Are You Choosing Wine that Is Animal and Environmentally Friendly?
Drinking alcohol is something I have looked closely at in my life. Obviously while I was pregnant and breast feeding I didn't drink but then in 2013/14 my husband and I did a year without drinking for a more spiritual exploration at how we feel when we don't "drug" ourselves. It was fantastic and I highly recommend it. Personally I came to the place where I feel comfortable to enjoy the very occasional drink on celebratory occasions, to let my hair down and share time with friends (although I do not need it and I think this is an important distinction). When I do drink on these occasions, I am very conscious of what I choose because I respect my health and I also don't want to support suffering of animals just to enjoy a beverage. Most people may be unaware that wine and beer, although made from plants, often will have been processed using animal-derived products. What the!?
Yes, it shocked me at first too. The first time I realised was about a year after not consuming fish and I was having a glass of wine on a flight ( I was young and childless!) You become very sensitive to taste after a period of time of being vegan and I assume something about the air pressure allowed me to actually smell fish in my wine. I quickly looked into it and realised I wasn't crazy, that during the winemaking (and in cask beer) process, the liquid is filtered through substances called “fining agents, " and these fining agents are where the bits of dead animals are used.
Generally they include:
Casein – a milk protein that improves clarity in white wine and sherries, and reduces iron and copper content
Chitin – fibre from crustacean shells that clears white wines
Gelatin –protein made from boiling animal parts to reduce astringency and bitterness in red wines
Isinglass – which is collagen from fish bladder membranes (the part that keeps the fish afloat in the water).This is the most common one used to remove tannin, phenols, colour, and yeast.
Essentially, the fining agent acts like a magnet, attracting the molecules around it to remove protein, yeast, cloudiness, “off” flavours and colourings. There are more friendly fining options such as benonite clay and peas however most wines and beers if left long enough, will self-stabilise and self-clarify. It is the difference of a few hours to a few days. I liken it to the difference between Tip Top rubbish white bread, the one that gives you cramps and bloating, to traditionally baked bread, where it has been given the time to ferment naturally without the additives.
Rushing the process is not worth it to me if it leaves me feeling sick or needs to involve killing an living being. I am happy to pay a little extra and feel good about a better product!
Isinglass was originally sourced from the fish sturgeon, a slow growing and late maturing class of fish, but like so many other fish species in our oceans and rivers, we have fished it to almost extinction point and so now isinglass is sourced from catfish, that are grown in factory fish farms throughout Asia.
Fish farms wreak havoc on the environment and use bi-catch and any life that was trawled from the bottom of the ocean floor to feed them. Just to be clear;
fish and other aquatic life from the oceans are killed to feed the farmed fish.
Even if you are not concerned with the dead parts of an animal filtering your drink, you are a member of the planet and I am sure you care about its on-going health. I encourage you to view Whats The Catch to get a small insight into what happens on the fish farms in Asia.
There are many choices of wines and beers that do not use these animal-derived fining agents, and often the beauty about them is they also are preservative-free, making it a win-win.
For local Australian wines, I personally like
Check out this very random, light hearted but insightful 10 minute video, where they look at how isinglass is used in alcohol making...watching the young lads gave me a good chuckle.