Gardein turk’y roast – sustainability and ethical review

Gardein is a brand of vegan meat substitutes that was acquired by Conagra Brands in 2018. As Thanksgiving and the holidays approach, I thought I would review Gardein’s holiday roast, which has recently been re-named turk’y roast. It’s also appropriate to evaluate Gardein as I’ve recently looked at Conagra sustainability (on the GSP site) and also at Conagra’s other big vegan brand, Earth Balance. More on that later – for now, let’s just evaluate the food…

The Gardein turk’y roast is available at the Grocery Outlet for $6.99, which is a good price considering that it weighs 1 kg (2.2 lbs) and even on sale at Amazon/Whole Foods it’s $13.50. This is my favorite Gardein product – the roast has a crispy coating and a nice stuffing of rice, cranberry, and a little kale. It also comes with a few pouches of frozen mushroom gravy, which pairs really well with slices of the roast (and roast potatoes!).

It’s a handy item to have in the freezer and an easy holiday meal with some roast veggies on the side. However, there is one key thing that would significantly improve it, both ethically and nutritionally…

Gardein turk’y roast – ingredients and nutrition facts

Gardein turk’y roast, ingredients: water, enriched wheat flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), soy protein isolate, vital wheat gluten, onions, canola oil, cooked brown rice (water, brown rice,) celery, 2% or less of: salt, sugar, cornstarch, dried cranberries, methylcellulose, yeast extract, wheat gluten, cooked wild rice (wild rice, water), potato starch, ancient grain flour (Khorasan wheat), garlic powder, kale spices, natural flavors, titanium dioxide (color), barley malt extract, yeast, soy lecithin, dried red bell paper, rosemary, leavening (sodium bicarbonate, cream of tartar), coconut oil, onion powder, soybean oil, extraction of paprika (color).

Vegan, Kosher, and Non-GMO.

Phew – that’s a lot to digest, but it is a complex product with multiple layers. Basically, it’s composed of wheat (flour and gluten), soy, and a few veggies, herbs, and spices. As you can see from the Nutrition Facts panel below, it’s high in protein (19 grams per serving) and generally fine as far as the nutrition breakdown goes, although it is pretty high in salt.

Nutrition Facts panel for Gardein's turk'y roast is shown. Also the old product, called Gardein Holiday Roast, is pictured for comparison. Gardein turk’y roast sustainability ethical review.

My biggest issue is that it’s made from soy protein isolate rather than whole soybean – soy protein isolate is extracted with hexane, usually, so it’s kind of the industrial cousin to regular soybeans. I wouldn’t eat this on a regular basis, but totally would if it was made from organic soy and wheat.

Is Gardein more ethical than Conagra?

I rated the social and environmental impact of Conagra Brands at a very poor 1 out of 5 Green Stars, overall. Perhaps I should bump this rating up to 1.5 Green Stars as the company is now accelerating the transition to cage-free eggs. The fact that they are moving their target forward (from 2025 to 2024) and have stated metrics for each year at least implies that they are taking ethics a bit more seriously. Nice to see some improvement, but Conagra still ranks pretty low for social and environmental impact.

Individual brands within Conagra’s giant corporation may rate better or worse than the parent company, and I’m certainly expecting Gardein to be the best of the lot. Or at least better than Earth Balance, the other vegan brand that Conagra acquired at the same time as Gardein. Earth Balance makes vegan buttery spreads, mainly from palm oil, and it seems that its palm oil sourcing standards slipped after Conagra took over. As a result, I rated the social and environmental impact of Earth Balance at 1/5 Green Stars.

In this age of giant multinationals, I think it’s important to have a rough idea of how the parent company ranks, ethically, but also to evaluate each of the company’s brands separately. Conagra Brands sells a lot of animal-based products so when it acquired Gardein as its flagship vegan brand, I think that it’s not a terrible idea to *support that. It may be the best way to encourage the worst food companies in the world to improve, ethically.

*Supporting the brand is only helpful, of course if it actually maintains relatively high ethical standards. In the case of Earth Balance, standards dropped and I dropped it like a hot palm-oil-buttered potato as a result. If we assume that Conagra Brands as a whole scores 1.5 Green Stars, then the question is: does Gardein score significantly higher than this?

Ethical rating for Gardein turk’y roast

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of the Gardein turk’y roast, which I’m scoring 3.5 Green Stars:

  • A vegan product, as are all Gardein products.
  • Ingredients are non-GMO, but not organic.
  • The vast majority of non-organic soy crops grown in the Americas are treated with bee-killing neonics, a major misstep in modern agriculture that needs to change.
  • Packaging is fairly minimal – a cardboard box and inner plastic wrap.
  • Parent company, Conagra Brands, supports the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action, which is essentially a lobbying group for intensive agriculture.
  • Conagra Brands ranks poorly for ethics, but acquiring Gardein was a step in the right direction.
  • Key area for improvement of Gardein: transition to organic soy.
  • Key area for improvement of Conagra: switch to sustainable palm oil, and fast.
Gardein turk'y roast - rating for social and environmental impact. Gardein's turk'y roast is pictured over a graphic showing a score of 3.5 out of 5 green stars for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Gardein turk’y roast:

  • 3.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 3.5 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Published by jkaybay

I have two sites, both focused on ethical consumerism. The Green Stars Project (https://greenstarsproject.org/) aims to start a movement based on crowd-sourced ethical ratings. Ethical Bargains (https://ethicalbargains.org/) is focused on new products that I've bought at the Grocery Outlet.

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