Can vegans eat yeast? Do vegans eat yeast? Should vegans eat yeast? No, I'm really asking! Normally, after more than two decades of meat-free eating, and three published books, I consider myself quite an expert on vegetarian and vegan issues. But this one stumped me.
Someone wrote a comment on my blog post about vegan beers and wines to say that vegans shouldn't be eating yeast! Is this person crazy, or am I missing something?
He seemed to be genuine, and not a troll.
If the yeast used to ferment beers and other alcohol isn't vegan-safe, then what about the yeast used in baking bread? What kind of a definition of vegan is this guy using? Fermenting soy foods such as miso and tempeh? Probiotic supplements such as acidophilus? And who could live without Marmite or Vegemite?
Here's what one reader named Todd had to say:
A vegan drinking alcohol is a hypocrite. Yeast must be used to propagate the fermentation process and convert the sugar into alcohol in ANY alcoholic drink. Yeast is in fact is a living micro-organism. The carbon dioxide and alcohol are a waste product after the yeast cells consume the sugar. Why does the life of a cow, fish or bee have more authenticity than that of the millions of yeast cells that are used to produce a bottle of wine?
Well, Todd, I don't pretend to be a moral authority for all vegans, but I can assure you you're in the minority, as vegans notoriously love their nutritional yeast and have no problem drinking vegan beers and eating vegan bread or other foods containing yeast.
But should vegans eat yeast? Can vegans eat yeast with a clear conscience and without fears of being called a hypocrite?
One obvious reason vegans do indeed eat all kinds of yeast is that there is no spinal chord (or muscular tissue, for that matter) and no central nervous system. Simply put, no central nervous system in yeast means there's no demonstrated scientific capacity to experience pain, nor to register anything as pain, and that's what makes yeast different from cows.
That and yeast is technically a fungus. Like mushrooms. Do vegans like Todd object to eating mushrooms too?
I'll end with a quote from philosopher Jeremey Bentham:
The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
No, Todd. The yeast does not suffer. But I'll step down off my soapbox now to see what you all have to say. Thoughts? Comments?