Three ways to become even more vegan

In this post I discuss some ways in which vegans can go the extra mile and become even more vegan: vegan hand wash and shampoo, vegan toilet paper, vegan fruit and vegetables(!).

Vegan hand wash and shampoo

Most commercial hand wash and shampoo contains glycerine (or glycerol, which is the scientific name). While there is also plant-based glycerine, most glycerine often comes from animal fat, mostly from cows. This fact may shock you, but it may come as less of a surprise if you remember that the Nazis made soap from human bodies. It just turns out that they did not invent the method.

But there’s some good news, too: If the shampoo does not contain glycerine (and none of the other usual suspects, such as milk, honey etc), then it is clearly vegan, even though it may not be labelled as such. If you see glycerine on the ingredient list of a product labelled as vegan, then the glycerine is derived from plants.

Non vegan hand wash kills between 0.01 and 0.3 animals per year (depending if it is produced from pigs or cattle). 1.

Vegan toilet paper

“You may want to sit down for this”, writes Fat Gay Vegan in his post about toilet paper. As he explains, some toilet paper uses gelatin or fatty acids derived from animal tissue (most likely from pigs or cows).

To find out if your toilet paper is vegan, best contact the producer directly.

Vegan fruit and vegetables

Yes, most fruit and veg are not entirely vegan, sadly. First, Some bananas are sprayed with chitosan to preserve them better. chitosan, is a substance derived from the shells of crustaceans or shellfish. To save some marine lives, ask your supermarket if they use chitosan.

Second, Many farms used manure (i.e. the faeces of animals) as fertiliser. You may contend that this is merely a by-product of the animal industry, and that it might be better to put the manure to use than to dispose of it in another way. However, this ignores the fact that farmers get money for the manure, which means that manure makes animal farming more profitable. If animal farming is more profitable, it will become more common. Another way to put it is that the money vegetable farmers pay for manure cross-subsidises the killing of animals. At the end of the day, it makes meat and dairy cheaper, leading to increased demand and increased production. If you want to avoid produce that uses manure, buy products certified with the biocyclic vegan standard, or ask your local farmer if they use manure.

And finally, growing vegetables , fruit and pulses often involves the use of pesticides which kill insects. Additionally, some insects and rodents may also be killed by the harvesting machines. To me it seems that one way to mitigate this is to use greenhouses rather than open air farmland. To my knowledge, no one has discussed this seriously before, so here is my elaboration:

Greenhouses keep insects and rodents out. They may still displace rodents and insects from their original homes, but not more than traditional open air farming would. If we furthermore adopted vertical farming, i.e. if we stacked crops on top of each other, we could minimise this impact, too.

However, there are no greenhouse labels yet. In the meantime, you can save wild animals by eating “less bread/pasta/rice/cereal and more beans/nuts and (maybe) potatoes”, says Brian Tomasik of the Foundational Research Institute, an Effective Altruism entity. This is because beans, nuts and potatoes have the lowest plants. “(a) taller plants seem more likely to be home to bugs and bunnies and (b) it’s harder for animals to escape tall, grassy plants” 2.  Pasta is made from relatively tall plants. Say you eat 2.5kg of pasta a year, like the average inhabitant of the UK 3. If you replaced all of that by kidney beans, how many more wild animals could you save in a year? The answer is 0.01452, 4. Now remember that the number for vegan vs non-vegan hand wash ranges between 0.01 and 0.3.

Concluding remark: Weighing up the lives of farm animals vs wild animals

Say you do use vegan hand wash. If you wanted to be logically consistent in your actions, you would also substitute pasta with beans. Even further, you would try to replace all cereal-derived food with bean-based products.

But there is an obvious flaw in this reasoning: Collateral damage is not (always) as bad as farmed killing. This is because animals killed through farming tend to have an instantaneous death with relatively little suffering in advance. For example, they might be caught under a combine harvester and crushed. They may feel distress due to the noise the machine makes when approaching, but their total time of distress is unlikely to last more than a day. Farmed animals however feel distress for almost all their lives.

  1. Based on data from Animal Visuals (2009)
  2. Brian Tomasik 2018
  3. International Pasta Organization 2012
  4. using 352kcal per 100g as for Penne (according to Weight Loss Resources) and the “grains” estimate of collateral damage from farming (Animal Visuals (2009)).

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