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10 things you thought were vegan that aren't

In our modern world, is it possible to live without purchasing or consuming anything that contains animals or animal byproducts? Here are 10 things you thought were vegan that aren't.

I've been vegan for a little more than two years. Occasionally, I eat honey if I know where it's sourced. Does admitting this mean I shouldn't identify as a vegan? Or, as an episode of "The Simpsons" taught me, maybe I'm just not a Level 5 Vegan.

Lisa: Oh, the earth is the best! That's why I'm a vegetarian. 
Jesse: Heh. Well, that's a start. 
Lisa: Uh, well, I was thinking of going vegan. 
Jesse: I'm a level 5 vegan
I won't eat anything that casts a shadow.

If Level 5 Vegans exist, surely they would read a new book called Veganissimo A to Z: A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying and Avoiding Ingredients of Animal Origin in Everyday Products (The Experiment, 2013). The dictionary-style book takes knowing what animal products are in your food, supplements, cosmetics and even electronics to a new, transparent level, helping you navigate confusing labels.

Who is a veganissimo?

The book defines it as "one who is vegan to the highest possible standard" or "the most vegan" that a vegan can be. Armed with this book's knowledge, is it possible to completely live without any animal byproducts in today's world?

I'll let you be the judge. Here are 10 things you thought were vegan that may not be—and that you may not be able to avoid.

1. Glue
Could the books you own not be vegan? Veganissimo states that animal glue is traditionally used in paper and wood processing, bookbinding, painting, conservation/restoration and for making musical instruments and furniture. Animal glue can be made of animal proteins such as gelatin, which is created by boiling animal tissues.

2. Photo prints
Photos, both printed commercially and at-home, use paper that contains gelatin. Alternatives? Non-photo quality paper.

3. Vaccines
Your flu shot as well as any other vaccine you get is not entirely free of animal substances, according to Veganissimo. Classically, vaccines were created by infecting pathogens into fertilized chicken eggs, then destroying the eggs and extracting the pathogen serum. Modern methods include using cell cultures obtained from the tissues of animals, such as dog kidneys. These samples can be reproduced without addition sample-taking from animals.

4. LCD screens and displaysTV screens may not be vegan + 9 more things you thought were vegan that aren't!
Liquid crystals found in screens on TVs, computers and cell phones may be based on cholesterol taken from animals.

5. Batteries
Gelatin is used in metal processing to improve metal's structure, such as cadmium in batteries. Animal fats and gelatin are used in many technical applications to which we owe the comforts of our life… and "at present it is extremely difficult—it not impossible—to find alternatives," write the authors.

6. Vitamin D
Some vitamin D dietary supplements source vitamin D3 from animals. Look for vitamin D3 supplements that are produced from non-animal sources and clearly labeled "vegan."

7. Clear fruit juices, beer and wine
Gelatin, egg white, isinglass (fish glue), casein (milk protein) or activated carbon are the top choices for the "fined" process, which clears beverages of cloudy substances. The only way to know if an animal substance wasn't used is to ask the producer.

8. Bone china tableware
This type of pure white, fine china is made of porcelain that contains bone ash, the residue from burned animal bones. Earthenware or porcelain that's creamy white, or mineral in origin, can be substituted.

9. Sponges (Porifera)

Natural sea sponges are plant-like animals that live on the sea floor, and used in the bath, for home cleaning or watercolor painting. Seems obvious, but I hadn't stopped to think about this one before. Synthetic sponges are alternatives.

10. Pharmaceutical drugs
Lots of drugs contain hidden animal substances in the form of excipients, ingredients that stabilize or bulk the medicine. The most commonly used substance is lactose (milk sugar), which can be found in tablets. Another is gelatin, which is found frequently in capsules. Look for vegan alternatives which include starch or cellulose.

Surprised? Me, too. Share in the comments!

Discuss this Blog Entry 9

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 3, 2013

As both a vegan and zoologist, I would not have any ethical issues about using sponges. Yes, it is technically an animal; however, it is sessile, has no nervous system, brain or tissues. There needs to be somewhere you draw a line, or else veganism becomes a chore. Vegan guilt can sometimes be a little overpowering but it's not possible to be perfect all of the time. I also eat honey sometimes.

on Jan 3, 2013

Thanks for your comment! I agree with you about drawing the line. No one should feel guilty for trying to live consciously.

Pattie (not verified)
on Jan 3, 2013

I'm not a vegan, and even I'm a bit shocked by some of these items containing animal products. Batteries? LCD screens? Wow.

on Jan 4, 2013

Who knew! It's strange why animal products would be used at all to make electronics.

Lewis S. (not verified)
on Jan 25, 2013

These are very strange facts. I thought that the LCD screens would be from some glass particles. Thinking about the animal products is too disheartening.

jasons (not verified)
on May 6, 2013

I really try not to consume most animal products, but come on, this is taking it too serious. That is exactly why I kind of hate labels as vegan, my approach would be more about sustainability.

dollybell (not verified)
on Oct 6, 2013

There should be a law in North America that labels must show what every so-called "natural" ingredient is. Also, where the food was actually made and not a product of, and if it contains animal ingredients. It's as simple as that.

on Feb 17, 2015

Wow, I had no idea the myriad and kinda gross ways that we "use" animals. Photo paper? Batteries? With all of the chemicals we can make in a lab you would think that scientists could come up with alternatives.

on Jul 21, 2016

I had not realized this before, but cultured pearls involve giving oysters a "stress ulcer" and then most get killed after the pearl is obtained.

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