Monday, May 26, 2008

Rant: Religion and the food industry: There's what in my yoghurt?

Recently I hit the grocery store needing a mid-afternoon something to fill the hole. I don't know what it is about me, but I eat all the damn time. Honestly, if I am not the original argument for "size is genetic" I don't know who is--like I say I eat all the time, and I (like my parents, who eat differently to me) am short and on the stocky edge of normal. I like to eat protein in the afternoon, because it fills the hole and keeps me out of the candy jar at work (because my already-awful teeth need me eating that stuff like I need another chronic illness). I was also in the mood for something sweet, so I checked out the mousse type selections in the yoghurt fridge. I read the ingredient list, and discovered to my horror, that Nestle mousses include halal gelatine.

Now, giving Nestle the benefit of the doubt, I contacted them to enquire whether the gelatine was from animal sources, and indeed it is--beef gelatine. After this, The Partner conducted a survey of all the products in that fridge--and despite mostly being yoghurt, many of them had gelatine in them. Upon my understanding of all this, I have investigated gelatine as an ingredient, and will not be ingesting anything that contains it in the future.

There are two larger issues at play, here, though. First of all, what the fuck are all these companies doing putting an animal product in yoghurt in the first place? Yoghurt is supposed to be a healthful, vegetarin food, and should be primarily dairy. Bulking these foods out with gelatine is at best making the foods less healthful, and at worst sneaking meat into what should be vegetarian products. I knew the food companies weren't above dirty tricks, but I am significantly unimpressed that yoghurt isn't yoghurt anymore.

The second issue is the use of halal gelatine. I am a firm supporter of religious tolerance. I support everyone's right to live their spiritual life in any way they choose. I do not, however, support any kind of cruelty done in the name of religion or culture, to humans or animals. I do not support customary-rights whaling, I do not support bullfighting as a protected cultural practice, and I do not support halal or kosher slaughter, which I (and the British Veterinary Association) believe to be cruel.

Now, yes, arguably any slaughter is cruel (and it certainly seems especially unnecessary to thicken yoghurt which should be thickened by straining and no other method), but as someone who would truly struggle to meet their nutritional needs without meat, I would at least like my meat products to come to me with as little attached cruelty as possible. I buy free range eggs and chicken, and I try to stick to fish products and (even better) vegetarian options as much as possible (but it won't always be possible). And I believe putting animal-based halal gelatine into anything consumed by a population that would almost certainly deem the method of slaughter cruel is unethical. Certainly, it makes it easier for the food giants--they do not have to deal in multiple suppliers, and their food is suitable for a larger market; but easy and ethical only rarely go hand in hand, and in this case they don't. The food suppliers ought to label more clearly that their food is not suitable for vegetarians, and not suitable for those who support what research shows to be humane slaughter.

As for me? I'm now sticking to Tamar Valley yoghurt. Sure, it costs me $8 for a six pack, but it tastes amazing, doesn't have gelatine of any stripe in it, and leaves me feeling fuller (perhaps because it isn't bulking out the product with gelatine) than any other kind of yoghurt. And as for gelatine? It's off my list.

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