Beer for Vegetarians and Vegans

by: BeerAdvocate on 05-09-2001
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) promotes beer as an alternative to milk (see and did so very strongly before they negotiated to pull their "Got Beer?" campaign from college campuses out of respect for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Their argument states that:

  • Beer has zero fat; milk is loaded with fat.
  • Beer has zero cholesterol; milk contains 20 mg of cholesterol in every 8-oz. serving.
  • Beer doesn't contain hormones or antibiotics, while milk contains an ever-increasing variety of the pesticides and antibiotics fed to cows, including rBGH, the notorious growth hormone that can give guys breasts.
  • Beer has half a gram of fiber in every cup; milk has no fiber whatsoever.
  • Beer has only 12 mg of sodium per cup. Milk is sky-high in the stuff.
  • Beer has 3 grams of complex carbohydrates in a 12-oz. glass; milk has no complex carbohydrates.

    This is based on a nutritional comparison of the two, by PETA. As advocates of beer we'll have to partially agree with them as:

  • Beer indeed has no fat, less calories and considerably less sodium which makes for a great beverage to indulge in (with moderation) and also has a lower risk of destroying your health.
  • Milk doesn't contain the same social lubricant that beer does -- unless you are some sicko that trips out on rancid milk.
  • If humans were meant to drink milk after infancy we'd all still be breast feeding, but were not 100% on this one.

    We do not agree with PETA's direct promotion of beer consumption on college campuses, as an alternative to milk. There is already enough alcohol related issues for students and schools to deal with, and an increase in beer consumption -- without the proper respect and education of the beverage -- could only make things worse.

    Oddly, PETA didn't do their homework when they promoted beer over milk. We wonder how many vegetarians and vegans were influenced by its campaign without knowing of the other products that can be found in beer? You are probably thinking, "Wait a second. Beer for vegetarians and vegans? What? But beer only has water, malt, hops and yeast in it?" Wrong. Beer (and cider & wine) has everything from:

  • albumin: derived from eggs or dried blood
  • casein/caseinate: derived from milk
  • charcoal: sometimes derived from bone
  • colourings: sometimes derived from insects
  • glyceryl monostearate: an anti-foaming agent that sometimes is an animal derivative
  • isinglass: swim bladders from fish
  • lactose and lactobacillus (lactic acid)
  • gelatin: made from bones, skins and tendons
  • pepsin: a heading agent sometimes derived from pork
  • sugar: white sugar is often whitened using bone charcoal

    And that's just a handful of the potential ingredients that can be found in beer. Currently there are no US laws that protect the consumer, and breweries are not required to include the ingredients on labels, let alone divulge them in any other manner.

    Stop! Before you freak the hell out, purge yourself and your fridge ... remember that not all breweries use these ingredients. Most of the listed are used to clear beer in the brewing process, others are used to colour, provide a specific flavour or boost alcohol content. Ingredients such as gelatin are not commonly used within the US brewing community, yet you will find lacto-types and sugar in certain styles of beer throughout the US.

    Often breweries use sterile filtration which, in theory, should remove all traces depending on the micron size of the membrane filter. Even beer brewed under the Reinheitsgebot (a German "Purity Law" adopted in 1516 and the oldest food regulation in the world that is still in existence) does not mean that brewers are restricted from using clearing agents. Your best bet is to always check with the manufacturer. You might just find that your beer of choice is animal-free.

    This article does not address any specific morale issues that people may have. It's not meant to, nor is the intent to instill fear amongst the vegetarian and vegan communities. Instead, we hope that this provides those concerned with a resource to obtain more information. But, whatever you do, don't stop drinking beer. First get informed, then make your decision.

    Where can I get more information?

  • PETA will supply you a "safe list" of breweries upon request -- simply email them with your address.
  • The Vegetarian Society, UK has a great listing of animal-free beers.
  • Search Google for more info on animal free beers.

    Respect Beer.
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