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Once upon a time, a vegetarian looking for a quick shop-bought meal had a choice between bean burgers and bean sausages. Now there are dozens of brands specialising in animal-friendly, ethical vegetarian foods – from meat-free pâtés to non-dairy cheese. Potential buyers of these products should be aware that some of the more prominent brands are owned by much larger manufacturers, who may or may not share their subsidiaries’ commitment to the cause.
Even to those who do not follow a vegetarian diet, the number of hidden animal products in everyday foods might come as a surprise. For example, gelatine, which is derived from animal skins and bones, can be found as a gelling agent in sweets, margarine, yoghurt, medicine capsules and jelly. It also appears in some wines and is a key ingredient in photographic film. Animal fats may be used to fry crisps or chips, and in the baking of biscuits and bread, while many E numbers (such as cochineal, E120) are of animal or even insect origin.
While it is illegal for a company to deliberately mislead people into believing a product is vegetarian, there is currently no legal definition either in the UK or EU of what the term means when it is used on packaging. The ‘suitable for vegetarians’ logo is a ‘voluntary claim’, which means that there is no regulation to protect it. The National Consumer Council (www.ncc.org.uk) has found that this provoked significant concerns amongst the general public, and has called for consistent, legal definitions of ‘vegetarian’ and other terms to be enforced.
The seedling symbol
Products displaying the Vegetarian Society’s seedling symbol are guaranteed to be free from animal ingredients. The Society carries out independent inspections of all its approved brands, to ensure they meet a strict set of criteria. These state that the product must be free from animal flesh or any related ingredients derived from animal slaughter, free from genetically modified organisms and free from cruelty (i.e. not tested on animals). Only free range eggs can be used in Vegetarian Society approved foods, and thorough cleaning of factory equipment must be carried out to ensure there is no contamination of the production line by animal ingredients.
The Vegetarian Society’s website (www.vegsoc.org) carries a searchable database of all approved brands.
Some vegetarians’ lifestyle choice is in part a conscious decision to distance themselves from the fast-food culture that dominates most mainstream supermarkets. Inevitably, the big sellers have begun to catch on, marketing new varieties of meat-free ready meal to the more healthconscious shopper.
While some are undoubtedly cashing in on a well-meaning but time-poor veggie community, others are producing genuinely innovative vegetarian and vegan products.
One such company is VBites (previously Redwood Wholefoods) www.vbitesfoods.com , the people behind the Cheatin’ meats range. As well as meat-free ‘meats’, VBites also sells dairy-free cheeses and is at the forefront of researching new vegetarian lines.
Another company producing healthy and tasty vegetarian foods is Goodlife Foods (www.goodlife.co.uk) which offers a range of meat-free burgers, sausages, grills and nut cutlets. Both companies are accredited by The Ethical Company Organisation.
What many of the companies surveyed here show is that vegetarian alternatives are becoming valuable in their own right; they are no longer just substitutes for meat, but rounded, nutritionally complete foods based on strong vegetarian traditions from countries as far apart as Greece and India.
Ethical Vegetarian Rankings Detailed Table
Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.
We have created ethical rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Cheatin’, Vegi-Deli, Create a Goodlife, Biona, GranoVita, Amy’s, Forest Foods, Fry’s, Linda McCartney, Realeat, Viana, Granose, Cauldron Foods, Dalepak Meat Free, Quorn, Tivall
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