Answer: It depends. Junior Mints contain the secretions of lac bugs. Whether or not these mints are vegan seems a question of relativity based on what being a vegan means to you.
Ahh, those tasty Junior Mints, a favorite of cinema-goers the world over. They are nearly as classic for us during a movie visit as a bag of popcorn and coke. With the somehow soft but crispy chocolate outer shell, and the creamy, flaky, minty insides, Junior Mints offer us a unique blend of flavors and perhaps take us down memory lane to those fun family trips to the movies and the neighboring video arcade.
Yet, the more conscientious consumers and foodies among us ask ourselves a pointed question. Yes, they are delicious but alas, are they vegan? To get a definitive answer to this question, we must turn to no other but the world-renowned bastions of morality on animal rights, PETA.
According to PETA, the devastating news is that the delicious shellac outer shell that makes us love Junior Mints so much is made from the secretions of lac bugs. A whopping 100,000 bugs have to die just to create one pound of the glaze that gives junior mints the distinctive texture and taste we know and love.
So, knowing about the unenviable fate of lac bugs, which have given us the secretions that enable the creation of junior mints, can we answer the lingering question that haunts us.
Are junior mints vegan?
We can find the answer to that question by asking ourselves, how do we personally understand ourselves as vegans.
What does being a vegan mean to us?
How do we each define ourselves in terms of what it is to be a vegan?
There are those among us who insist on complete dietary and ideological purity, that everything entering our mouths can only be plant-based. Others take a more flexible approach and are OK with abstaining from meat, eggs, fish, or dairy.
With other substances, such as honey, things among vegans get a bit murkier. We are not all of one mind as vegans on everything.
Can We Call Ourselves Vegans If We Eat Bugs?
What about bugs?
This question seems simple enough for those who consume purely plant-based foods, but those vegans who are in the more flexible category may scratch their heads in wonder. It is a question that most of us may not have thought of, as really who wants to think about eating bugs anyway? Why would we ever consider putting such creepy crawly things into our mouths?
The answer, is that you already have. The average person consumes unknowingly about a pound of bugs each year.
Well, they are good for you. Vegans tend to consume more veggies than most, in whose habitats insects like to hide, perhaps unknowingly eat even more insects than most. It is a sneaky way to get more protein into the diet and balance some of those pesky B12 deficiencies that have been known to wear us vegans down.
No matter the rigor of food inspection standards, and no matter how cautious we are about washing off those fruits and vegetables we bring home from the market, the insidious and unconscious consumption of insects appears unavoidable.
So, knowing that you are eating bugs anyway, and there is pretty much no way of avoiding it, are you going to keep popping those delicious Junior Mints at the movies or look for more humane and purely plant-based options?
The Humane Considerations About Eating Bugs
We all became vegans for various reasons. We are undoubtedly interested in reducing harm and living a more ethical lifestyle. For many of us, that decision was influenced by a strong aversion to animal cruelty.
We are horrified and disgusted by the treatment of animals as they are led to the slaughter. We are fully aware of the effects of inhumane breeding and living conditions, even among animals that are not slaughtered for meat production but are used in dairy farming, egg production etc.
So those of us vegans who chose this lifestyle out of a concern for animal welfare and to reduce their suffering must ask ourselves one question.
Do the lac bugs suffer?
It seems a silly question, as we humans seem to equate death as the ultimate form of suffering. We also seem to equivocate the experience with physical and emotional pain. Since there is evidence showing that many animals mirror this experience as we understand it, we decided not to be a complicit party to any animal’s captivity, undue suffering, or kill for human benefit.
But what if bugs don’t feel pain?
According to researchers at Canada’s entomological society, there is substantive evidence showing that they do not. Since there is a little evolutionary benefit to pain being an experience for insects, their nervous systems have developed in such a way to suggest that emotional or physical pain is something they may not have the ability to experience.
So, whether or not us vegans should eat Junior Mints, knowing they are made through bugs’ death, is a question that could be made a little clearer. Suppose our main motivations for becoming vegan were to reduce animal cruelty. In that case, we can breathe a small sigh of relief, knowing that all the bugs that we have certainly eaten throughout our lives, whether consciously or unconsciously, most likely did not suffer as a result.
The Environmental Considerations About Eating Bugs
Some of us chose the vegan way of life due mainly to environmental considerations. We read up about the ratio of plants needed to produce one pound of meat. We decided that animal products’ consumption is too decadent and too wasteful, given the scarcity of resources on the planet.
It is too great a harm to the environment to be something we are comfortable taking part in. We see the poverty and starvation taking place in other parts of the world, we watch the polar ice caps melt and temperatures rise. We feel too alarmed to continue supporting factory farms and wasteful food production practices.
But what is the environmental footprint of eating bugs?
It is relatively small. At least, not at all comparable to chickens or cattle. The emission of greenhouse gases from the commercial rearing of insects is not significant. Rearing insects requires little land, water, and equipment, making the environmental impact of the activity extremely small. A bonus to insect rearing is their high feed conversion efficiency, which means they convert feed to protein quite efficiently, unlike cows.
Thus, the Junior Mint lovers among us vegans attracted to the lifestyle because of environmental concerns may breathe a sigh of relief. It appears we can continue savoring Junior Mints with the knowledge that we are not causing significant ecological harm.
Although we can see that there is significant evidence to suggest that us vegans who are concerned for both animal welfare and the environment may enjoy Junior Mints with a clear conscience, the puritans among us may err on the side of caution.
There are delicious and also adorable alternatives to Junior Mints that are just as satisfying.
PETA has announced that the mint cookies touted by girl scouts are entirely vegan and free of any animal or insect products.
Despite the lack of the creamy, flaky filling, girl guide cookies provide the satisfying, chewy shellac exterior with the dark chocolate and minty taste for a spectacular flavor.
So, whenever we crave those classic Junior Mints that are so tempting at the movies, we can instead rest assured that there is a safe alternative just as satisfying to the palate. At the same time, we can watch the thrill of adorable children as they make some of their first sales pitches and support young girls’ empowerment.
This alternative is a win-win.
Whether or not Junior Mints are definitively vegan still seems a question of relativity based on what being a vegan means to you. Still, there is a lot of evidence to support the opinion that they are, or they aren’t, based on our values and how we define our veganism.
At the very least, we can make an informed decision about our food choices and be sure that we do not have to live without that tasty dark chocolate and minty fusion.
Whether we get that satisfaction from Junior Mints is up to each of us.