As we head into fall, apples don’t fall far from trees, literally! For everyone, omnivores and herbivores alike, apples will be abundant and ready for homemade pies. For the small amount of vegetarians out there though, apples have a little problem with how they are mass-harvested.
Most conventional apples are coated with a wax for preservation, better shelf life and protection from going dry. Some types of waxes used are plant-based, like carnauba and candelilla, but another widely used type is shellac. Shellac is in and coats many types of foods, since it is regulated and approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Food grade shellac comes from resin secreted by female lac bugs and are sold as dry flakes, which are then dissolved in ethanol for both food glaze and wood finish. It’s a fairly useful item, but for the concerned vegetarian, it becomes a dilemma.
Apples are considered a very healthy food with cancer fighting qualities, especially in the apple skins where nutrients are highly concentrated. According to research compiled from NutritionFacts.org, apple peels contain and stimulate production of a protein called maspin, which some studies report correlates with suppressed breast and prostate cancer cells. Quite literally, an apple a day will keep the doctor away, or better yet, keep chemotherapy away.
So, what to do? These peels are covered with pesticides and wax from bugs (kind of a paradox, no?), and vegetarians have chosen to follow a plant-based diet. If we discard the peel, then we may miss out on those wonderful cancer-suppressing, anti-angiogenic (against development of new blood vessels) and anti-metastatic qualities!
The truth is that most vegetarians don’t care a whole lot. For the amount of animals that are harmed in the process of creating food-grade shellac, the amount is insignificant when compared to the amount of animals that suffer and die in factory farms every day (10 billion per year in the United States alone).
If you’re like me, then you probably will save your pennies and buy organic apples or local apples that you know are probably not covered with this wax. But for the average Joe and Jane, the apple is still extremely nutritious and a little wax won’t kill you — just rub it on your sleeve! Even if you have no choice but to eat conventional produce, it is still much better than avoiding produce all together!
Until next time, have fun apple picking, or in my case enjoying fresh, hard apple cider!
Benjamin Sylvester is the president of the Drexel Animal Welfare Group. He can be contacted at [email protected]. “Moo Over This” publishes biweekly.