Veganism & Processed Sugar

Here’s the issue: Some processed sugar is filtered with charred bone.

Does that mean that vegans must avoid all processed sugar?  Some say yes, some say not necessarily.  I believe that is a decision that each of us must make individually.  I know vegans who do avoid all processed sugar since you never know for sure if it was filtered with bone char or not, and they have my utmost respect.   I personally draw the line at purchasing processed sugar for baking needs, but I still eat prepared food items that may contain sugar.  Given the option, I would choose items that do not contain processed sugar.  Right now, it is impossible to live a completely vegan lifestyle in our society.  It comes down to this – where do you choose to not be vegan?  If you take pictures or drive a car, (gelatin in film and tires) I don’t think that makes you a “bad” vegan.  If your goal is to help animals, it is up to you to find the best way for you to do that.

For more on this, please read the essay, “On Being Vegan” from Vegan Outreach.

From the Vegan Action Website:

I’ve heard that sugar isn’t vegan. Is that true?

We recently contacted C & H Sugar Company, which is one of the world’s largest manufacturers. This was their response, dated February 25, 1999:

Thank you for taking the time to contact C & H Sugar regarding our use of carbonized bone charcoal. There are no animal products in the sugar itself, which is certified kosher. Bone char is made from cattle bones only, never from those of other animals. The function of the bone char is to remove impurities from raw sugar.

The bones used are not the byproducts of the meat packing industries, but are from cattle that have died naturally, in places like India, Pakistan and Nigeria. The principal use for such bone material is for gelatin production, and charcoal manufacture is a by-product of this industry. In Scotland, they are burned in an enclosed atmosphere, at 1200º centigrade, to create activated charcoal. This bone charcoal is used to remove color, impurities, and certain naturally occurring minerals that could result in cloudiness when the sugar is dissolved. The bone char is not “in” the sugar, but is used only as a filter, similar to a coffee filter. Its use is a very common practice in sugar refining, and is currently the best available. Vegetable charcoal does not remove ash, so sugar produced using this type of carbon as an alternative is likely to be of somewhat lower quality. C&H Sugar is looking for alternatives. If a consumer finds the use of this bone charcoal objectionable, an alternative would be a specialty sugar. C&H Hawaiian Washed Raw is processed in the Hawaiian Islands, where lime (calcium carbonate) is used a s a clarifying agent, rather than carbonized bone char. It is then transported to our Mainland refinery, where it is dried and packaged. It should be available in markets that carry C&H Sugar.

Regarding the nutritional value of C&H Sugar…our pure cane sugar is 100% sucrose; it is pure carbohydrate…no fat, no cholesterol. We do not add any “fillers” to our granulated or any of our other sugar products, and the sugar is not bleached. For your general information, like all other carbohydrates, sugar contains 4 calories per gram, and one teaspoon contains 15 calories. We are especially proud of our brown sugar, as we do not need to add flavoring or coloring; the molasses flavor is derived naturally from cane, through crystallization.

As you can see, this particular company uses animal products in the processing, so it is not considered to (be) vegan.

There are several alternatives to using processed sugar. They include raw, sometimes called turbinado, sugar, beet sugar, succanat, date sugar, fructose, barley malt, rice syrup, corn syrup, molasses, and maple syrup. Also, any unprocessed cane sugar would be vegan.

The following are a couple of opinions on the issue of vegan purity from the Vegan Outreach website.

Some people feel that veganism should be an all or nothing proposition. But this is a somewhat unrealistic attitude. So don’t pressure yourself to rid your life of every trace animal by-product, because it does not help animals in any major way to do so. Our limited time and energy are better spent persuading people not to eat the legs of chickens or drink a glass of cow’s milk. As people cut out the primary products that contribute to animal suffering, the meat/dairy/egg industries will fade and by-products will disappear. Veganism is not about personal purity or removing oneself from today’s society, but rather about applying a sense of compassion and justice to our (often unseen) relationships with animals.

The vegan lifestyle is an on-going progression. So go at your own pace – all steps towards veganism are positive.

Jack Norris
Being vegan to me means one thing: an attempt to reduce the intense suffering of non-human animals. To me, saying “I’m vegan” is synonymous with saying, “I have decided to live a lifestyle that does not support animal exploitation.”

The great majority of animal suffering in the U.S. is a direct result of people buying animal products for food. I think it is important that vegans make the meaning of the word “vegan” to focus on avoiding the products that obviously/reasonably lead to animal suffering so that people will understand that it is not about personal purity but rather reducing suffering. If we could eliminate the animal agriculture industry, billions of beings would be spared miserable lives of suffering, pain, and slaughter.

Fred Fishman
When the term “Vegan” was coined, times were different, and animal products weren’t in almost everything. You could eliminate all animal products and still live a relatively normal life. Nowadays you’d have to eliminate the use of phones, books, computers, cars, bicycles, planes etc (all of which contain some elements of animal products) to be “vegan” by the original definition. So, since I’m assuming you’re not willing to do that, you’ll have to define your own version of veganism, and live your life accordingly.