If you’re not as obsessed with vegan products and marketing trends as I am, you may not have noticed the uptick in the use of “plant-based” by companies to market their products. You might assume “plant-based” is less scary than “vegan” to the mainstream, so this new moniker simply reads as healthier and more natural, so normal, not-crazy-vegan folk will buy it.
We, the public, would also assume these products are vegan, as we’ve been using both terms for a while, and this assumption would be safe, by 2010 standards. Hey, it might be good enough for many of us now. But here’s the whole flipside to this “plant-based” trend: A plant-based product might not necessarily be cruelty-free, as we are becoming increasingly aware (by the power of the Internet and lightning-fast social media). Companies are beginning to understand that calling something “vegan” really needs to be animal-cruelty-free, and they are protecting themselves, getting in front of the backlash they might receive, should loud or numerous voices point out that maybe “vegan” does not apply to their products.
A danger of reliance on the “plant-based” label is that the floodgates are open. Bone-char-treated sugar might no longer be a concern, nor would any other plant-derived ingredient that underwent animal-related processing, such as albumin in wine. If the final substance is free from animal ingredients, then no rules are being broken—“plant-based” it is, and we’re none the wiser. Hell, by definition, a plant-based product could have been developed using animal testing.
Then there’s palm oil. It’s still a hot issue because of the way it’s being farmed. While some palm oil is grown sustainably, it’s a pretty small percentage, and deforestation has increased massively to meet our demand for this crop, displacing so many animals—most notably, the orangutan. Many products we have come to rely on as vegans (including alternatives to dairy products) now have this sinister aspect to them.
Ugh! It was supposed to get easier to go vegan!
So we have a choice: to try harder to find new alternatives or keep using these products when we feel we must to get through the day, perhaps feeling guilty while we do it. Either way, we can appeal to these companies—threatening boycott or not—and ask them to please discontinue their use of these tainted ingredients.
At the end of the day, we do need to be able to A) live in this imperfect world and B) live with our imperfect selves. We have to do the best we can to survive and feel good about how we’re doing it. We accept the evils we buy into, such as petroleum, plastic packaging, and pharmaceuticals. We try to lessen our entitled human footprint by avoiding paper products made from virgin trees, recycling and upcycling, and buying quality, local, sweatshop-free goods.
True, not everyone can read every label then write to the companies to find out whether that lactic acid is derived from plants or animals. Not everyone is aware of the less-than-perfect aspects of products they buy, whether it’s exploitation of animals, the environment, or workers’ rights. How much can we rely on that super-unofficial “suitable for vegans” on the label—or even the Vegetarian Society’s little flower icon—do these designations mean a product is perfect?
I trust this isn’t reading as hopelessness. We can still make better choices and fight our fights. I think it’s important to find out as much as you can about what you buy or put into your body, and it’s important to make companies profiting off these products aware of the fact that you care and that you are willing to walk away from something that might taste really, really good if they don’t produce it ethically. I mean, y’all walked away from cheese, and you friggin’ lovvvved cheese, right?