You’re on a chilly but beautiful beach, filled with the aroma of a summer night. The fire’s hot glow in front of you turns your face orange as you reach in to gold a perfectly pure white marshmallow. The one attached to the stick next to yours catches on fire, but the owner of the flame blows it out quickly with a grin and devours it anyways.
As Cape Codders, you likely know this story. You’ve lived it. But there are things you might not know about this familiarity, like information about the food you’re eating. It’s not your fault: the food industry doesn’t want you to know.
Marshmallows contain gelatin and that gives them their bouncy texture. Other common foods that contain gelatin are jello, chewing gum, fruit snacks, gummy bears and worms, some flavors of Starbursts (original is safe), candy corn, Altoids, even the “charms” in the popular cereal Lucky Charms. Why should you care? Because gelatin is made with byproducts of animals. This means that a friendly s’more actually contains animal hooves, skin, bone, ligaments, and tendons. It’s made by boiling these parts down with water.
When you google the definition of the word “gelatin”, the latter definition will not come up. Instead, google defines gelatin as a “colorless and tasteless water-soluble protein.” It’s casually added that gelatin is “prepared from collagen,” but it doesn’t clearly state the parts of an animal that gelatin is derived from. Unless you look deeper into the definition of collagen, which is a protein found in connective tissue, then you’d probably be satisfied with that quick definition.
It’s not common knowledge that gelatin is made of animal parts because the food industry doesn’t publicize it. One of the only platforms that informs the public of what they’re eating is the vegan and vegetarian community. PETA, a controversial animal advocacy group, states that gelatin is also used to make shampoos, face masks, and other cosmetics. But meat eaters, an extremely large portion of our population, don’t often stumble across these platforms.
If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, know that gelatin contains animal product obtained directly from animals, and therefore the tempting and unassuming foods that contain it are not fit for your diet. If you eat meat and don’t follow an animal product restriction, know that you have a choice to make.
Some people don’t care about what gelatin is made of. A pro to its ingredients is that its using the parts of an animal that are often wasted. If you don’t find eating boiled bone, skin, and tendons repulsive, then your decision is simple. Keep eating.
If you fall on the other side of that spectrum, then it’s not the end of the world. There are substitutes for gelatin, such as pectin, which is derived from ripe fruits. Not eating gelatin does not mean giving up your favorite foods; you’ll just have to look a little harder on the shelf. For instance, Trader Joe’s marshmallows are gelatin free and not all chewing gum contains gelatin. If fruit snacks are your favorite thing, try the Mott’s brand fruit snacks; they’re also gelatin free.
Speaking generally, people like to eat and not think when it comes to food. But knowing what you’re putting into your body is important. Choices that will affect your body, should require research. Food therefore requires research. Once you know what foods contain and how they’re made, then you can decide if eating them is right for you and your beliefs. Otherwise you’re really not a meat eater or a plant eater, you’re a blind eater.