28 September 2010

Apropos of Nothing.

(Photograph copyright 2010, all rights reserved. This is an all-vegan, all the time image. See? Tomato. Vegan. I can't even see any bugs. Just sayin'.)

I've been seeing something in grocery stores - ok, pretty much Whole Foods - that's got me a little puzzled. I know that labels sell products. Heck, I even used to collect the wrappers that used to be on the occasional blood orange or mandarin. If there was an interesting label, that's all I was interested in when it came to choosing the fruit for the week. I admit it. I'm as big a sucker as anyone else. I still have a file with those labels in it.

(Disclaimer: This post is in no way a criticism of Whole Foods, their suppliers, or their employees. I just shop there, so that's where I see the odd stuff. It could be ANY grocery store.)

I know that "organic", for example is not only kinda nice to see in our grocery stores, it's also a marketing strategy that's a guaranteed money maker for the producer. Hell, I'd use it too, if I were in their position. Why go organic at all unless you want to make some money based on the label? Money is a good thing.

But, lately the label reading "Vegan" is what I'm seeing, and it's got me bemused. How, I wondered, could someone actually BE a vegan and not know what they can and can't eat? After all, being a vegan is hard work. Research is required to get the right amounts of protein and nutrients in their diets. Reading is required. Cookbooks must be bought, websites consulted, buzzwords memorized, sermons written, disapproving glares perfected.... This is Serious Stuff.

(I have to interject here. I'm not a vegan. I'm not even a vegetarian. I happen to think that the domestic swine should be the most exalted animal on this planet based on sheer tastiness and versatility. You can eat pretty much the whole pig except the squeal, and it's all delicious. I think this is a Good Thing. I have no interest in changing my ways, and I'm not going to argue about it. It just is.)

What led to this speculation? About a month ago, there were two ladies in the baking supplies aisle of Whole Foods earnestly debating the differences between two bags of sugar. One was labelled "Vegan", one was not. I admit I stopped to listen. I do that. Anyone who doesn't is fibbing. The younger of the two was determined that she was going to buy the vegan version. The older one asked, "What's in sugar that makes it NON-vegan to start with?"

The younger lady was really getting angry about this. That label was becoming crucial to her well-being. Then her friend pointed out that the sugar with the "Vegan" label was CHEAPER than the organic sugar from the same company and was in a virtually identical bag. In fact, they were side-by-side on the shelf. Why the price difference? I read the labels afterward. The sugar labelled "Vegan" wasn't organic.

I left, pondering the logic of this and knowing that since these thing aren't based on logic, I was unlikely to get any sort of answer. I told The Boy about it when he got home that week, and asked what he thought of the situation and he said, "You know these things aren't based on logic. I think you might have too much time on your hands. Did you remember to get the Humboldt Fog?"

Fine. I left it alone. I had stuff to do anyway..... like remembering to put the damned Humboldt Fog on the next week's grocery list. Then remembering the list.

The following week, I went back to Whole Foods (I DID remember the list, I just left it in the car. I got the cheese, but forgot the lamb shoulder. Sigh.) Naturally, just walking in the door got me thinking about the "Vegan" label again, so I started seeing the bloody thing everywhere I turned. A partial list, and yes, WTF? should be after every item.

1. Maple Syrup.
2. A spice mix for the barbecue.
3. Flour.
4. Bread. (Good bread has three ingredients. Flour, water, yeast. It ain't rocket science. Oh wait...how can yeast be vegan? It's alive. I'm confused.)
5. Pasta.
6. Ketchup.
7. Tomato Paste. (Which had salt and guar gum added. The kind I buy has one ingredient on the label. That would be "tomatoes".)

You see what I mean? It's everywhere. These are only a few things. I already knew that there was a product called "Vegan Worcestershire Sauce". For those that don't know, Worcestershire Sauce has as its main ingredient fermented fish. It's the fish sauce of the western world and it's a crucial product in most kitchens. I tried the vegan stuff once when they ran out of Lea and Perrin's. Big mistake. It was mostly MSG (a vegan product from the sea) and it STILL tasted sweetish and nasty. Altogether a waste of $4.99. I dumped it down the drain. Probably it killed a few fish.

Now, I can see the need for the label on, say, cookies. I make mine with butter, a vegan no-no. Baked goods are complicated, so fair enough. But MAPLE SYRUP?! Really? What could be more vegan? Or sacred to Canadians, wherever they live? You stick a tap in a tree and boil down what comes out until it's...syrup. Maple syrup in fact. Where are the animals in that? I guess some producers still use sleds with horses in Quebec, but the horses are all right with that. I asked one once, just to make sure.

On that trip, I left the store thinking I just had to write a post about this. Clearly Western Civilization needs to ponder this. Naturally, I procrastinated. Another week passed. Back I went to Whole Foods. I DID write a list, put it in my pocket and consulted it in the store. What was on it? Hmmm. Milk, eggs, yogurt (gotta get the kind with no pectin or the cat won't touch it), crunchy bits, snack items.....a couple of other things. And yes, I actually wrote "crunchy bits". Then when I got to the store, all smug about having the list in hand, I kicked myself for trying to write a list before I was fully caffeinated that morning. The basket was VERY full on my way out that week. That's what I get for being vague.

I was thinking about this and other, weirder things, as I walked the aisle, filling my cart with snack items and crunchy bits. I was still thinking about it when I ran into one of the store clerks. He's a nice kid and very helpful. He's hunted things down for me in the past. So I asked him, "What's with the vegan sugar? ALL sugar is vegan!"

"No it's not," he said, "Didn't you know that?"

"Um, dude, sugar is a plant. If it's not cane, it's usually beets. Or is there some special way to eliminate the bug parts?"

He got a very serious look on his face. "It's the way it's made. When they cut the sugar cane, they put it on a big floor and pound it with cow bones before they put it in the crusher."

I looked at him, "Are you serious? Really? Because I've BEEN to a couple of sugar plants and they're just big steel buildings with big steel machines."

No way. He wasn't buying that. He looked at me like I'd gone off my rocker and went to find brown rice pasta (yuck) for another customer (bet it had the "Vegan" label on it).

So here I have to cry bullshit and ask where in blazes THAT rumor started? Cow bones? What the hell is that all about? Who says something that moronic? Worse, is there something in the vegan diet that makes people believe stupid things? Is that a requirement or is it part of the buzzword memorization?

I had a friend when I was about five who sincerely believed that if she didn't cover her mouth when a dragonfly went past, it would sew her mouth shut. I knew a girl in high school (not the brightest penny in the till) who sincerely believed that not only could you GET pregnant from a toilet seat, it happened all the time. She believed that even AFTER she got pregnant in Grade 11. I still look for the occasional four leaf clover. Until she died, my great-grandmother firmly believed that if she used a curse word, then said part of the rosary, God would be all right with the bad language.

The sugar thing I don't get. I've always, based on the preaching I hear all the time, firmly believed that veganism was more a religion than a lifestyle choice. Many vegans, especially professional vegans, sound more like evangelists than health mavens to me. Having heard the twaddle about sugar, I have to wonder just how many other idiotic superstitions are out there.

I'm going to start some of my own.

1. Ooooh, did you hear? Every time someone butters their toast with real butter, a robin dies.

2. It's a scientific fact that if you eat pork, you'll get a little curly tail. Doctors cut them off all the time without telling their patients about it.

3. Did you know that regular gasoline has cow fat in it?

4. Refrigerator factories use live mice to test the seals. They put a mouse into each fridge and time how long it takes for it to die.

5.  Steel factories use baby pig and dolphin blood to make the steel stronger.


Can anyone out there come up with any more? I want to see how long it takes for someone to tell me one of these things that BELIEVES it!

(Ok, I just read online that some sugar processors, when sourcing the activated carbon that is used as a filter, buy it from companies that use bones to make the char. Fair enough. I guess that's not vegan. I STILL want to know where the hell that kid got the idea that beating cane with cow bones is something that any manufacturer would bother with. I also want to know why  it's a bad thing to use cow bones, a byproduct of the beef processing industry, to make char? Would the bones be better off in a landfill?)