Cheerios is 99.99% Vegan; So Am I

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?

Bloom County, by Berkeley Breathed.

Comic from Bloom County, by Berkeley Breathed.

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….)

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17 responses to “Cheerios is 99.99% Vegan; So Am I

  1. Great post! I’ve often wondered the same thing – where do I draw the line? I feel like I’m doing my best by consuming whole foods and avoiding as much processed food as possible, even if it claims it’s vegan. But I question if that is enough. Thanks for sharing the hidden ingredient in Cheerios. I would have never known. Would you mind if I reblogged this onto my site?

  2. Reblogged this on The Vegan Wannabe and commented:
    I’ve often wondered the same thing that this blogger has asked – where do I draw the line? I feel like I’m doing my best by consuming whole foods and avoiding as much processed food as possible, even if it claims to be vegan. But I question if that is enough. This blogger explores more on this topic.

  3. Most important is not to be paranoid about it! (: don’t be too hard on yourself (and/or others). Had a slip-up? (due to misleading info or just because you are only at the beginning of your vegan path) – well, move on! (:
    You are already doing your best: Avoiding animal-based products (even if 99,9%), saving so many animal lives, being conscious about your actions, AND, what counts most, spreading the word! Thanks to your blog and other people like you who write or make documentaries, people around at least stop and reflect on at least what they eat. That’s a good start, huh? (:
    Relax and enjoy your vegan life. No one is perfect. (: learnt something new? Just introduce it into your diet, share the knowledge and be relieved. At least you do care to learn more and research more on the information you get.
    Keep it up! (:
    And thanks for the great post!

    Cheers,
    S & H from NewlyVeg (:

  4. Also, honey is not vegan either :( I am not vegan but I work for a food company that uses honey and we get a lot of questions about it. I am not sure if the cheerios use ‘real’ honey though haha. Sorry to be a downer! I hope you are still able to stick with your morning fix!

  5. Late to the discussion, but I’d say that 99.9% is most certainly close enough. If even half of the population avoided eating animals and the obvious byproducts (milk, eggs, etc.) then we’d be living in a different and much better world.

    Not all vegans are concerned about minute traces of animal products (some don’t even care about honey, by the way), because they’d rather focus on getting more folk to at least stop eating beings with faces. We can’t be 100% vegan, just as we can’t reduce ALL harm to other sentient beings.

    So for what it’s worth (even at the potential risk of other vegans declaring me unfit for veganhood, snort) I hereby give you permission to eat regular Cheerios if you want. ;)

    The point, of course, is that you know for yourself what “in as much as I possibly can” entails, and you’re the one who gets to draw the line.

  6. Wool is never taken off of dead sheep, because it is useless after getting blood in it. There is no way to remove it without destroying the fibers. In fact, sheep need to be sheared regularly or else they will get deadly infections. And mistreatment of the animal would mess up the wool. So there’s no need to worry about that; the sheep are happy.
    The bleached sugar is kind of creepy though… It’s like they have to add eye of newt to everything…
    And a tip about the fruit- at least in my area, the owners of fruit trees often sell their surplus on craigslist. Sometimes it’s even cheaper than store fruit. So you can eat local as well as organic.

  7. Have to disagree about sheep not being mistreated.
    http://gentleworld.org/whats-wrong-with-wool/
    One might also mistakenly believe that a sheep needs to be shorn, but the reality is more complicated. Undomesticated sheep produce only the amount of wool that they need to survive in their climate. Again, as we have bred chickens and pigs to grow so large that their legs can no longer support them, we have used genetic engineering to manipulate the sheep’s wool production to meet our designs.
    Today’s domesticated sheep will overproduce wool in the abundance that is required to support the industry. We have, in effect, turned the sheep’s body against the sheep. Shearing, which is, in itself, a brutal process in which frightened animals are forced into submission, occurs early in the spring, which leaves the sheep vulnerable to exposure.
    Because of forced, unnatural breeding practices, these sheep have wrinkled skin in order to increase wool production. This wrinkled skin also accrues excess moisture, which in turn attracts flies. The flies lay eggs in the skin folds and resulting maggots begin to consume the sheep’s skin in the extremely painful condition known as flystrike. To prevent this from occurring (or rather, to maintain their product using the most cost-effective means at their disposal) the wool industry cuts off the skin and flesh from around a lamb’s hindquarters, generally without anesthesia.

  8. The wool industry is F****D UP…the sheep are NOT happy sheep…read this link and do research before making ignorant comments.
    http://www.peta.org/living/fashion/shocking-wool-facts/

  9. I don’t think that you know what “logical extreme” means. :/

  10. Hi there.
    Some things you can avoid – and I think morning cereal with animal products is one of them. It’s really easy to find 100% vegan cereal (without paying extra).

    With cars, for instance, I know tires contain some sort of animal by -product, but you can’t really drive a car with no tires…

  11. Great post. I agree: I am only human, and simply existing means I will have SOME impact, negative or positive, on the environment around me. This is unavoidable.

    I am wondering though: I live in Canada, and just went to check the box of cheerios in the kitchen–there is no mention of any added vitamin d in the ingredients. The nutrition chart shows 0% vitamin d, unless eaten with milk. Wondering if Canada has some different protocols regarding what can be added to the foods.

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