23 May 2022  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

Recently I’ve been hearing in vegan online groups that anything with cane sugar isn’t vegetarian because sugar is processed with bone char. Is this something I should be concerned about?

Signed, Vegan with a Sweet Tooth

Dear Sweet Tooth:

Though Aunty isn’t vegan, she understands concerns about what’s in food, especially if it isn’t apparent. And for people with religious food restrictions (that’s most religions) it is especially problematic.

If you want a historical example, consider gelatin. It’s made from the collagen in animal bones (of all species), and is ubiquitous in food and medicine. While some Jewish and Islamic teachers insist on its being rendered from kosher animals, most consider it so completely processed as to be nothing but a chemical.

Bone char is charcoal made from bones rather than wood. It is used to filter out the color left over from the processing of cane sugar, leaving sparkling white grains. Trying to unravel the ingredients of processed food products is nearly impossible, but the conventional wisdom is that while most cane sugar is treated with bone char, beet sugar isn’t, nor is turbinado sugar. You can also google sources that claim to sell vegan sugar only.

Problem solved? Well, yes, but… 

The question is, how much time and energy do you want to invest in making sure every bite you eat is perfectly pure? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that in all processed food products, from peanut butter to flour to chocolate, there are “food defects,” which means microscopic bits of mouse poop, animal hair, mold, ground-up bugs, or plain old dirt, in quantities too small to see or taste or cause any harm. (The FDA does a remarkable job monitoring these things to keep them at a minimum. A hundred years ago food was filthy and sometimes intentionally adulterated, as Ellen White’s warnings reflect.) 

Since we share the world with billions of other living things, impurities are ubiquitous, and you could make yourself crazy worrying about it. How many happy little bugs have relieved themselves on the leaves of the Swiss chard you harvest from your own garden? 

While no one should have to eat what they don’t want to eat, just remember that this isn’t a spiritual issue. “The kingdom of heaven is not meat or drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” 

Aunt Sevvy

You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identification of the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.

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