If you are like me and basically every single vegan I know, you read the ingredient labels of everything you buy, even when the package says “vegan”. Besides the obvious precautions to avoid consuming animal products by accident, a lot of vegans tend to develop an aversion to long, unreadable ingredient lists. So, when you’re faced with a label like the one in the picture below and you really want to buy that item, what do you do? Most people, unless they’re Chemistry majors, probably have no idea what most of the ingredients listed are, much less if said ingredients are vegan or not.
Don’t worry, there’s help. Thanks to Reuben Proctor and Lars Thomsen, authors of “Veganissimo A to Z“, you can look up those weird names and figure out where they came from. Well… mostly. It’s complicated — but I’ll get to that.
“Veganissimo A to Z” provides a very, very extensive list of all kinds of ingredients, additives and other kinds of substances that go into everything we consume: food, cosmetics, drugs, even electronics (it surprised me to learn that my electronic gadgets are most likely not vegan). The bulk of the book consists of an ingredient list in alphabetical order. A typical entry reads like this:
The icons indicate the origin (animal/plant/mineral/synthetic/bacterial), and the color indicates whether the ingredient is always/often (red) or sometimes/rarely (black) of that origin. There is a brief explanation about what kind of substance it is and what it’s used for, and also points out any cross-references to other ingredients in the list. Sometimes there are multiple names grouped up, that indicate the same ingredient.
The rest of the book contains some information about other topics of interest like details about product labeling in several industries, alternatives to non-vegan ingredients, references, etc.
And here’s where it gets complicated: you’ll learn they put animal-derived ingredients in everything. Looking through the book, it seems that most of the stuff, even when derived from plants/bacteria most of the time, can still contain some animal products, or might have actually been made from animals. It’s a little overwhelming, seeing the little red/black cow icon on almost every entry, page after page, even on some things that are supposed to be vegan (if there’s a chance there were animals involved, the authors add the little black cow icon and mention it in the description).
“Veganissimo A to Z” is very useful and will help you make better informed decisions when buying anything from clothing to electronics to food, even if those decisions involve learning that you don’t have much of a choice when buying certain products. Hopefully that will change someday.
One more thing: dear mr. Proctor and Thomsen, PLEASE MAKE A SMARTPHONE APP OUT OF THIS BOOK. I reviewed an app like that some time ago (which is more geared toward grocery shopping), but there is a lot more information in this book that would be nice to have on the go.
Mildly interesting aside: it took me a while to find a package listing a lot of ingredients with weird names here at home, so I could snap a picture to use in this post. I had to look through all the kitchen cabinets, fridge and freezer. I guess that’s a good thing. 🙂