There are many labels thrown around to ensure consumers that they are buying ethical products, but let's break down what they mean. It's been well documented that these labels don’t precisely convey the entire truth. Farm Sanctuary put together a detailed resource guide explaining many of the labels. For example, did you know that the “USDA regulations do not specify the amount, duration, or quality of outdoor access provided to “free-range” animals?” This means that a "warehouse with thousands of “free-range” hens could have a single door leading to a small, enclosed outdoor area that hens would have to struggle to access.” Or that, even “though cage-free hens are not confined to battery cages, they may still be packed by the thousands into poorly ventilated, windowless warehouses. Undercover investigations have revealed cage-free hens commonly living indoors, packed so tightly that they can barely move or spread their wings.” They are also “subject to many of the cruelties inherent to battery cage systems. For instance, cage-free producers typically purchase hens from hatcheries, where male egg-type chickens are considered useless and killed at birth because they will not lay eggs and will not grow as large as chickens bred for meat. Hatcheries kill 260 million male chicks each year.” Male chicks are generally killed by being thrown directly into an electric meat grinder while they are still alive. Farm Sanctuary also goes on to document labels such as grass-fed. They state, “grass-fed labels indicate that animals receive a majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life, but USDA grass-fed stipulations do not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides, all of which are harmful to the environment and human health” ("The Truth," n.d.). This is not to say that every label we come across is not entirely truthful. I add this information in here to state the importance of being an informed consumer. Sometimes that is a difficult task, but there are many online resources that aid in your research.
2. The Scary Side of Dairy
I was a vegetarian for about two years before I transitioned fully to a vegan. I thought not eating animals was enough to help alleviate some of the suffering animals endure during their lives in the agricultural system. I realized that cows used for dairy suffer just as much as a cow breed for food, although dairy cows also end up becoming food too. Plus as a dairy cow, they are inseminated against their will and then their newborn calves are taken away from their mother within hours of being born -
you know before the youngsters can drink all of her milk and so humans can use the milk for their breakfast cereal or cheese. The calf is neglected of the vital vitamins, in the mother's milk, he or she needs after birth. The babies are separated, males going to the factory farming where they will become veal at around six months of age, and the females will face the same harsh birthing cycle as their mothers ("The Truth," n.d.). When my family raised Nike, the young male cow, I experienced his mother’s grief when he was taken away from her at around six-to-eight months old. She cried for days. It was heart-wrenching. Dairy is not the only option for milk. Thankfully there are many kinds of non-dairy milk (and cheese) on the market or it pretty simple to make non-dairy milk in your kitchen (and cuts down on the amount of packaging you are using)! Almond milk is great for baking, and vanilla almond milk is great when you are craving a tall glass of cold milk. Soy milk is excellent for coffee because of the higher fat content (think whole milk) and can become thick and frothy. Oat milk is also great for baking and coffee. Not to mention cashew milk, hemp milk, rice milk, macadamia nut milk...I think you get my point. There are honestly so many options to try.
3. Hidden Ingredients
There hidden animal ingredients in many products, and not just food products. To name a few - Gelatin is a simple ingredient to spot, which is made from bones, cartilage, and tendons and found in marshmallows, many kinds of cereal, and in various desserts and baked goods. Carmine is a ground-up insect which gives some juices, frostings, and candies their red color. Bone char is what gives refined sugar the white color due to the process of filtering the sugar through animal bones. Animal ingredients are found in food, bathing products, cosmetics, shoes, clothing, cars, plastic grocery bags, and the list continues. Much of this is due to the excess waste and by-products of animal farming. Here are a few resources where you can find additional information and hidden animal ingredients - Happy Cow, One Green Planet, and PETA. Another excellent source is the book, ANIMAL INGREDIENTS A TO Z.
4. Why is Honey Controversial
Honey is a controversial ingredient in the vegan and plant-based world. This one of the areas where a person following a vegan diet and a person following a plant-based diet may differ. As I mentioned, vegans try not to consume or use any products with animal ingredients in them or have been tested on animals. A person following a plant-based diet may only be doing so for personal reasons and might not subscribe to the same thinking about animals. I personally do not consume honey, especially since there are so many alternatives that can be used - BeeFree Honee, agave, coconut nectar, or homemade date puree. Bees perform a vital function in the health of our planet. The honey, or what bees know as their food source, is produced for bees to consume and replenish their energy, just as we refuel our bodies with food ("7 Reasons," n.d.).
5. Chocolate's Muddy History
The history of cocoa is muddied with human rights violations, and even though you may find a vegan or dairy-free chocolate, it doesn’t mean that is ethical. Just like coffee, many people, including children, are used as slave laborers when picking the cacao beans. Many are very young, work many hours, and most are not paid a fair or livable wage for the work they do. The Food Empowerment Project has created a fairly comprehensive list of chocolate makers and notes how the companies source their chocolate. They list them as being recommended or not, and also include why and why not. They even provide a list of companies that are working on violations. Their resource guide is frequently updated and can be viewed either through an app or their website. You can also watch the 2010 documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate, for a more in depth look.