I made one of my usual tactical errors the other day, and decided to check whether Cheerios, my breakfast cereal of choice, is, in fact, vegan. I’d just managed to wean myself off of traditional dairy based milk onto soy milk (and boy, did that suck — sorry, cows); I was feeling proud of myself and wanted to verify that I’d finally gotten breakfast fully vegan.
The answer is interesting: no, Cheerios is not vegan, because the vitamin D3 which is added to the cereal is made from lanolin, which of course comes from sheep. Technically, this may make the cereal just vegetarian rather than vegan, but since there’s no way to tell if the wool was sheared off living sheep or skinned off dead sheep, it may also technically be “animal based”. This means that any “fortified” cereal (or any “fortified” food, such as orange juice!) may contain vitamin D3 or other “slaughterhouse by-products”. Also, if the “sugar” in the Cheerios is white cane sugar, it was likely whitened using the calcium carbonate from animal bones. So my “vegan” breakfast, well, isn’t. Arrgh!
My experience wasn’t special. Non-vegan products are hiding inside apparently vegan food all the time. What is really interesting about this is that one of the first links I found when starting my search for nutritional information on Cheerios was PETA’s “Accidentally Vegan” web site, which — sometime in the past — listed Cheerios, saying it was vegan and making no mention of the treacherous lanolin-based vitamin D3. When people complained about this (and other foods on the list which were not actually vegan), PETA responded thusly:
While PETA supports a strict adherence to veganism, we put the task of vigorously reducing animal suffering ahead of personal purity. Boycotting products that are 99.9 percent vegan sends the message to manufacturers that there is no market for this food, which ends up hurting more animals.
So where should I draw the line? Do I spend four times as much on a “vegan” version of Cheerios, or is 99.9% vegan “close enough”? (Maybe, maybe not — PETA did eventually take Cheerios, and some other non-vegan foods, off the “accidentally vegan” list.) But what about animal products hidden in other places (like car tires and plastic bags) that are often impossible to spot? How far do I go to ensure that I never eat another animal? How far should I go to never indirectly harm another animal? How crazy should I get, avoiding having any kind of impact on any other living being, anywhere?
I finally found the “Bloom County” cartoon I’ve been looking for, which shows veganism taken to its logical extreme. Because we’re on this planet, we’re using resources, and that’s necessarily going to impact other living things, sometimes negatively. That’s okay. That’s something we can’t help. However, that’s no reason to ignore the issue. Even if I can’t completely remove my impact on the planet, my choosing to not eat animal products in as much as I possibly can is still reducing my impact by a measurable percentage. Isn’t that better than nothing? At least I’m trying, and I can only get better at it. (Next project: switch breakfast to fruit-without-animal-based-wax-coatings and vegan-bread toast….)