If I had $1 for every time I asked this question, I would be a rich, rich lady! Thankfully, so many companies are catching on and adding plant-based items to their list of available products! But how do you make sure?
Read Your Labels!
When I first started out, I would carry around a little cheat sheet with me:
The star beside vitamin D3 is because sometimes vitamin D3 CAN be derived from plants, however most of the time it is from animals. Most companies will let you know if it is derived from plants, otherwise assume it is an animal product. Now here is the difficulty...this list is always changing. Companies are constantly coming up with new names for animal derived products...and it drives me nuts! Red #5 is another one to add to this list, and there are definitely more, these are just the ones I had a hard time remembering all the time. For a more exhaustive list and a description of what each item is, check out this resource from PETA.
Use Available Resources!
PETA also has a great resource on their website to help you find cruelty free companies and products!
Stick with Fresh Ingredients!
When possible, cook with whole, unprocessed foods. I know we all are busy and oftentimes do not have the ability to spend a lot of time cooking or prepping...I get it! However, the easiest way to ensure you are not eating animal products is to cook everything yourself and not rely on companies to process your foods in a healthy or humane way. The best example I can think of is packaged guacamole - you'd think it was full of avocado, onion, lime juice, tomatoes, right? Wrong! Some companies add milk to their guacamole..WHY? Why? Make things yourself when you can!
Be Patient with Yourself
If you discover that maybe a product you have bought 100 times just changed ingredients, or maybe you forgot to read a label, know that it is okay! We all make mistakes! Just the other day I went to Olive Garden (for some reason my family loves it...I personally think anyone could cook pasta better but, to each their own!) and did a great job making sure they brought me butter-free bread sticks and gluten free vegan pasta with plane tomato sauce (ick), BUT I asked for fat free dressing with my salad. Normally I ask for oil and vinegar to be safe, but I wasn't thinking and totally forgot that they put eggs AND milk in their "Italian" salad dressing...COME...ON..PEOPLE! So I ate it, noticed I was feeling a little off and double checked the ingredients and sure enough, the salad dressing was the culprit. Instead of beating myself up about it, I noted it in my brain and took a probiotic when I got home and called it a day. Sadly it is nearly impossible to live a truly 100% vegan lifestyle and we just have to forgive ourselves and try to do better next time.