Nurishh vegan Camembert – ethical rating

Nurishh vegan Camembert is made in France for Bel Group, one of the largest and oldest cheesemakers in France, whose other brands includes Babybel and Boursin. Bel Group launched Nurishh in 2021 as its first 100% vegan brand, but has also recently introduced vegan versions of Babybel and Boursin (I picked up some vegan Babybel at the Grocery Outlet and will review it here soon). Some of the Nurishh vegan cheeses are available in the US while the Nurishh Camembert is mainly sold in the UK and Ireland, so far. I bought my Nurishh Camembert at Tesco Extra in Ireland (€4) and I would rate it as one of the best vegan cheeses I’ve found – especially among those at a price point on par with dairy cheese.

Review of Nurishh vegan Camembert

Shopping at a Tesco Extra in Ireland, I was excited to find a vegan version of Camembert. I’m fairly used to vegan versions of feta, cheddar, and cream cheese and I’ve found them to vary in resemblance to their dairy counterparts. (Some of the best vegan cheeses that I’ve found so far include Violife feta, Miyoko’s cheddar, and Spero cream cheese.)  I was skeptical that a vegan version of Camembert (for €4) would be any good, but the packaging (a traditional light wooden box with a paper-wrapped round of cheese inside) gave me hope that this might be better than just edible.

A picture of Nurishh vegan Camembert, unwrapped, beside the wooden box that it comes in. Nurishh vegan Camembert – ethical rating.

I was actually very impressed by this cheese! Most cheeses require an appropriate serving method (i.e., with tomatoes, with relish, on a burger, etc.) to make them palatable, while the Nurishh Camembert was perfectly fine atop some toast with no other additions. Having said that, it is even better with some tomatoes and a sprinkling of salt – but then again, so is dairy Camembert. It spread and melted quite well into the toast and had more flavor than most of the other cheeses made from coconut oil and potato starch. It really did resemble dairy-based Camembert pretty well. This could be down to the bloomy rind, which I’ve asked Bel to confirm is Penicillium camemberti, the same fungus used to ripen conventional Camembert.

A picture of Nurishh vegan Camembert on a piece of toast. Nurishh vegan Camembert - ethical rating.

If you go online for reviews of this cheese, Google provides and excerpt from Tesco website, who says that it’s “absolutely terrible!” although the average rating on Tesco is a very respectable 4.2 out of 5. Strangely, even Tesco lists all of the bad reviews first – is it trying to kill this cheese?! The HuffPost also gave this cheese a terrible review in 2021, so I’m not sure if the recipe has improved since then, or it’s just a matter of taste. I’d highly recommend trying it if you live in the UK or Ireland & I hope to see it in the US soon.

Nurishh vegan Camembert – Ingredients and Nutrition Facts

Nurishh vegan Camembert – Ingredients: Water, coconut oil, modified starch, sunflower protein, salt, natural flavouring, acidity regulator: lactic acid, sugar, colour: beta carotene, cultures.

Like many vegan cheeses, this Nurishh Camembert is made from mainly coconut oil and starch. There are a few other additions that may make the difference in texture and flavor. There’s protein from sunflower seeds – interestingly, one of my favorite vegan cheese spreads was made from sunflower seeds, by Spero. Perhaps more important is the last ingredient, simply listed as “cultures” (although it’s listed as “ferments” on the Nurishh website) – which could refer to a fungus used to ripen the cheese (Penicillium camemberti) or it could refer to an ingredient made by a microbe in a fermentor. Nurishh is using vegan milk protein made by a fungus by biotech company, Perfect Day, for its vegan cream cheese products, but I don’t think this is the case for its Camembert.

Nurishh vegan Camembert - nutrition information. A table, pictured beside a package of Nurishh vegan Camembert shows the nutritional values for the vegan cheese. Per 100 g, the cheese provides 20 g saturated fat, 21 g of carbohydrate, and 1 g of protein.

How sustainable is coconut oil?

The main ingredient in Nurishh Camembert is coconut oil. We tend to think that coconut oil is more sustainable than palm oil, but I don’t always take that as a given. It’s a bit complicated because palm oil has a higher yield, but is pretty much always grown as a monoculture, destroying habitats. Coconut trees tend to be smaller operations that are more integrated with local habitats. Here’s what Nurishh has to say about sourcing of coconut oil:

To date, the coconut oil used in Nurishh products comes from the Philippines, Indonesia and the Marshall Islands. It’s almost non-existent in Western countries, thus making local supply impossible. Bel Group’s partners must systematically take note of our “Code of Good Business Practices” which is based on seven key principles and can be found here. – Nurishh

And here’s an excerpt from a Treehugger piece on coconut oil:

In general, the main environmental issue associated with coconut cultivation is deforestation. Many of the conversations surrounding the environmental impact of coconut oil compare it to palm oil, which grows in the same tropical regions with important levels of biodiversity. Although they can still be developed as a single crop in a single area at one time (also known as monoculture), coconut trees aren’t associated with the same level of deforestation as palm oil trees.

While oil palm trees tend to produce higher quantities of oil than coconut trees, coconuts generate more products—such as coconut milk, cream, water, and activated charcoal. Coconut trees also grow well with other crops like banana, coffee, and cacao, integrating more naturally with the surrounding environment, whereas palm oil trees don’t mix well with other plants. Coconuts are also harvested by hand rather than gas-guzzling machinery.  – Treehugger.

Nurishh is owned by Bel Group – how ethical is Bel?

Nurishh Camembert is made by major cheese manufacturer, Bel Group. Perhaps the best way to summarize the situation is that Nurishh is a pretty ethical brand while Bel Group is a mediocre corporation, at best. Bel Group falls into the category of large corporations that have set targets for 2025 (on issues such as deforestation and animal welfare) that it should have addressed earlier. But the main reason that Bel Group is mediocre in terms of social and environmental impact is the nature of its business – dairy cheese. Particularly dairy cheese made on a large scale from milk sourced mainly from large indoor dairy operations.

However, the company is changing by introducing some plant-based options, most notably the Nurishh brand, so perhaps the best way of encouraging Bel to change is by supporting these brands. I’ve dealt with this topic of whether to buy vegan products made by less ethical corporations before, so I’ll refer you to that post for more on that topic.

Ethical rating for Nurishh Camembert

I’m scoring Nurishh Camembert 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, for these reasons:

  • A vegan product. Adopting a plant-based diet is the top thing you can do to mitigate deforestation & climate change and to end animal cruelty and the negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • Brand owner, Bel Group, is mainly in the business of dairy products. Bel is mediocre for animal welfare and environmental impact. The creation of vegan brand Nurishh is a step in the right direction.
  • The cheese is wrapped in waxed paper, inside a light wooden box. The box can be composted, after removing the staples that hold it together.
  • Palm oil free. The main ingredient, coconut oil, is not organic.
Nurishh Camembert - Green Stars rating for social and environmental impact. A box of Nourish Camembert is shown above a graphic showing a score of 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Nurishh Camembert:

  • 4.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 4 green stars for social and environmental impact

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

Grocery Outlet Wine Sale: April 3-11, 2023

The Spring 2023 Grocery Outlet Wine Sale is around the corner – it runs from April 3-11, 2023. As usual, all wines will be 20% off.

If you’re looking for a wine that’s good value, try Francis Ford Coppola’s California red blend, Grazie Mille! It gets a score of 4.0 on Vivino and I liked it enough to go back and buy a couple of bottles. It’s a blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, and petite sirah and normally sells for $5.99 at the Grocery Outlet – so around $4.80 on sale. It normally retails for around $13-15.

A Grocery Outlet Wine Sale sign flanked by two bottles of Grazie Mille! red wine blend from the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The Grocery Outlet wine sale runs from April 3-11, 2023.

Check out the other posts on this site if you’re interested in good finds at the Grocery Outlet – mostly focused on ethical items such as plant-based food. Recent posts include Cascadian Farm cereal, Beyond Good chocolate, and Simulate chicken nuggets.

Cascadian Farm cereal – ethical rating

I’ve bought a few kinds of Cascadian Farm cereal from the Grocery Outlet and thought they were all pretty good. They have most of the features I look for in a cereal – healthy ingredients, low added sugar, and substantial nutritional content. I try to keep my landfill waste to one small bag per month, so I think cereal is only worth buying if it’s nutritionally dense. The same goes for any food – the non-recyclable packaging footprint should be worth it. So for me, a little plastic wrap used to packaging Beyond Meat sausages is acceptable trade-off while individual 1 oz. bags of popcorn are not.

The first two that I tried – Raisin Bran Cereal and Fruit and Nut Granola – are quite good but I find the raisin bran to be a little boring while the granola is a little sweet. The perfect solution: mix them together! Then you get the combined benefit of the high fiber bran with the more nutritionally dense granola. Combined together they are similar to the Nature’s Path Pumpkin Raisin Crunch cereal, which I’ve already reviewed here (5/5 Green Stars). They were available at the Grocery Outlet for $2.99 each.

Then, last week, I came across a new one, Blueberry Almond Crunch, which is double the normal size – a 34 Oz. box contains two bags and costs $4.99 at the Grocery Outlet. This cereal costs $25 at Amazon (yes, Amazon is really bad value in many cases) and reportedly $13 at Costco. I was excited to find it so cheap at the Grocery Outlet, partly because it’s organic and has reduced packaging, but also because it contains no added sugar!

Cascadian Farm cereals – Ingredients and Nutrition Facts

Raisin Bran Cereal: Whole Grain Wheat*, Wheat Bran*, Raisins*, Sugar*, Oat Fiber*, Sea Salt, Malted Barley Extract*. Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols). *Organic

Fruit and Nut Granola: Whole Grain Oats*, Cane Sugar*, Rice*, Sunflower Oil*, Raisins*, Sunflower Seeds*, Almonds*, Cranberries*, Molasses*, Sea Salt, Natural Flavor*. Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols). *Organic

Blueberry Almond Crunch: Whole Grain Wheat*, Rice*, Almonds*, Date Powder*, Whole Grain Oats*, Sunflower Oil*, Coconut Oil*, Dried Blueberries*, Sea Salt, Natural Flavor*, Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols). *Organic

 Nutrition Facts for two Cascadian Farm products - Fruit and Nut Granola and Raisin Bran. Per serving (63 g) the Fruit and Nut granola provides 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 4 g dietary fiber, 14 g sugars, 12 g added sugars, and 6 g protein.  Per serving (63 g) the Raisin Bran provides 1.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 7 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugars, 7 g added sugars, and 5 g protein.

The Fruit and Nut Granola is over my limit of how much sugar I would like in my cereal – 12 g of added sugar per 63 g serving – that’s almost 20% sugar. As mentioned above, I tend to mix it with the raisin bran, which contains only 11% added sugar, so it ends up being around 15% sugar. There’s unfortunately no shortage of breakfast cereal containing around 40% added sugar – it’s a pretty effective way to send your kids (or yourself) on a path to developing diabetes and inflammatory problems.

Cascadian Farm - Blueberry Almond Crunch cereal - Nutrition Facts. Per 1 cup serving, the granola provides 10 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 5 g fiber, 6 g sugars, 0 g added sugars, and 5 g protein.

The new variety of Cascadian Farm cereal that I bought at the Grocery Outlet, last week has no added sugar – it relies on date powder and blueberries for sweetness. It’s made from whole grain wheat and oats, rice, almonds, dates, sunflower oil, coconut oil, and blueberries – all organic. It may be the closest I’ve seen to an ideal cereal formulation – lots of fiber and a decent level of protein, combined with moderate fat levels and low sugars from a natural source (dates, mostly).

Cascadian Farm – Love THE FARMLAND program

In very large font on the front of Cascadian Farm cereal packages is this message:

Love The Farmland

Join us in restoring 25,000,000 sq. ft.

It sounds great – the large font of their message is an implication that the project is large. I’d doubt that many consumers have an instant image of how much land that is. I certainly didn’t, so I had to look it up: 25 million square feet equates to 232 hectares.

The average farm size in the US is 180 hectares (in Ireland it’s only around 33 hectares). So the commitment by Cascadian Farm is about the same as converting 1.3 US farms (there are 2 million farms in America) or seven Irish farms.

The Nature Conservancy has a write up about the project (which is featured on Cascadian Farm’s website). Here are some quotes from it.

Wetlands, open fresh water, and other wild spaces in the central valley of California have been reduced 95% in the past hundred years in order to allow for agricultural development.

The goal of the project is to “encourage farmers to carefully shallow-flood their fields after the harvest” in order to:

  1. Help nature replenish water stores underground
  2. Create pop-up bird habitat for shorebirds migrating on the Pacific Flyway, offering them a place to rest and refuel
  3. Make more room in water reservoirs, helping prevent flooding in local communities after heavy rains

That strategy was more specific than I was expecting it to be.

The actual transaction for the project is a donation from Cascadian Farm to The Nature Conservancy:

Cascadian Farm, a pioneering brand in the organic movement, announced its commitment of $750,000 to The Nature Conservancy to help rebuild farmland in California’s Sacramento Valley. – Business Wire

With annual revenue of around $18 million, this donation (over two years) represents around 2% of revenue for Cascadian Farm. It’s important to compare the size of these donations to the company’s revenue so that we get correct perspective on the situation. For example, Kind Snacks (a subsidiary of Mars, Inc.) had built a brand for its Kind Bars based on donations of $10k per month to worthy causes. Sounds great, but as a percentage of Kind’s revenue it was only around 0.06%. Considering that the average US company donates around 0.8% of pre-tax profits to charitable causes, Kind’s donations fall far below this average, while Cascadian Farm’s is above it (at least for these two years).

You could argue that for Cascadian Farm’s parent company General Mills, which is also benefiting from this good publicity, it’s small potatoes. General Mills’ annual revenue is around $18 billion – a staggering thousand times higher than Cascadian Farm’s income.

But, as I’ve argued in the case of Kind Bars, donations are nice but sustainability of the product itself is more important. Kind bars, in my opinion, fall short on the product sustainability front as well as the corporate donations front. Cascadian Farms does better on both fronts.

History of Cascadian Farm

An idealistic grad student from Chicago, Gene wanted to farm in a way that would preserve the earth and her inhabitants. In 1972 he set out to farm by trial and error on a little stretch of land in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. He believed that organic agriculture could make a positive impact on the health of the planet, but he also realized that more like-minded farmers were needed to make lasting change. Today Cascadian Farm has grown beyond our original home farm and is a pioneering supporter of farmers who use practices that regenerate the land and their communities. – Cascadian Farm

The “home farm” is normally open to visitors during the summer, but this summer will be different as the farm has changed hands. General Mills donated the home farm to the Rodale Institute, which is famous for research on the feasibility and improvement of organic farming.

On September 29, 2022, General Mills announced it is donating the Cascadian Farm Home Farm in Skagit Valley, Washington to new owners, Rodale Institute.  

General Mills is proud to donate the Home Farm to Rodale Institute. As a global leader in regenerative organic agriculture, we believe Rodale Institute is best served as land stewards to continue its legacy.

Support Cascadian Farm even though it’s owned by General Mills?

This topic has come up a few times – in posts on Sweet Earth and Lightlife and in a post on the Green Stars Project: Should you support vegan brands owned by less ethical corporations? My short answer is that I would support Cascadian Farm, even though it’s owned by General Mills, as long as I think there’s a net benefit. Let’s say Cascadian Farm deserved 5/5 Green Stars if it was an independent company. How much is that score dragged down by General Mills ownership? That may depend on a few factors:

  1. How ethical is General Mills?
  2. Does Cascadian Farms seem likely to go downhill due to General Mills’ ownership?
  3. Alternatively, might it be a genuine step in the right direction for General Mills?

The Cornucopia Institute, which rates companies based on the kind of agriculture practiced, has a pithy write-up on Cascadian Farm:

100% of the brand’s cereal and granola products are certified organic. [The] corporate owner is one of nation’s largest agribusinesses involved in GMO/ chemical agriculture.

The ultimate score is 410 out of 700 – considered “very good” on their chart. It’s a little over halfway between the “exemplary” score of 700 by Nature’s Path (reviewed here before) and the “poor” score of 5 by General Mills.

A scorecard from the Cornucopia Institute, which rates companies based mainly on their use of organic agriculture versus industrial agriculture (GMOs, agrochemicals). the scorecard gives Cascadian Farm full marks (100/100) and the parent company General Mills either 0/100 or 5/100 in each case.

How ethical is General Mills?

I’ve written a little bit about General Mills in a 2021 post on Lärabar, feeling that they had a poor reputation but were improving. Here are some updates from GM’s 2022 Global Responsibility Report:

Sourced 63 percent renewable electricity across global operations, with a commitment to source 100 percent by 2030. 

115,000 acres total enrolled in the company’s regenerative agriculture program, with a commitment to advance regenerative agriculture on one million acres of farmland by 2030

115,000 acres equals around 46,500 hectares, or almost 260 average-sized US farms. That’s around 0.01% of US farms – bear in mind that General Mills ranks in the top 10 largest food processing companies. Also bear in mind that this just refers to enrollment in the program.

General Mills gets a C grade on Australia’s Shop Ethical! Site, which I think is fair – I would probably rate the company around 2/5 Green Stars today, although I would like to do more research to make sure.

Ethical rating for Cascadian Farm cereal and granola

I’m scoring Cascadian Farm 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, for these reasons:

  • All products are made with organic ingredients.
  • They are a good plant-based option for breakfast, being more nutritionally dense than most cereals.
  • Cascadian Farm has been a leader in organic agriculture for 50 years in the US.
  • The cardboard box is made from recycled paperboard (and is also recyclable).
  • The Blueberry Almond Crunch cereal comes in a larger box containing two bags, saving packaging.
  • Charitable donations and collaborative projects such as “The Farmland,” are secondary to the product itself, but a nice addition in this case, representing around 2% of Cascadian Farm’s revenue for 2021-2.
  • The parent company, General Mills, gets a poor ethical rating but has made some improvements lately.
  • Donating Cascadian Farm’s home farm to the Rodale Institute was a nice move.   
Cascadian Farm cereals - ethical rating. Three different kinds of Cascadian Farm cereal are pictured above a graphic showing an ethical score of 4/5 Green Stars. This score is for the social and environmental impact of Cascadian Farm.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Cascadian Farm cereals and granola:

  • 4.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 4 green stars for social and environmental impact

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

The No Meat Company – sausage rolls

The No Meat Company’s vegan sausage rolls – “No Porkies” – are a pretty good buy, in my opinion. Unlike many other sausage rolls, they contain no palm oil, and the packaging is a simple cardboard box – no plastic. Do they taste good? Put it this way: After buying one box to try them, I went back and bought four more boxes 🙂  The No Meat Company sausage rolls are available from the Grocery Outlet for $1.99 for a box of four pretty large frozen sausage rolls.

I actually came across some very similar vegan sausage rolls at the Grocery Outlet a couple of years ago, but made by Fry’s Family Foods – a South African plant-based food company that I reviewed here previously. It turns out that there is a connection: The UK-based No Meat Company and Fry’s Family Foods were both acquired by the Livekindly Collective, along with a three other vegan food companies (Oumph!, Like Meat, and The Dutch Weed). Livekindly is owned in part by Blue Horizon Ventures, which has invested in many of the biggest plant-based food companies at some point.

No Porkies sausage rolls – review

These could not be easier to prepare – open the box, slide the frozen sausage rolls out of the box onto a baking tray and bake until golden brown. I use parchment paper (sustainably made by If You Care) on the tray so there’s not even any need for washing up afterwards. The parchment paper can then be used to wrap any sausage rolls that you don’t intend to eat right away – they’re good hot or cold. The packaging can be recycled after a quick wipe to remove any flour.

For my first time cooking them, I brushed the sausage rolls with some beaten egg so that they’d go nice and brown. This turned out to be unnecessary and even a bad idea as it became hard to judge whether they were cooked or not because they become very brown. The second time, I didn’t brush them with anything and the result was better – they actually turn golden brown without any milk or egg wash.

The pastry was good – nice flaky puff pastry, the way it should be – which goes to show that we don’t need dairy or palm oil to make good pastry. The filling is quite good – I think it would benefit from more sage and cayenne but it was pretty good as-is. This blogger also mentioned that they could use more seasoning but did also like them, comparing them to famous vegan sausage rolls from Gregg’s bakeries in the UK. The filling is soy-based but I had no digestion issues, as I sometimes do with products made from soy protein concentrate.

The No Meat Company - No Porkies vegan sausage rolls. The photo shows four of "No Porkies" sausage rolls stacked on a plate with the packaging box behind it.

No Porkies – Ingredients

Water, Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Margarine (Fully Hydrogenated Sunflower Oil, Fully Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, Water, Salt), Textured Soya Protein Concentrate (6%), Sunflower Oil, Sage and Onion Seasoning (Rusk (Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron Niacin, Thiamin), Water, Salt, Yeast (contains Barley)), Dehydrated Onion, Salt, Dried Sage, Sage Powder, Dried Parsley, Raising Agent: Sodium Caronates; Barley Malt Extract), Modified Maize Starch, Stabiliser: Methyl Cellulose; Salt, Seasoning (Concentrated Mushroom, Salt, Rapeseed Oil, Water, Mushroom Powder, Suagar, Concentrated Onion, Cornflour), Onion Powder, Yeast Extract, Ground White Pepper, Ground Nutmeg, Cayenne Pepper, Wheat Protein, Colour: Carotenes.

Each sausage roll (100 g) provides 301 calories, comprising 17.3 g fat (7.8 g saturated fat), 25.1 g carbohydrate, 4.2 g dietary fiber, 2.1 g sugars, 1.3 g salt, and 9.3 g protein.

That’s a lot of salt in one sausage roll! So, going back to the seasoning, adding more salt would not be a good idea, but I think a little more heat (cayenne or paprika) and herb might work, maybe even allowing a reduction in salt.

Is fully hydrogenated oil safe?

The most interesting thing about the ingredients is the margarine – fully hydrogenated sunflower oil and fully hydrogenated coconut oil. The hydrogenation turns unsaturated fats, like those in sunflower oil, into saturated fats that become solid at room temperature. This is one of the reasons why they don’t need to use palm oil – so that’s good.

The food industry moved away from partially hydrogenated oils because this process results in the formation of trans fats, now known to be pretty harmful to health. These partially-hydrogenated oils were replaced by palm oil by many food companies, resulting in large-scale deforestation and destruction of peat lands in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Fully hydrogenated oils avoids harmful trans fats but another way would be to use more of the solid plant-based fats like coconut oil and shea butter, as used in Naturli’ vegan butter. The reason for The No Meat Company using fully hydrogenated sunflower oil, I’m pretty sure, is that it’s cheaper than coconut oil and shea butter. Perhaps it also results in slightly better pastry, but I’m guessing economics is the key factor here.

A 2016 review, Commercially available alternatives to palm oil, addressed this question, concluding that it is possible to replace palm oil by liquid oils, blends with exotic fats, or blends with fully hydrogenated liquid oils. Here’s a couple of more points from that review:

Even though the above mentioned fully hydrogenated fats do not contain trans-fatty acids, in many countries it is still necessary to label the process of hydrogenation on the food packaging.

One of the major drawbacks of non-palm and non-hydrogenated fats based on shea, cocoa butter or other exotic fats is the high price of the raw materials.

There is one recent study on the health impact of fully-hydrogenated oil – researchers in Japan compared the impact of canola oil with fully-hydrogenated canola oil (FHCO) and found that it appears to be significantly better than palm oil or even regular liquid canola oil.

FHCO remarkably decreased the serum cholesterol level [and systolic blood pressure] compared with canola.

That was just one study, however, so it’s early days yet. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat fully hydrogenated oil, but it should be a lot safer than partially hydrogenated oil and possibly even better than some natural fats like palm oil.

So, we’ve wandered quite far from sausage rolls – let’s get back to the product with an evaluation on ethics 🙂

Ethical rating for The No Meat Company vegan sausage rolls

First of all, it’s quite tricky getting information here. The No Meat Company’s webpage for No Porkies is completely blank but there is a page for similar sausage rolls that come in 6-packs. The About Us section of the No Meat website is extremely sparse and there’s no meaningful information on sustainability. You have to know to go to the Livekindly Collective website for more information on all of the Livekindly brands. It would be quite easy to go to the Livekindly blog by accident – a media company that was acquired by the Livekindly Collective, which took its name. Ironic that communication is Livekindly’s biggest weak point.

Even the Livekindly Collective is sparse on sustainability info – the relevant webpage boils down to these two points:

  1. Adopting a plant-based diet is single best thing you can do to save the planet. All of Livekindly’s brands, such as the No Meat Company, are plant-based food companies.
  2. Livekindly brands such as the No Meat Company are using or moving towards sustainable packaging (e.g., cardboard, recycled plastic).

These are important points, and true. But as one of the largest plant-based food companies, the Livekindly Collective should work on communicating more. There’s a post on upgrading the food system that provides some useful information but is also quite vague in some areas. It mentions a collaborative project with Puris – an interesting plant-breeding company focused on breeding high-yield, disease-resistant, non-GMO crops. Puris was named in 2021 by Fast Company as the most innovative company in the food space for its development of a high-protein pea variety that’s viable across six climate zones. Here’s some more info on that upgrading the food system page:

We are the only company in the plant-based food sector to own and operate the entire value chain of production.

In South-Africa our dedicated Agric team has sourced suitable land where we are able to influence the crop rotation of the farmer to positively impact their long-term soil health. Our mission is not only to make a positive contribution to the environment through promoting a shift from degenerative to regenerative farming methods

I’m scoring the No Meat Company’s vegan sausage rolls 4.5/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, for these reasons:

  • All No Meat Company products are (surprise!) all vegan. Adopting a plant-based diet is the top thing you can do to mitigate deforestation & climate change and to end animal cruelty and the negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • The main ingredients (wheat, soy, sunflower oil, coconut oil) are generally far more sustainable than meat. More information on sourcing would be appreciated though.
  • Instead of using palm oil, the sausage rolls are made with fully-hydrogenated coconut and sunflower oils. Palm oil is very commonly used in products like sausage rolls, so it’s good to see someone demonstrating that there’s a better way.
  • The packaging is a simple cardboard box, which can be easily wiped clean and recycled. Packaging needs to be simplified, especially in the US, and boxes are the best option in many cases.
  • The parent company, Livekindly Collective, appears to have some interesting projects going on around sustainable farming, but needs to better communicate on them.
The No Meat Company, vegan sausage rolls - Green Stars score for social and environmental impact. A package of the "No Porkies" vegan sausage rolls is shown over a graphic showing an ethical score of 4.5 out of 5 Green Stars.

Summary scores (out of 5) for The No Meat Company’s vegan sausage rolls:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value
  • 4.5 green stars for social and environmental impact

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

Beyond Good chocolate – review and ethical rating

Beyond Good is a chocolate company that aims to benefit cacao farmers in Madagascar and Uganda through direct trade purchasing. Most of their finished chocolate bars are now manufactured in Madagascar, employing local people and paying a decent wage. The company, formerly known as Madécasse, was established in 2006 by two Peace Corps volunteers who served in Madagascar.

We make chocolate at origin in Madagascar, working directly with cocoa farmers to buy premium cocoa and employing local Malagasy people at our chocolate factory. Our supply chain is unique, 100% traceable and fully transparent. We’re currently expanding our mission into Uganda.  – Beyond Good.

I picked up a bar of the Beyond Good chocolate – the Uganda 73% bar with Crispy Rice – at the Grocery Outlet for $1.49 (it’s normally $3-4). I recently posted on the Top 10 Ethical Chocolate Brands on the Green Stars Project site so I’m trying to learn about brands that I was previously not very aware of. It turns out that Beyond Good was a good place to start!

Review of Beyond Good’s Uganda bar with Crispy Rice

The back of the package contains some tips on appreciating chocolate (slow down, let it melt in your mouth, search your back teeth for flavor..!). I actually love this chocolate and rate it highly – it has a great chocolatey taste, creamy texture, and a nice balance between sweet and bitter (73% cacao). Beyond Good chocolate is made from flavorful Criollo cocoa beans, which are much less common, accounting for around 3% of global cocoa production. I would totally buy this Beyond Good chocolate again and look forward to trying more of their bars.

The crispy rice also works really well in the chocolate, providing an experience that would nicely replace conventional bars like Kit Kats. An upgrade rather than a replacement – the quality of the Beyond Good chocolate is, not surprisingly, much better than a Kit Kat, requiring less to satisfy cravings. One of the many problems with mainstream chocolate bars is that they are designed to be scarfed and then craved again soon after. We tend eat a lot of them and this comes with the cost of a high carbon footprint and widespread deforestation in West Africa.

It seems fitting that these Beyond Good bars contain rice as some of the land used to grow the cacao was formerly used to grow rice – now it’s a forest again!

Instead of chopping down forests to pave the way for additional plot land, the farmers have been converting rice lands into new shaded areas where cocoa pods sprout alongside banana, jackfruit and citrus trees. – TriplePundit

Beyond Good – Direct Trade cacao and manufacturing in Africa

I’m currently writing a chapter on population growth for my book on ethical consumerism. It’s really important to know that many of our global problems have a root in population growth. The more people on the planet, the more resources are needed to sustain them. Population growth is directly linked to the standard of living – the human population in the Global South (developing countries) is still growing while it has now stabilized in most developed countries. Around 10% of all women in sub-Sarahan Africa give birth between the ages of 15 and 19.

Improving the standard of living in the Global South is the best way to curb population growth. Obviously we shouldn’t even need this justification! An adequate standard of living, access to education and family planning resources are basic human rights. But it’s not at all easy for a farmer living on the poverty line to be able to send their kids to school – many kids will work on the farm instead, helping to make ends meet. The supply chain for cacao destined for commodity markets, to be eventually purchased by Nestle, Hershey, and the other big chocolate manufacturers looks like this:

An illustration to show how many middlemen exist between cacao farmers and the customer, each taking a cut of profits that could have otherwise gone to farmers. 
Beyond Good chocolate ethical rating.

In West Africa, where most of the commodity cacao is sourced by the major chocolate makers, farmers make between 50 and 70 cents a day. The cocoa farmers that Beyond Good works with earn $3.84 per day, on average. They earn over five times more because the supply chain contains no middlemen – it looks like this:

The image illustrates the direct trade route used by Beyond Good Beyond. 93 farmers sell cocoa directly to Beyond Good, to be processed at their factory in Madagascar and sold to customers. Beyond Good chocolate ethical rating.

We don’t work with middlemen that chip away at farmer profit. Making chocolate at source is a win, win, win situation. Farmers earn more, customers get a high-quality product (since we’re able to test the cocoa before purchasing it) and we’re able to keep our prices lower than other makers of premium chocolate since we don’t have to pay for the multiple levels of middlemen, exporters, and importers. – Beyond Good.

Africa is the leading producer of agricultural raw materials like cocoa, coffee, and vanilla but these items are exported and processed in Europe or North America. By producing at source in Madagascar we’re able to add value to the local economy, create skilled jobs and produce a finished product that creates more economic activity. – Beyond Good

A graph and some additional numbers from Beyond Good showing how many bars are manufactured in Madagascar compared to the EU (most of them, by 2021), how many employees at their Madagascar factory (105), and how many direct trade relationships (93). 
Beyond Good chocolate ethical rating

Beyond Good’s CEO, Tim McCollum, says that the consequences of their farmers earning five to six times more than cocoa farmers in West Africa have been remarkable. Not only are they more likely to be able to send their children to school, but farmers also began practicing regenerative farming because they had the money to invest in it. It’s pretty hard to think about the environment when you’re on the poverty line, but once they escape poverty and are able to look after their families, the farmers often turn to thinking about nature.

You need to deal with poverty before people can care about the environment. Once our farmers were financially secure, they started to think longer-term – Treehugger

Beyond Good – cacao and deforestation

Here are a few quotes from a Yale 360 investigation into the role that the chocolate industry has played in the deforestation of West Africa:

In the past half-century, few countries have lost rainforests as fast as the Ivory Coast. More than 80 percent of its forests are gone.

Around 40 percent of the country’s cocoa crop — more than a tenth of the world’s chocolate bars — is grown illegally in the country’s national parks and 230 supposedly protected government-owned forests.

Most cocoa is grown in monocultures of what is known as the full-sun system, requiring the removal of all surrounding trees.

Very few international companies directly source from protected areas,” says Richard Scobey, president of the World Cocoa Foundation. But they buy from middlemen who do.

Beyond Good’s cacao suppliers are shown on an interactive map, each with a photo and brief bio, including the size of their farm (often just a few acres) and even an estimate of the number of trees. Most of them have had a relationship with Beyond Good for over five years.

The information on the number of trees per farm is really useful because there are separate counts for “cacao trees” and “total trees.” The largest producer (Théodule) has the following stats:  Total Trees: 94404 and Cocoa Trees 73958. So there are around 20,000 non-cocoa trees on this farmer’s land, or around 20% of the total number of trees.

A typical parcel of cocoa forest in our supply chain will have 75% cocoa trees and 25% shade trees – Beyond Good, on Treehugger

According to a 2018 paper in Nature Sustainability, around 30% shade cover seems to represent an ideal compromise between crop yield, climate mitigation, climate adaptability, and biodiversity.

Our results suggest that cocoa agroforests up to 30% cover are far superior to monocultures because they do not strongly compromise production, while at the same time they provide benefits for disease management, climate mitigation and adaptation and biodiversity conservation – Climate-smart sustainable agriculture in low-to-intermediate shade agroforests

So, Beyond Good’s suppliers are close to that ideal level of shade cover, providing much more support for biodiversity and climate change mitigation than sun grown cacao.

Beyond Good chocolate – Ingredients and Nutrition

Beyond Good Crispy Rice, 73% Cocoa

Ingredients: Organic cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, organic crispy rice, organic cocoa butter, organic vanilla extract.

Nutrition Facts: Each 25 gram bar provides 10 g fat, 6 g sugar, 3 g fiber, and 2 g protein. Zero sodium.

The bar is vegan, organic, Kosher, and gluten-free.

An image of the Beyond Good Crispy Rice, 73% Cocoa bar is shown along with Nutrition Facts and some certifications (vegan, gluten-free, organic, Kosher).

Nutrition Facts: Each 25 gram bar provides 10 g fat, 6 g sugar, 3 g fiber, and 2 g protein. Zero sodium.

Beyond Good chocolate ethical rating.

Ethical rating for Beyond Good chocolate

I think that Beyond Good chocolate deserve 5/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Beyond Good chocolate is a vegan product.
  • All of the ingredients (in my Uganda bar) are certified organic.
  • All bars are free of palm oil.
  • Beyond Good has a direct trade relationship with cacao farmers, who earn at least 5 times the average income for West African cacao farmers. This has a huge impact, on the quality of life, especially since Madagascans are generally poorer than West Africans.
  • Beyond Good’s chocolate is predominantly made in Madagascar and will soon also be made in Uganda. Most other chocolate makers just source the ingredients from commodity markets and then process it elsewhere.
  • Farmers report on both cacao and non-cacao trees on their property and it appears that the farms average at around 20-25% shade cover. These other trees enhance biodiversity and help mitigate climate change.
A Beyond Good chocolate bar (Uganda 73% cocoa with crispy rice) is pictured over a graphic of 5 green stars, representing a score for social and environmental impact. Beyond Good chocolate ethical rating.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Beyond Good chocolate:

  • 4.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 5 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating!

Simulate Nuggs – review & ethical rating

Simulate Nuggs (v2.0) are on sale at the Grocery Outlet at $10 for a large 2 lb box of vegan chicken nuggets. That’s about 20% lower than the regular price – not bad, but not as good a deal as other meat substitutes available at the Grocery Outlet. But it looked like an interesting company so I bought a box for research purposes 😉

Simulate is a plant-based food company that’s initially focused on vegan chicken nuggets, aka Nuggs. The founder, Ben Pasternak, was 15 years old when he received venture capital funding for his first company, a social networking app that has since shut down. Now the Australian entrepreneur is 23 years old and running Simulate in New York.

Simulate Nuggs – review

My first batch of Nuggs was dry and made a pretty poor impression, but that’s probably my own fault so I’ll strike it from the record. But, in my defense, the nuggets are thin a bit unforgiving on cooking temperature deviations. The Nuggs were redeemed in my second batch and my needle moved into the “might buy again” category. I say “might,” because there’s some stiff competition in the vegan nuggets world.

I don’t like Simulate Nuggs as much as Beyond Chicken tenders or Quorn nuggets in terms of either flavor or texture but others seem to love them. Bon Appétit magazine ran a taste test of several brands of vegan chicken nuggets and placed Simulate Nuggs in about second place on account of the nice breading. They labeled Nuggs as “the fast-food replica,” on account of a crust that resembled a McDonald’s nugget. Unfortunately, they didn’t include the Beyond Chicken tenders, which I covered in a recent post – perhaps it’s too big to be considered a nugget?! Here’s a nice, in-depth video review that includes (mostly positive) ratings by people who normally eat meat-based nuggets:

Because several companies make pretty good vegan nuggets, it may be easier to choose between them after considering their social and environmental impact. But all of them (at least, any of the brands that I’ve examined so far) are better than nuggets made from chicken meat (for example from McDonald’s) in terms of impact. So find one that you like, whether it’s Nuggs, Quorn, Beyond Meat, Impossible, or others (I’ll be reviewing nuggets from Impossible Foods and others soon.)

Simulate Nuggs – Ingredients and Nutrition

There’s some similarity between Simulate Nuggs and Beyond Chicken tenders in terms of ingredients, except for the main source of protein and fat. Simulate uses wheat protein and soybean oil while Beyond Meat uses fava bean protein and sunflower oil.

Simulate Nuggs – Ingredients: Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Soybean Oil, Breadcrumbs (Enriched Wheat Flour [Enriched with Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Sugar, Rice Flour, Yeast, Salt, Extractives of Paprika), Enriched Wheat Flour, Soy Protein Isolate, Corn Flour, Modified Food Starch, Wheat Protein Isolate. Contains 2% or less of: Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Methylcellulose, Tapioca Dextrin, Corn Starch, Yeast Extract, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Salt, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda, Black Pepper, Paprika, Dextrose, Red Pepper.

Simulate Nuggs – Nutrition Facts: The nutritional content is also quite similar between Simulate Nuggs and Beyond Chicken tenders – the fat, fiber, sugar, and protein content are all pretty good while sodium is a little on the high side. But even though a serving of Nuggs provides 17% of our sodium daily allowance, I found that they tasted even better with a sprinkling of salt. I guess I’m a salt fiend, but the reviewer in the video above said the same thing – they taste underseasoned.

Simulate Nuggs - Nutrition Facts are shown. Per serving of 5 pieces, Simulate Nuggs (v2.0) provides 17% sodium (daily value), 2 g fiber, 13 g protein, 10 g total fat, and 1.5 g saturated fat.

Simulate Nuggs – product development inspired by tech

Simulate’s founder, Ben Pasternak, is more of a tech entrepreneur than a food science expert, and this shows when you look at the model for improvement of Nuggs. Similar to software development, the recipe for Nuggs is tweaked from time to time, partly based on customer feedback. As each new version is rolled out, Simulate will list the changes that have been made, as you can see in the image below. For example, Nuggs v1.5 involved elimination of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and a 65% reduction in sodium content (wow – salt content used to more than twice as high!). The current version, Nuggs v2.0, involved some pretty big ingredient changes – the elimination of konjac, pea protein, seaweed, and wheat gluten.

Simulate Nuggs - the company ethos is explained in a few symbols with statements like "Pro GMO."  Beneath that is a description of changes to the product that have taken place as new versions are rolled out.

Ethical rating for Simulate Nuggs

The other thing to note in the image above is Simulate’s statements about their ethos:

  • Highly processed
  • Pro GMO
  • Lab to Table

It’s an amusing way to describe their principles and I appreciate the transparency, but unfortunately that’s the only information provided.

As a research scientist who has worked in the genetic engineering field, I know many people who will support the pro-GMO stance. My opinion is that I support using genetically-modified microbes to make ingredients that would normally come from animal products. An example of that would be the milk protein produced in a fungus by Perfect Day, found in some products that I’ve reviewed here – Modern Kitchen cream cheese and Brave Robot ice cream. I’m not a fan of GMO crops, however – not exactly because of the genetic engineering part, but rather because the GM part is tightly bound to industrial agriculture practices that wage war on nature. When you buy GM seeds from Bayer/Monsanto you are almost always also buying into the heavy use of herbicides like glyphosate and pesticides such as neonics.

I would therefore appreciate if Simulate would take their transparency to a meaningful level by discussing which ingredients are genetically-modified and why. The terms “highly processed” and “lab to table” are also quite glib and not very informative in the absence of more information. I know that some critics of plant-based meat substitutes claim that they are highly-processed compared to meat. I discussed this in a Green Stars Project post on Quorn and came to the conclusion that fermenting a fungus (similar to making beer) and preparing protein from it does not really equate to highly-processed. Yes, there is processing involved, but when you compare it to the artifice of raising animals intensively (horribly cramped conditions, bizarre roughage feedstocks, antibiotics, growth hormones, high-throughput slaughtering, etc.) the product is a lot less adulterated. 

So, while I appreciate Simulate’s transparency in making these statements, I think that in the absence of further information they are unhelpful. Here’s my ethical score for Simulate Nuggs:

I think that Simulate Nuggs deserve 3/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Simulate Nuggs is a vegan product. Adopting a plant-based diet is the top thing you can do to mitigate deforestation & climate change and to end animal cruelty and the insidious negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • The main ingredients, wheat and soy are generally far more sustainable than meat.
  • Simulate is not transparent about ingredient sourcing. Considering their pro-GMO stance, ingredients such as soybean oil may pose issues such as the use of neonics or displacement of rainforest.
  • If you would rather not support industrial agriculture then perhaps pass on this product, but it is still preferable to nuggets made from chicken meat.
  • Packaging for this 2 lb box is reasonably minimal – a plastic bag housed inside cardboard box.
Simulate Nuggs - Green Stars rating for social and environmental impact. A box of Simulate Chicken Nuggs is shown and beneath it is a score of 3/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Simulate Nuggs:

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

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating!

Grocery Outlet wine sale, Nov 2-8, 2022

The Grocery Outlet’s wine sale is coming up again – it runs from November 2 to 8, 2022 – so it may be a good time to try something new or stock up on any 2022 favorites. I have a favorite from this year and it’s actually one of my favorite Grocery Outlet wine finds of all time.

Chateau Lavabre, Pic Saint-Loup ‘La Closerie’ 2017

La Closerie is a Rhone-style blend from the Pic Saint-Loup region in Languedoc.

Composition: 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre

Chateau Lavabre, Pic Saint-Loup ‘La Closerie’ 2017. Bottle is shown, focused on the label. Grocery Outlet wine sale, Nov 2-8, 2022

The 2017 vintage has a rating of 4.2 on Vivino, ranking first among the Languedoc-Roussillon Red wines available in California. It received 92 points on Wine Spectator, although earlier vintages scored as much as 96 points.

It’s a little pricier than most Grocery Outlet wines at $16.99, but it normally retails for around $35. It’ll be $13.50 during the sale, so I’d recommend giving it a try if you come across any bottles. Bottles are often tucked away, lying horizontally in their cardboard nests.

Until next time – stay safe!

The best song on every Taylor Swift album from Fearless to Midnights

In celebration of Midnights, here’s my take on the best song from each Taylor Swift album, based on lyrics, music, and enjoyability to sing and play on guitar. There were some close calls in these cases I called on techniques like putting songs on repeat and asking which one I’d be happy to listen to over and over (most fun I ever had).

I discovered her music during lockdown and exclusively chose her songs to learn on my guitar, which I dusted off, restrung and started over with. I haven’t listed a favorite song from her first album because I haven’t listened to it yet – I wanted to give each album space rather than rushing through them all.

So, here goes!

Fearless (2008)

Favorite song: Forever & Always

There several other contenders on the album (Breathe, Fearless, You Belong With Me) but I think that Forever & Always is probably her best work here for its consistency and emotional energy. Like many of her later songs (and unlike most pop music) the song avoids slumping or feeling repetitive at any point.

Lyric highlight:

So here’s to everything coming down to nothing

Here’s to silence that cuts me to the core

Interesting versions: Forever & Always (Piano Version) has a slower tempo and an extended bridge, providing a nice alternative to the more energetic album version. On the other hand, the live version (featured strongly in the Journey to Fearless documentary) involves young TayTay throwing an armchair onstage. Ohhhhh (*throws chair*) back up, baby, back up!

Speak Now (2010)

Favorite song: Back To December

My favorite on Speak Now may change over time because I haven’t yet listened to it as much as her later albums. I was tempted to pick the second track on the album, Sparks Fly, as it sounds more welcoming next to Back to December, which at first sounds a bit drippy. But that’s part of the appeal of Back to December – she paints the scene so well here with her choice of music and, of course, her lyrics. The first verse illustrates her growing ability to bring the mood of a story through life through her words.

Lyric highlight:

It turns out freedom ain’t nothing but missing you

Wishing I’d realized what I had when you were mine

Interesting versions: Of all her albums, I’d say that Speak Now is the one that would benefit most from a revamp for Taylor’s Version. This live version of Back to December merges into You’re Not Sorry, bridged by One Republic’s Apologize.

Red (2012)

Favorite song: All Too Well

What else?! Actually there are lots of great songs on Red to choose from – Treacherous is probably my second choice.

Lyric highlight:

Photo album on the counter, your cheeks were turning red

You used to be a little kid with glasses in a twin size bed

Interesting versions: Here’s Taylor performing the 10 minute version on SNL with her short film playing in the background. After releasing Folklore and Evermore in 2020, the 2021 release of Red (Taylor’s Version) and the extended All Too Well kept her in the spotlight throughout lockdown.

1989 (2014)

Favorite song: All You Had To Do Was Stay

1989 has a lot of big hits but rather than choosing one of the seven (!) singles, I’m going for All You Had To Do Was Stay. I’m choosing it as much, if not more, for the melody than the lyrics. The runner up was close: Out of the woods.

Lyric highlight:

Here you are now, calling me up, but I don’t know what to say
I’ve been picking up the pieces of the mess you made

Interesting versions: playing/singing it yourself! Here’s a live version but it would be nice to see an acoustic version.

Reputation (2017)

Favorite song: Call It What You Want

Reputation took some getting used to after I had spent lockdown listening to Folklore, Red, and Evermore. With many songs focusing on cadence and intonation over lyrics it seemed like a different world. I did stumble across her Delicate music video (who said research scientists don’t get out much?) and fell in love with it. However, I’m picking Call It What You Want as my top song from Reputation.

Lyric highlight:

And I know I make the same mistakes every time

Bridges burn, I never learn

At least I did one thing right, I did one thing right

Interesting versions: This live acoustic version on SNL:

Lover (2019)

Favorite song: Soon You’ll Get Better

I’m picking this song because it’s hard not to. Even for someone known for her emotion and openness, this song stands out. Soon You’ll Get Better is not the first time Taylor sung to her mother, but it’s the most poignant. It’s Nice To Have A Friend is also outstanding – it uses rhythm in a playful way, perhaps foreshadowing Closure from Evermore.

Lyric highlight:

Holy orange bottles

Each night I pray to you

Desperate people find faith

So now I pray to Jesus too

Interesting versions: This performance in April 2020 was the first time I noticed TS. Within a year she had become my favorite artist.

Folklore (2020)

Favorite song: Seven

My favorite song from Folklore has definitely shifted over time. I was first attracted to Exile, initially because of Justin Vernon who I was more familiar with than TS. I love Aaron Dessner’s guitar on Invisible String, which is also a sweet, whimsical song. But I’m picking Seven as my favorite song from perhaps the most important Taylor Swift album – the one that got us through one of the toughest years of our lives. Seven is all about childhood and it best represents Folklore’s wonderful innocence.

Lyric highlight:

Please picture me in the trees

I hit my peak at seven feet

In the swing over the creek

I was too scared to jump in

But I, I was high in the sky

With Pennsylvania under me

Interesting versions: The Long Pond Studio Sessions are a great way to experience Folklore.

Evermore (2020)

Favorite song: Right Where You Left Me

This album has grown on me more and more and I’d count several songs as general favorites – Marjorie and Evermore in particular. But I think the best song on the album is actually a bonus track: Right Where You Left Me. In time, I think it’ll be counted as one of her masterpieces.

Lyric highlight:

Matches burn after the other

Pages turn and stick to each other

Wages earned and lessons learned

But I, I’m right where you left me

Midnights (2022)

Favorite song: You’re On Your Own, Kid

As soon as I heard this song – even the first five seconds of it – I knew it would be a favorite. I immediately put it on repeat and told the rest of the album that it can wait until 2 am.

Lyric highlight:

Summer went away

Still the yearning stays

Agree or disagree with these choices? Comment below!

Also, please check out the rest of this site if you’d like to learn about ethical food choices!

Beyond Chicken Tenders at the Grocery Outlet – sustainability & ethical rating

Beyond Chicken tenders have been available at the Grocery Outlet for $2.99, compared to the normal price of between $5 and $6. However, last weekend they were reduced even further to $1.99 (at least in one store), so it’s a good time to try them out if you’re thinking of reducing your carbon footprint or reducing harm to animals. We kill around 50 billion chickens per year, for worldwide meat production – that’s over 6 times the number of humans on earth, slaughtered every year. The vast majority of the chickens live in extremely crowded, inhumane conditions. The business of slaughtering animals is also creating a negative miasma in society – check out this post on the social impact of the meat industry.

Beyond Chicken Tenders – review

First off, I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a chicken nugget, so it’s hard for me to compare Beyond Chicken directly to chicken. However, you can check online for reviews of plant-based chicken tenders and you’ll find that most of the taste panelists (The Kitchn, Food Network, Buzzfeed, etc.) consider them to be very close in taste and texture to real chicken. Is there really any need to eat chicken anymore?

Beyond Chicken Tenders at the Grocery Outlet. Beyond Chicken sustainability and ethical rating.

I have, however, had many kinds of plant-based chicken nuggets and I’ll say that these stand out for juiciness and meatiness. They pair perfectly with JUST vegan mayo (which I need to review here at some point) for dipping, but also work quite well with Spero vegan goat cheese and many other options.

My most important tip is that I’d recommend cooking for longer than the 8 minutes directed on the packet or you may find them a bit too juicy! I find that around 12 to 15 minutes in a toaster oven (turning halfway) gives the best results. Cooking in an air fryer also gives very good results.

Beyond Chicken Tenders – Ingredients and Nutrition

There are certainly a lot of ingredients – I wouldn’t eat these on a daily basis – but it’s still a lot better than a regular chicken nugget. It’s worth mentioning that folk who eat a lot of animal-based protein have shorter lives, relative to those who follow plant-based diets.

Beyond Chicken Tenders – Ingredients: Water, Faba Bean Protein, Breading (Wheat Flour, Rice Flour, Salt, Corn Starch, Pea Protein, Canola Oil, Wheat Gluten, Paprika, Spices, Dextrose, Leavening[Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate], Sugar, Sunflower Oil, Dried Onion, Dried Garlic, Yeast Extract, Natural Flavors), Breadcrumbs (Wheat Flour, Sugar, Sea Salt, Dried Yeast), Vital Wheat Gluten, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Flavors, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Pea starch, Methylcellulose, and 1% or less of Yeast Extract, Refined Coconut Oil, Salt, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Sodium Phosphates, Spices, Titanium dioxide (for color), Sunflower Lecithin. Contains: Wheat, May Contain Soy

Beyond Chicken Tenders – Nutrition Facts: The fat content is not super high – I thought there would be more, based on the taste. They do contain sodium 20% of your recommended sodium intake, per serving, so I would recommend sticking to the serving size. Also, as the picture below shows, I ate four of them (2 servings) in one meal and found that this was too much – they are pretty filling.  

Beyond Chicken Tenders served with JUST mayo, Spero vegan goat cheese, leeks, cucumber salad and bread. Beyond Chicken Tenders at the Grocery Outlet. Beyond Chicken sustainability and ethical rating.
Beyond Chicken Tenders served with JUST mayo, Spero vegan goat cheese, leeks, cucumber salad and ACME bread.

Ethical rating for Beyond Chicken Tenders

I’ve previously written about the sustainability of Beyond Meat on The Green Stars Project, so please take a look at that post for more information, including detail on a life-cycle assessment (LCA) of peas versus other protein such as meat. Beyond Meat started off well with that LCA study and pretty minimal packaging for their Beyond Sausage and Cookout Classic burgers 10-pack. Since then, Beyond Meat haven’t produced much new information on sustainability, and the amount of packaging for some of the newer products, like these Beyond Chicken Tenders is pretty high, relative to the contents. Beyond Meat still rates well, ethically, but needs to step it up right now – having Kim Kardashian telling us that Beyond Meat is better for the planet is not enough.

I think that Beyond Chicken Tenders deserve 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Beyond Chicken is a vegan product. Adopting a plant-based diet is the top thing you can do to mitigate deforestation & climate change and to end animal cruelty and the insidious negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • The main ingredients, faba (fava) beans, peas, and wheat are far more sustainable than meat.
  • Legumes such as peas and beans are among the most sustainable protein sources, as shown in many studies such as the well-regarded 2018 study by Poore and Nemecek.
  • Legumes generally require far less fertilizer as the plants fix their own nitrogen
  • Packaging for Beyond Chicken Tenders is disappointing compared to Beyond Sausage and other Beyond Meat products – a thick plastic bag was used when a box could have been used (e.g., as used by Quorn).
  • Unlike other Beyond Meat products, this one is not non-GMO certified – this is also a step backward for Beyond Meat. I don’t expect the beans and peas to be organic, but other ingredients should be.
  • I’d also like to see corporate sustainability reports from Beyond Meat and more information on ingredient sourcing.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Beyond Chicken Tenders:

  • 4.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 4 green stars for social and environmental impact
Below the image of a bag of Beyond Chicken Tenders is a graphic showing a score of 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact. Beyond Chicken Tenders at the Grocery Outlet. Beyond Chicken sustainability and ethical rating.

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating!

Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon

Sweet Earth’s Benevolent Bacon is my favorite version of vegan bacon – I’ve been buying it for years. So when it turned up at the Grocery Outlet on sale for $1.99 (it’s normally around $5) I bought a few packs – they are frozen so you can keep them for months in the freezer. Sweet Earth’s vegan bacon is made from mainly wheat gluten, expeller-pressed canola oil, organic adzuki beans and organic buckwheat groats, along with a bunch of other ingredients (some organic) that look reasonably ok.

My favorite way to eat it is on whole grain bread either with just vegan butter or a selection from the usual suspects of avocado, tomato, and lettuce. It’s a good way to include some protein with breakfast, with each 20-gram slice containing 4 grams protein. It’s pretty low in fat (compared to the meat version of bacon, which usually contains equal amounts of fat and protein) with around 1.5 grams of fat per slice, plus there’s no saturated fat, trans fat, or cholesterol. Overall, I think it’s a really good bacon substitute, whether you want to go plant-based for ethical reasons, health reasons, or a bit of both!

Benevolent Bacon – Ingredients & Nutrition Facts

Water, Vital Wheat Gluten, Canola Oil (3), Natural Flavor, Adzuki Beans (1), Buckwheat Groats (1), Natural Hickory Smoke Flavor, Cane Sugar (1), Smoked Paprika, Annatto, Maple Syrup (1), Tomato Powder, Garlic, Onion Powder, Spices, Tomato Paste, Soy Sauce (2) (Water, Soybeans (2), Wheat, Salt, Alcohol (1)), Nutritional Yeast (1), Apple Cider Vinegar (1), Coconut Oil, Sea Salt and Caramel Color (1). (1): Organic. (2): Non-GMO. (3): Non-GMO expeller pressed.

Photo of Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon and Nutrition Facts panel. Each slice of bacon (20 grams) provides 1.5 g fat, 3 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, and 100 mg sodium

Ethical rating for Sweet Earth’s Benevolent Bacon

I’ve already posted a review of Sweet Earth’s vegetarian pizzas, although Benevolent Bacon will get a higher score as it is 100% vegan. In that previous post, I covered the fact that Sweet Earth is owned by Nestlé, and in a related post on the Green Stars Project blog, I discussed whether to buy vegan brands owned by less ethical companies.   

Overall, I think that the Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon deserves 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • This product is vegan. About 70% of Sweet Earth’s products are vegan and the remaining 30% are vegetarian.
  • Sweet Earth used to have an Eco Clock on their site which was fun to watch and catalogs some facts and figures like greenhouse gases avoided (79,000 tonnes), water conserved (82 million gallons) and animals saved (24,000 cows, 84,000 pigs and 2.7 million chickens). Those figures are about 1.5 years old – the clock has been removed from the site and now links for “About Us” and “Track our Impact” are circular, providing no information.  
  • It’s disappointing that Sweet Earth doesn’t provide much information on sustainability or social impact anymore.
  • Packaging is not bad – a plastic wrap and then a small outer cardboard sleeve that can be recycled.
  • A FAQ on the Sweet Earth site states that, “All ingredients are non-GMO and the majority are organic.” It’s quite confusing then that some ingredients such as wheat gluten (the main ingredient in Benevolent Bacon) are not labeled as non-GMO (see ingredients, above).
  • Sweet Earth was a small, local company, based in Moss Beach, on Monterey Bay with a history of mostly women in positions of leadership.
  • In 2017, Sweet Earth was acquired by Nestlé, a company with a poor ethical track record. I bought Sweet Earth products before the company was sold to Nestlé, and will continue to support the brand, but only if the original company values are maintained.
  • I have to say that the company seems to be going a bit backwards lately, with sparse information presented in a disorganized way. The score would have been 4.5 Green Stars, otherwise.
Ethical rating for Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon. The bacon is pictured over a graphic showing a rating of 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon:

  • 4.5 gold stars for quality and value.
  • 4 Green Stars for social and environmental impact

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