Since Vegans Kill Animals, Is There No Such Thing as a Vegan?

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An odd criticism of veganism seems to be, "There is no such thing as a vegan," or, "Vegans kill animals." A popular but misleading infographic points out the many ways, obvious and not so obvious, that animal products are used in common consumer goods. But the creator of the infographic misunderstands what veganism is and how easy it is to avoid many animal products.

What is Veganism?

Contrary to what some people think, veganism is not about being absolutely 100 per cent pure and free of animal products. Veganism is about minimizing our harm to other animals and avoiding animal products as much as possible. What does this mean? Vegan blogger Mylene of My Face is on Fire writes:

Is it possible in this overwhelmingly speciesist world to live a life that is 100% free of the use of animal products? Of course not. Does this mean that it's OK to sneak in the occasional chicken wing for kicks and still call yourself a vegan? Again, of course not. But veganism is a lifestyle that's the hands-on application of an ethical framework where every single day you need to inform yourself so that you can assess situations and make the proper choices.

Hidden Animal Products

Vegans know about avoiding meat, fish, dairy, honey, gelatin, leather, wool, suede, fur, feathers, and silk. At a minimum, people who call themselves vegans avoid these products. But being vegan means more than simply changing one's dietary habits, it's also a lifestyle. So vegans also avoid circuses, rodeos, zoos and other industries whose prime purpose is animal exploitation. Some other animal products are not so obvious, and some are considered unavoidable. Below is just a partial list.

  • Agriculture: Any kind of agriculture, even farms growing fruits and vegetables, displace wildlife. Forests that were once home to songbirds, insects, squirrels, deer, wolves, and mice are converted to monoculture in order produce commercial crops. Commercial farms kill crop-eating animals (labeled "pests") with natural and chemical insecticides, traps, and even shooting. Even organic farms shoot deer, kill moles with traps, and employ natural pesticides. Farms also commonly use fertilizer made from bone meal, fish meal, manure and other animal products, which supports animal agriculture.
  • Bug parts in food: Because it is nearly impossible to harvest, process and package food without some contamination from mouse feces, rat hair or insect parts, the FDA allows small amounts of these animal products in your food. Have you ever had an old bag of flour suddenly sprout bugs? It's not spontaneous generation. Those insect eggs were in the flour all along, and the FDA regulates the amount of these insect parts in our food. According to CBS News, an FDA spokesperson says,"When these levels are exceeded, FDA can and will take regulatory action -- immediately if any disease-causing microbes are present."
  • Shellac, beeswax, and casien on fruits and vegetables: Shellac is a resin harvested from the lac beetle. While the beetle does not need to be killed in order to harvest the shellac, some beetles are inevitably killed or injured in the shellac collection process. Most people associate the word "shellac" with furniture, but it can be used as a wax to coat fruits and vegetables, and is disguised in candy as "confectioner's glaze." Beeswax, which comes from bees, is also used to preserve fruits and vegetables and delay rot. Casein, a milk product, is also sometimes used in wax to coat fruits and vegetables. The wax can also be vegetable-based. The FDA requires a label or sign to identify fruits and vegetables that have been coated with wax but does not require the label to state whether the wax is of animal or vegetable origin.
  • Cars and insects: Everyone who drives knows that hitting insects is an inevitable fact of life. In our anthrocentric world, we tend to think of it as insects hitting our car windshields, but the fact is that our entire cars are hitting and killing insects. We focus on our windshields because smushed insects on our windshields are an annoyance to drivers.
  • Tires, rubber, paint, glue, and plastics: Because these are not foods, we are not entitled to know what ingredients go into our tires and other rubber and plastic products. These often contain chemicals and additives of animal origins. Along these lines, paint, glue and other chemicals often contain animal products. Shellac, as explained above, comes from insects.
  • Consumer products in general: Aside from the known animal ingredients in various products, consumption kills animals in the form of farming, mining, drilling, and pollution. Whether you are buying products made of wood, metal, plastic, rubber, or plants, the manufacture and harvesting of these products takes habitat away from wildlife. The energy used in manufacturing the products as well as the packaging often pollutes the environment. When we throw away those products, they end up in a landfill, perhaps being buried or incinerated. Some will end up in our waterways, our air, and our soil, affecting human health as well as animal health and the environment.
  • Medical Issues Sometimes vegans need medication. Premarin, a hormone replacement therapy, uses the urine of pregnant mares who are confined in deplorable conditions. There are other hrts, but women need to research to find those, if any, that are cruelty-free. And keep in mind that although the final product is labeled “no animal testing” the individual ingredients that went into the making of that product may have been. Also, in 2016, the CDC is pushing Americans more than ever to get their flu shots. But flu shots are not only created in fertilized chicken eggs but contain proteins from the eggs themselves. Formaldehyde is used to create a chemical reaction to pull those proteins together. Did you know you were being injected with formaldehyde when you got your annual, innocent and safe flu shot? Some maintenance medicines, necessary for high blood pressure or other health problems, may contain animal parts or are encapsulated in gel-caps made of gelatin, which is made from animal bone, skin, and ligaments.

    The purpose of discussing hidden animal products and the many ways in which all humans kill animals is not to discourage veganism or to make veganism seem impossible. The purpose is for vegans to strive for minimal harm to other animals while realizing that eliminating every last animal product in our lives right now is impossible. We can work on ways to make car tires without animal products, try to buy unwaxed fruit or grow our own fruit; and consume less in general.

    This article has been edited and updated by Michelle A. Rivera