The Vegan/Vegetarian Conundrum

I knew somebody, a vegan, who agonized over each bottle of wine he drank. Or maybe I should say didn't drink, for reasons we'll see in the next paragraph.

Why would a vegan have so much concern over a simple bottle of wine? Because animal products are sometimes used in the winemaking process. In some cases, crushed oyster shells are used as a filtering agent. In others, vintners might use egg whites--again as a filtering or clarifying agent--to eliminate particulates and cloudiness from a wine.

The problem is, wine labels don't say anything about this. You'd be hard pressed to find a bottle of wine, anywhere, that says much about these process steps.

In other words, a vegan rarely knows for sure whether or not animal products were used during the production of a given wine. Better to not have any.

The conundrum doesn't end with wine. In fact the very nature of food presents a conundrum for vegans and vegetarians. Imagine a large field, filled with beans, wheat, corn or some other soon-to-be-vegetarian food. If you run a harvester or a combine down that field, you're going to inadvertently kill hundreds, perhaps thousands, of small animals who, well, just happen to be there.

Now, we here at Casual Kitchen are neither vegans nor vegetarians, although we regularly enjoy vegan and vegetarian cuisine for a wide range of reasons, both ethical and economical.

Which is why I'm fascinated and troubled by the modern conundrum many vegans and vegetarians face: Short of all of us growing all of our own food and making all our own wine (an impracticable solution at best for almost everyone), what's a good-hearted, non-meat eater to do in the modern food era?

In fact, even if you grow your own food there are problems. You are still in competition with animals and insects for the very food you cultivate. Someone has to win, and if you intend to eat, it had better be you. To see what I mean, consider my father over the course of his long life of extraordinarily successful home gardening.

My Dad was never a vegetarian, much less a vegan, but he was a low-meat eater. He grew up during the Depression, a time when "curating" your food was a yet-to-be-invented (and laughably self-indulgent) idea, and a time when it was absolutely necessary to get maximum value out of your food budget. This meant meat was something he never ate to excess. Today, we eat a lot like he did.

My father was a peaceful guy who loved nature and loved the outdoors. But during many summers of my childhood I've seen my otherwise peaceful and rational father turn diabolical ...when it came to doing battle with some of the vegetarians in our neighborhood.

Not the vegetarian humans in our neighborhood. The vegetarian animals. The ones eating his vegetables!

If you've ever grown your own food and had an entire row of your prized broccoli, carrots, cauliflower or peppers eaten down to the nubs by a deer--or worse, a malicious woodchuck--you won't become a vegan or vegetarian. You'll take up hunting.

Readers, what do you do about this gigantic gray area of food? How do you deal with the concern that there might be animal products in--or used in the production of--what you eat, drink and buy? Do you let it go? Do you agonize? I want to know your thoughts!

READ NEXT: Psychological Hunger... Compared to the Real Thing

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.


Anonymous said...

You did not even get into the fact that small bugs may be hiding in the vegetables. Due to her own set of dietary restrictions, My mother in law will not eat some varieties of vegetables, because she cannot verify that there are no bugs hiding.

FYI American Made Kosher wines do not use animal products in the clarifying process.

Wet Coasters said...

Death is part of life. I have accepted that insects and small critters will die in the production of food for me. No one can live on this planet without having some measure of negative impact, even the very strictest vegans. By not eating meat, I am lessening that impact. Each person has to choose what they are comfortable with.

Anonymous said...

If we can get all our nutritional needs without killing animals on a large scale, why not give it a try. I am an easy going vegan. My husband and children eat meat and enjoy eating at junk food restaurants. At one time I ate meat at every meal. I came across information on factory farming and the ethical and ecological arguments against it. The suffering of the animals and the destruction of the planet made me rethink my way of eating. We could be using the food given to animals for our own consumption. We like meat for its taste and texture. Nutritionally, it can be replaced by plant based foods. The day I am able to even press the play button for films like Cowspiracy and Earthlings, let alone sit through them, I will review how I eat.