Vegan Wonder

Unmasking the Truth: Exposing Misleading Vegan Food Labels

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who have recently hopped on the plant-based bandwagon, welcome to the club! As a society, we’re increasingly demanding ethical and sustainable food choices. This trend has given rise to a gold rush of new vegan products, from plant-based meat alternatives to vegan cheese and ice cream.

But here’s the thing: not all vegan food is created equal. And, unfortunately, not all vegan food labels are truthful.

Decoding Vegan Food Labels

As a savvy consumer, you want to ensure that the food you’re putting in your body is not only vegan (i.e., free of animal products), but also ethical and healthy. That’s where food labels come in.

Unfortunately, food labels can be misleading—even deceptive. Here are some common phrases you might come across on vegan food products and what they really mean:

  • 100% Vegan: Seems pretty straightforward, right? Unfortunately, some companies use this phrase to market products that are already inherently vegan, such as fruit or non-dairy ice cream.
  • Cruelty-Free: This term is often used interchangeably with vegan, but it’s not always accurate. Cosmetics and personal care products can be labeled cruelty-free even if they contain animal-derived ingredients. Food products, on the other hand, should be 100% vegan if they’re also labeled cruelty-free.
  • Organic, Natural: These terms are often used to imply that a product is healthier. However, they have nothing to do with whether or not a product contains animal products. And while organic products are free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, natural products can still contain animal-derived ingredients.

The key to understanding vegan food labels is to look beyond the buzzwords and examine the ingredients list. Here are some ingredients that you might not realize are derived from animals:

  • Casein and whey: These are the proteins found in milk. They’re often used in plant-based meat alternatives and vegan cheese to mimic the texture of dairy products.
  • Beeswax: This is a wax that’s produced by bees. It’s often used in food products as a coating or to make candies. It can also be found in some cosmetics and personal care products.
  • Honey: While bees do produce this sweet liquid for their hive, it’s not an ethical vegan option. That’s because harvesting honey involves killing the queen bee and disrupting the hive.

Greenwashing and Vegan Washing

In addition to outright lies, there are other deceptive marketing tactics that companies use to mislead consumers. One of the most common is greenwashing, which refers to when a company makes false or exaggerated claims about a product being environmentally friendly.

Plant-based products can be just as environmentally destructive as animal products, especially if they’re grown with the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. But companies will often use green language to try to sway eco-conscious consumers.

Similarly, there’s a trend of vegan washing, which refers to companies using the vegan label to distract from other unethical practices. For example, a company might use sweatshop labor to produce vegan meat alternatives, or source their ingredients from areas with rampant deforestation.

Navigating the Vegan Landscape

If you want to ensure that the food you’re buying is not only vegan, but also ethical and sustainable, you need to be a savvy consumer. Here are some tips to help you navigate the vegan landscape:

  1. Learn about vegan certification: There are several third-party organizations that certify products as vegan. These include the Vegan Society in the UK, The Vegan Foundation in the US, and Cert Vegan. When you see the logo of one of these organizations on a product, you can trust that it’s vegan and has been independently verified.
  2. Look for reliable certifications: Not all vegan certifications are created equal. The Vegan Society and The Vegan Foundation are both well-established and reputable. Cert Vegan is a newer organization, but it’s backed by The Vegan Foundation and has a rigorous certification process.
  3. Read the ingredients list carefully: As we mentioned earlier, some ingredients can be surprising sources of animal products. If you see an ingredient on this list, do some research to find out where it comes from.
  4. Be wary of vague claims: If a product is making sweeping claims about being eco-friendly or sustainable, do some research to back it up. Look for third-party certifications and check out the company’s website and social media for more information.

The vegan industry is still largely unregulated, which means that companies can get away with a lot of deceptive marketing. As a consumer, it’s up to you to be a detective and do your due diligence.

Empowering Conscious Consumption

The good news is that there are plenty of companies out there that are doing veganism right. They source their ingredients ethically, pay their workers a living wage, and have transparent supply chains. Supporting these companies is good for animals, good for the planet, and good for your health.

So the next time you’re at the grocery store, take a close look at those food labels. Read the ingredients list. Look for a reputable vegan certification. And remember that the most ethical consumer is an informed consumer.


Being vegan is about more than just what you eat. It’s about reducing suffering and making the world a better place for all beings. So let’s do it right.