So, it’s time to buy a gift for a friend who is vegan and you’re not sure where to start. You could try wandering around the shopping centre to find what you need however quite often the retail assistants don’t know if their products are vegan friendly. Leaving frustrated and empty-handed can be a common outcome in this scenario!
Look for the materials or ingredients in the product, the type of packaging, and whether the company that makes the product tests it on animals or has a third party conduct the animal testing. In China, products were required to be tested on animals before they can be sold in stores, so if a product was sold in China it is usually a no-no.
It is all well and good to know the above however actually finding out this information when you are browsing at the mall can be quite a challenge. You may find yourself greeted with blank stares when you ask the retail assistant “Is this vegan friendly?” So we have provided some information to make your vegan gift buying more successful and fun!.
General tips to look for when buying a vegan gift
The most obvious and easy answer is to buy your gift online from a 100% vegan business. The vegan community is becoming quite popular and vast. Demand for vegan products is on the rise, with Australia being one of the fastest growing vegan markets, behind only the UK and USA. This means more vegan products are becoming available and finding them online will give you many more options, with websites also providing a history of the business and their ethics around veganism.
You will often find a range of reasons for why a business is vegan friendly including animal welfare concerns, as well as environmental sustainability and health benefits. Checking the ‘About Us’ page will often explain the reasons behind the vegan gifts. Your veggie friend may already be aware of some of the bigger vegan brands (such Urban Originals or Thug Kitchen) so as soon as they see something from a vegan business it automatically gives the added gift of thought in that they know you did your research in choosing their gift!.
The main downside to buying online is waiting for your goods to be delivered, and if you are anything like me quite often you find yourself racing around in a flap at the last minute trying to organise your present for that special occasion that is now only a day or 2 away.
So if you need to hit the shops to get a gift in your hands fast, it’s still best to do a quick search of vegan gifts, or shops that may sell vegan products in your area. Also, check the “Where to buy” section of the big brands online as you might be pleasantly surprised to find a local store you can zip down to.
Materials and ingredients to avoid
In regards to materials and ingredients it can get a little tricky when buying from a non-vegan store. Animal products are used all over the place, and in areas that you may never have thought of. Take shoes, for example, they may be made using cotton and not leather which is easy to determine, however the glue used in shoes often contains animal products. Brands like Etiko however, are vegan and make amazing hi-tops and lowcuts which set the bar in ethical, vegan sneakers!
Apart from leather, vegans also avoid products such as:
- Wool and lanolin (lanolin is oil from a sheep’s skin, often found in beauty products)
- Silk (which comes from silkworms and spiders)
- Bee products such as beeswax (often found in candles), propolis and royal jelly (both found in cosmetics and beauty products)
- Shellac – which you may have heard of in regards to getting your nails done at the salon. Shellac actually comes from the excrement of the ‘Lac’ bug which is found in India and Thailand. Shellac is also found in food items such as jellybeans.... delicious bug excrement!
- Cochineal, also known as Carmine - which is a colouring used in foods. Take that lovely deep red colour in red frog lollies for instance, that you enjoyed as a child.... it comes from dried, crushed bugs.
- Gelatin – which is all the leftover bits of meat (from beef and pork usually) such as bones and cartilage that are all boiled together into a clear, flavourless ingredient regularly used in products such as lollies. So those delicious, organic lollipops that you bought from the health food store may still contain the skin and bones from animals.
- Isinglass (a type of gelatin) – this one seems to surprise people the most, as it is used in making beer and wine, and is derived from fish bladders. Therefore most wine (and beer), even though they primarily made from fruit, are not usually vegan.
This is just barely scraping the surface of the types of animal products to look out for in common store bought items. If you were thinking of popping down to the local shop to buy your vegan friend a big old bag of lollies and a bottle of wine you may need to rethink how to go about that. However, there are quite a lot of everyday products at the store that are vegan friendly.
What to look for when buying vegan chocolates and lollies
Obviously dairy and egg is out of the question, which can quickly reduce your choices however quite a lot of dark chocolate is vegan friendly such as the Whittakers Ghana Peppermint and Lindt Excellence 70%.
There’s a bunch of resources these days that can help you find supermarket items that are vegan. Often Facebook pages or groups will tell you the ‘accidentally vegan’ products that can be bought from your local Coles or Woolies (like Skittles and Sour Patch... hello!).
If apps are more your style, there are a few scanning apps for both android and apple that you can download to scan barcodes and give you an instant green light.
A good one that I’ve used is the Fussy Vegan Scanner. It costs about $6 but is worth its weight in gold.
What to look for when buying vegan alcohol
The bottle shop attendants that I have encountered so far have actually been great in knowing what wines are vegan. So don’t be afraid to ask them! Some bottles even have a sign hanging off the bottleneck saying they are vegan, woo! No more picking up 50 different bottles to find the ingredients list or vegan friendly label - which can turn the 10 minute bottle-o visit into an hour long label reading expedition.
If you come prepared, there are a few websites you can search on the go to find out if the bottle in your hands is suitable. A popular one being Barnivore.
What to look for when buying vegan cosmetics
When it comes to buying beauty products it is not just the ingredients that you need to check. There is often misleading information around whether the product is tested on animals. China is usually brought up when buying vegan cosmetics and beauty products.
Up until very recently, businesses were required by law to conduct animal testing on their cosmetics in order for them to be sold in China. This testing is not carried out by the business itself, but by a third party.
Testing may also be carried out by businesses in their supply chain, or a parent company. These products may still be labelled ‘Cruelty free’ and ‘Not tested on animals’ as the actual maker of the final product has not carried out the testing. Very misleading for consumers and many of them do it deliberately to cause confusion!
Vegan beauty groups on Facebook are very helpful. You can simply ask “Is *insert item of interest* vegan?” You will usually get a quick answer!
Although it can be often confusing, we are lucky to be living in a time where so many new vegan friendly items are popping up and more and more people are learning about the cruelty free lifestyle and are willing to share their knowledge with others.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my ‘What do I look for when buying a vegan friendly gift’ guide, if you’d like to know more about anything in this article, you can reach me via my facebook page right here.