Tuesday, May 22, 2007

No Sugar Coating for This Candy

Article by K.A.

Being a vegetarian for over six years has forced me to read a lot of ingredients on food packets before I buy anything. With today's food standards this has come as a shock to me, as some ingredients in foods simply don't belong there.

Shortly after turning vegetarian, I was with a group of friends who wanted to go to McDonald's. Not finding anything on the menu that looked appealing let alone meat-free (no surprise there then), I opted for the milkshake, only to be informed by another vegetarian that the ice-cream you'd expect to find in a milkshake had been replaced by animal fats in McD's outlets to cut costs but provide a similar consistency to other shakes.

This is great for Mickey D's profit margins, but it's not so good for vegetarians, who would be buying these drinks without knowledge of the ingredients (which are not on any of the packaging, making choices for vegetarians, vegans and people with food intolerance's impossible). Ever since I have been checking out what products are made from, as even vegetarian-sounding products like milkshakes fall foul of many standards that would otherwise make them vegetarian-friendly.

So I was very let down when I read this about Mars and Masterfood's, who had decided to include rennet in their products. Why they would do this with almost 4 million vegetarians in Britain alone and even more people concerned about the weird crap that goes into foods these days is beyond me. But the thing that really ticked me off was this statement:

"If the customer is an extremely strict vegetarian, then we are sorry the products are no longer suitable, but a less strict vegetarian should enjoy our chocolate"

Allow me to directly quote the dictionary definition of a vegetarian to you. I'm sure you don't need this, but as a massive, international company managed to miss the mark by such a phenomenal degree, there may be one or two of you out there who this might actually catch off-guard: "a person who does not eat meat for health or religious reasons or because they want to avoid cruelty to animals"

That means no steaks, no burgers and definitely no calves stomachs. I, like all vegetarians, will happily eat dairy produce and other forms of animal bi-product that do not hurt and are not fatal to the animals concerned, such as milk, cheese and the like (people who do not are known as vegans. So it disappointed me that I would have to cut so much chocolate from my life, given that I have cut so much from my diet already.

I feel that I am doing the right thing in a world where most people are turning the other way when they see something like this. It's seen as a hassle for most people to have to go to the bother of boycotting companies when it would actually benefit them to be more pro-active.

Many companies that have been around for years have changed their ingredients, usually for reasons of profit and price, to cheaper, synthetic ingredients in order to increase their profit margin. Each change alters the flavour slightly and, by now, most creators of the foods and drinks would not be able to say the current product tastes anything like their original. It seems crazy that most people are happy with synthetic ingredients or cheaper substitutes when these things do not actually benefit the consumer - they only benefit the profits of the companies producing them.

So I sent an E-Mail of complaint, along with my wife, to Mars/Masterfood's in order to let them know how unhappy we were with the change and how we would no longer be purchasing their products. Little did I know that, for possibly the first time, thousands of other people were thinking the same thing...

Within days I read this. What a victory! Suddenly I realised that, if something is made public enough (or handled badly enough by the producers concerned), there are slowly but surely a growing number of concerned consumers that are willing to stand up and make themselves heard.

This must only be a good thing for consumers, who can now begin to enforce corporate responsibility and culpability regarding their products. We are starting to see, now more than ever, that we have the power to stand up to these companies and make them take note. We pay their wages, make their profits and therefore have a say in what we get. Surely if people get to vote on a government, the old saying "vote with your feet" should still apply? Maybe it's time we started to use this underused voting right to affect changes in the system that will benefit us.

As such I have now taken the fight to my own personal nightmare arena - the alcohol industry. Until recently I had no idea that so many beers contained or used animal bi-products in their creation. I was aware that Guinness contained such things, but I was wholly unprepared for this.

Many of my favourites are on the "vegetarian unfriendly" list, thanks (mostly) to the brewing process using isinglass, obtained from the swim-bladders of fish. So I am hoping that enough people will take note and begin to change their drinking habits.

It's not hard to do and there are many animal-free beers out there of high quality: Becks, Bud, Carlsberg, Coor's, Duvel, Grolsch, Harp, Heineken, Hoegaarden, Holsten Pils (also a diabetic-friendly beer - go Holsten!), Kingfisher, Michelob, Miller, Rolling Rock, Tequiza and many more.

Most wines are good too, and you will be happy to know that cider and spirits are completely vegetarian-friendly (with cider being 100% vegan), just in case you can't be bothered remembering which beers to drink :D

There are enough quality beers out there that taste great and are isinglass-free to mean that producers of non-vegetarian beers have no excuse not to change.

I don't expect this to make any readers vegetarian, or to try to sway you to the cause. I simply would like you to consider the ingredients that go into your foods and ask yourself if you think your Stella should have fish in it, or your McD's shakes to have fat instead of ice-cream. Surely these things we assume are obvious to us should also be obvious to producers, and if they aren't going to pass on the savings from using such ingredients to their customers then why should we tow the line?

It's time we stood up for ourselves and demanded better standards from these companies. And just to prove I am not a vegetarian on a rant, here are some non-vegetarian reasons to back up my point:

Coke-Cola's vicious cycle of crimes in Columbia, South America
Nestle exploits HIV/AIDS in Africa
Nestle tries to claim $6 million from Ethiopia during famine
Chocolate companies turn a blind eye to child slave labour

I'll let you decide if companies should have this sort of control over us or not, but any company happy to allow child slaves to work 80-100 hour weeks is not a company I want to be involved with. It's not hard to change your diet, but collectively it may change the lives of millions of people for the better.

Know what you're buying. Know what you're eating. Know what you're hurting. Then know what you can do to help.

5 Comments:

Blogger Donovan said...

Good article!

I reckon their change was either due to your email, or the fact that you sent your wife over there to kick ass:

"So I sent an E-Mail of complaint, along with my wife, to Mars/Masterfood's"

Brave move!

3:20 am  
Blogger Jay Tea said...

LOL!

Dear Diary:

"Along with posting my powerfully rhetoric email my wife soon showed them their mistaken ways and they quickly reverted to their pre-synthetic pro-vegetarian ideologies."

8:36 am  
Blogger Skry said...

LOL Yeah well I don't mess with her - she wears the pants in the house!

"Dear diary: last night Jenny was the man, again..."

12:32 am  
Anonymous Jenny said...

Oi! Stop posting me places!

I just got around to reading this blog entry today. I'd like to point out that there is not any animal fat in McDonald's milkshakes. Maybe once upon a time there was, but not these days.

http://www.snopes.com/horrors/food/mcdshake.asp

5:28 pm  
Blogger Jay Tea said...

Busted!

I hate McDonald's food but I love their milkshakes. That said, I haven't had one in years.

6:08 pm  

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