Monday, September 5, 2011

Rule Number 1: Always check the ingredients list!

It ain't easy being vegan.

Oh sure: Defenders of the lifestyle who are trying to win over new converts insist it's easy. But it really isn't. It literally boggles the mind when you consider how many types of food contain animal products of one sort or another.

I'll give you a frinstance. Amy's-brand soy cheese pizza, on sale in the frozen-foods section of our supermarket. Soy cheese pizza!?!? Right? How can you go wrong?

Check the ingredients. What? You're kidding me. Amy's frozen soy cheese pizza contains milk ingredients. Huh?? A soy cheese pizza, sans meat, that contains milk ingredients? Why? Why? WHY?

Oh, Amy's. You got my hopes up there for a moment.

Frinstance Number Two: Earlier tonight I ordered a tofu dish at a newly opened Chinese food joint down the street. I just assumed that a tofu and vegetable dish would be safe.

Turns out this was mapo tofu and I had no idea that the dish is made with minced meat, often pork or beef. I got it home and before I even tried it, I noticed those little teeny, tiny bumps in the sauce didn't look right.

I Googled mapo tofu and discovered the bad news. I called the Chinese food joint. They confirmed the bad news.

I feel ghastly. My stomach is still twisted up in knots. The moral of the story: Always check the ingredients. Don't be afraid to ask someone in the restaurant if their dishes contain meat. When in doubt, do not buy it.

I've even taken to bringing a magnifying glass with me to the supermarket. Yeah, I look like a dork checking ingredients. But who the hell cares?

I really beat myself up over that mapo tofu. I won't keep beating myself up, though. We learn from our mistakes. We try our hardest not to repeat them. In my past life, I never checked the ingredients lists. The fact that I do it nearly all of the time - but occasionally I slip up and forget - means that I should probably call it a night with the self-flagellation.

But it does mean we vegans have to be ever vigilant. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," said Thomas Jefferson. We vegans know the meaning of those words firsthand.

We understand that eternal vigilance is the price we pay for our own liberty, for severing ties with a lifetime of denial and reckless consumption.

Oh yeah. One more thing. "God damn you, mapo tofu! God damn you to hell!" Seriously. Who the hell puts minced meat in a tofu dish?

There. I feel slightly better.


  1. Excellent post Andrew. I will contact Amy's company about the pizza, we have contacted them before about a product and they seemed to be accommodating. Who knows though, this instance is an excellent example of my concern with any sort of behavior or doings where the ultimate goal is "profit". Deception, misdirection and flim-flamming is the norm and here it certainly appears they were trying to attract vegan customers without caring about what vegan actually means...although I would bet you they would defend themselves by saying they didn't specifically say the product was vegan (or maybe they did, I don't know).

    Obviously they weren't worried about allergies because they included "dairy" along with non-dairy cheese. As I think about it they made the perfect product designed to offend and disappoint everyone. :-)

  2. Thank you for your insightful comment! I didn't mean to target Amy's, but I was just so excited when I saw that soy cheese pizza in the freezer section. I almost did a happy-dance. And this was one of those times where I almost took the product without checking the ingredients list. I would've checked it at home before actually eating the pizza, but I'm glad I checked it in the store. Sadly, Amy's makes the only soy cheese pizza that I've seen. In their defense, I suppose, it isn't labeled as vegan. Strange that it has any milk products, because neither vegans nor lactose intolerant customers are going to buy it! And you'd think those are the only types of consumers who'd have any interest in a soy cheese pizza.

    Luckily, there is plenty of other wonderful vegan food. I'm still a bit sad because they closed the only pizza place around here that made vegan (soy cheese) pizzas. So pizza is out for me. But other vegan possibilities abound... :)

  3. Mapo Tofu...

    I've made the same mistake while living in Asia. At first, I thought those strange lumps were fake meat, as they have so much of it. After a few more bites, I wasn't so sure anymore. The waiter confirmed my suspicion - I had been eating body parts. :-( Fortunately, the waiter was kind and replaced my dish with a nice vegan dish, at no extra cost.

  4. Oh, how many times has this happened to me! Here's an example: a party I hosted here for Paul Shapiro of the HSUS, with everyone invited to bring vegan dishes. A friend brings Doritoes (Hint of Lime) chips: they're loaded with whey, as we belated check. Another brings some kind of fake chicken fingers.... teensy, way-down-at-the-bottom ingredient: eggs. Makes me crazy.
    I was at a restaurant and ordered the mushroom soup in a red-wine broth .... a couple of sips, I was all, "um what's the broth exactly?" Oh, just beef. Yarrhghghghggh. What had I been thinking? Of course it would be that.

  5. I really appreciate these excellent posts! It sounds like I'm definitely not the only vegan to slip up. Sometimes, you just want to let up on your guard and not have to always ask or check the ingredients. But then - it's just like everybody says here - there's a real risk involved in going that route...

    Thanks again! :)

  6. I know how you feel, I feel so guilty when I realise I've bought something and contributed to that horrible world accidentally. The biggest thing for me was those ingredients with chemically names, it took me a while to figure out just how many of them were animal derived (a bit slow on the uptake). But at least we've learned and won't be doing it again!


  7. Looks like someone modified the image to superimpose "SUGAR" over the word milk. Do I smell a rat?