Goodbye to My Beloved Campbell’s Soup

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A couple weeks ago, I was tossing and turning and trying to fall back asleep around 4AM when my phone started to buzz with an alert that I had 2 blog comments awaiting my moderation. Wow, blog traffic must really be picking up, I thought to myself.

To my disappointment, the notes were not compliments and accolades for my clever cauliflower etouffee recipe (a girl can dream, right?) but instead notes from a reader who had called Campbell’s and learned that my beloved Campbell’s Tomato Soup, as well as V8 juice (which I also love), is not even vegetarian, let alone vegan, due to undisclosed animal-based ingredients listed under “flavorings.”

I have to confess that my first reaction to his message was a mixture between ‘Yeah, right!’ and ‘So what?’. I was thisclose to quickly replying with something along the lines of, Look, dude, let’s not feed into food paranoia. The ingredient list sounds vegan, lots of reputable sources list it as vegan (see here and here) , let’s just relax and forget what you think you found out. After all, my site is called (Just About) Vegan. I’m not even trying to be a purist here.

The truth is that even if there are trace amounts of animal products in Campbell’s soup, it couldn’t amount to more than a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the total ingredients, not to mention that the “flavoring” is almost definitely not coming from animals specifically killed to make this product, but rather from the leftovers of meat production that would otherwise be waste.

But in the weeks since the initial shock of this news, this information has haunted me. I can rationalize things all I want, but the bottom line is that I’m totally, utterly grossed out by the thought that Campbell’s is apparently hiding some mysterious dead animal substance in food when its labeling implies that it’s vegan.

I haven’t been able to get ahold of the company yet myself to confirm the details [see update below], but information about which of their products is vegetarian seems conspicuously missing from this section of their website’s FAQs. The fact that none of their seemingly vegan products are kosher is also a bit mysterious and seems to be further evidence that there is something fishy about their ingredient lists. The commenter, Sean, suspects one of the culprits to be castoreum, which is a substance secreted from the glands behind beavers’ hind legs. Seemed too ridiculous to be possible, but a quick google search revealed it to be a relatively common ingredient. Ew. Ew. Ew.

[UPDATE: Campbell’s has confirmed that only their Vegetarian Vegetable soup is vegetarian and that none of their soups is vegan. See HERE for more info.]

I’ve essentially gone through the different stages of grief. First denial, then shock, now anger.  My whole “platform,” if you can call it that, is built on the idea that you can follow an essentially plant-based diet without having to obsess and feel guilt about everything you put in your mouth. I’m supposed to be able to let this slide. But now that I know, I can’t unknow.

Sure, I’ve always been on board with checking ingredient lists when possible for gelatin, whey, and casein. But where does one draw the line? If “flavoring” can mean beaver genital excretion, how can I not worry that every vague term on an ingredient listing is really a euphemism for something that no one, let alone a vegan, would knowingly eat? Should consumers be doomed to remain in a constant state of anxiety and mistrust about what their food is really made of?

If the amount of animal product in additives is so negligible, I cannot imagine why it could possibly be so important for the company to include it in their products.  Why not err on the side of keeping foods pure and cruelty-free?

The real issue here is not so much the hidden animal products in food, but the fact that Campbell’s and probably many if not most of its counterparts are not being fully honest with us about what we’re consuming. This is an issue that affects vegans, sure, but also any consumer who simply wants to know what’s in the food she’s eating and serving to the people she cares about.

The question becomes, then, where do we go from here? Should flexible vegans like me turn a blind eye to sneaky companies like Campbell’s? Should we switch over to (more expensive, harder to find) natural brands that offer higher quality, truly vegan products, albeit without the same sentimental appeal? Or do we try to mobilize to lobby companies like Campbell’s to at least be more transparent if not compassionate about their ingredient choices?

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14 thoughts on “Goodbye to My Beloved Campbell’s Soup

  1. Pingback: Canned Tomato Soup, All Dressed Up | (JUST ABOUT) VEGAN

  2. Disgusting! I really don’t understand why this ingredient is needed. I think that if you are a vegan, vegetarian or meat eater the thought of this in our food is sickening. Ingredients have been taken out of food because of the public letting the companies know they are not going to buy their product. ( Cheerios are no longer using GMOs for example). Now we all have to be paranoid of what is actually in “flavorings”. Maybe the answer is requiring companies to have to list all ingredients including flavorings. Where do we start???

  3. I am so heartbroken about this and starting to feel like the only way to know what you’re really eating, is to plant your own seeds, grow your own veggies and cook all your meals from scratch.

    Are there any tomato soups/brands that you recommend trying? Or even an easy tomato soup recipe that a girl who can’t cook, can cook?

  4. Yes, it’s pretty heartbreaking and disappointing. Rosebud, do you know how customers were able to lobby Cheerios to stop using GMOs? I bet the problems lie more with the FDA’s policies around “natural flavoring” than with individual companies, so maybe we should start there? RivaB, I don’t have any alternative brands or recipes I can recommend yet, but let the search begin!

  5. I still remember when I learned that the “vegetarian” vegetable dishes I was ordering at my local Chinese restaurant were made with chicken broth. I never bothered to ask if items labeled “vegetarian” were made with meat broth. In any case, I feel for you! 🙂

  6. Pingback: Update: Campbell’s Confirms Their Tomato Soup is Not Even Vegetarian | (JUST ABOUT) VEGAN

  7. Thanks for your comments! Not positive about V8– I asked the rep about that initially, and they kind of evaded the question. I was so dismayed about the tomato soup, I totally forgot to follow up. I’ll go on Twitter and ask them now 🙂

  8. i have already stopped eating vanilla and raspberry products that include “natural flavorings” because of castoreum, it looks like Campbell’s is just being added to the list. Thank you Progresso for the proper labels.

  9. Pingback: 4 Common Grocery Purchases You May Not Know Are Inhumane | Groundswell

  10. Perfect example of why I never rely on reading labels and never rely on information on the Internet which is replete with lists of so-called vegan products that are not vegan at all. I get my info straight from the product manufacturers. Even then, I exercise caution, because many manufacturers’ customer service represetatives will attempt to determine whether products are vegan by reading the labels! Even scientists and chemists cannot do that! Natural and synthetic minerals, vitamins, etc. could possibly be of animal origin. So therefore I must always gauge whether the person I ask seems to understand the concept of veganism. People can be very ridiculous. They often seem to think they can look at a piece of bread, or a plate of plain rice or plain pasta, and psychically deem it “vegan” and same goes for label-readers!

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