I already knew that musk was derived from animals — secreted by pressing the glands of male musk deer — and so I stopped using it as a perfume long, long ago. Not surprisingly, in the process of creating this cruel product, the animals are killed (musk deer are now, not surprisingly, considered endangered — way to go, humans). Their entire glands are cut out and dried for the unnecessary product. Horrifying.
Anyway, I knew that. But what I didn’t know is that pepsin is an enzyme that breaks down proteins as part of the digestive process, and is one of the constituents of rennet (a product obtained from the stomach of dead cows). You get pepsin from the mucous membranes of pig stomachs, and it is frequently found in skin and hair conditioner, or as a nutritional supplement. (Where do they come up with this shit?) This is, of course, yet another reason to patronize vegan stores; takes the guess-work out of it.
So what suddenly makes me such a “Veganissimo” (a newly coined term meaning someone who is “vegan to the highest standard”)? Simple. I am a proud owner of the forthcoming book, Veganissimo A to Z: A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying and Avoiding Ingredients of Animal Origin in Everyday Products. Admittedly, I had this book on my shelf for a while before opening it. It was sent to me in the midst of our cross-country move back to NYC, so things were a bit harried. And besides, I’m already a long-time vegan. I shop ethically and consciously, I know what cruelty-free brands are my go-tos, and I’m very well aware that wool is produced in a hideous, inhumane way, no matter what. When it comes to veganism, I know my stuff. So why, when I saw the book there in the corner of my room, in a smart and sophisticated orange and white cover, did I decide to flip through it — only to have my casual flipping take up the better part of a couple hours?
The thing is, this book is fascinating. It details, better than any other book I’ve seen on the subject, over 2,500 products that are found in everyday items, from cosmetics, to household goods, to pharmaceuticals, to food, to clothing. The introduction, written by authors Reuben Proctor and Lars Thomsen, passionately and clearly states:
Animal products are usually made behind closed doors. We are not meant to look behind the scenes, because then we would see what most people still successfully block out: that these products are made from sentient beings, bred, held captive, killed and exploited millionfold by us humans, as if they were lifeless automatons. We want this book to help people look behind the closed doors and recognize where our commodities come from and at whose expense they are made.
In order to “reduce your animal footprint,” which is the goal of Proctor and Thomsen, they spell out (literally) what products are plant-based, which are synthetic, mineral, microbiological, and animal. It gets broken down from there, too; the easy-to-read key includes dark and light versions of the icons, demonstrating if the product is “always or often animal” versus “sometimes or rarely animal,” and so on. The descriptions of each product explain how the products are derived, and what they are most commonly used for. It is, needless to say, shocking — even for a long-time vegan and animal activist like me — to see the vast amount of products that are rooted in oppression.
Yet there’s hope here too. Since voting with our dollars is indeed the easiest way we can each directly impact suppliers, I see Veganissimo A to Z as a way to further arm each of us with the knowledge we need to live our lives in harmony with our ethical beliefs. And for the new vegan, or heck, even the not-yet-vegan who is well on their path and calls themselves an “animal lover,” this book could be a real eye-opener, and an accessible way to begin to eliminate cruelty from their lifestyle for good.
Veganissimo A to Z: A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying and Avoiding Ingredients of Animal Origin in Everyday Products [The Experiment, 2013], by Reuben Proctor and Lars Thomsen, is available through pre-order via Amazon ($11.35), and will be released on February 5, 2013.