Gelatin Awareness: Have yourself a Peepless Little Easter

Easter baskets and candy bowls of yore once held some of this Baby Boomer’s fondest Easter and Halloween memories: Marshmallow Peeps. Candy corn. Jelly beans. Chocolate covered marshmallow rabbits. I continued eating these sweet treats after going vegetarian some 27 years ago. Ignorance was bliss. Then G.A. (gelatin awareness) struck and changed the world forever. As the then-vegetarian daughter of a now-departed candy salesman, this was no insignificant revelation. Really? Gelatin? All these years? Gaaaaaaa!

For what is gelatin but “a mixture of peptides and proteins produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the skin, boiled crushed bones, connective tissues, organs and some intestines of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, and pigs”? (Wikipedia). An industry site doesn’t mention chickens, but does mention fish skins. Gag me.

Remember Jell-o with a can of fruit cocktail stirred into it? That was a staple at our house. Lime Jell-o cabbage salad, orange Jell-o carrot salad–there was a whole lotta gelatinous shakin’ goin’ on in my Midwestern childhood. Later on, as an adult vegetarian, the store brand yogurt I ate also contained gelatin–unbeknownst to me (“It’s yogurt! Why read the ingredients?”) Vegetarians more savvy than I probably knew to look for pectin instead– “a carbohydrate found naturally in plant cell walls. Pectin’s gelatin-like properties make it ideal for use as a thickener or stabilizer in food products such as jams, jellies, yogurts, and ice cream” (from Safeway’s Open Nature glossary).

But candy corn! No, nothing is sacred. (It contains honey, too, for a vegan double whammy.)Difficult as it was to wrap my mind around the idea of carcass-tainted candy corn (perhaps even more difficult: Frosted Mini-wheats!), the idea of human-derived gelatin poses a greater mental challenge. First impulse? Revulsion. I know what you’re thinking–shades of Soylent Green. But it’s not like that.

This startling news comes from Beijing University of Chemical Technology, where

It’s enough for most vegans (I’ve joined those ranks) to know that gelatin comes from animals who were raised to suffer and die. It doesn’t really matter which animals, but here’s the rundown in the gelatin world market for 2003: 42+% of raw materials came from pigskin; 29+% came from bovine hides; and 27+% came from bones. Less than 1% came from “other.” (Source: industry site referenced above.)

Now here’s a novel proposition for the ethical vegan: If you could get past the ick factor, would you eat foods made with human-derived gelatin?

In response to this development, one U.S. bioethics researcher raised the specter of cannibalism, but went on to add that, “The gelatin is not derived from human tissue in the same way that animal gelatin is. It’s really derived from yeast – yeast that have been modified with genetic sequences found in human beings” (emphasis is mine).

Well, that’s certainly comforting. Cuz when you’re just chillin’ with your peeps, you’d hate to think that the marshallow candy you passed around might have contained your buddy JimBob, rest his soul.
________________________________________________________________Look for vegan Easter (and other) treats at Pangea. “How to avoid gelatin” at LiveStrong.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

Bless the beasts and children: violence, animals, and honesty

Click for movie

National soul-searching over the root cause of violence consumes us in the wake of another horrendous mass shooting. The slaughter of children is anathema to our vision of who we are: we protect the innocent and powerless. We protect the young—those yet unable to wield their voices or our laws—with especial vehemence. Yet, in the swirling, anguished and angry debates about guns and violence, something is missing—something looming so large that we can’t step back far enough to see it. Violence against species other than our own is so pervasive, so normalized, that we don’t even perceive the endless, brutal, bloody slaughter as violence. It’s part and parcel of who we are. It’s how things are.

Recently, a former Montana state official writing in our local paper prefaced his criticism of the National Rifle Association with these credentials: “I own about 20 guns, and have taken elk, antelope, whitetail, mule deer and many game birds. If all the gophers gunned down by me were placed end-to-end they would probably extend from Whitefish to somewhere east of Billings.” Perhaps he was employing hyperbole—that’s a distance of some 500 miles—but his point was clear: he has “gunned down” more living beings than he can count. How many newspaper readers were shocked by that statement—so casually admitted in a discussion of societal violence? How many so much as blinked an eye (these were, after all, just animals)?

Gophers, deer, elk, antelope, and birds are—like humans—sentient; their individual lives matter to them. Sentience is no longer up for debate; research has shown that animals experience pleasure, pain, suffering, and other conscious mental states. Like us, they form familial and social bonds. To deny animal sentience today is a mark of ignorance—or fear. To admit animal sentience is to admit we owe them moral consideration–that gunning them down and slaughtering them one at a time or by the billions for food is wrong. We fear that we might have to give something—or give something up–a mindless, cruel tradition here, a scrap of entitlement there, some measure of supremacy. Homo sapiens today, refusing to believe that our species is one strand in the web of life and not its master, are not unlike the 17th Century Catholic Church, refusing to believe the earth wasn’t the center of the solar system. It was heresy to claim otherwise despite the evidence.

Our burgers, wings, ribs, eggs, and milk come from animals who suffered physically and mentally from birth until their brutal, slaughterhouse death. When we eat the products of industrial factory farms, we eat the end product of violence as surely as if we had tortured—then gunned down—animals ourselves. How can we have an honest discussion about our propensity for violence as a country and a species without addressing the violence that permeates our lives—that which we literally consume? In agricultural states where factory farms are located, a move is afoot to criminalize (via “ag gag” laws) seeking a job with intent to film, undercover, the egregious suffering and shocking brutality that routinely occurs in these hellholes. What do you suppose they don’t want consumers to see?

Gopher? Ground squirrel? Click image

None of this suggests that there’s no difference between children and gophers, or that gunning down animals—not even by the hundreds—leads to gunning down kids. There’s no correlation between eating a thinking, feeling being who was killed for us by proxy and becoming trigger-pulling mass murderers ourselves. There is, however, a well-established link (here and here) between animal abuse and interpersonal violence that must inform the broader discussion of how our entrenched violence against other animals affects human society.

This is a difficult, uncomfortable topic. Human hegemony—domination exercised without compassion and justice—and government and industry have set us up. We’ve been conned (only to become complicit) into accepting as normal violence against all species but our own, making it acceptable to freely and publicly admit to violently gunning down countless sentient beings even in a discussion about guns and violence.

Animals, like children, can’t wield voices or laws in their own defense. It falls to others of us to defend the powerless of our own and all species. This is no time for easy copouts like falling back on tradition or shooting the messenger; this is a time for honesty about institutionalized violence against animals and how it plays out in our shared life as Americans and humans. Such honesty is long missing from our collective moral radar.

Bless the beasts and the children
For in this world they have no voice
They have no choice…
Light their way when the darkness surrounds them
And give them love, let it shine all around them
Bless the beasts and the children
Give them shelter from the storm…
The Carpenters

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