December 30, 2016

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When you hear “Milk’s Favorite Cookie”, you probably think of Oreos, and they also used to be my favorite cookie. You would never catch me eating an Oreo cookie now though. Oreos have made their way onto multiple accidentally vegan food lists, but should vegans eat Oreos?

Nabisco has stated that Oreos are not vegan because they have milk as a cross-contact.

Does cross-contact make something not vegan?

PETA has the following statement on their website:

Some packaged foods have a long list of ingredients. The farther an ingredient is down the list, the less of that ingredient is in the food. People who have made the compassionate decision to stop eating animal flesh, eggs, and dairy products may wonder if they need to read every ingredient to check for tiny amounts of obscure animal products. Our general advice is not to worry too much about doing this. The goal of sticking to a vegetarian or vegan diet is to help animals and reduce suffering; this is done by choosing a bean burrito or a veggie burger over chicken flesh, or choosing tofu scramble over eggs, not by refusing to eat an otherwise vegan food because it has 0.001 grams of monoglycerides that may possibly be animal-derived.

I agree with PETA on this. These labels are a way for the company to protect themselves if someone with a milk allergy decides to eat their product. I do not avoid these products, so that is not why I won’t eat an Oreo cookie.

There are three primary reasons why a person becomes a vegan: for their health, for the environment, and for the animals. I know someone out there probably has a different reason than the ones previously mentioned, but these are the most common reasons that I hear. Personally, I resonate with all three of these reasons. Each of these reasons has helped me on my path towards veganism in a different way.

Why Vegans Shouldn’t Eat Oreos For Health

This reason is probably the most obvious. Just take a look at this ingredient list:

Oreos use quite a few genetically engineered ingredients, and the top offender is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is a common ingredient found in most processed foods today. Milling corn into cornstarch makes HFCS, and then the cornstarch is processed to make glucose syrup. Glucose syrup is an artificial sweetener that has fast replaced natural sugar. This is because it blends well with all kinds of foods. It is just as sweet as regular sugar, does not spoil fast, and is less costly than other sweeteners because of the government subsidies for corn. Regular consumption of HFCS can cause weight gain. The body metabolizes regular sugar, but this is not the same with HFCS. Fructose converts to fat in the body more quickly than regular sugar and inhibits the production of leptin. Leptin is the satiety-inducing hormone.

The average American consumes about 60 pounds of HFCS per person per year. And we wonder why obesity rates have more than tripled and diabetes incidence has increased more than sevenfold? I’m not saying that this is only due to HFCS, but it is definitely a huge cause in the downturn of health. If you are someone who cares about their health like I do, then you probably don’t want to put such a destructive ingredient into your body.

Edit: Since writing this post, I have discovered that Oreos in many countries outside of the United States do no contain HFCS. Make sure to read labels when you are traveling. 

Why Vegans Shouldn’t Eat Oreos For The Environment

The reason that Oreos have a negative impact on the environment is that they contain palm oil. Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil. The African palm tree grows the palm fruit that becomes palm oil. Africa, Asia, North America, and South America all grow palm oil, but Indonesia and Malaysia produce and export 85% of all palm oil. Unfortunately, they don’t use sustainable measures most of the time. Large areas of tropical forests and other ecosystems with high conservation value have been cleared to make room for vast palm oil plantations. This causes negative impacts such as soil erosion, air pollution, soil and water pollution, and climate change. Up to 300 football fields of forest are cleared every hour to make room for palm plantations, and this number is expected to grow.

It is estimated that 50% of packaged items in the grocery store now contain palm oil. Palm oil is such a hot commodity because it is not only technically useful but also economically beneficial. Palm oil has a high melting point. Because it is semi-solid at room temperature, it has a variety of uses. Animal fats also have this quality, but they are significantly more expensive to produce. Palm oil is so cheap to produce because both the fleshy outer part and the inner stone provide usable oil.

If you are someone that went vegan because of environmental reasons then you probably want to avoid palm oil at all costs. Palm oil is one of the most environmentally destructive products on this planet.

Why Vegans Shouldn’t Eat Oreos For The Animals

This reason is least obvious out of all three. There aren’t any animal products directly in Oreos, so how are Oreos harming the animals? The answer comes down to the previously mentioned ingredient: palm oil.

In this photograph taken on July 28, 2013, a carcass of an endangered Sumatran elephant is seen in a palm oil plantation in Blang Tualang village in Aceh province, Sumatra. Indonesian authorities on July 29 were investigating the incident after another elephant was found dead two weeks ago in another district, as rampant expansion of palm oil, paper plantations, and mines, has destroyed nearly 70 percent of the Sumatran elephant’s forest habitat over 25 years, conservationist says. AFP PHOTO / SUTANTA ADITYA (Photo credit should read SUTANTA ADITYA/AFP/Getty Images)

One hundred years ago, there were an estimated 230,000 orangutans that roamed the earth. In the wild there are fewer than 50,000 left today. These orangutans are living exclusively on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, and these islands happen to be home the rapidly growing and controversial palm oil industry.

The palm oil industry has resulted in tens of thousands of wild orangutans being killing, maimed, or orphaned over the past 20 years. In 2006 alone, an estimated 1,500 orangutans were clubbed to death after wandering onto palm oil plantations, and thousands more have died due to widespread deforestation caused by the cultivation of palm oil.

Palm oil has also had a negative impact on the Sumatran tiger population. It is estimated that the Sumatran tiger will be extinct in less than three years if nothing is done to protect their habitat.

This is an excellent video if you want to learn more about the palm oil industry in Indonesia, and how it affects orangutans.

What You Can Do To Help

No matter which one of these reasons is the main reason why you decided to go vegan, avoiding Oreos will benefit your health, the environment, and the animals. The best way to vote for what you want in this world is with your dollar. You can preach health, environmental sustainability, and animals rights all day long, but if you continue to purchase products that go against what you believ then you are still supporting it. If you cannot possibly live without that creme-filled chocolate cookie, then try this organic version instead (I have not tried these before).

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About the author 

The Vegan Abroad

Hi, I'm Haley! I hope this blog will inspire, encourage, and guide you on how to travel the world as a vegan.

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