How to find peace with the possibility of cross-contamination
There's been a couple of articles recently, that have whipped up a sense of fear and high alert about whether we can trust the food we buy.
This was one of them - Supermarket scandal: Pork and turkey found in vegan and 'meat free' meals
- Are you worried that your vegan products aren't as pure as you hope they'd be?
- Are you concerned about eating something you've vowed to abstain from eating?
- You might have found yourself wondering if you're expecting too much?
- Maybe you found yourself debating whether traces are OK, and significant levels are not.
- Did you end up asking yourself whether anything can be 100% vegan?
My take on whether we need to be fearful or not
I'm going to start with where I stand. I often use Twitter to reach out to supermarkets to find out whether items are vegan or not. When I ask, I make it clear that I'm asking about the ingredients and that I'm not concerned about cross-contamination. Why do I do that? Because, unfortunately, many of the supermarkets don't understand that allergen info and the ingredients that were used are different. Thus, they'll end up saying something isn't vegan because it was made in a factory where non-vegan products were made.
I am aware and have made my peace with the fact that people are different and their levels of compliance will vary. This may have a knock-on effect on how food is made, how ingredients are prepared, whether the same utensils are used for meat and vegan products and so on.
Until, or if I decide to, make all items of food myself, only eat in vegan restaurants, or only buy ready-made from vegan companies, I think I have to accept that, vegan items may not be fully vegan.
Is it really worthy of calling it a scandal?
Regardless of whether you can make your peace with the fact that cross-contamination may occur, are these articles full of hype? Are they aggerating what was found?
To get some perspective on it, have a read of this article - Is The Telegraph Supermarket Scandal Really A Scandal?
Are we expecting too much?
Stepping away from my view...
Many vegetarian and vegan foods are produced in the same factories as meat. Some even share the same production lines. Thus, isn't contamination inevitable? Is this something that we need to understand and accept.
Making your peace with the possibility of cross-contamination
It's a journey, and we all have our own path, but I think it's worth seeing this scenario as:-
- An opportunity to accept that we can't control everything. This doesn't have to be scary, but can actually be liberating.
- A strategy to help us reduce expectations, as they usually end up causing harm to ourselves and others.
- A way to cultivate doing our unconditional best i.e. regardless of what happens afterwards.
- To enjoy this as a process of living morally, being ethical, striving for the best, whilst holding it lightly, so that we're not weighed down by it.
Are we letting companies off fulfilling their duty if we accept this?
I don't think so.
Of course, companies should do their best to ensure that guidelines are clear, that there are procedures in place to avoid cross-contamination, that these guidelines are followed, and that each item is clearly labelled in terms of ingredients and possible allergens.
Traces vs. significant levels
An example worth considering...
Vegan chocolates that are made in factories that also make non-vegan chocolate will nearly always contains small amounts of milk.
The chocolate is made in pipes, which isn't easy to wash out using water. Thus they use dark chocolate to flush out the milk chocolate, which makes it a near certainty that some traces of milk will be present in the dark chocolate. This is even more likely in the first batch of dark chocolate. However, it's not intentional, it's not a deliberate ingredient, there's no easy fix to ensure it doesn't happen and the result will be traces of milk, as opposed to, the bars containing lots of it.
Can anything be 100% vegan or 100% vegetarian?
When eating out in a restaurant that caters for meat eaters, vegetarians, vegans and so on, can we be sure that utensils (pots, pans, spoons, grills etc.) were washed properly to avoid any cross-contamination? Do we know if they were exclusively used for specific ingredients or if they were used to non-vegetarian items and vegan ones?
When buying foods made by companies that make vegan and non-vegan products, can we be sure that all the residue on the factory lines was removed? Can we be sure that all the machinery was cleaned and made as good as new?
I don't think it's realistic to expect this to be the case.
What to do if you want non-contaminated items
I've come up with a short list of steps that we can take to eat 'pure' foods which haven't been contaminated.
- make your own food
- buy chocolates from a company like Plamil Foods that doesn't make anything that isn't vegan
- only eat in vegan restaurants
When feeling tired, lazy or pressed for time, most people succumb to buying pre-prepared meals, instead of making everything from scratch. Most of the time, these are purchased from a company that produces all types of food. As a result, the desire for 'pure' foods over the convenience of buying something ready-made, or eating out in a restaurant that's fully vegan, drops.
Buying products from vegan companies often requires a bit more time. This is because the items may need to be ordered online, or we may have to go to a health food store to buy them. In addition, it may be more costly than going for the vegan equivalent that's available in your local supermarket.
What about non-edible items?
- most latex condoms aren't vegan
- to make plastic bags more slippery and easier to open, manufacturers sometimes add chicken fat to their exterior
- art materials may include animal bones in ivory black pigments, and squid sacs in sepia ink
- the chemicals in hair products may be derived from animals
- the paper in toilet roll is held together by gelatin sourced from animals
What is the purpose of sharing the examples of non-edible vegan items?
The idea is not to make you feel negative.
My goal is to help you realise that we can try our best, and we should, do what we can. However, we shouldn't feel down if we realise that we are buying non-vegan items, because there's no vegan alternative available, or because the alternative is too costly, or because you aren't ready to do without it, or because you can't make your own etc. etc. etc.
Let's show compassion to ourselves, as well as, being compassionate towards others. We are on a journey, and let's not forget to celebrate when we're moving forward, rather than, punishing ourselves for how far we still have to go.
Supermarket scandal: Pork and turkey found in vegan and 'meat free' meals
Is The Telegraph Supermarket Scandal Really A Scandal?
15 products that are surprisingly not vegan
When non-vegans cook for vegans
Unilever, McDonalds & KFC Are Not The Enemy
How the Vegan Society defines veganism