Foods to Eat   > Are brown sugar and powdered sugar vegan?


- Joanne Stepaniak --


Brown sugar is white sugar combined with molasses, which gives it a soft texture. Powdered sugar, also called confectioners' sugar, is granulated sugar that has been crushed into a fine powder. Brown sugar and powdered sugar can be made from either sugarcane or sugar beets. Bone char filtration is used for roughly half the cane sugar produced in the United States. This means that it was purified through charcoal made from animal bones. (Bone residue does not become part of the finished product.)


There is a split among vegans about whether cane sugar refined with bone char is vegan, and, if not, whether this warrants avoiding all products containing white sugar since it is virtually impossible for consumers to determine the type of sugar (beet or cane) and/or the processing methods used. If we assume that animal-free purity is the criteria for ascertaining whether or not something is vegan, are there any truly vegan foods? In the commercial arena, probably not.


Regardless of how they are grown or processed, most foods eventually come in contact with animal products, directly or indirectly. Insects and worms land on or burrow through fruits, vegetables, and grains as they are grown, occasionally ending up inside them, ground up with them, or packaged with them. Most fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans are flown or trucked in from different parts of the country or world in carriers that may have recently ferried meat and various other animal products. Trucks, trains, and airplanes use tires, lubricants, and plastic parts that most likely contain animal by-products, and they all utilize roads, rails, or runways that displaced animals and destroyed habitat when they were constructed. These vehicles also emit environmentally damaging fumes and pollutants and often inadvertently kill innocent wildlife. Most plant foods are distributed to stores where they will be sold side-by-side with meat, eggs, and dairy products, handled by nonvegan produce workers, placed on a checkout counter that may have deposits from previous customers' animal-based purchases, and packed by a nonvegan checker into plastic bags that probably contain animal by-products or paper bags that, even if made from recycled paper, are sealed with animal-based glue.


So where do vegans draw the line? The most clear-cut and practical approach is the following: If a plant-based food (unadulterated or processed) contains no overt animal products or by-products, it is deemed vegan.


From an ethical standpoint, this is the most realistic and constructive way to view not only food but other commodities as well. Modern methods of processing and transporting are so pervasively tainted with animal components that it is counterproductive and futile for vegans to be concerned about technicalities. In addition, preoccupation with minutia detracts from the more significant and purposeful aspects of being vegan and makes veganism appear outlandish and onerous to outsiders. Because half the sugar produced in the U.S. is beet sugar and around fifty percent of all cane sugar is refined with bone char, even if vegans were worried about bone char filtration, there is only about a twenty-five percent chance that a product would contain sugar processed in this manner. Searching for prepared foods that do not contain sugar places an undue burden on the average consumer who might be willing to become vegan but is discouraged by what could easily be considered trifling. Your question is an important one, and it is vital that vegans continue to discuss matters of ethical practice. However, it is equally significant to channel energies into those areas of vegan living that are consequential. If vegans avoid products because they disapprove of certain processing methods, no vegans could ride in a car, drink tap water, live in a house, or wear manufactured clothing.


So, are brown sugar and powdered sugar acceptable to vegan? From a reasonable perspective, yes.