Reuben Proctor, Veganissimo



Part I: Reuben Proctor

Reuben Proctor has been vegan since 2000 and has done translation, consulting, and administrative work for vegan companies and animal rights organizations since 2004. He was born in New Zealand and now lives and works in Germany.


Caryn Hartglass: Hi there, everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. It’s April 9, 2013 and what is going here in New York City? I cannot believe it, 80-degree weather. In April, we’ve had all kinds of cold weather and just like that, it’s warm. And I know it’s cliché to talk about the weather but maybe that’s one of the things we like here in New York; we never know what to expect next. But it is a beautiful day. And if you have an opportunity, wherever you are, get outside; it’s so good for us.

Okay. Well, let’s get on to the program. Really interesting subject coming up. We’re going to be talking about a book called Veganissimo A to Z, with my guest, one of the co-authors, Reuben Proctor. He has been vegan since 2000 and has done translations, consulting, and administrative work for vegan companies and animal rights organizations since 2004. He was born in New Zealand and now lives and works in Germany.

Welcome and bienvenue, and all of that stuff to It’s All About Food! Reuben, are you with us?

Reuben Proctor: Yes, I’m here.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, great! How are you today?

Reuben Proctor: Good, thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. It’s late where you are, right?

Reuben Proctor: Well, yes, it’s 10 in the evening so it’s tolerable.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, good. How’s the weather where you are?

Reuben Proctor: Abysmal.

Caryn Hartglass: Abysmal! What part of Germany are you in?

Reuben Proctor: In the southwest, it’s south of Frankfurt.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Well, I do not … maybe you can help me understand but this is a little book but it’s loaded with information and it’s called Veganissimo A to Z: A Comprehensive Guide to Identifying and Avoiding Ingredients of Animal Origin in Everyday Products. My first question is how did you compile this book? I understand there was an original version 17 years ago but there’s a lot of stuff that goes into all of this.

Reuben Proctor: Well, yes. Basically, it all boils down to elbow grease and awful lots of work.

Caryn Hartglass: Vegetable elbow grease, of course.

Reuben Proctor: Of course. Yes. It’s basically just a lot of research and then compiling. I started to compile the original version in 2007, just getting the old information together and using it as a starting base for the rest of the research. I spent the next 3 or 4 years just researching media, Internet, whatever I could find, filling in the gaps and getting as much information on ingredients as I could find.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, we live in a very complicated world today and I always encourage people to read ingredients and it’s challenging; often the ingredients on food in very small print. And then there are other products that don’t even list what they’re made of, which makes it extra challenging.

Reuben Proctor: True.

Caryn Hartglass: We used to have an expression: is it animal, vegetable, or mineral? And that describes everything in the planet. But you have a list and we’re kind of breaking things down a little bit more these days because we know a little bit more. There’s not just animal, vegetable, minerals but there’s synthetic and microbiological.

Reuben Proctor: Yes, that’s right.

Caryn Hartglass: I remember buying a laundry detergent recently and it said it was 95% plant-based and I panicked because I thought it was a vegan product. And it was a vegan product. I just didn’t realize that the other 5% they must have been referring to was not animal, vegetable, mineral; it was synthetic.

Reuben Proctor: Yes. It would have been petroleum-based.

Caryn Hartglass: There you go, petroleum-based. So are all synthetic products petroleum-based?

Reuben Proctor: Synthetic has sort of a different definition. It depends on how you find it. In terms of the book, we’ve slightly simplified it; scientifically, it’s petroleum-based. But basically, synthetic is anything which was made in a laboratory.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Now, something that’s made in a laboratory, I like the way you say it, is maybe synthetic but can some of the original ingredients that were used to make it come from animal or vegetable sources?

Reuben Proctor: Yes, definitely. Things like fatty acids, for instance, are in fact used in cleaning agents or fabric softeners. They tend to be synthetic but they can also include fatty acids as a part of the cable compound. Fatty acids have to come from somewhere and it could be from corn oil, or soy oil, or whatever plant oil but they could just as easily come from animal body fat.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. So that makes it even more difficult to figure out where things come from when there are several layers or levels from where ingredients are originally derived from.

Reuben Proctor: Yes. I mean the process that’s used …

Caryn Hartglass: Sometimes I think manufacturers, you might call them to find out where their products are from and they don’t even know the original source of some of the ingredients they use.

Reuben Proctor: Yes, I suppose. Normally, they should have classifications from their suppliers. But with all the supply chains and a whole lot of links and global industrial complex, it’s very difficult. It depends on how interested the companies are in actually stating where their raw materials come from and whether or not they find it important to state whether something is vegetarian, vegan, GMO-free, or whatever.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, did you talk to any companies in putting together this book to find out the ingredients?

Reuben Proctor: I tried to contact a couple but they were very reticent about giving information so basically what I relied on was information in the public domain, which I can rely on. I did write to a couple of major companies and basically you virtually get no replies. I also resorted to using reference works, encyclopedias, Internet, just all the information in the public domain, which can be verified.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. I imagine all of that can be very, very challenging because most companies either are not set up to answer those kind of questions of they don’t care.

Reuben Proctor: I think probably it’s more they don’t care or that might be changing. I mean consumer pressure is starting to gain a new domination in the 21st century. Throughout, companies that are realizing that they can’t really afford to set things out. But these major companies have such resources that … I mean, without naming any names the more connectional concerns are quite easily able to mobilize hundreds of lawyers to go and sue someone. So public relations soon will be a problem. I think it’s a combination of just not wanting to give the information, not wanting to let people to know how things are made, particularly, intellectual properties perhaps. And yeah, as I said probably some of them don’t even care.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well, obviously one thing that’s going to make them care is when the consumers are demanding it, demanding to know. And that’s part of our job.

Reuben Proctor: Exactly. And I think … just take convenience, as an example. It’s growing, it’s really burgeoning. I’m not quite sure what’s it like in the States but certainly in Europe, you can notice the difference. When you go shopping, you see more and more products labeled as “vegan”, “vegetarian.” Producers are realizing there is an increasing demand out there.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that’s really, really encouraging. I think you’re doing a little better in Europe than we are here in the United States, with a number of different kinds of food-related regulations like genetically-modified foods and animal testing.

Reuben Proctor: Oh, yes, yes, definitely. Just taking animal testing as an example, it’s now completely banned for cosmetics in the European Union since March. It’s still allowed in some chemicals, which may not be used exclusively for cosmetics but also for say, cleaning agents. But yes, animal testing for cosmetics is completely banned in the EU. GMO in foods have to be labeled and consumers just don’t want it so basically by default, there are no GM foods in Europe. People just don’t buy it.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, the animal testing, this went into effect recently?

Reuben Proctor: Yes, yes, in March.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s like less than a month ago.

Reuben Proctor: Exactly. It had been banned for a long time. A new law had been put into force and it had some transition periods. There was some debate about it stemming the transition period to help the producers, whatever, find new replacement methods so they would not have to change their production methods so quickly but it was quite a lot of consumer complaint about that so they stuck to it and the ban is now complete.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s really exciting. Now, there’s one company, L’Oreal, they were the last companies that didn’t want to give up testing but obviously, they had to.

Reuben Proctor: Well, yes, at least in Europe.

Caryn Hartglass: In Europe. Now, can European consumers buy products from the United States that have been tested on animals?

Reuben proctor: No. The ban is on production and on sales. So it’s not allowed to be produced in the EU and even if it’s not produced in the EU, it’s not allowed to be sold if any animal testing has taken place.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s very exciting. Now of course, what many people confuse is animal testing with animal ingredients. So a product may say it has not been tested on animals but it could have killed animal products in it.

Reuben Proctor: Exactly. Cosmetics, once again, a major group of ingredients are the fatty acids and derivatives and fatty acids can be from any fats. So shampoos, for instance or hair mousse, can have derivatives from crustaceans, from their shells. So even if it’s not tested on animals, there’ll be bits and pieces of animals in there; well, there may be. And if it doesn’t state “vegan” or “vegetarian,” Who knows?

Caryn Hartglass: Right. All right, let’s jump into some of the ingredients that are in … there’s a lot of ingredients in the books. There are so many things that we take for granted and we don’t even think about what might be derived from animals, like heparin, for example. I discovered this after the fact. So you go into a hospital for an emergency procedure or some serious procedure and you find out after the fact, or maybe never, or maybe before, something, that your life has been saved or the treatment was enabled because some products that came from animals, like heparin.

Reuben Proctor: Yes, exactly. It’s obtained from the intestines of pigs, mostly.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I had gone in some really bad surgery years ago and I was shocked because as a vegan I didn’t want to use animal products. And then I discovered, even down to when my lips were dry and the nurse would apply a little lip balm on it and it had lanolin in it.

Reuben Proctor: Yeah. Ah, yes. Okay, lip balm is not necessarily something that’s life saving; it’s a matter of comfort, I suppose. But heparin is definitely a matter of life and death if you don’t have an anticoagulant, you could get a life-threatening clot. I was faced with a same situation last year. I had to go into major surgery and I did some research and found that there is a synthetic anticoagulant, which can be used. Just one drawback: I had to have a spine drip and the risk of getting a dangerous bleed, in that case, is higher so I still had to opt for the heparin from animals for a few days. And once they’d removed the drip I was able to go to the synthetic anticoagulant but at least there is that possibility now. It’s a fairly new drug. And so there are developments, which are more pleasing.

Caryn Hartglass: So, are you okay now? Surgery okay?

Reuben Proctor: Ah, yes. It was over a year ago so I bounced back.

Caryn Hartglass: Good. I’m glad to hear that. And then there was a study that just came out. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it but I’m really excited, and it was about carnitine.

Reuben Proctor: It may not be as good as it’s made out to be.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. I’m thrilled to hear about it. Carnitine is an ingredient that we can get from animal sources and in much smaller amounts, from vegetable sources. And it’s primarily form red meat; that’s probably where the name came from, carnitine.

Reuben Proctor: Exactly.

Caryn Hartglass: And some doctors at a Cleveland clinic just came out with this great study showing that there’s some sort of bacteria in out gut that works with the carnitine and creates this arterial sclerosis build up and you have more of this certain bacteria in your gut if you’re a meat-eater. And that showed that eating meat … it was just another way to show how eating meat contributed to heart disease and arterial sclerosis and I was really excited to hear that. And then I went to your little book and I read about carnitine and it certainly is here.

Reuben Proctor: Yes, it is.

Caryn Hartglass: But there are so many ingredients to … you just can’t possibly keep track. Now, how did you know … This particular book I’m looking at is for the United States and you talk about regulations here in the United States. Did you find out what’s going on here from the Internet?

Reuben Proctor: Yes, basically. The FDA, for instance, has lots of good information. They have all the regulations online so I was able to refer to those and climb around through all the legalese. And I did the same for the Canadian version as well. In terms of questions where I just recognized it was nice to get someone on the ground, just get the right slant on it, we did get someone in the States to answer a couple of questions. In terms of regulations, it’s all on the Net. As long as you know the sources you’re referring to are reliable, such as for instance UACA or FDA, well then you can put it in the book.

Caryn Hartglass: Oh, that sounds pretty good. The thing is, it’s nice to have it all in one book because it’s probably difficult to find all these information.

Reuben Proctor: Yes, it was. It took quite a lot of checking and re-checking. It took a while also just getting the swing of the way the United States regulations work. These are different languages to European language so even if I’m reading English European piece of legislation it does have different wording, for instance, to an American law or regulation. So I have to get passed that, first so all. But once I got there and knee-deep in the clauses, I was able to make sense of it.

Caryn Hartglass: How did you come up with the name Veganissimo? What was the origin of that?

Reuben Proctor: Well, issimo is basically Italian for “ very almost.” In music, we talk about pianissimo for very quiet, almost quiet or fortissimo for very loud. And in Europe, Germany also, not quite in Italy, the fragment issimo is often used as an intensifier. It’s well known outside the Italian language area. And Lars Thomsen, whose idea, the whole veganissimo thing was, he coined the phrase back in the mid ‘90s. He bought out a set of three booklets: Veganissimo 1, 2, and 3. And 1 was the predecessor to this new book, Veganissimo: A to Z and 2 was a manual of animal rights, and 3 was a bibliography of animal rights. So he coined the phrase back then basically because so many people know what issimo means over here. It doesn’t need quite as much explanation as it probably does in North America.

Caryn Hartglass: I like it. It sounds happy.

Reuben Proctor: Yeah. Some people take it too seriously and think we’re pitching it to the dour, humorless, 150% vegans, the vegan police, so-called. But it’s not that at all. It’s supposed to be fun, taking it seriously but not getting too worked up about it. Do what you can, veganissimo, in the sense of doing the very best that you can. So yeah. And if someone finds it a fun term then that’s good.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, let’s move to house cleaning products. In my house I pretty much clean with baking soda and water and I don’t get into any other sophisticated formulations but there are a lot of cleaning products out there. And after looking at your book, my understanding is that the manufacturers don’t even have to let us know what’s in these products.

Reuben Proctor: No, no. In fact, the labeling requirements in the United States are more laxer than they are in Europe. But there is a voluntary agreement of North American producers so that covers both United States and Canada. And they tend to label their products as one would label a cosmetic product so that basically means declaration of all the ingredients or almost all. Some have to be declared in a generic sense. So this voluntary scheme is increasingly used by North American producers because they do realized consumers don’t like it if they’re not being told anything.

Caryn Hartglass: What about genetically modified organisms? It sounds like there are some that are being created to take the place of some animal products.

Reuben proctor: Well, yes. A good example would be insulin. Insulin, traditionally, was derived from the pancreas of cattle or pigs and that was what was used for a few decades. But now they’re derived from bacteria. So I, personally say, rather that than kill animals. I would not go so far as to condone genetically engineering of anything larger than unicellular organisms, only yeast or bacteria. I think that’s okay if it stops animals from being killed. So yes, insulin is one very good example. The human insulin that’s being engineered to be as close to the insulin we produce in our own bodies because it was something of a problem with the porcine or bovine insulin and it tended to drop off more quickly than the human insulin. And some people also have reacted to it, have allergic reactions to it.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, the best thing is to not need it.

Reuben Proctor: Of course. Yes. A vegan diet will go a long way to doing that.

Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely.

Reuben Proctor: But of course, there are people, for instance, with juvenile diabetes; there may be some possibilities to influence whether someone gets it or not but there are too many factors in there: it may be genetics, it may be virus, diseases involved. So I think there are still some scope for diabetic mitigation.

Caryn Hartglass: Right. Yes. Now, what’s your story? You became a vegan in 2000?

Reuben Proctor: Yes, early 2000. I’m actually not quite sure, whether it’s late 1999 or early 2000 but roundabout. I didn’t have a deciding moment or any sort of situation where it clicked. It was a process. I went vegetarian 1997 and of course, in time I realized it just wasn’t enough and so early 2000 roughly was when I took the leap and went vegan.

Caryn Hartglass: And were you in New Zealand or Germany at the time?

Reuben Proctor: Germany.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. So you haven’t been in New Zealand for a long time?

Reuben Proctor: Just intermittently, just for short periods. But I’ve lived there in the past over 3 years.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, the Germans are really good at making things clear and spelling things out and following guidelines so I find that when I go to Germany it’s pretty easy to find products, that I know what I’m getting.

Do you know, are some countries better than some countries, like models?

Reuben Proctor: I have to say, in Europe, European legislation basically overrides anything else so there are not that many difference between France, Germany, and UK; it’s all fairly uniform throughout the EU. I do believe Australia and New Zealand, the EU, and the United States are more or less on par, although in the United States I think the number of things that are allowed without having to be specified the number of, well, exempt is the greatest. So I think in the EU will be easiest, followed by Australia and New Zealand, followed in by … Canada as well is slightly less stringent than the United States, I think. Any other countries, I really couldn’t say, don’t have any experience.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, you also talked about shoes, clothing, and fibers. What should we be looking for if we want these things to be vegan?

Reuben Proctor: Well, shoes basically, look out for calf leather. In the United States, shoes themselves don’t have to be labeled according to the materials but leather and imitation leather have to be labeled. So something that’s not leather or partly leather, that has to be stated so that’s one way of checking it. Or just look out for brands that make vegan products. If you do an Internet search for vegan shoes, you can find outlets, you can find mail-order companies, that’s okay.

Caryn Hartglass: Do you know about the glue in shoes?

Reuben Proctor: Basically, the glue in shoes would be synthetic. There are a couple of reasons for that. One is that synthetic glues are just so cheap. And another reason, for example, bone glue is actually used for stiff joints; it’s not for fixable joints. Shoes have to be fixable, otherwise, you can’t walk well; it’ll be like walking in clogs. So I don’t think the chances of there being any animal glues out there are very great at all. I would really count on them being synthetic. If you want to be sure about it, make sure the shoes are declared as vegan, or animal-friendly, or cruelty-free, or whatever, something similar to that.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s good to know because I’ve had people ask about glue in shoes and you never see any mention about glue. If you’re lucky, you’ll see it’ll say “Man-made materials” or “non-leather” or something like that. Okay, that’s good to know.

Reuben Proctor: In terms of clothing, the fibers have to be declared. There are some cases where groups of fibers may be declared so if you have a certain small percentage of mixed fibers you might not know necessarily know what’s in there so just look at the label. Keep an eye out for things like silk or cashmere, wool, those that are obvious. And if you’re not sure, ask the shop assistant or even send a letter or an e-mail to the manufacturers, to heighten awareness.

Caryn Hartglass: Unfortunately, today our shop assistants usually don’t know very much about their products. I don’t know if it’s different in Europe but …

Reuben Proctor: Yes, it’s much like this over there. But I think that is also one way of forcing them to know. Go there, ask uncomfortable questions, put them on the spot, they have to refer to their supervisor, their supervisor have to find out. So in a way, you’re forcing them to put a consumer-friendly infrastructure. If enough people go and pester them then they have to some sort of regulation committee.

Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned something about painting products and bristles and brushes.

Reuben Proctor: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: Now, those are rarely labeled too because the bristles can come form animal or synthetic, right?

Reuben Proctor: Well, yes. But generally, you’ll find in terms of hobby and artist supplies the synthetic fibers tend to be named and … the animal ones as well, if you look at art supplies because they tend to use that as a statement of quality so if you’re using sable, for instance, it’s regarded as something that’s quality or other animal hair for bristles and brushes, they tend to be proud of instead of trying to hide it so I actually think you can count on them stating what is in it.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well, that’s good to know. There are just so many different products out there. A lot of us concentrate just on food and animals are used in just about everything and when you start to think about it, you realize …

Reuben Proctor: Exactly. Even things like batteries, electrical appliances, missiles, they use these gelatin in metalworking or for processing cadmium in batteries. There was even an article recently about the brakes in trains heavily processed with gelatin so whenever the train slows down, it uses, well, big pigs. If it weren’t true you wouldn’t think it was, it’s just too ridiculous for it to be true but it is.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I had thought we had gotten to a better place with digital photography because film required gelatin and, sometimes, dairy products. But then you mentioned the photo paper that we use at home has gelatin in it.

Reuben Proctor: Yes. The pigments are imbedded in a single layer of gelatin.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes. Oh, goodness! Well, we’ve got a long way to go but we’re moving in the right direction. This book, Veganissimo at least spells it out, from A to Z.

Reuben Proctor: Well, I hope it does make a difference.

Caryn Hartglass: Thank you so much for joining me on it’s All About Food and all the best to you.

Reuben Proctor: Thank you for the opportunity.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Take care.

Reuben Proctor: Okay, bye-bye.

Caryn Hartglass: Bye-Bye.

I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. We are going to take just a little break and in a moment we will be back with Angeli to talk about picky eating. We’ll be right back.

Transcribed by Diana O’Reilly, 4/13/2013

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