“You Have To Read Ingredient Lists and Product Labels Wherever You Go”

Caffeinated Thoughts
5 min readApr 13

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Challenges of being vegan — Part three

Photo by Sangga Rima Roman Selia on Unsplash

This article is part 2 of a 5-part series on real world challenges one can expect to face while following a vegan diet. Read part 2 here.

Here’s the third structural issue you might face once you start following the vegan diet:

Being forced to read product labels wherever you go

I vividly remember my first vegan potluck like it happened only yesterday. The hosts were doing an introductory session on veganism for the newbies and somewhere in the middle, uttered the following lines:

“Going forward, you’ll have to read product labels and scan ingredient lists for non-vegan ingredients, even for products which you know to be vegan and even if it says ‘vegan’ on the box”, they said. I never gave it much thought at the time since I was just a one-week old vegan.

But 10 years down the line? Boy does that hit hard!

Reading ingredient lists anywhere, everywhere, anytime, all the time. Phew! That does sound like a chore, doesn’t it?

New vegans, please take note of this. You’ll be reading product ingredients all through your lives. Like my potluck host said, this includes products that are ‘vegan certified’ as well as products which you already know to be vegan. Sometimes, products are mistakenly labelled vegan. Sometimes, manufacturers change product ingredients to suddenly start including animal ingredients, like in the case of the accidentally vegan chocolate, Bournville.

This forces you to read product labels every time you go shopping.

Imagine having to read product ingredients each and every single time you went out to buy something or someone offered food to you. The level of agency, time, energy, and effort required is so mind-boggling, I can’t even comprehend it. Anyways, let that sink in for a while.

  • Sometimes, whether in the office or at outdoor events, you will be offered food which has already been opened and put onto a plate mixed together with other food, so you can’t even ask for the packet to check whether it’s vegan or not.
  • Manufacturers change their product ingredients all the time. Some companies think honey and whey still qualify as vegan, and in some cases there are regional variations between products where, due to the nature of ingredients used, the very same product is vegan in some countries but not in others. Think Oreos.

Due to this, vegans are forced to read product labels wherever they are. This usually isn’t a huge bugbear, but can cause frustration for some who lead demanding and busy lives.

Imagine squinting your eyes every single time you’re at the grocers just to check the ingredients of products to know whether you can purchase them or not.

On the positive side, you get to know what’s going into your body. Admit it. If you were a meat eater who wasn’t ingredient-conscious, you wouldn’t have given a second thought about the ingredients and the product would have been tossed into your trolley straight away. Veganism forces you into a certain level of consciousness. Only since going vegan have I become concerned with ingredient lists and product labels. By reading ingredient lists, I not only know that animal products aren’t getting into my body, but also about all the other ingredients, whether artificial or natural, that are. Things such as preservatives, artificial sweeteners, food colouring, and “nature identical flavouring substances” which are standard in almost all processed food nowadays.

On the negative side, you can get completely burnt out doing this ritual month on month, year after year.

Of course, this usually isn’t such a big matter of concern. Most vegans I know like myself get accustomed to a set of products we know are vegan, and will always be vegan, and consume only those products for the majority of the time.

But try staying the same level of conscious when the waters of life aren’t calm and the boat is violently rocking up and down side to side.

When you’re loaded with tons of work at the office, when you’re busy running the household and taking care of the kids at the same time, when you’re constantly travelling for work related assignments or family obligations, the last thing you want to do is stop and read product labels. When there’s a storm raging in the ocean, you don’t sit down to play the violin. You try to secure yourself and your belongings as much as possible. When you’re already at your wits end by the end of a hectic work week, the stress monkeys of your business/job dancing around in your head, the last thing you possess is the time, patience, and energy to read product labels. During this phase of life the healthiness of food is the last thing on your mind and all you want to do is ‘grab-n-go’, isn’t it?

Its the very same reason we’re surrounded by fast-food restaurants everywhere. People are so burnt out by life, that they lack the agency to make slow, deliberate, healthy choices. Veganism requires a certain level of agency from the individual to be able to “stop-and-choose” wherever they go.

Conclusion

A lot of self-obsessed, entitled, and preachy vegans wonder why rich people aren’t vegan. If only it was a question of money!

If financial freedom was the only thing that prevented people from going vegan, a lot of people would be vegan today. Being vegan means going out of your way in dozens of situations and circumstances across your lifetime in order to maintain that preference. Not everyone possesses the agency to do that.

There’s money. And then there’s agency. They’re two vastly separate things that have nothing to do with each other.

Sometimes, you might be travelling in a different country where the ingredients aren’t even in a language you can understand. Sometimes you might be travelling with an all — meat eating group who only stop at non-vegan joints. Sometimes you might be on a work related excursion where you do not have a say in the kind of lodging or type of restaurant. Sometimes, it could be with your very own friends. This can cause a lot of mental and emotional frustration while being vegan.

This is why you must research as much as possible before travelling to a new country to see what vegan options are available to you there.

Besides, it would be great to join vegan groups online, and make some pen pals before arriving there so that you have someone to instantly clarify your doubts with regarding regional products.

Has reading ingredient lists over the years as a vegan ever been an annoyance or headache to you? How have you been dealing with such situations? Do let me know in the comments bar to the side.

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Caffeinated Thoughts

I write about lifestyle, veganism, trekking, and overpopulation.