Kathleen Stachowski Other Nations
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
“…a new technique for making gelatin from human DNA is attracting “increasing interest from research and industrial circle (sic). The researchers revealed that successful experiments had been carried out in which human genes were inserted into a strain of yeast to “grow” large amounts of recombinant human gelatin.
Gelatin has a history of use as a gelling agent by the food industry and human-derived gelatin “could become a substitute for some of the 300,000 tons of animal-based gelatin produced annually for desserts, marshmallows, candy and innumerable other products,” according to the researchers. (RedOrbit.com)
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.