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Is Sugar Vegan?


Is sugar vegan? Wait, sugar? Really? Is there
anything that we don’t try shove animal parts in? Is nothing sacred anymore? Seriously. Hi it’s Emily from bite size vegan and welcome
to another vegan nugget. The question of sugar’s veganness is one that I have received many-a-time,
especially recently. This concern usually comes from the already vegan-conscious, as
what non-vegan is checking into the potential animal ingredients in seemingly un-animally
things, really? Well the answer to this question is more complicated
than a simple yes or no as it depends on a number of factors. One of these is how you
define the term “vegan.” if you are speaking purely from a food ingredient standpoint then
yes sugar is vegan. It does not contain animal products. However, if you’re coming
from a process perspective, then most commercial cane sugar is not vegan. That leads us to the second factor of determining
the veganness of sugar. And that is the sugar’s source. There are two sources of commercial
sugar: sugar cane and sugar beets. Beet sugar is always vegan but cane sugar is sometimes
filtered through a substance called bone char. And just what is bone char? Well it’s literally
the charred bones of animals, cows in the case of the sugar industry. According to Jeffrey
Robinson, technical director of American sugar refining, to create bone char, bones are sun-dried
and incinerated for 12 hours at more than 700 degrees Celsius. During the burning process,
all organic matter that may be present—including viruses, bacteria, and protein—is destroyed,
leaving only an inert granular substance that is 10 percent elemental carbon and 90 percent
calcium hydroxyapatite. So why the heck are we using the charred bones
of cows on our sugar? Well for some reason, we like our sugar to be white and sugar naturally
has a brown tint to it. So, many decades ago we clever humans devised a way to use the
charred bones of animals to take the color out of our sugar. Bone char acts like a crude
filter and is most often used first in cane sugar refining. It is what’s called a ‘fixed
bed adsorption’ filter and is the most efficient filter for removing colorants, most frequently
amino acids, carboxylic acids, phenols, and ash. The sugar then passes through other filters
during the refining process, like activated charcoal, or an ion exchange system. So just how much cow is in your sugar? Well
according to Paul Caulkins, the corporate quality assurance manager of imperial/savannah
foods, very little bone char can be obtained from a single cow “since only the dense bones
of the animal, such as the pelvic bones, can be used.” in fact, he says the average 1,500
pound cow will produce only 9 pounds of bone char. With addition figures from Caulkins,
Jeanne Yacoubou, the research director at the vegetarian resource group ran some figures
and concluded that the bones of almost 7,800 cattle are needed to produce the bone char
for one commercial sugar filter. You can read through her calculations in her full article,
which I’ve linked to in the blog post for this video, which you can find in the video
description below along with other further resources on this topic. Now as a quick note, it’s important to also
acknowledge the environmental impact of the sugar cane industry. While I’m not going to go into an
extensive breakdown, as that is another video entirely, the sugar cane industry, like any
agricultural commodity, has led to water pollution from fertilizers and effluents, industrial
waste, soil erosion and degradation, habitat loss, and the death of countless marine species.
Some of the most bio diverse regions on the planet have been cleared for sugarcane production,
particularly the threatened tropical ecosystems near the equator. A 2004 report by World Wildlife
Fund, shows that sugar may be responsible for more biodiversity loss than any other
crop. I’ve included a link to this full report and one from the food and agriculture
organization of the united nations in the blog post for this video, again linked in
the video description below. So should vegans avoid sugar at all costs?
Well honestly this depends on you. Personally, I believe that we should always be fully educated
and aware of where our food comes from and how it is made, particularly when it is produced
at the expense of others’ lives. However, I would shy away from focusing on the bone
char issue too intensely and instead place my energy towards avoiding and eradicating
the main animal products industry. When we are no longer slaughtering 150 billion
sentient beings every year for our consumption, we won’t be so pressed to find new and different
ways to profitably use their byproducts. This is also my response for products that while
vegan ingredient-wise will state they were produced in a facility that processes milk, eggs or some other animal product. The solution isn’t necessarily boycotting these potential cross-contaminations but stopping
the dairy, egg and meat industries as a whole. If we aren’t senselessly killing animals
and stealing their secretions, we won’t have to worry so much about it getting in our food. In their extensive FAQ section, the nonprofit
Vegan Outreach highlights the importance this focus has on creating new vegans stating,
“we recommend that vegans concentrate their attention on the most obvious animal ingredients
and the true meaning of veganism. In our experience, concentrating on processing or on trace ingredients
can make a vegan diet appear exceedingly difficult and dissuade people from adopting it.” Now of course this doesn’t meant that we avoid
confronting every aspect of the animal products industry and our continued exploitation of
other beings, nor that we simply don’t make any effort to eliminate products that aren’t
produced with compassion. I’m simply saying that our focus should be where we can make
the greatest impact. Luckily there are numerous sugar options that
are 100% vegan. As I stated earlier, any beet sugar is always bone char free as beet sugar
requires as less extensive filtering process that never includes bone char. Unfortunately
most mainstream sugar industries will source part of their sugar from beets and part of their sugar from
cane. However, all certified organic sugars do not utiize bone char, nor do natural raw sugars like
Turbinado sugar such as sugar in the raw. It’s important however to make the distinction that brown sugar is not the same as natural sugar. Brown sugar is simply refined white sugar with simply molassas added for colour and flavour. There are also sugar companies that on the
whole do not use bone char. And of course organic sugars are going to be using a more
sustainable method of agriculture not involving pesticides. Please refer to the blog post
for this video linked in the description below for a list of bone char free brands and other
resources. Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you avoid
bone char derived sugar? Or is this not even something on your radar? Let me know in
the comments! Give this video the thumbs up if you liked it and please do share it around to spread this education. To support education educational messages like this and to get access to behind the scenes action of Bite Size Vegan Join us at the Nugget Army over on Patreon and click on that logo or on the link in the description below. If you’re new here, please be sure to click on that big red subscribe button down there for more awesome vegan content every Monday Wednesday and some Fridays. I’d love to have you as a subscriber . Now, go live vegan , hit your sweet tooth ethically and I’ll see you soon. Pour some sugar on me. But only if it’s vegan. Subtitles by the Amara.org community

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