Being vegan seems pretty straightforward: just don’t eat meat, dairy, or animal products of any kind. As long as there are no eggs, milk, or meats on the ingredient list for any food product you buy, you can eat it. Simple, right? Alas, no. According to Joanne Stepaniak, M.S.ED., author of The Vegan Sourcebook, there are quite a lot of “secret ingredients” that the untrained vegan may not immediately recognize as an animal product. Unless you educate yourself on these ingredients, you may be unwittingly sabotaging your own vegan diet.
Some of the ingredients Stepaniak mentions in The Vegan Sourcebook may seem a bit out of place. Anchovies, for example, hardly seem to be a “secret” ingredient: we all know that anchovies are small fish, don’t we? However, the author includes anchovies in her list because they are used in more products than many of us realize. In addition to being a pizza topping, anchovies are a common ingredient in Caesar dressing and Worcestershire sauce. If you don’t examine the ingredients on condiments’ labels, you might miss the presence of these little fish in a variety of products.
Other products to look for (and avoid) when purchasing foods include albumin (protein found in egg whites), calcium stearate (often derived from cows and used as an additive in a variety of seasonings), diglycerides (which can be derived from animal sources as well as vegetable or synthetic sources, so it should be avoided unless you are certain you know the source), and gelatin. Gelatin is “the protein derived from the bones, cartilage, tendons, skin, and other tissue of steer, calves, or pigs,” (Stepaniak, 202). There may always be room for Jello, but not necessarily in the vegan diet.
Stepaniak also warns vegans away from innocuous – sounding ingredients like emulsifiers, which can be derived from animal sources as well as vegetable sources, and “natural flavorings,” which may be derived from meat and other animal products unless otherwise specified on the label.
The list is vastly more extensive than can be fit into a single article in this forum, and it is a worthwhile expenditure of time and/or money to order The Vegan Sourcebook or borrow it from your local library. In addition to the list of secret ingredients, Stepaniak offers a wide list of resources and publications for vegans, nutritional guidelines, recipes, menus, substitutions, and tips about vegan ethics and lifestyle choices. The book serves as a valuable reference guide for anyone living a vegan lifestyle, and serves to remind us that truly keeping to veganism means educating yourself about unknown ingredients. It is utterly pointless to declare yourself vegan without knowing the potential pitfalls of the ingredient list, lest you feed yourself animal products out of ignorance.
A good rule of thumb is this: do not ingest foods containing ingredients you are unfamiliar with. Of course, many products contain multisyllabic, strange – sounding ingredients that none of us have heard of. It takes less than a minute to search that ingredient on Google and find out what it really is. In this age of information, a bit of preparedness and the motivation to check your facts can prevent you from self sabotage. So be on the lookout for “secret ingredients,” and be on the lookout for upcoming articles featuring vegan – friendly picnic recipes just in time for the Fourth of July weekend.