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practical applications, and living compassionately.
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I have been vegan for nearly three years
now, but I am constantly requiring new information about
certain foods which may not be suitable for our lifestyle.
For instance, I have recently heard that alcoholic beverages,
specifically wine and beer, are not vegan-friendly.
Supposedly, during the wine-making process, certain
items like ox blood or eggs are used. Is there any truth
to these rumors? And, if so, how can I be sure that
my beverage is safe?
alcoholic beverages, such as wine and beer, typically
go through a clarifying or fining process to remove
impurities and improve their cosmetic appearance by
making them clear. Although earth-based agents, such
as bentonite clay, diatomaceous earth, or activated
carbon, may be used, particularly with less expensive
brands, animal-derived agents are commonly employed,
especially with more costly European wines. These include
egg whites, whole milk, casein, gelatin, or isinglass
(made from the bladder of sturgeon fish). Isinglass
is used predominately by German wineries, although other
European and a few American wineries also use this substance.
Wines from some Mediterranean countries may be clarified
with the blood of large mammals; however, this process
is prohibited for use with wines produced in France
and the United States.
Kosher wines produced in the United
States are less likely to have been clarified with animal
based agents, but there is no general rule. Each certifying
agency may use different criteria for what is permissible,
so a kosher symbol is no guarantee that a particular
wine is vegan.
You can contact individual manufacturers
directly to investigate. Be sure to obtain information
in writing to corroborate any verbal claims. Many companies
use processes that they consider to be proprietary,
or they may alternate among agents depending on market
prices. Consequently, companies may be reluctant to
attest that any particular product or procedure is vegan.
The clarifying agents used in the manufacture
of wine and beer are removed and are not part of the
finished product. So can alcoholic beverages that have
been clarified with animal-based agents be considered
vegan? This is one of those murky matters, similar to
the concern about bone char filtration that is sometimes
used in the production of cane sugar.
When viewing wine and beer from a compassionate
perspective, there are several issues to be weighed.
Foremost is consideration of the laborers who gather
the grapes and other key ingredients. Are they treated
well, fairly compensated, and protected from exposure
to pesticides and other toxins? Are the beverages organically
produced, using sustainable, non-polluting methods?
Do you consider these beverages essential to your health
and well being? Are substitutes for these products available
Some vegans avoid alcoholic beverages
entirely, believing that they are addictive, cloud the
mind, dull the senses, numb the heart, and impede our
ability to make wise and compassionate choices. Others
eschew alcohol because of religious proscriptions or
personal health concerns, or to avoid excess caloric
intake. On the other hand, some vegans find the affects
of alcoholic beverages to be pleasurable, believe that
in limited quantities they can be health-supporting,
and appreciate the flavors they impart in cooking.
The decision to use or not use alcoholic
beverages is a very personal one. Nevertheless, there
are many options available to vegans who want to avoid
them, such as dealcoholized wine, including sparkling,
non-sparkling, and champagne, and non-alcoholic beer
in a variety of brews. And, of course, there are always
fruit juices, fruit juice blends, sparkling water and
cider, and soft drinks.
Evaluating whether or not wine and beer
are vegan and exploring their manufacturing processes
are important. At the same time, we must not forget
the broader perspectives of being vegan and remember
that compassion toward sentient life is the coalescing
force behind all vegan action. The clarifying and fining
agents used in the production of wine and beer are relatively
minute (for instance, two to three egg whites can clarify
approximately 55 gallons of wine; one ounce of gelatin
can clarify 1,000 gallons of wine). Animals are not
destroyed specifically to obtain the small quantities
of animal products used in making these beverages. Above
all, animals are killed so that humans can consume their
flesh and edible body parts. Meat producers have a financial
stake in creating a market for animal by-products, such
as gelatin, in order to turn a profit out of what would
otherwise be considered unsalable waste. One of the
goals of vegans is to work toward the reduction, and
ultimately the elimination, of primary animal products,
such as meat, milk, and eggs, consumed by humans. When
consumption of animal products drops, animal by-products
will become more scarce and the cost will rise accordingly.
Once this occurs, manufacturers will be motivated to
develop or seek out non-animal-based alternatives.
If vegans get caught up in trying to
maintain vegan perfection, they will either burn out
from frustration or fail miserably. This is because
our industrialized world is fraught with unavoidable
animal-based commodities. Our nonleather shoes and vegan
cookbooks may be bound with animal-based glue. Our car
and bicycle tires contain stearic acid. The plastic
encasing our computers incorporates animal products.
Our treasured photographs and videos include animal
derived gelatin. It's endless!
But the process of using animal products
can be terminated if more and more people become vegan.
In fact, this is probably the only way it can be stopped.
However, if we make being vegan so onerous that nearly
everything becomes off limits, most people will turn
away thinking that veganism is fanatical, preposterous,
and too far out of the mainstream to be feasible.
Before we set the rigor of vegan living
so high that it becomes out of reach for the average
person, we must consider the purpose behind our motives.
Are we trying to elevate ourselves by attempting to
reach an impossible level of purity? Or are we trying
to transform the world, one person at a time (starting
with ourselves), to create a more sane and humane home
for all life? The more we can make a vegan lifestyle
plausible, accessible, and attainable, the more likely
it is that vegans will be able to truly effect positive
change for the animals, the Earth, and ourselves.
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