As Vegetarian Week kicks off in the U.K., it’s more difficult than ever to observe it faithfully. From horse fat in fabric softener to crushed insects in fruit juice, Hugh Ryan locates animal products in 11 unlikely places.
1) Fabric Softener
What could possibly make your sheets feel more Downy fresh than a nice schmear of rendered animal fat? Dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride—a roundabout way of saying fat from animals like horses and sheep—is used by some commercial fabric softeners to coat your clothes with a soft, fluffy layer of lipids.
2. Pink Drinks
Cochineal, natural red 4, crimson lake, carmine, carminic acid—call it what you will, but the additive that gives many drinks their distinctive pink color, from wine coolers to ruby-red grapefruit juices, is made from crushed South American bugs. The female cochineal insect has been harvested for dye since the era of the Aztecs. Depending on the way in which the insect is killed (methods include boiling alive, exposure to sunlight, steaming, and baking), it produces a range of reddish tints. It takes approximately 70,000 insects to make one pound of dye.
3. Wine & Beer
Some people drink like fish. Others just drink fish—or at least, the dried, ground-up swim bladders of fish. Isinglass, derived mostly from sturgeon and cod bladders, is used to clarify and remove impurities from many varieties of wine and beer. Small amounts of isinglass remain in the products when finished. For thirsty vegans, the website Barnivore maintains a list of animal-friendly wines, beers, and spirits.
4. Flu Vaccine
A variety of vaccine rumors and conspiracy theories abound. One true one, however, is this: flu vaccines aren’t vegetarian. Fertilized chicken eggs in the embryonic phase are used to cultivate the inactivated flu virus that is injected into millions of people every year. The vaccine was originally developed by the U.S. military for use in World War II, to help prevent a recurrence of the Spanish Influenza that killed 50 million people in the wake of World War I.
The multitude of sins that can be hidden under the phrase “processing aids”—a catchall term for ingredients used to control tar and nicotine content in cigarettes—apparently includes pigs’ blood. New Dutch research from March of this year has found traces of porcine hemoglobin in the filters of some brands of cigarettes. In blood, hemoglobin bonds to oxygen to transport it throughout the body; in filters, it bonds to passing toxins and removes them from the smoke before it enters the lungs.
Some shimmery lipsticks owe their twinkle to a rather lowly source—fish scales. According to The Straight Dope, a syndicated question-and-answer column published in over 30 newspapers nationwide, herring scales, a byproduct of commercial food fishing, are processed into a product called “pearl essence,” which can be found in lipsticks, nail polishes, ceramic glazes, and other sparkly stuff. The fish are caught in giant nets and pumped into boats, a process that flenses the scales from their bodies, often while still alive. The scales are then sold to cosmetic companies.
When it comes to sugar, the phrase “bone white” isn’t a metaphor. According to the non-profit Vegetarian Resource Group, cane sugar is often bleached using bone char from horses and cows, a.k.a. “natural charcoal.” Bone particles don’t end up in the final product; rather, the bone char is used as a filter, like a piece of cheesecloth made from ponies. An average sugar filter contains about 70,000 pounds of bone char from approximately 7,800 animals. To avoid bone char entirely, buy sugar derived from beets, not sugar cane.
8. Hormone Replacement Therapy
Premarin, the popular estrogen-replacement drug for menopausal women, takes its name from its main ingredient: PREgnant MARes’ urINe. Since 1942, female horses have been impregnated and fitted with the equine equivalent of colostomy bags. These gather their urine, which is then processed to produce estrone, equilin, and equilenin. Historically, the foals were eventually sent to slaughterhouses, though today, many pregnant mares’ urine (PMU) operations also act as traditional horse breeders.
9. Bloody Marys
Sometimes it’s the ingredients in the ingredients that make a product not vegetarian. Bloody Marys, the reliable brunch standby, are usually made with tomato juice, vodka, celery, and Worcestershire sauce, which contains anchovies, making it literally bloody. Some Bloody Mary recipes also call for beef consommé. There are vegetarian Worcestershire sauces out there, so just ask to see the label before you order.
The anticoagulant drug heparin is derived from the slippery mucosal tissue found in pig’s intestines and cow’s lungs. Used to treat blood clots, it was originally isolated in dog livers in 1916, and has since been found in a long list of animals, including sand dollars, humans, camels, whales, mice, fresh-water mussels, lobsters, and turkeys. Its natural purpose in the body is still not fully understood.
11. Green Motor Oil
“Green” doesn’t always mean animal-free. Some companies have taken to replacing traditional petrochemical-based motor oil with cow fat. Companies claim to be able to make as much as one barrel of oil per barrel of tallow, as compared with the three barrels of petroleum needed to make one barrel of traditional motor oil.