Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Do you have questions about being vegan? Send them to Jo using this easy form. She would be happy to address your individual concerns as well as general inquiries about vegan ethics, philosophy, practical applications, and living compassionately. Jo cannot respond to questions about nutrition or answer questions that have already been addressed in the Archives

Jo will make every attempt to answer each question personally, however, due to her schedule, this may not be possible. If a reply is forthcoming, it could take up to a few weeks, so please be patient. It is also possible that your question will be answered directly in the "Ask Jo!" column rather than an individual response.

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Animal-Free Alcohol?

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?

Certain 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 to you?

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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