Trying to figure out what you can’t eat as a vegan can send you into a mind-spin.
But remember, try to approach it from the angle of ‘won’t eat’, not ‘can’t eat’.
Veganism is a way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, be it for food, clothes, products or any other purpose. It involves the understanding that we can live a happy, healthy and fulfilled life without causing harm to other creatures. Unfortunately, there are whole industries built for the exact opposite – profit over principles. We’ve all funded these dark businesses (albeit unintentionally or unknowingly) throughout our lives. But the good news is it’s so easy to stop!
We can refuse to eat these products or hand our money over to animal agriculture – and that’s why I say we WON’T eat these foods, rather than CAN’T.
Food is the obvious place to begin when becoming vegan. If you’ve read my page ‘What Will Vegans Eat?‘ then you’re already off to a great start, and hopefully inspired by all of the options out there. There are also vegan alternatives for everything listed below, so please don’t feel restricted.
So what about the things that vegans won’t eat? I’ve compiled a list of non-vegan foods, with a brief, non-graphic explanation of why we won’t consume them.
- Meat. The obvious one! This is ANY meat not labelled vegan. It should be very, very clear if it’s faux meat or not. Vegans believe that flesh belongs on a living, breathing, pain free animal. It’s not ours to purchase or use. FACTS: animals feel pain, even humane meat suffers, no animal wants to die.
- Fish and seafood. This is exactly the same as meat, and includes crustaceans such as mussels and oysters. The only reason I put it as a separate point, is because sometimes people get confused and try to claim that fish / sea animals don’t feel pain or are somehow less worthy beings than those on land. Not true. Many studies have proven that fish feel pain, form relationships, and most importantly, don’t want to be killed and eaten.
- Dairy – anything made with the milk of an animal. This includes traditional milks, yoghurt, cheese, cream and butter. Traces of milk can be found in anything, from crisps to pastries, so do check labels to be sure. The reason why vegans oppose the dairy industry is its exploitation of animals on such a severe scale. If we focus on cows for example, they are forcibly impregnated, have their calves taken away at birth, are kept in terrible conditions, and forced to produce far higher quantities of milk than is natural or comfortable. This cycle is repeated over and over until the cow can no longer become pregnant / produce milk… she’s then killed. In terms of health, the milk of other species is simply not meant for us. Cows milk has a specific nutrient make-up, with high fat content designed for calves who put on rapid weight in their first few months of life.
- Eggs – from hens, fish or any other animal. Eggs come from a terrible industry. Birds in cages so small they cannot stretch their wings. Chickens that won’t see the sun until the day they are killed. Millions of day-old male chicks thrown into grinders or gassed because they are commercially useless. All of this just so we can eat a product that’s high in cholesterol anyway.
- Honey and bee pollen. Any bee products are off the table
for us vegans. Disease is rife in hives, and the insects are forced into unnatural behaviours while we steal their produce. Simply put, these items come from exploitation.
- Gelatine. Made by boiling the bones and hides of animals… lovely. This crafty ingredient sneaks into a number of things, such as sweets and jelly. You can often tell if it’s non-vegan as the ingredients list will state pork or beef gelatine. The good news is that you can find vegan gelatine, made from agar agar or carrageenan. It should be stated on the pack which one it is – or the product may just have the vegan label anyway.
- Lard and animal fats. As these are products are directly from animals, they’re off the list for vegans. Look for items with healthy oils instead.
- E numbers*. These are the scientific looking numbers on labels that help to flavour, preserve or enhance a food in some way. Some E numbers are suitable for vegans, but some aren’t. When you’re ready, start to become familiar with the non-compliant ones.
- Some alcohol*. Isinglass is often used to make beer or wine. It’s a substance from fish bladders, and really quite unnecessary to use. Alcohol can be just as tasty without it!
*I go into more detail on E numbers, alcohol and other nasties on my Hidden Ingredients page.
Reading and interpreting labels may be tricky at first, but after a few months the process will become quicker – I promise. Don’t be disheartened if you fail to spot a non-vegan ingredient and therefore purchase the wrong thing, it’s a learning curve! For ease, look for products that explicitly state ‘suitable for vegans’ or do an online food shop so that you can filter for vegan products that way. You can visit stores that are well known for catering for vegans, such as Holland and Barrett and Ocado. If you need help spotting non-vegan foods, head over to my Hidden Ingredients page.
Vegans aren’t perfect. We can be mis-informed in a restaurant. We can forget to check the label on something that we’ve eaten for years, not knowing it now contains milk. Despite the best of intentions, we can make mistakes. It’s important to recognise that it’s ok – we’re only human after all, not robots! It doesn’t make us any less vegan or ethical, as long as we do things with intent, and consciously refrain from taking part in animal exploitation.
As a new vegan, there will be a learning curve for you. Focus on cutting out the obvious and as you become more educated and comfortable, work your way down the list above and adapt to your new lifestyle. You may find at first that you’ll be checking a lot of labels, googling every day, but don’t worry, it will soon become second nature! You’ll find delicious staples for your diet and discover new foods.
Do you have any questions? Want to know if anything is vegan or not? Ask me below!