Last month, my vegetarian brother and his vegetarian girlfriend informed me about shellac. Apparently, the coat on most shiny candy is due to shellac, a resin secreted by the female lac bug, Kerria lacca. Shellac is often listed as confectioner’s glaze, which I sadly found on the ingredients list of Ferrara Pan’s Boston Baked Beans. Adam told me that shellac is used to make Jelly Belly jellybeans smooth and pretty. I looked them up online, and the company uses shellac and beeswax in their candy making. Am I to give up beautiful candy? Candy corn, can I forsake thee?
I have mixed feelings. I do not object to beeswax or honey because I do not have a problem with consuming animal products that do not necessarily result in critter killing. Of course, the practice of beekeeping invariably kills some bees—some of those workers will not get out of the way when one is working with the hive’s frames. Yet, that killing is accidental. Avoiding honey for such a reason would be like refusing to drink wine because occasionally vineyard workers may die of heatstroke. Is shellac, then, like honey?
Not quite. The lac bugs form shellac as protective barriers and corridors along the trees whose sap they eat. When men harvest the shellac, they invariably kill many of the lac bugs. In a way, shellac is like honey and beeswax, but the collateral damage is practically much higher.
On the other hand, lac bugs are scale insects. If you have never battled scales on your houseplants, then perhaps you do not realize the genocidal hatred that they may induce. I hate scales that colonize my poor, defenseless scheffleras. Their resin secretions cause fits of anger and battles of horticultural oil. I know that I should not hold the whole family of scales responsible, but I am tempted to hate lacs conveniently. Maybe, I should munch a few handfuls of Whoppers before I carry out my periodic massacres just to add insult to
Aside from my fiendish dislike of scales, the hypocrisy of my lacto-ovo vegetarianism tempers my willingness to give up shellac. Ideally, I can eat unfertilized chicken eggs and enjoy milk and other dairy products without such nourishment’s requiring any death. As a matter of fact, though, the egg and dairy industries involve the untimely deaths of chickens and cattle—almost all males and then the older, less productive females. For such reasons, I often consider becoming a vegan. I periodically go months on a vegan diet without much trouble, but I would worry about the long term effects of continual veganism. And I love cheese. A lot.
I have not decided what to do about shellac. I am still working my way through the Boston Baked Beans that I received in my Easter basket. After that, I shall probably avoid shellac candy but not fanatically abstain . . . somewhat like an American Jew’s form of keeping kosher.