervasive animal products are, take a look inside the home of an average American vegetarian family:

The bathroom contains a host of products that use animal derivatives. Shampoos, for example, can contain collagen (a substance found in bone, cartilage and connective tissue), placenta, enzymes, animal proteins, keratin (a substance found in animal hair, horns and hooves), lactose, lanolin, mink oil, musk and even lion urine. Soaps, cosmetics, suppositories and pill coatings can contain animal fatty acids. Lotions may contain sheep placenta or elastin (a substance found in animal ligaments). Cosmetic brushes are made with animal bristles or hair.

Dad shaved this morning with a shaving cream that contains hyaluronic acid from the combs of roosters. Hyaluronic acid, which is considered a superlubricant, also is found in face creams.

Big Sister just started experimenting with makeup. Her nail polish, lipstick and eye shadow shimmer, thanks to fish scales (called "guanine" or "pearl essence" on the label).

Workers are painting the house. The paint they're using may contain shellac, milk, urea or animal fat. Paint and varnish also contain pigments made from charred bones. Shellac contains an insect secretion that's also used to give candy a shiny coat.

Mom and Dad built a bookshelf for the living room. They glued the joints with nonanimal carpentry glue. Horses no longer die for all purpose white glue, but if the glue is labeled "hide glue," it contains animal parts.

Little Sister is into photography. The film she uses contains gelatin. Ditto for the video that the family rented last night and the vinyl records in the cabinet. Color film can derive its red color from the dried and pulverized bodies of an insect. This dye called cohineal or carmine, also is found in some candy, juice, makeup and many processed foods.

Bricks, plaster, home insulation materials and cement mix may contain dried ox blood and / or animal tallow (fat), which make them last longer.

Are the strings on Junior's tennis racket made of plastic or animal gut? It doesn't really matter. Animal products are used in the manufacture of both types. Ditto for strings on musical instruments.

The kitchen, of course, is where most of us concentrate our meat surveillance efforts, but even there it's just not obvious what contains animal products. For example, tonight Dad is making his favorite dinner — tacos. He's using a packaged taco flavoring mix that contains whey (the liquid portion of cow's milk that is dried and added to scores of processed foods). And, unless labeled "vegetarian," the refried beans more than likely lard (hog fat). Unless the cheese is made with vegetable enzymes, it contains rennet (an enzyme from the lining of calves' stomachs).
Even Baby's soy-based infant formula can harbor animal products. Mom and Dad switched brands when they learned that the oleo acids in their brand of soy formula are derived from cattle.

Mom bakes whole-grain bread every weekend. The flour in store-bought bread can contain hog enzymes that break down the starch and help dough rise. The yeast that Mom uses may even contain animal-derived emulsifiers, which keep ingredients from separating. Cholic acid from animal bile, for example, is the emulsifying agent in dried egg whites, which are found in cake mixes and other shelf foods.

That bowl of fruit on the kitchen table certainly looks delicious. Is the fruit coated with wax derived from vegetables, animals or petroleum? Your grocer may not even know for sure.
Is Grandpa putting sugar in his coffee? Sugar is filtered through charred animal bones during production.

The family's piano has keys made not of ivory but of animal bones. Buttons, bone china, sandpaper and emery boards also contain animal products.

In the laundry and kitchen, cleansers, detergents and dishwashing soaps may contain animal-derived enzymes. The waste water flushed out of the family's house goes to a waste treatment plant, where the lab uses a chemical from fireflies to study bacteria counts.

What a beautiful garden! But check out the fertilizer. It can contain bone meal, dried blood, ground chicken feathers, crab shells and other wastes from the fishing industry, or even urea (also known as carbamide), a component of animal urine. (Urea is commonly used in the production of wine, yeasts, plastics, flame-proofing, urethane and adhesives, as well as in petroleum refining — even in paint finishes on kitchen and laundry appliances.) Oh, yes, and another reason to be an organic gardener: Some insecticides contain bone oil. Bone oil?

Grandma's clothes may be cotton, but animal products are used in almost every step of cloth manufacture.
Grandma developed an allergic rash after an encounter with a strange plant in the yard. She soothed the itch with a cortisone cream from the drugstore. Which is made from the livers of cows.

Your car contains animal products? Surprise! Animal fat is used in the production of steel and to vulcanize rubber. Antifreeze also contains animal fats, as does hydraulic brake fluid and even the asphalt on the driveway. Car polish may contain beeswax.

The family uses biodegradable trash bags, which are often made with lactic acid from cheese processing, which helps the bags deteriorate under bacterial action or exposure to sunlight.
Researchers have developed a chemical from animal tallow that helps flush oil from hard -to-reach oil reservoirs. Speaking of that, oil for sewing machines, cameras, watches and other precision equipment used to come from sperm whales. Since the whale embargo, however, the oil came come from porpoises.

And there are more. For example, food suppliers ship bulk foods in 55-gallon steel shipping containers that are routinely coated with animal tallow or oil to prevent rust.

Elsewhere in the kitchen, you'll find eggs, eggs everywhere though not an egg in sight. Albumin (which can be derived from eggs, blood or cow milk) is used in many imitation dairy products as a stabilizer, thickener, or texturizer. It's also used in breakfast cereals, juices, frostings and puddings.

In the fridge are a couple of bottles of beer and wine. Many vintners clarify their wine with egg whites or isinglass (a gelatin made from the air bladders of sturgeons). Animal enzymes also may be used in beer production as stabilizers.

The kids may prefer cocoa with marshmallows. But unless labeled “vegetarian” or “kosher,” marshmallows — as well as fast-food milkshakes, yoghurt, ice cream, pudding and consommes — may contain gelatin.

In the den, that big chair is packed with foam rubber. Animal blood and urea, a urine product, are used in manufacturing foam and textiles to help keep the fibers together. Textiles are literally awash in animal derivatives. To protect yarns from breaking on the looms during the weaving process, they're coated with gelatin, casein (from milk) or albumin (from eggs, blood or milk). After the fabric is woven, these products are removed by — you guessed it — more animal products, usually an enzyme called amylase.

Virtually all pharmaceuticals and medical procedures utilize animal products in some way. Although most insulin today is genetically engineered, much of it is still obtained from the pancreas of pigs. Doctors replace heart valves with valves from pigs' hearts. Plasmin, an enzyme from hog blood, digests blood clots.

X-ray film contains gelatin. Severe vitamin D deficiency is treated with vitamin D from hog brains. Scientists are now developing blood plasma for humans from cows. Sutures can be derived from sheep, cats, cows or whales. The list goes on and on.

And researchers continue to find ways to use animal byproducts. For example, scientists are injecting genes from the winter flounder into tobacco plants to see if the fish's natural antifreeze will allow plants to grow in cold weather. A new lotion that may cure baldness contains an extract from the fatty tissue surrounding the large intestine of pigs and cattle.

It's all pretty amazing, isn't it? But don't forget that these byproducts of the meat industry are just that — byproducts. The less meat we eat, the fewer animals are killed. As a result, fewer byproducts are available, and non-animal sources are then developed. As it turns out, being a vegetarian is the first step toward getting animal products out of our lives and the best way to make a positive impact for animals.


Beef Industry Council of the National Livestock and Meat Board, The Good Things We Get from Cattle Besides Beef. Chicago.

Freydberg, Nicholas, and Willis A. Gortner, The Food Additives Book. Bantam Books, Inc., 1982.

Furia, Thomas E. CRC Handbook of Food Additives, Vol. II. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press Inc., 1983.

McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technological Terms. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishers, 1987.

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Scientific and Technology. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishers, 1987.

National Livestock and Meat Board. Meat Board Reports. Chicago: June 1982.

Vegetarian Resource Group. “What Are Those Ingredients?” Vegetarian Journal. Baltimore: March/April 1990.

Wasserman, Debra, and Charles Stahler. Meatless Meals for Working People. Baltimore: Vegetarian Resource Group, 1990.

Wiesinger, Ronald. “It's A Soy Baby!” PAWS News, December 1990.

Winter, Ruth. A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1989.

Winter, Ruth. A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1984.

Thanks also to the New England Anti-Vivisection Society and to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
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