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November 16, 2007

Baffled by PETA

A post on the Serious Eats blog pointed me towards PETA's list of regular grocery store items that just so happen -- through no intention on the part of the companies that produced them -- to be vegan.

Here are a few items that made the list: Corn Pops, Unfrosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts, Reese's Puffs, Kool-Aid, Cracker Jack, Barbecue Fritos, Krispy-Kreme Fruit Pies, Chocolate Creme Oreos, Swedish Fish, Campbell's Franco-American Mushroom Gravy, McCormick Rotisserie Chicken Seasoning (oh, so useful for those who don't eat chicken), French's Beef Stew Mix (wtf? ),  Smucker's Goober Grape Peanut Butter,  Smart Squeeze Fat Free Margarine.

I've never seen a less compelling argument for veganism. I'm not vegan, but I can do much better. How about spicy black bean soup with fresh-baked rolls and a spinach salad?

Do the folks at PETA not realize that many of these products are made with genetically modified soy and corn; that the pesticides sprayed on conventional crops kill innocent insects and are likely dangerous to birds and probably humans; and that growing, processing and shipping these products damages the environment?

How about the fact that as delightful as sugary cereals and meat-free-gravy-in-a-can might taste, they are filled with unhealthy high-fructose corn syrup and weird food additives, and replace healthier foods in people's diets? And there's this: Building the supermarkets that sell 'em, their parking lots, and the roads that get people there destroyed wildlife habitat forever. How good does that Airheads Taffy taste now, huh?

If you truly love animals and you want to be a (healthy) vegan, stay away from this highly-processed crap and eat fresh, minimally-processed products and whole foods. If you love animals but aren't a vegetarian, eat them thoughtfully and thankfully (and only those that are ethically raised and local, if you can afford to). And no matter what kind of diet you choose, do your damndest to protect the environment.


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Big Fatty

PETA.... that stands for People Eating Tasty Animals? Inquiring minds want to know...

Also, When did Gator become wierd? That's a bonifide crop down south!


Right on, Suzanne! I used to get so annoyed by those vegan girls in college who existed solely on Swedish Fish.


Hi Clay. Sure 'gator is totally normal down South (as are okra, grits, fried pickles, etc.), but we Yankees don't see too much of it around, thus I thought it worthy of note!

Did I hear that you're doing a T-day dinner at Big Fatty's?

afraid you might cook me
afraid you might cook me

I think you've missed the point of that list; they simply meant to point out to people that there are some common food items out there that are cruelty-free and vegan friendly, for sheer convenience sake. They aren't suggesting you base your diet around the list.

I'm not a huge defender of PETA, but I'm just saying.


"I've never seen a less compelling argument for veganism."

It's not an "arguement for veganism." It's a list of convenience foods that just happen to be vegan.

A LIST. Nothing more.



Hi Post Punk Kitchen folks. I do know it's "just a list" and that they're not advocating that people eat this stuff every day.

I just don't believe that leaving out animal products is enough to ensure that something is "cruelty free." The growing practices, pesticide use and minimum wage factory jobs that result in the creation of these "junk foods" are bad for the environment and exploit human workers. Three of the breakfast cereals on the list have cocoa as an ingredient. There is a huge cocoa slave trade, and many cacao beans are harvested by enslaved African children. Cruelty-free? I think not.

Plus, the "byproducts" from slaughtered, factory farmed animals are made into things like industrial cleaners and lubricants, cement, and fertilizers (used to grow corn, soy and other ingredients that make it into all kinds of things). Other things that contain animal byproducts: hydraulic brake fluid, machine oil, car upholstery, asphalt. I bet most of these items were employed somewhere in the process of creating the foods on PETA's list.

My choice to purchase locally-raised, free-range meat from farmers who are thoughtful about their animals, feed them appropriately and don't let anything go to waste is based on years of careful consideration about the necessity for animals and plants to co-exist in order to have a healthy food system. Plants don't grow without animals (to pollinate, fertilize, etc.), animals can't survive without plants. For viable agriculture, we still need both.

While I was trying to decide about my stance on eating meat, I also considered the ramifications of mono-cropping and manufacturing, and decided that eating mass-produced foods doesn't fit my food philosophy. For the past 4 years, I've purchased about 90% of the food I eat directly from the farmers who grow it, all of whom farm sustainably. Most of the remaining 10% is local stuff bought at City Market or Healthy Living.

Most people in this country don't seem to think much about the impact of food choices on the environment, their own health, the health of the people who grow that food or work in the factories in which it's processed, or animals that may suffer as a result. I'm just disappointed that PETA, which many consider a pretty radical organization, doesn't push the envelope more on some of the other (related) issues.


Well, get used to it cuz thats all we vegans eat, is swedish fish and oreos. Thats not bad considering all ya'll meat eaters just eat McDonald's and.....and....ummm....I can't think of anything else. Sounds pretty healthy though, don't it? (can you hear my stupid southern accent in this?)
If a meat eater made a list of foods they ate that had 10 items on it and they were unhealthy, would you have stopped and thought about it long enough to write a stupid blog about it? COme on.

There are plenty of vegans that feel that PETA does a sloppy job of getting the message out about "cruelty-free" food choices. But store junk can be a easy gateway drug for folks that haven't really gotten hooked on the crack of the vegan world yet. Personally, I'm addicted to kale in myriad forms.

PETA doesn't speak for me, but PETA is better than silence, perhaps.


I think you are missing the point, Suzanne. No one said this list is healthy. This list is good for people who have relatives that have no idea what to buy them or for people who think that vegans live on cold tofu and rice milk. It's also helpful for people in small towns. They may say "hey, this is regular food. It's not weird" because it is what they are used to. Not everything on that list is awful. Obviously the best choice is to eat healthily, and the spicy black bean soup and rolls you suggested do sound delicious.
Also, this concept may not be in line with yours, but some of us would choose refined sugar every now and then over cruelty to animals. No matter how well taken care of or how good their food is, the end result is the same.


There is no need to bad mouth PETA or veganism over a list like that. Telling "PPK" people about products that contain animal by-products and advocating organic, local ingredients and concern for the environment is the most obvious example of preaching to the choir I've seen in a while. I am not attacking you, but please understand that we don't all have the time to cook from scratch everyday. We don't all have the money to source only foodstuffs that are local, organic, unrefined, etc... Many of us don't live in climates or cultural situations where that sort of thing is always feasible. We didn't blog your pork belly, don't attack an innocent list of occasional easier vegan items.


Hi Pamela -- What you're saying makes sense. The list does seem like a good resource for people in certain situations (for instance, the idea that relatives of vegans who are acting as hosts might use it makes sense to me). Your point about choosing refined sugar over animal products for moral reasons is also well taken.

I guess what caused my critical response was, in part, this text "Being vegan doesn't mean you have to eat wheatgrass and alfalfa sprouts. Most grocery stores carry an array of great-tasting vegan options..." I would have loved to see PETA also mention what I consider the "third" option...delicious vegan food that is neither of the "wheatgrass" variety nor the junk food variety. Since PETA has a platform, I'd love to see them push further into the healthy, tasty vegan food arena, and maybe they do that in other places on their website.

Unfortunately, many of the vegans I know do live on processed convenience foods, and don't spend much time on balancing their diets and making sure they get essential nutrients.

If the text that accompanied the list indicated that these items are indulgences, or that there are many delightful vegan dishes that can be prepared easily from scratch with items from the produce department and a few select products, I might not have posted anything. Although the problem of "secondary animal cruelty" in which factory farmed animals make mass produced foods possible in other ways (some of which I listed above) is still an issue for me.

It's true that I choose to eat (what I consider to be ethically-raised) animals for various philosophical reasons, but I also try to avoid buying ANYTHING that contributes to factory farming. Although I haven't found my way around stuff for my car yet.

I just think PETA could have done a better job of framing the uses of this particular list, or explaining that some of the items might be tied up with other kinds of cruelty besides the obvious.


By the way...I didn't google myself or do anything "creepy." My blog tells me where people are linking in from, and I saw a ton of people coming from PPK, so I checked it out. The recipes I see look great.


Hi Kenan. I appreciate your explanation and your point of view. I posted about the PETA list because it seems to me that they could have done a better job explaining it and qualifying that some of the food items contribute to other kinds of cruelty (to human workers and the environment, for example). It just seems like a big miss that could have easily been remedied.

And I mentioned PPK specifically because I saw that the folks who commented were coming from that site. And no offense, but on the forum that linked to my blog there was a comment about my pork belly recipe, and the fact that I attended a whole pig dinner. And other implications about my general disgusting meat-eaterness.

By making those points, I guess I was trying to say that I'm not some vegan hating type who doesn't think about animal welfare. I am very strict about what I eat, I just approach it from a different angle (i.e. I think that eating certain kinds of meat is philosophically permissible). It seems that some folks on PPK assumed that because I eat meat I'm "gross" and that the thought I put into critiquing this list is thereby invalid.


Here's one page of Peta's that mentions healthy eating.

Since their #1 goal is to reduce animal suffering and exploitation, it is not unreasonable they'd make a list of "surprise" vegan options, healthy or not.

I am not sure where on PPK you saw the recipes, but Isa has a blog that has new recipes, there's also recipes in the Recipe section and throughout the forums. If you are interested in more recipes, half of us on there have vegan food blogs as well. There's some really good stuff (healthy and not-so-healthy). We have junk food and raw foodists, mixes of the two, and everything in between. Not necessarily saying they want me representing them (ha).

"It seems that some folks on PPK assumed that because I eat meat I'm "gross" and that the thought I put into critiquing this list is thereby invalid."

Well, since it is a widely vegan food forum, these sentiments are going to look that way to omnis. (Omni isn't a bad term, btw). All of us on there have large numbers of omni relatives. Some of us don't think PEOPLE eating meat are gross, but meat eating in itself is gross. I guess that's up for debate. I guess you also have to take into consideration that a lot of us are constantly forced to defend our (logical) beliefs at home and at work and it's sort of a "safe place" for us. If you join, you'll see most of us aren't nasty.


Hey Suzanne,

I thought I'd just jump in with a couple thoughts! First off, you make some good points- it's true that just because food doesn't contain animal ingredients, it's not necessarily cruelty-free. Unfortunately, in the society we live in, it's pretty much impossible to eat completely cruelty-free. "Secondary animal cruelty", as you refer to it, is pretty much omnipresent in North America. Even if one were to eat only local, organic, fresh fruits and vegetables, the food would still be driven to the market on asphalt roads, in vehicles that use brake fluid and car upholstery.

Is there some hypocracy in a vegan diet then? Perhaps a little, but from my perspective, veganism is about trying to reduce suffering as much as we can, even when it's not possible to eliminate it (as PETA says on their website- their policy is that foods that are 99% vegan are good enough, as they're likely more vegan than the roads the foods are transported on). Yes, it would be nice to further reduce suffering even more, but I don't think it's fair to hold vegans to a higher standard than the majority of others- your problem seems to be that the foods seem incompatible with a vegan lifestyle, when maybe a more important point is that society in general should reduce consumption of them. And really, vegans are doing more than most to try to reduce suffering to animals. In my experience, limited though that may be, the vegans/vegetarians I know generally put more thought into their food and eat less of these types of convenience foods and more organic/fair trade-type foods than omnis, though that may just be me spending too much time reading vegan food blogs!

Additionally, many (most?) vegans are vegan for ethical reasons, with health benefits being very secondary. Thus, we're just like everyone else who loves to eat junk from time to time, we just don't want any animal ingredients in there. No, they may not be healthy, but at least they're better (in our opinion) than equally-unhealthy foods that contain animal byproducts.

Yes, perhaps PETA could have done better at presenting a balanced view, but as others have said, it is really more a list for convenience, not anything you should base your diet around.

Anyway, thanks for being open to discussion about this. You have some good points to think about, even if I don't agree with all of them.


Hi Suzanne! It was I that first posted the link to your blog on PPK! I think that a lot of vegetarian/vegan naysayers that think v/v are all freaks might have more fuel for the fire when they read your comments... You make some interesting points about cruelty free.

I always read your food articles... even the one about the chicken feet! The use the whole pig one... was the only one I couldn't finish! (but, why waste anything? yuk)

Maybe you could do some veg. related articles... maybe find out why the heck there is no veg. eatery in Burlington.


Hi Pamela. The recipes I found were on the main recipe page at PPK -- soup is my favorite thing to make, so I particularly noticed a few enticing soup recipes. I also put a link to PPK on my blog.

I guess I was really surprised by the initial vehemence of the reaction to my post, since I didn't say anything negative about vegans (I even noted a delicious vegan meal that I've made), and was merely critiquing one part of the PETA website. But it makes more sense given that many PPK folks probably spend a lot of time justifying/defending their choices.

BTW, I like the term "omni," and may use that from now on (although I like to think of myself as an "ethical omni" rather than the traditional variety).

But despite that, I slip and eat foods that don't fit with my philosophies, particularly at other people's houses or at restaurants I must visit for work. So I definitely didn't mean to be critical at all of vegans who enjoy junk food. Like I said before, I just think PETA could have done a better job of explaining what the list was about.


Hi Sarah. Thanks for posting such a thoughtful response.

I totally agree that it's pretty much impossible to escape "secondary animal cruelty" (SAC?). In my own life, I try to minimize it by driving as little as possible, avoiding big box stores and by getting food as close to home as I can.

I don't believe that I'm holding vegans to higher standards...people who know me would tell you that I'm really interested in moral philosophy and try to discuss these topics with anybody who will listen. I guess I think that vegans clearly already consider food sourcing and make choices based on their morals, and would be particularly interested in and open to thinking about some of the deeper background issues (and probably already do). I agree with you that a lot of omnis just eat whatever they feel like whenever they feel like it, and it can be difficult to even *introduce* the idea that their food choices matter on a larger scale.

I'm sorry if I'm repeating myself, but I want to address your points...originally, I was mostly disappointed that PETA didn't use the list to do a bit more education around some of these secondary issues. Because I don't visit the PETA site regularly, and just stumbled across this particular page, I was thinking about what the average American would read into it if they stumbled across it, too.


Hi LMG. There's supposed to be a vegan restaurant opening in the Old North End (one of the guys from China Express on North Street is the owner), but last time I saw him, he told me there have been some setbacks. I'm planning to call him and check up on his progress very soon.

It's true I write about meat a lot. I'm not sure if this is part of it, but I think it's partly because the struggling dairy industry is so important in our state, and partly because there is so much innovation happening right now on "animal farms." There have been organic vegetable farms in the state for decades, but raising animals "ethically" is a concept that is really hitting the mainstream right now, and it seems to be causing a real shift in the way many people of my generation think about food.

I did write an article about raw food a (long) while back, but I admit that I remain skeptical about many aspects of the diet. I've also written a couple of articles about local farmers. I think that part of the reason it looks as if I'm always writing about meat is that when I write about a chef or a caterer or a restaurant, meat almost always comes up somewhere in the conversation. The chef talks about her favorite way to prepare duck, etc. Maybe for someone who doesn't eat meat, those particular parts stick out?

I would love to write about, say, a vegan personal chef, caterer or restaurant, but I haven't heard of any. If you have any tips for articles, let me know!

One idea I had that I haven't been able to enact yet is to write two articles about farms with working animals. One article would be about how people are cutting out petroleum inputs by using horses to plow their fields and sheep to "mow the lawn." The other would be about people who believe animals should have no place on farms. The reason I haven't done it is because I haven't found anybody who has some agricultural expertise and believes the latter...any thoughts?

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