Avoiding animal products

As a vegetarian, when buying processed food it’s worth taking a closer look at the label for ingredients made from meat and animal products. The following is a handy list to avoiding animal products and animal derived ingredients which are commonly found in foods like cheese, processed yoghurts, low fat cream, store-brought baked goods, sauces, marinades and confectionary.

Many of these animal derived ingredients are by-products of the slaughterhouse industry and all are made from meat or meat by-products. When following a vegetarian diet you might like to check for and consider avoiding animal products and derived ingredients in processed foods.

Also included is a little information on egg and dairy production, as both these animal produce industries raise significant animal welfare issues, which all vegetarians should consider. Luckily there are many alternative ingredients now in popular use making it increasingly easy to avoid animal derived ingredients and foods that contain animal products.

If you’re concerned make sure to read the labels, do a little research and ask manufactures and producers questions about which ingredients they use in their products.

Want to avoid animal products and ingredients? Read labels carefully and check for the following

Rennet

Found in cheese, rennet is an enzyme traditionally and still frequently made from the lining of calf stomachs. Cheese made with traditional rennet is not considered vegetarian and many of the cheese products on our supermarket shelves will contain animal rennet. However, vegetarian cheese is available and it’s possible to buy cheese made from non-animal rennet that clearly states Vegetarian or Suitable for Vegetarians on the label. If in doubt check the list of ingredients. For a vegetarian cheese always choose products where the rennet is identified as vegetable-based or non-animal rennet.

Gelatine and Gelling Agents

Gelatine is a by-product of the slaughterhouse industry and is made from animal hides, hooves, bones, cartilage and tendons. It is present in different processed foods and is often in low fat yoghurts, low fat cream, lollies, confectionary and ready-made desserts, to name but a few. There are vegetarian gelling agents such as agar and carrageen that may be used by some manufacturers so check the listed ingredients carefully on these kinds of products to be sure of making a vegetarian choice.

Animal Fat (Suet/Lard)

Animal fat is carcass fat from animals and is often labelled as suet or lard in a wide variety of processed foods. It can be found in pre-packaged cakes, biscuits and products like margarine, spreadable butter, frozen puff and filo pastry. When choosing products like these look for those that state Suitable for Vegetarians or check the ingredients to see if vegetable fat is used. Hots chips (fries) are often cooked in animal fat – for a vegetarian choice, ask to make sure the restaurant uses a vegetable oil instead.

Fish and Shellfish Derived Ingredients

Fish and shellfish derived ingredients can be found in common sauces, soups, dressings and processed foods. These ingredients can be found in Worcestershire sauce, Cesar salad dressings, Asian-style sauces, dressings, marinades and packaged soups, including many miso soup varieties. To make a vegetarian choice keep an eye out for anchovies, crustacean, fish sauce and bonito or aspic, caviar, chitin (made from crab shells).

Other places to look for animal derived ingredients

Some pre-packaged foods like flavoured chips, savoury crackers, biscuits and packaged soups may contain animal derived ingredients for flavouring. Plus, always check the label on vegetable stock as some products sold as vegetable stock may contain animal products. Look for no animal content stock for a vegetarian choice.

What about dairy + eggs?

Eggs

While many vegetarians will include eggs as part of a vegetarian diet, it’s incredibly important to always choose certified free-range. Battery or Barn Laid eggs should not be an acceptable product, for vegetarians or anyone else.

Chickens are friendly and inquisitive animals, and along with all creatures, deserve freedom from pain, fear, and suffering. Animals raised on a traditional battery farm are subject to horrendous conditions and it’s important to do a little research on the eggs we choose to make certain the hens are kept in true free-range conditions -free from pain, suffering and overcrowding.

As there is no legal definition for the term free-range some products labelled as such may still see hens kept in inhumane or poor condition. Look for those products endorsed by animal groups such as the RSPCA or contact the producer direct to ask about the conditions on their farm.

It’s also important to consider that nearly all egg producing farms destroy every male chick and past point of lay (older) hens – a practice that may distress some vegetarians.

Undoubtedly the best way to stock a kitchen with free-range eggs is from certified small-scale farmers. And if we’re lucky enough to keep our own chickens or know someone who does, this is even better. Check local farmers markets or health food stores and remember to always ask questions – this is the only way we can make a truly informed choice.

For those who choose to avoid or limit eggs there are egg alternatives such as chia gel which make great egg replacement in baking and cooking. And look out for eggs in processed foods such as mayonnaise, dressings and sauces, as well as bakery goods like cakes, biscuits and desserts. The eggs in these products are more than likely from battery hens. Look for egg-free alternatives like soy mayonnaise and choose packaged foods carefully, there are some of these products now available that clearly state made from free-range eggs and egg free.

Dairy Products

Many vegetarians enjoy dairy and dairy products as part of a vegetarian diet. However, it’s important to be aware of the serious animal welfare issues the diary industry raises, to ensure we are making ethical and informed choices.

The conditions imposed on dairy cows could be distressing to many vegetarians. It’s important to be aware of the ethical concerns of the dairy industry and where the products we choose come from to guarantee we’re making choices that reflect our values.

Dairy cows are frequently impregnated with their calves inhumanely and prematurely removed causing horrible distress to both the cow and calf. The male calves are nearly always slaughtered, often at only 5 days old, for veal and the dairy cows themselves are often destroyed after only 5 years. Although there is an increase in small scale and organic farming, most milk production, as in egg production, will result in the inhumane slaughter of animals. This is a distressing fact that may see some vegetarians avoid or reduce these products in their diet.

Tip: if you do decide to avoid dairy products try and include a vitamin B12 supplement in your diet or eat plenty of foods fortified with B12.

For those who choose to avoid dairy there are many alternatives to favourite dairy products. Non-dairy milk and yoghurt is readily available and there are some healthy and delicious options. Try replacing cheese and cream with nut-based alternatives – check online for recipes. Look out for dairy products in bakery goods and some types of bread and popular sauces like hollandaise, creamy pasta sauces, dressings and soups. A growing number of products highlight dairy in the ingredients list or clearly state dairy free.

As a vegetarian it’s always a good idea to consider the options, ask questions and do a little research to be certain we’re making conscience and informed choices.

While this list is a good round-up of common animal derived ingredients there is a host of hidden and ambiguous ingredients in lots of everyday foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. If you are concerned about the products you buy, the best course is to contact the supplier or manufacture for further information.