Are there animal bits in my food?!
I recently read a blog post on the PETA Living blog about small amounts of animal products in foods and how avoiding them to death should not be the focus of one’s vegan choices. The argument is that fussing over little bits of animal products in foods, especially when out for dinner, only alienates your friends and creates an unfair view of vegetarianism as something that is “difficult” or “dogmatic”, while entirely missing the point about why one has chosen this lifestyle. The post even goes so far as to say that doing this hurts the animals, as you are essentially discouraging people from adopting a vegetarian diet (and subsequently, animals that would not have to be slaughtered for their veg diets would still be).
Abstracting from the complication of cause and effect, which is always debated so heatedly, I question how many vegans feel this way. PETA tends to have a narrow-minded approach to veganism, focusing on animal suffering as the mainstay for its call to people to go vegan. Of course, there are other, additional, reasons to be vegan that this article doesn’t address. While admittedly, I do believe animal suffering to be most likely the most important reason to go vegan, discouraging vegans from fretting over micro-ingredients has a flavour of ridicule, to me. It’s weird, because I would tend to agree with the author of the article, but perhaps did not appreciate the tone.
Yes, I believe there is much more important things to care about than scrutinizing every trace amount of, say, dairy, but at the same time, I do not mind if others find it necessary to do so. I used to think that vegans who tried not to consume animals to the minutest of detail seemed to have forgotten the true objective of going vegan in the first place. Vegans are vegan not because they avoid animal products, but because they believe that the use and exploitation of animals causes suffering to the animals and they choose not to support it. Consequently, vegans tend to avoid animal products. But at what point do you have to draw the line? In all honesty, animals are killed in agricultural practices all the time. Indeed, more field mice are probably killed when harvesting wheat than additional animals killed by eating white sugar or honey or bread with trace amounts of milk. (The question of whether or not vegans should avoid byproducts at all (e.g., leather or certain kinds of white sugar) sometimes enters centre stage, especially when defending veganism to those who aren’t vegan, but that’s for another blog post entirely.) Humans (who are also animals, mind you) are often exploited (or killed) for the production of cotton, chocolate, coffee, diamonds, yet many vegans don’t necessarily ensure their cotton clothes do not come from sweat shops, that their chocolate or coffee is fair trade, or that their engagement diamond ring isn’t blood. Personally, those seem to be much more important things to worry about when making a purchase than whether or not a little bit of bacon fat happened to touch my veggie burger.
(This can quickly take us back to the “hypocrite” blog post I did a while back, but we won’t go back there, because you know how idiotic the “hypocrite” argument is to me.)
At any rate, I sympathize with vegans who just find the idea of eating animal products gross. And that’s an entirely other reason for not wanting any dead animal to be mingling or present in one’s food, no matter how microscopic. Dead farm animal, for some vegans is like dead cat or dog, or even dead human, and who of us would want the juices of some fried cat/dog/human rubbing up against your rice pilaf. Or just being included in very small amounts in your sliced bread? Gross, right? There, that’s how many vegans feel. Ergo, there is certainly a good enough reason to kindly ask your waiter if there is any dairy or egg or beef juice in the veggie burger, because you’re vegan and would prefer not to eat any animal products. I feel that as long as you are polite and you ask with discretion, you are not making vegetarianism look dogmatic or difficult, but you are making restauranteurs aware that food should be labeled, that their waitstaff need to be educated about these issues that concern vegetarians, that having these ingredients in so-called “vegetarian” dishes makes them not veg*n, and that not eating animal products is important! Perhaps it is the same reason why people with nut allergies should feel confident asking if the food they are served has any amount of nuts in it. That being said, vegans should probably just avoid steakhouses if they can (believe me, you’ll feel like a tool asking for anything vegan there), the same way that those with nut allergies should probably avoid peanut butter factories altogether!