Smile Politely

5/5: exploring the yin and the yang of veganhood

Every vegan knows it can be difficult to sift through various restaurant dishes and everyday products out there. There are so many hidden ingredients that make even the most innocent-seeming product non-vegan. Similarly, it can be such a pain to find a good dish in a restaurant where there can be anything from beef tallow to a splash of fish sauce in just a dish of stir fried tofu. So, to make things a bit easier for the discerning vegan, I have compiled two lists: one of items us vegans wouldn’t think to stay away from but should and one to open your eyes to the fact that life without meat or meat bi-products doesn’t have to be so hard. For every item that surprises you with an animal product, there’s one out there that you would think can’t possibly be vegan but is!

5) Burt’s Bees

Okay, maybe this one was obvious but it took me the longest time to realize that my Burt’s Bees lip balm was actually made using beeswax. But I wasn’t too upset to switch over since Burt’s Bees is now owned by the mega-corporate conglomerate, Clorox Inc. Also, there are many other balms out there that aren’t filled with toxic chemicals or animal products such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Balm, OTHERS.


4) Sugar

It’s so cruel. Given all that we vegans give up in the name of health, compassion, etc, why can’t white sugar just be vegan? It seems so unnecessary for sugar to be bleached using the charred bones of animals just to get that pretty white color. Unfortunately, most vegans I know resort to white sugar anyway because its various alternatives are so ridiculously expensive—but for the truly dedicated vegan, alternatives include: raw turbinado sugar, agave nectar, and specially labeled sugars.


3) Morningstar Products

In the fall of 2009, the meat substitute company, Morningstar, introduced eggs and milk into a few formerly vegan products. I’m not really sure why a company that produces meat substitutes would ever want to exclude a significant portion of the non-meat eating population by using unneeded animal products. Fortunately, as vegetarianism and veganism continues to grow in popularity, there are many other vegan meat substitute options—for example, Boca products and the new Gardein products that are generating a lot of publicity.


2) Magic Mushrooms

They’re natural, they come from the earth, they’re a fungus, and they expand your mind—what wouldn’t a vegan love about them? Well, some magic mushrooms are grown in animal dung, technically rendering them non-vegan. However, there are other methods of growing shrooms out there so when it doubt, be sure to ask your dealer for their source!


1) Fortified Orange Juice

Actually, almost all fortified foods, such as cereals, contain slaughterhouse byproducts. This is because its difficult for many people, including omnivores, to obtain their daily Vitamin D requirements. Therefore, it’s become a common practice to fortify products with Vitamin D3 which is commonly obtained from sheep, pig, or cow skin (it’s interesting to note that this technically makes these products not vegetarian as well). Also, companies aren’t required to specify whether the vitamin is D3 or D2 (which is obtained from mushrooms and algae). It’s usually a good rule to check to see if the product specifies the vitamin as D2—if not, it’s more than likely to have animal skin byproduct, for D3 is cheaper to extract than D2.


Bonus: Soap

I guess I didn’t really take the whole soap-making procedure seriously in Fight Club to know this. But, it’s true! Most major soap brands contain sodium tallowate which is a combination of beef tallow and sodium hydroxide. Basically, there are a lot of people out there washing with lye and beef fat. Other, more natural and environmentally friendly soaps can be problematic for vegans as well, as most contain honey and/or beeswax. So far, I have only been able to find one brand of soap that is 100% vegan and not loaded with ingredients I can’t pronounce and that is Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. 5 things that are vegan but seem like they shouldn’t be


And now for some good news!

5) The vegan pho from Xinh Xinh Café

Have you ever gone into a Vietnamese restaurant, enticed by the thought of a delicious tofu pho noodle soup—only to be told that the broth is made from beef? This has happened to me more times than I care to admit. Because of this, I will always remember the first time I walked into Xhin Xhin Café, glanced at the specials, and felt that beautiful glow of relief upon seeing a vegan pho listed on the Specials Menu. This vegan pho has the freshest vegetables and the broth has not only hearty chunks of tofu but seitan as well! The owner of Xhin Xhin Café tells me that he makes the vegan pho the 1st Friday of every month and has also assured me that more vegan options are on their way. Yay for Xhin Xhin Café! Besides the vegan pho, there is much more to love about this restaurant—its prices are fair, the atmosphere is pleasant (once you get past its disconcerting strip mall location), and the food is some of the best I’ve had in Champaign-Urbana.


4) Oreo Cookies

With their creamy white middles and suspiciously scientific-sounding ingredients, I would say it’s less a great surprise and more a creepy question of how America’s favorite cookies are vegan. While this is good news to those on a budget, I would still recommend that people who have the funds buy Newman-O’s instead. Not only are they produced by a much more sustainable and socially aware organization, experts say their cookies contain approximately 1200 less chemicals than Oreos (note: this may be a slight exaggeration).


3) Elmer’s Glue

Originally, this item was on the first list, as many commercial glues are made from gelatin (made from boiled bones, tendons, and skins). However, a quick Google search enlightened me to the fact that Elmer’s Glue (despite its Cow-head logo) is 100% vegan! I was overjoyed upon learning this, as I used to create amazing works of art with it in kindergarten…some of my fellow peers ate it, but I preferred to just rub it in my hands and peel it off like skin once it dried. I digress, but hurray for Elmer’s Glue!

2) Mock Duck Curry

Living in a Midwestern city that isn’t Chicago can sometime be bleak in terms of dining options for vegans. However, in addition to the 1x a month vegan pho (for more dining options, please refer to Smile Politely’s “Eat it Vegan C-U” column), Siam Terrace also has one of the best dishes I have ever tasted—the Mock Duck Curry! This dish is basically mock duck meat (made from wheat gluten), stir fried vegetables, and a deliciously complex, spicy curry sauce. The reason it’s on this list is becausethe first time I tasted it, I was sure it must have some form of cream that made it non-vegan. Fortunately, the serverassured me that the Mock Duck curry was 100% vegan and I have been voraciously shoveling this food into my mouth at every opportunity since then!

1.) Twizzlers

Yay, another junk food! This is number one for me personally, just because it was always my favorite candy. For the longest time I never even checked the ingredients because I just assumed the texture could only be created using gelatin. Oh, and for the strange people (who always seem to be from the West Coast) who prefer Red Vines—those are vegan too.

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