Explore Cuisine pasta – sustainability and ethical review

Explore Cuisine is a Thailand-based company that makes high-protein pastas from legumes and other nutritious ingredients, like Spirulina. I bought three varieties at the Grocery Outlet ($2.99 for an 8 oz. box) and tried them out over the last month. These pastas are popular on Amazon but the price is actually lower when buying them directly from Explore Cuisine (around $4 per 8 oz. box, sold as 6-packs, or $15 for large 2 lb. boxes that reduce packaging). This is another example of why you should not trust Amazon and choose whenever possible to buy products directly from manufacturers rather than supporting Bezos’s empire.

Anyway, back to the Explore Cuisine pastas that I bought. Here are the three varieties that I’ve tried so far:

  • Organic Edamame & Mung Bean Fettuccine
  • Organic Edamame & Spirulina Spaghetti
  • Organic Chickpea Fusilli

I tried them in various scenarios – very simply with garlic and olive oil, with various veggies, and with good old tomato sauce. I was actually blown away by how good these veggie pastas tasted. I was expecting there to be textural issues, or even for the pasta to fall apart on my fork, but I loved the texture. The pasta had a nice bite and even a slightly meaty texture, probably from the abundance of fiber and protein, and I really enjoyed eating them.

The fettuccine was my favorite so far but they were all good and I look forward to trying them all. They all have slightly different cooking times, so pay attention to the directions.

One of the best things about these pastas is that they are so nutritious that you don’t need to add a lot to them to make a satisfying meal. I also like regular wheat pasta and the Blue Evolution seaweed pasta that I featured here a few months ago, so I’m not choosing to eat the Explore Cuisine pastas because I’m avoiding gluten, or carbs. I’ll eat them because they provide tons of protein, fiber and other nutrients, and because they are a sustainable choice. I’ll get to the sustainability part later – first here’s some info on ingredients and nutrition.

Explore Cuisine pasta – ingredients and nutrition.

Here are the ingredients for the three varieties of Explore Cuisine pasta that I tried:

Organic Edamame & Mung Bean Fettuccine – Ingredients: Organic edamame bean flour (green soybeans), organic mung bean flour.

Organic Edamame & Spirulina Spaghetti – Ingredients: Organic edamame bean flour (green soybeans), organic spirulina powder.

Organic Chickpea Fusilli – Ingredients: Organic chickpea flour, organic brown rice flour, organic tapioca starch, organic pea protein powder.

As you can see, the ingredients could hardly be simpler. For the first two, the ingredients are literally just the two items in the name of the pasta. It’s impressive that they were able to generate such robust pastas from just these minimal ingredients.

Explore Cuisine pasta - Nutrition Facts.
Nutrition Facts are shown for three brands of Explore Cuisine pasta - Organic Edamame & Mung Bean Fettuccine, Organic Edamame & Spirulina Spaghetti, and Organic Chickpea Fusilli. Post focuses on Explore Cuisine pasta - sustainability and ethical review.

Many people think of pasta as carbs but good quality wheat pasta is actually a decent source of protein (typically 7 g per serving) and fiber (3 g per serving). But these pastas are in a league of their own – the fettucine and spaghetti supply around 50% of the recommended daily intake of protein, fiber, and iron. For vegetarians and vegans, it’s great to be able to get 24 g of protein and a good amount of iron in one serving of pasta.

Explore Cuisine – company profile

Explore Cuisine seems to be a Thailand-based company that’s now the main brand of a corporation called Ethical Brands, Inc., with Gregor Forbes as managing director. Ethical Brands is a new enterprise – Explore Cuisine is the main focus for now but the company also brought Swedish pea protein milk brand Sproud to the U.S. in 2020. Explore Cuisine products are sold in several countries, including the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Explore Cuisine supports farmers in one of the poorest regions of Thailand, with 2% of revenue going to the Food to Thrive Foundation to educate and empower farmers. Here’s a video about the Food to Thrive foundation:

Ultimately, Explore Cuisine products excite me because they bring together two things that rank high for sustainability: dried pasta and legumes. I’ll explain more in the ethical evaluation, coming up right now! 

Ethical rating for Explore Cuisine pasta

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Explore Cuisine pasta, which I’m happy to give an almost perfect score of 4.5 Green Stars:

  • A vegan product that delivers lots of protein, providing a convenient alternative to meat-based dishes.
  • Organic ingredients
  • As far as processed food goes, pasta is one of the most sustainable options that you can find. It’s a shelf-stable, nutrient-dense product that’s lightweight because it contains very little water (it absorbs the water that you provide during cooking) and can be packaged in a basic cardboard box.
  • Similarly, legumes are among the most sustainable protein-rich foods. Legume plants help to regenerate the soil and since they fix their own nitrogen, there’s no need for nitrogen fertilizer.
  • 2% of Explore Cuisine revenue goes to the Food to Thrive Foundation, supporting farmers in one of Thailand’s poorest provinces. Food to Thrive helps support the transition from conventional to organic farming and helps farmers with seeds and equipment.
  • Explore Cuisine (and Ethical Brands) needs to provide more company information as it grows.
  • Packaging is cardboard but doesn’t state if recycled or FSC-certified. Some varieties are packed in an inner bag.
Explore Cuisine pasta - ethical review. The image shows the three kinds of Explore Cuisine pasta featured in this post with a graphic showing an ethical score of 4.5 Green Stars, representing the social and environmental impact of Explore Cuisine.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Explore Cuisine pastas:

  • 5 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 : )  

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 : )  

NotMilk – sustainability and ethical review

NotMilk is a brand of pea-based, vegan milk that’s produced by the Chilean company, NotCo. I picked up the full fat version of NotMilk – looking very milk-like in a refrigerated white carton – at the Grocery Outlet for $2.99 (half-gallon; normally $4.99). There’s also a 2% fat version available and I would get that lower-fat version if choosing again, because it turns out that the main ingredient in my “whole milk” (whole not-milk) is sunflower oil. So, how does it taste?

NotMilk is closer to cow’s milk in taste and texture than most vegan milks, although it’s not quite in a class of its own. It’s actually pretty similar to Ripple milk, which is made by Bay Area company, Ripple Foods. NotCo make a big fuss over their food development process, which hinges on their artificial intelligence (AI) platform. This AI algorithm, which they name Giuseppe, helps with identification of ingredients that can contribute beneficial properties to the food – an example that they provide is the lactones in pineapple, which are similar to the lactones in milk.

NotMilk sustainability and review.  The image is of Giuseppe, a contestant in the Great British Bake Off, 2021. Giuseppe is also the name of NotMilk's artificial intelligence (AI) platform.
NotMilk’s culinary AI genius: Giuseppe. Oh no, wait, that’s Giuseppe from Bake Off : )

Despite the fanfare over Giuseppe, if you look at the ingredients for NotMilk you’ll see they are quite similar to those of Ripple, which has been around for years. I happened to have a bottle of Ripple milk in my fridge, so I took the opportunity to compare NotMilk and Ripple in various situations, over the last few weeks.

NotMilk versus Ripple milk

Here’s a summary of my comparison of NotMilk to Ripple milk in various situations:

Tea: NotMilk worked very well in black tea, complementing the flavor and approximating dairy milk pretty well. I would say the same thing for Ripple. Both milks can sometimes separate a little bit out of the tea, depending on a few factors – pH and the ratio of milk to tea. If you do encounter this first-world problem of separation, using a little more milk can help avoid it. However, it wasn’t a big problem in either case – I can see some visual separation but there wasn’t any kind of lumpiness (ew!) or major textural change. So, basically, both performed well in tea.

Coffee: Pretty similar to the situation with tea – both NotMilk and Ripple performed well in coffee although there was  a little separation in both cases, sometimes. In this case, I preferred the flavor of my coffee with Ripple – the NotMilk added a slightly fruity flavor from the minor ingredients (pineapple and cabbage). So, both were quite good but I slightly preferred Ripple.

Cereal: Both milks work fine with cold cereal and I would use either one again. Again, Ripple is more neutral, but some people might like the slightly fruity flavor of NotMilk in their cereal.

With two such similar products, I will probably decide on which one to support more based on ethics. So I’ll get to the ethical review soon – first, let’s look at the ingredients and nutrition facts.

NotMilk – ingredients and nutrition facts

NotMilk (whole) – Ingredients

Water, sunflower oil, pea protein, contains less than 2% of: sugar, pineapple juice concentrate, dipotassium phosphate, calcium carbonate, gellan gum, acacia gum, salt, monocalcium phosphate, natural flavor, cabbage juice concentrate, vitamin D2, vitamin B12. Made in facilities that also process milk, soy, almonds and coconut.

Vegan, Halal, Kosher, gluten-free, non-GMO.

Check out this article from Go Dairy Free on how the NotMilk ingredients have changed in 2021. Note that Whole Foods still list the old ingredients – a bit sloppy, Bezos, considering that you own stakes in NotCo and Whole Foods!

For comparison, here are the ingredients for Ripple milk (original): water, pea protein blend (water, pea protein), cane sugar, sunflower oil, contains less than 1% of vitamin a palmitate, vitamin D2, vitamin B12, tricalcium phosphate, dipotassium phosphate, sunflower lecithin, natural flavor, sea salt, guar gum, gellan gum.

Fairly similar, right? The unusual ingredients that NotMilk attribute to their AI platform are the juices of pineapple and cabbage. The main ingredients for both products are water, pea protein, sunflower oil and sugar.

Not Milk sustainability ethical review. The image shows the front and back of a carton of NotMilk (whole milk). The Nutrition Facts are highlighted and also listed in the text below the image.

Nutrition Facts per cup (240 mL) of NotMilk: 100 calories, 8 g fat, 7 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 3 g sugars (includes 3 g added sugars), 4 g protein. 25% vitamin D, 25% calcium, 35% vitamin B12.

Ripple milk (original) contains twice as much protein, half as much fat, similar carbs, twice the added sugars, and higher vitamin content, compared to NotMilk (e.g., Ripple provides 100% of the recommended daily allowance of B12, compared to 35% in NotMilk).

Overall, I prefer Ripple over NotMilk for ingredients and nutritional content. The only positive for NotMilk is the lower added sugar content. As mentioned, the main ingredient of NotMilk is sunflower oil, which I find a bit odd – I would go for the 2% fat version if buying again.

Ethical rating for NotMilk

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

  • A vegan product.
  • Ingredients are not organic. It is non-GMO, but there are more important issues.
  • For example, the vast majority of non-organic sunflower crops grown in the Americas are treated with bee-killing neonics. Sunflower oil is the main ingredient, so that’s a bummer.
  • NotMilk reports sustainability metrics of 92% less water, 74% less energy, and 74% less CO2, compared to dairy milk. This internal analysis is not shared, however. Based on the similarity of the ingredients to Ripple milk, the numbers do look about right (and Ripple Foods did publish their analysis).
  • I appreciate that it’s a South American company that’s introducing vegan burgers, milk, etc., to a population that traditionally has a high meat intake (the NotBurger is available in Chile, Brazil and Argentina; NotMilk is available in Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and the US).
  • Packaging is a paperboard carton (the simpler, refrigerated type) which may be recyclable or at least compostable.
  • Room for improvement: the major improvement that NotMilk needs is to switch to organic sunflower oil, or at least pesticide-free. Would be 4.5 green stars in that case.
Not Milk sustainability ethical review. A carton of NotMilk (whole) is shown over a graphic score of 3.5 out of 5 green stars. This represents an ethical rating for NotMilk's social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for NotMilk:

  • 4 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 : )  

Brave Robot ice cream – ethical review

Brave Robot is a unique brand of ice cream in that it’s made using milk proteins that come from a fungus rather than a cow. Confused? Well, don’t be – it’ll all become clear in a moment. Brave Robot is the ice cream maker but the vegan milk protein is produced by another company, Perfect Day. The goal of Berkeley-based Perfect Day has been to replicate dairy by engineering a fungus to produce the proteins that are found in milk (casein and whey proteins, mainly).

So, Perfect Day are offering a vegan version of milk (basically) that’s much closer to cow’s milk than milk made from oats, almond, coconut, etc. Several companies are starting to use Perfect Day’s milk protein as an ingredient:

  1. Brave Robot vegan ice cream, which I’ll get to in a moment.
  2. Modern Kitchen vegan cream cheese, which is not on supermarket shelves yet.
  3. Smitten ice cream, which has several liquid nitrogen equipped stores around the Bay Area.
  4. Nick’s ice cream, low carb and keto-friendly.
  5. Graeter’s ice cream, made in Ohio, interesting flavors.

Note that Brave Robot and Modern Kitchen brands are both produced by The Urgent Company, which was created by Prefect Day but now runs as an independent company.

Anyway… on to the Brave Robot ice creams that I tried.

Brave Robot ice cream – review

I bought three different flavors of Brave Robot ice cream from the Grocery Outlet for $1.99 each. Folks were surprised to see the ice cream at these prices – friends of mine (biotech enthusiasts) bought ice cream from Perfect Day when it was first released, at a cost of $60 for three pints. These days, you can buy Brave Robot ice cream for around $6 per pint (or $2 at the Grocery Outlet).

The flavors that I bought were Blueberry Pie, Vanilla N’ Cookies, and Hazelnut Chocolate Chunk – all of which sounded appealing. I’ll cut to the chase – there was something about the ice cream that didn’t quite work for me. It wasn’t terrible by any means – it’s actually pretty close to rich dairy ice cream – but there’s something about it that I didn’t love. I couldn’t pin down what wasn’t quite right – it seemed to be a subtle issue with both taste and texture. I’m not the only one who thought this – friends who tried it picked up on the same thing.

Here’s what Ryan Pandya, CEO and co-founder of Perfect Day, said in a Medium article introducing The Urgent Company and Brave Robot:

Call me a cynic, but I don’t think the next pea-protein-slurry is going to suddenly deliver on the creaminess and delight of real dairy ice cream.

Well, au contraire, Ryan – I found Ripple Foods’ chocolate ice cream (which is made from pea protein) to have a better texture than Brave Robot’s ice cream, so I’d disagree on this. I would definitely repurchase Ripple ice cream over Brave Robot.

Having said that, I’d recommend trying Brave Robot ice cream if you are a fan of conventional ice cream and looking to cut down on dairy and/or reduce your footprint. I expect that the formulation will evolve and future versions of Brave Robot will be better. I hope so, as Perfect Day’s vegan milk protein offers some large advantages over dairy, from a sustainability perspective (and animal welfare too, of course). I’ll deal with the ethical evaluation soon – first let’s take a look at the ingredients.

Brave Robot ice cream – Ingredients and Nutrition Facts

My favorite of the three ice creams that I tried was Hazelnut Chocolate Chunk, so I’m going to show ingredients and nutritional info for that flavor.

Brave Robot, Hazelnut Chocolate Chunk – Ingredients:

Water, sugar, coconut oil, ground hazelnuts, sunflower oil, non-animal whey protein, contains less than 2% of maltodextrin, cocoa processed with alkali, natural flavor, calcium potassium phosphate citrate, salt, disodium phosphate, carob bean gum, mono and diglycerides, sunflower lecithin, cornstarch.

Brave Robot, Hazelnut Chocolate Chunk – Nutrition Facts. A 2/3 cup serving (117 grams) provides 14 grams of saturated fat (70% of Daily Value), 28 grams of added sugars, 5 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fiber.

So much saturated fat and sugar! It’s 24% sugar by weight, making it the sweetest vegan ice cream that I’ve come across. As mentioned on previous posts, vegan ice creams do have a key nutritional advantage over most conventional dairy ice creams (e.g., Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs) – no trans fats. Protein content is about the same as conventional dairy ice cream – 5 grams per serving – except that it’s protein that’s made in a fungus by Perfect Day.

Perfect Day’s whey protein is produced in a genetically engineered fungus that’s grown in a fermentor, using technology similar to that for producing insulin or vegetarian rennet. As they only produce the milk protein, it’s lactose-free.

Sustainability at Perfect Day and Brave Robot

Here are a few thoughts before I get to the ethical rating for Brave Robot ice cream. Although Perfect Day and Brave Robot (The Urgent Company) are separate entities, they were founded by the same people and it would make sense for their values to align. After all, Perfect Robot is currently the flagship product for Perfect Day’s vegan milk protein. Perfect Day reports on a life cycle assessment (LCA) that compares the impact of its vegan product to dairy protein. Here are some key findings from the LCA study:

Perfect Day - key numbers from a life cycle assessment (LCA) comparison of Perfect Day's vegan whey to conventional dairy whey. Perfect Day's vegan whey is a key ingredient in Brave Robot ice cream.

Perfect Day’s numbers align pretty well with the footprints of vegan products that I’ve examined previously, such as Quorn (another fungal product) and Beyond Meat. Then, switching over to Brave Robot, I found that the company is also conducting an LCA for a finished pint of ice cream, with a current number of 0.76 kg CO2 equivalents per pint.

Brave Robot also report on packaging for the ice cream: the container is made with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified paperboard and lined with sugarcane-derived, petroleum-free liner.  So far so good, but what I found disappointing was that there’s no reporting on the main ingredients: sugar, coconut oil, ground hazelnuts, sunflower oil and cocoa.

All of these ingredients come with issues from sustainability, social impact, and/or human rights perspectives. You’re probably aware of some of them from general news coverage and maybe others like neonics (insecticides used on conventional sunflowers) if you’re a GSP reader. It seems strange to not source ingredients in a way that matches the ethics of the Perfect Day ingredient (e.g., organic / regenerative, fair trade). Plus, take a look at this:

We use sustainably sourced palm oil in two of our flavor inclusions (Buttery Pecan and Raspberry White Truffle); all other flavors are palm oil free. It is RSPO certified, which is the global standard for sustainable palm oil.

If you’ve read my GSP post on palm oil certifications, you’ll know that there are several levels of RSPO certification, and the weakest of them is indeed very weak. Brave Robot doesn’t state to which RSPO level its palm oil is certified. Generally speaking, RSPO has been disappointment as an enforcer of sustainable palm oil, the POIG is better and Palm Done Right is best. I avoid all palm oil products other than those certified by Palm Done Right, if at all possible.

It seems incongruous for Brave Robot to be so slapdash about sourcing a key ingredient like palm oil, particularly when the product’s main selling point is sustainability.

Ethical rating for Brave Robot ice cream

This hasn’t been a straightforward decision, because there’s a mix of positives and negatives here. Hopefully the negatives can be addressed in the future. I’m rating Brave Robot ice cream 3 Green Stars based on the following points:

  • All products are vegan, benefiting animals, habitats and climate.
  • Perfect Day’s whey protein production reduces water use up to 99%, greenhouse gas emissions up to 97% and non-renewable energy use up to 60% compared to conventional dairy-based whey.
  • Brave Robot’s ice cream tubs are made from FSC-certified paperboard with a sugarcane-derived, petroleum-free liner.
  • A pint of Brave Robot ice cream has a modest carbon footprint of 0.76 kg CO2 equivalents.
  • Palm oil is used in two ice cream flavors (Buttery Pecan and Raspberry White Truffle) with the only information provided that it is RSPO certified. There are at least 4 levels within RSPO certification, ranging from mediocre to very weak – none is adequate, IMO, and Brave Robot doesn’t state which level their palm oil is certified at.
  • No information is provided on sourcing of the other ingredients or the impact off the company beyond the carbon footprint.
  • Room for Improvement: Sunflower oil should be organic to avoid neonics.
  • Room for Improvement: Sugar, coconut, hazelnuts and cacao should be fair trade, or equivalent, and sustainably farmed.
Brave Robot ice cream – ethical review. The image shows three flavors of Brave Robot ice cream, made with Perfect Day's vegan whey. Under the ice cream is  a graphic showing a score of 3/5 green stars for  social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Brave Robot ice cream:

  • 2.5 gold stars for quality and value.
  • 3 green stars for social and environmental impact, on average (Perhaps 2 stars for the flavors that contain palm oil and 3.5 stars for the flavors shown above).

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

Grocery Outlet Wine Sale, Fall 2021

The Fall 2021 Grocery Outlet Wine Sale runs for a week starting from Wednesday, November 3, 2021. All wines are discounted an extra 20% (off the already low prices) from Nov 3-9, 2021. In this post, I’ll take a look at some possible wine purchases, with an eye on sustainability. Actually, the wine that I’m going to focus on is from France – Gérard Bertrand’s Les Aspres (2016). Now you may think: you’re focusing on sustainability and you’re picking an imported French wine?! Here are some quick thoughts on that topic:

Sustainable wine: imported versus local?

Well, if you’ve come across the book about carbon footprint of our stuff, How Bad are Bananas?, you’ll learn that bananas are actually pretty good, in terms of sustainability, even though they are shipped from afar (unless you’re lucky enough to live somewhere tropical). The carbon cost of transporting items by ship without refrigeration – like bananas, or wine – usually constitutes a small portion of a product’s overall carbon footprint. Other factors are often more important…

I mentioned in my last post on water conservation for wine growing (viticulture), several of Europe’s best wine growing regions don’t allow irrigation and must depend on natural rainfall. So even though Californian wines are closer to me, European wines may generally rank better for water conservation. More specifically to my wine pick, Gérard Bertrand is well known as a sustainability leader in the wine industry.

I still do mostly buy local wines, especially those that conserve water and use sustainable farming practices, but I also now support sustainable overseas wineries. So let’s get to the wine!

Gérard Bertrand, Grand Terroir – Les Aspres, 2016

There are multiple reasons why I figured I would like this wine:

  1. GSM blends (grenache, syrah, mourvedre) rank as my favorite wines, whether from the Rhône, Paso Robles, or in this case, Languedoc.
  2. I’ve had Gérard Bertrand wines before – his Tautavel blend was one of my favorite Grocery Outlet finds.
  3. 2016 was generally a good year for wine in France, including Languedoc.
  4. The wine gets a score of 3.8 on Vivino – I prefer to buy wines that score above 3.7 on Vivino.
  5. The 2011 and 2014 vintages of Les Aspres scored 91 points on Wine Enthusiast.

The wine sells for $6.99 at the Grocery Outlet, compared to a normal price of around $20. During the wine sale on November 3-10, the wine will be an extra 20% off, so it’ll be around $5.50 per bottle.

Gérard Bertrand, Grand Terroir - Les Aspres, 2016. The photo shows the wine bottle, focused on the label. Top pick at the Grocery Outlet Wine Sale, November 3-9, 2021
Gérard Bertrand, Grand Terroir – Les Aspres, 2016. My top pick for the Grocery Outlet Wine Sale, November 3-9, 2021.

Gérard Bertrand – sustainability in winemaking

As you can see from the video below, Gérard Bertrand is committed to biodynamic viticulture. The grapes in all 13 of the estates that he manages in Languedoc are biodynamically grown or in the process of conversion. Roughly half of Bertrand’s wines are presently produced from organic or biodynamic-grown fruit, with a goal of reaching 80% by 2025.

If you have time, here’s a longer video that introduces the wine of Gérard Bertrand and beautiful landscapes of Languedoc. A recent testament to sustainability at Gérard Bertrand’s vineyards is the award of the Green Emblem to the winemaker by Robert Parker.

Robert Parker’s Green Emblem

Robert Parker, esteemed wine critic, recently launched a new wine sustainability certification program called the Green Emblem. Here’s a little more info on the program:

To qualify for this award, a winery may or may not already be organic and/or biodynamic certified. Beyond or apart from certification, the producer needs to be an outstanding proponent of sustainability in every sense of this term, including community efforts toward long-term environmental health, biodiversity and/or efforts toward improving the larger social issue impacts of wine production.

Therefore, Robert Parker Green Emblem wineries are those that extend their efforts far beyond the requirements for organic and biodynamic certification. They are true ambassadors for sustainability, leading the charge to make our industry and our planet a better place for current and future generations.

So far, just 24 wineries around the globe have been awarded the Green Emblem and Gérard Bertrand is one of them.

Bertrand’s focus on the land even extends beyond just the vines, as he has created a foundation to preserve and promote biodiversity. A walk through his vineyards includes numerous buffer strips between plots, where native scrub vegetation and insects—especially bees—abound. It’s a holistic approach that recognizes humankind’s responsibility to the planet and future generations.

Picks for the Grocery Outlet’s Fall 2021 wine sale

So don’t forget that the wine sale runs from Nov 3-9, 2021, and all wines are discounted a further 20%. Obviously my top pick is the Gérard Bertrand wine featured above, but I’ll add a few more to that list:

  1. Gérard Bertrand, Grand Terroir – Les Aspres, 2016 (Around $5.50 during the sale)
  2. Sebastopol Hills – Pinot Noir, 2019 (Ditto)
  3. Kenneth Volk, Pomar Junction Vineyard – Blaufränkisch, 2014 (Around $4.80 during the sale)
Grocery Outlet wine sale notice, Nov 3-9, 2021. The notice announces 20% off wine from Nov 3-9, 2021

Enjoy your wine shopping and, until next time, stay safe : )  

Ripple vegan chocolate ice cream – ethical review

I bought a pint of Ripple Foods’ vegan chocolate ice cream at the Grocery Outlet recently ($1.99 compared to a normal price of around $5) and have to say that I loved it. I don’t buy a lot of ice cream because it’s a terrible food, nutritionally speaking (more on that later). But if I do buy ice cream then it better at least taste good! Ripple’s vegan chocolate ice cream is surprising on two fronts – the chocolate flavor is delicious and the texture is very close to regular dairy ice cream – perhaps even better.

I’ve had a half-full (half-empty?) tub of Ripple chocolate ice cream in my freezer for more than two months and just tasted it again now to see how it fares after storage. Many vegan ice creams become icy after opening and storage in the freezer, but the texture of the Ripple product is still creamy. I would definitely recommend this ice cream and would rate it as probably the best vegan ice cream that I’ve had – at least from a store. 

I’ve tried Brave Robot ice cream, made from vegan milk protein that’s produced by Perfect Day, and found the taste to be a little off – I’ll cover it here soon. There is one vegan “ice cream” that I liked as much as Ripple, and that’s the chocolate chip mousse from So Delicious. The So Delicious mousse has less fat and sugar compared to regular ice cream, and the main ingredients are organic. And that brings me to the ingredients and nutrition for Ripple Foods’ chocolate ice cream…

Ripple chocolate ice cream – Ingredients & Nutrition Facts

Ingredients: Water, cane sugar, coconut oil, tapioca syrup solids, pea protein, alkalized cocoa powder, chicory root fiber, contains less than 1% of sea salt, sunflower lecithin, dipotassium phosphate, natural flavors, acacia gum, locust bean gum, guar gum.

As you can see from the ingredients, above, and the nutrition facts, below, the Ripple ice cream is pretty loaded with sugar and fat. But all is not lost! There’s actually a little less sugar compared to regular ice cream, and the fats in coconut oil (medium chain triglycerides) are considered to be healthier than milk fat. There’s also a little fiber (2 grams, compared to zero in most dairy ice cream) which helps temper the body’s response to sugar a little bit.

Ripple vegan chocolate ice cream – Nutrition Facts. A pint of Ripple chocolate ice cream is shown next to the nutrition facts. A serving of 2/3 cup provides 240 calories, 2 g protein, 14 g fat, 20 g sugars, 2 g dietary fiber, zero trans fats, and zero cholesterol.

Most importantly, the Ripple product contains no trans fats, while most dairy ice creams still contain trans fats. Besides trans fats (one of the worst crimes against humanity of the processed food industry!), dairy is really awful from a human health perspective. I feel a lot better since cutting dairy down during lockdown.

So really there are so many options to avoid ice cream, but if you must have it then selecting vegan ice cream reduces two of the health risks – trans fats and dairy. The nice thing about Ripple is that it’s satisfying and flavorful enough that I don’t need to eat a huge amount at a time. Although I should admit that one reason that my tub of Ripple lasted so long was that I was out of the country for September! (That’s why there haven’t been any posts here, lately.)

Ethical rating for Ripple Foods’ ice cream

I would rate Ripple Foods 4 Green Stars, based on the points below:

  • Ripple Foods products are all vegan, benefiting animals, habitats and climate.
  • Yellow peas (one of Ripple’s key ingredients) fix their own nitrogen, avoiding the need for nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Ripple milk has a carbon footprint about one quarter that of dairy (no data is available for Ripple ice cream but based on data for other ice creams with similar ingredients, it’s definitely significantly lower than dairy).
  • Ripple products have smaller water footprints than dairy; peas are grown in regions where rainwater is plentiful.
  • Ripple Foods is a certified B-Corporation, with a score of 102 (improved by over 10% since 2016).
  • Room for improvement: none of the ingredients are organic, although the product is non-GMO certified.
  • Room for improvement: no information is provided about the sourcing of cacao.
Ripple ice cream - ethical score for social and environmental impact. A pint of Ripple chocolate ice cream is shown with a graphic underneath indicating  a score of 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Ripple ice cream:

  • 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 : )  

Nature’s Path Pumpkin Raisin Crunch cereal

I bought a box of Nature’s Path Pumpkin Raisin Crunch cereal at the Grocery Outlet recently ($1.99 compared to a normal price of around $5). I have a rule where I generally only buy items that are fairly nutrient-dense. I feel that it’s irresponsible in this day and age to buy items where the packaging weighs almost as much as the product. For more on what I mean by “in this day and age,” check out my recent summary of the IPCC’s 2021 climate change report.

Basically, I’m not in the market for cereal that comes in the form of nutritionally poor flakes, puffs, charms (lucky or otherwise), loops, or Os (Cheeri- or otherwise). I picked up a box of Nature’s Path Pumpkin Raisin Crunch cereal because it contains things that I like (pumpkin and flax seeds, raisins, oats, whole wheat) and seemed substantial and nutritious.

It was substantial – providing a good breakfast and substituting for lunch on a day when I was ill and wasn’t up to any food prep. Bottom line is that I liked the cereal and would buy it again for a change from my usual muesli, granola, or overnight oats. It had a nice range of textures and didn’t turn into a soggy mess of blandness, which is my main concern with cereals. On to the nutritional benefits…

Nature’s Path Pumpkin Raisin Crunch cereal – ingredients

Whole wheat meal*, raisins* (coated with sunflower oil*), whole grain rolled oats*, wheat bran*, cane sugar*, flax seeds*, pumpkin seeds*, soy oil*, brown rice flour*, oat bran*, barley malt extract*, sea salt, oat syrup solids* (oat syrup solids*, tocopherols), tocopherols (vitamin E), molasses*, cinnamon*.  *Organic.

Pretty much all of the ingredients are organic and I like the use of whole wheat and oats rather than refined versions. As you can see from the nutrition facts, below, the cereal is very high in fiber, low in fat and has good iron and protein content. It also contains 540 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, per serving.

The raisins add sweetness so the 7 grams of added sugar seem a bit unwarranted to me, but it is balanced by the high fiber content. Actually I just compared it to two varieties of granola that I have at home and the Nature’s Path cereal contains less sugar than both of them. It certainly doesn’t taste overly sweet.

Nature's Path Pumpkin Raisin Crunch - Nutrition Facts. Nutrition Facts are shown for this cereal. Each serving provides 230 calories, 5 grams of fat, 8 g fiber, 7 g added sugar, and 6 g protein. It also provides 15% of the recommended daily value for iron.

Ethical rating for Nature’s Path nut butter cereal

Overall, I think that Nature’s Path nut butter cereals deserve 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Nature’s Path Foods is a family-owned Canadian triple bottom line company (with a female CEO) that’s focused on sustainability. The company helped establish the Sustainable Food Trade Association and is a pioneer of the organic farming movement (e.g., Nature’s Path made the first USDA certified organic cereal).
  • Every ingredient in the cereal is organic (except for salt and tocopherols, where that doesn’t apply).
  • This cereal is also vegan.
  • Nature’s Path purchased land for organic farming in Canada and the US, which it crop shares with family farmers. Crop sharing supports smaller, independent organic farmers in a similar way to community supported agriculture (CSA).
  • Going beyond organic, a Nature’s Path farm was one of the first to receive a Regenerative Organic Certification. This includes the use of specific farming practices that help put more carbon into the soil.
  • Nature’s Path has reduced CO2 emissions per pound of product quite a lot since 2008, with the goal of being carbon neutral by 2020.
  • The company donates at least $2 million each year to food banks and supports environmental causes such as endangered species protection and community gardens. Its EnviroKids products support 1% For the Planet.
  • Nature’s Path has made a lot of effort to reduce waste and all three of its manufacturing facilities are now zero waste certified, diverting 92% of waste from landfill.
  • The cereal boxes are made from recycled paperboard and printed with vegetable-based inks.
Nature's Path Pumpkin Raisin Crunch - ethical score for social and environmental impact. The image shows a box of Nature's Path Flax Plus Pumpkin Raisin Crunch cereal and underneath it is a graphic showing a score of 5/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Here’s a brief intro to regenerative agriculture from Nature’s Path:

Summary scores (out of 5) for Nature’s Path nut butter cereals:

  • 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! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Blue Evolution seaweed pasta

I like this pasta fairly uniformly across a trifecta of criteria: flavor, nutrition, and sustainability. I’m a fan to the extent that I went back to the Grocery Outlet to get more (it’s only $0.99 per box instead of the normal price of $4.99) and have now begun pushing it on others, like a seaweed pasta evangelist.

I’ll start with flavor: you cook the pasta without salt because the seaweed provides enough sodium, along with other minerals. When you eat it alone, it tastes faintly of the ocean, but not so much that it screams Seaweed! The flavor is like a light kombu (kelp) broth and may seem a bit weak on its own but it’s actually just strong enough to complement sauces without making everything taste of the sea.

My favorite thing to have with it is not really a sauce, but just portabella mushrooms that have been sautéed with spring onions, garlic, and rosemary. It also works well with things like tomato sauce and vegan sausage. I’ve cooked it several times now and it always turns out well – perhaps because there’s no guesswork with adding salt. I especially like the texture – it has a nice firm bite when boiled (with the lid off) for 8 minutes, as directed.

 I’ll move on to the nutritional benefits…

Blue Evolution seaweed pasta – nutrition

Blue Evolution seaweed pasta is slightly higher in protein (8 grams per serving instead of 7 g) and lower in sugars (1 g instead of 2 g), compared to regular 100% durum wheat pasta. Like regular pasta, it’s a decent source of iron, and is also fairly rich in iodine, magnesium, and manganese. Perhaps more important than the minerals are the unique fibers (polysaccharides) found in seaweed that are believed to be beneficial for gut health, which is increasingly viewed as paramount to our overall health. The health benefits of seaweed may include protection from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

The East Asian countries (Japan, Korea, and China), where seaweed is a staple food, have a significantly lower incidence of dementia (including AD) than Europe. – GSP

Note that the dried pasta is around 14% protein – fish is not that much higher in protein, at around 21%. That’s worth bearing in mind if you think of pasta as purely “carbs” – a serving of pasta contains as much protein as a glass of milk. More on our obsession with protein (and how meat industry groups manipulate us) in these GSP posts on Proteinaholic and the Paleo Diet. Also check out this post on sustainability and health benefits of carbs (spoiler: a high-protein animal-based diet will shorten your lifespan).

Blue Evolution seaweed pasta – Ingredients

Ingredients: durum wheat semolina, seaweed.

Certified Vegan, Non GMO Project Verified

Blue Evolution seaweed pasta - nutrition facts. A box of Blue Evolution seaweed pasta is shown, together with the side panel showing nutrition facts. Each serving of 56 grams of dry pasta contains 40 g of carbs, 8 g of protein, and 1.5 g of fat.

Seaweed is a sustainable crop

I’ve covered seaweed on the GSP site, so please take a look if you want to find out why I think seaweed is a very sustainable food (5/5 Green Stars for seaweed, in general). At this stage, with climate change really starting to show its teeth, our diets need to change – and fast – if we want to stand a chance. Seaweed is one of the best solutions, in my opinion, for the reasons outlined in the post mentioned above.

Researchers in the Netherlands have calculated that it would only take 1% of the ocean (an area equivalent to Washington State) to grow enough seaweed to supply enough protein for the entire human population. – GSP

Blue Evolution is of course aware of the environmental benefits of seaweed. Here are a few quotes:

By farming seaweed, we sustainably source nutrition from the ocean, reduce dependence on freshwater for food production, and mitigate ocean acidification. – Blue Evolution

Roughly 98% of the seaweed we consume in the U.S. is imported. We brought harvesting seaweed closer to home – cultivating our own seaweed in farms along the Pacific Coast. In Kodiak, Alaska, we operate the largest commercial seaweed hatchery, propagating local spores, and seeding lines for outplanting by local fishermen in their offseason. – Blue Evolution

In Baja California — the renowned gastronomic and food growing region and the Wine Capital of Mexico — we started by partnering with the local University to grow our seaweed in a dynamic biological environment, learning from renowned seaweed experts and grad students alike. We’ve taken all that expertise and are thrilled to now be operating our very own onshore farm in the same region. – Blue Evolution

Dr. Jose Zertuche, who researches seaweed ecophysiology and cultivation at the Autonomous University of Baja California, is one of the experts guiding Blue Evolution on cultivation practices.

Many people are coming to the conclusion that growing seaweed in coastal waters is one of the best ways to tackle the problems of climate change, land degradation, food scarcity and acidification of the oceans. For example, John Roulac, the founder of Nutiva (which I researched last month) is one of many people that want to restore the kelp forests off the coast of California.

Blue Evolution seaweed pasta - ethical rating. Two kinds of Blue Evolution seaweed pasta are shown - penne and rotini - and underneath is a graphic showing an ethical rating of 4.5 green stars. The Green Stars score represents a score (out of 5) for social and environmental impact.

Ethical rating for Blue Evolution seaweed

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Blue Evolution seaweed pasta, which I’m scoring 4.5 Green Stars:

  • Made with two simple, natural ingredients: wheat and seaweed
  • The main attraction for me is the company’s mission to bring sustainable seaweed culture to US coastlines. Seaweed needs to become a bigger part of our diet.
  • Seaweed culture provides an alternative (and more sustainable) source of income for local fisherman. I guess I should say fisherpeople 😉
  • The wheat is not organic, but it is certified non-GMO.
  • A vegan product.
  • Packaging is made from recycled materials, boxes are printed with vegetable-based inks, and the window is derived from plants.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Blue Evolution seaweed pasta:

  • 5 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 : )  

The impact of processed food

An article came out in the Guardian today that reminded me to post on this topic. Here’s the headline and link: Revealed: the true extent of America’s food monopolies, and who pays the price.

The main point of the article is that a few multinational corporations dominate our food supply and that they do this by exploitation of people and the planet. This is not new information but it’s good to have a reminder of the situation with some useful stats on market share. Domination of our food supply by a few, largely unscrupulous, players is central to many of our social and environmental problems.

We found that for 85% of the groceries analysed, four firms or fewer controlled more than 40% of market share. It’s widely agreed that consumers, farmers, small food companies and the planet lose out if the top four firms control 40% or more of total sales. – The Guardian

At least 450 farmers died by suicide across nine midwestern states between 2014 to 2018, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. In 2020, 552 farmers filed for bankruptcy – 7% fewer than the previous year, as commodity prices and government aid increased during the pandemic, but still the third-highest figure over the last decade. – The Guardian

Minimize your processed food intake

Ethical Bargains is focused mainly on evaluating products that I’ve bought at the Grocery Outlet and most of them are processed food items. I focus on the most ethical products in each category (e.g., plant-based butter, vegan cheese, beer from sustainable breweries, etc.) with the aim of minimizing our impact when we do buy processed food. My last post on Earth Balance is an exception in that it’s all about a product to avoid: I specifically wanted to highlight this product as it serves to illustrate what’s wrong with “Big Food” (in that case, Conagra).

I’ll summarize what I want to say in a few bullet points just to make it clear:

  • The vast majority of us are going to buy some processed food (pasta, beer, cheese, etc.) and it’s important to make the right choices. This site focuses on the evaluation of processed food and aims to highlight the more ethical choices.
  • Most processed foods entail larger carbon and material footprints compared to eating fresh veggies. It’s hard to completely avoid processed items because there are some products (e.g., chocolate) that we’re not so likely to make at home from scratch. But bear in mind that there’s a huge difference between a good chocolate bar (e.g., Alter Eco, Endangered Species) versus a bad one (e.g., Hershey, Nestlé). Note also that there are some processed food items (e.g., the pasta that I’ll feature in my next post) that have a minimal footprint and are perhaps even net positive.
  • However, even for the items that I’ve rated highly, I’m not suggesting that we buy a lot of them – our intake of processed food should be as minimal as possible. I try to spend at least two-thirds of my shopping budget on fresh veggies and fruit (no packaging, mostly organic, and mostly from local farmers).
  • Many studies show that if we mainly ate fresh veggies and fruit (sustainably farmed, as much as possible) that we would go a long way towards solving many of the world’s problems, from deforestation and climate change to food shortages and equality.
  • Everyone’s on a different stage in their journey. To take a common item of milk, I’d say that a good first step is to move from dairy to plant-based milk, even if it’s packaged in plastic. Then, if you’re ready to take another step, consider making your own vegan milk (I’m planning a Green Stars Project post on this soon, focusing on oat milk) to further reduce your footprint.
  • When evaluating products on this site, I’ll always state when the brand is owned by a major multinational company. In general, the best brands are independent but there are a few that I still consider fairly ethical despite the fact that they are now owned by larger corporations. There is, after all, a need for the largest multinationals to clean up their acts, so their purchases of smaller, ethical companies is not always a bad thing (unless they are ruined in the process).

Here’s a little more on the impact of processed food and why cooking is one of the best forms of activism.

Is Earth Balance ethical?

Earth Balance makes a range of vegan butters, mainly from palm oil. Somebody mentioned the brand while discussing palm oil and I figured it would be useful to evaluate Earth Balance for social and environmental impact (hey Willow Croft!). I used to buy Earth Balance butter but things have changed since then so I thought it would be a good time to reevaluate the brand. I reviewed Nutiva Shortening, which is also made from palm oil, in the last post so that we can learn how to differentiate between good and bad palm oil products.

Earth Balance has been around for quite a while and, like many brands these days, the company ownership shifted a few times over the years. It was owned by Boulder Brands, then acquired by Pinnacle Foods, and is now owned by Conagra, one of the largest food companies on the planet. Unfortunately, standards seem to have slipped along the way.

Originally (more than 5 years ago) Earth Balance was involved in the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), which was designed to raise the bar on palm oil sustainability because people had lost faith in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). However, under Conagra’s ownership, standards for Earth Balance palm oil purchasing are worse than they’ve ever been. More on that later – first I should get to the actual products that I bought!

Earth Balance vegan spreads

Earth Balance products are regularly stocked at the Grocery Outlet and I’ve tried the Pressed Sunflower Oil Spread and also the Omega-3 Buttery Spread. They cost somewhere around $2 at the Grocery Outlet, compared to a normal price of around $5. I didn’t like the Omega-3 Buttery Spread much and it became relegated to back-up for use only when I had run out of (better) vegan butter. The Pressed Sunflower Oil Spread is not as bad but I can’t say I enjoyed it. There are so many vegan butters available these days and virtually all of them are significantly tastier and more ethical than Earth Balance.

Earth Balance also makes an Organic Whipped Buttery Spread (which I used to buy, years ago) and this product is a little better, both ethically and in terms of taste and texture. However, having reevaluated Earth Balance now that it’s owned by Conagra, I’m now putting the entire brand on an avoid list – and other Conagra brands for that matter.

Is the Palm Oil in Earth Balance sustainable?

Short answer: No. As mentioned above, I used to have a higher rating for Earth Balance because the company had been working with the POIG to raise ethical standards for palm oil. That relationship ended as Earth Balance’s owners changed and now Earth Balance is back to using RSPO – the certification scheme that the POIG is hoping to improve upon. Before I get to the details on that, I want to refer you to the last post on Nutiva Shortening because that’s certified under the only scheme that I currently support – Palm Done Right.

In the absence of a Palm Done Right certification I would rate POIG next (e.g., L’Oreal is a POIG member and is considered to be better than average for palm oil sourcing) and then RSPO comes last.

Even within the RSPO there are better and worse certifications. Identity Preserved is the best of the RSPO certifications because it traces the palm oil from farmer to purchaser. Then there’s Segregated, then Mass Balance, and finally Book and Claim. The Book and Claim system involves a company (like Conagra) purchasing credits that are intended to support sustainable palm oil, thereby “offsetting” the impact of the non-certified palm oil that the company buys.

I contacted Conagra to get more detail on its palm oil sourcing policy and this was the company’s response:

We purchase palm oil from U.S.-based suppliers, who sometimes run integrated operations that both harvest and process the palm oil or from commodities traders who simply purchase and distribute palm oil. Conagra had purchased Palm Trace Credits for all of our purchased palm oil and has begun to move to the Mass Balance system.

So, Conagra buys palm oil on commodity markets, etc., and currently uses the RSPO Book and Claim system by purchasing PalmTrace Credits to offset the damage caused by the purchase of non-sustainable palm oil. In the hierarchy of palm oil certifications, this is the weakest certification level from the weakest certification body (RSPO).

Palm Oil certification logos are shown on the left, ranked from best to worst: Palm Done Right, Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO certifications are further subdivided from best to worst: Identity Preserved, Segregated, Mass Balance (RSPO Mixed) and Book and Claim (Palm Trace Credits). On the right, brand logos are shown to represent the certifications. Palm Done Right is represented by Nutiva and Dr. Bronner. POIG is represented by L'Oreal and Danone. RSPO is represented by Conagra and its brand Earth Balance, which uses the RSPO Mixed logo.
Palm Oil certification logos are shown on the left, ranked from best to worst. On the right, company logos are shown to represent the certifications.

What are PalmTrace Credits?

PalmTrace replaces the GreenPalm credit system – it’s basically a way of allowing companies to “offset” the impact of their non-sustainable palm oil by buying credits that “incentivize” the production of RSPO-certified palm oil. Remember that “RSPO-certified” doesn’t count for much anyway, as enforcement of RSPO rules (e.g., on deforestation and peat burning) has been weak. So the credits are an even weaker version of this and they allow companies to continue to buy non-certified palm oil on commodity markets.

Earth Balance Pressed Sunflower Oil Spread – Ingredients

Ingredients: Sunflower Oil, Palm Kernel Oil, Flaxseed Oil, Sea Salt.

Certified Vegan, Non GMO Project Verified, RSPO Mixed.

Earth Balance, Pressed Sunflower Oil Spread - Nutrition  Facts and certifications. Certifications include vegan, non-GMO, and RSPO-Mixed.

As explained above, Conagra is mainly using PalmTrace credits to offset the impact of the palm oil that’s purchased through commodity markets, etc., and is moving towards the Mass Balance system (the second lowest level of RSPO certification). That’s encompassed by the RSPO logo stating “Certified Sustainable Palm Oil – Mixed.” Yes, it’s not straightforward, but refer to the earlier image with the various certifications ranked from best (Palm Done Right) to worst (RSPO PalmTrace and RSPO Mixed).

Ethical rating for Earth Balance

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Earth Balance Pressed Sunflower Oil Spread, which I’m scoring 1 Green Star

  • Earth Balance products such as this Sunflower Oil Spread are vegan.
  • However, the impact of the ingredients offset this benefit.
  • Sunflower oil that’s not organic is most likely hurting rather than helping bees and other insects due to the prevalence of neonic insecticides such as imidacloprid and other industrial farming practices.
  • The palm oil sourced by Earth Balance (Conagra) is certified at the weakest level and should be considered to be net harmful to the planet. Earth Balance used to have a progressive policy on palm oil before ownership changed – Conagra ranks among the weakest major food companies in terms of palm oil ethics.
  • The opening sentence on the Sustainable Agriculture section in Conagra’s 2020 Citizen Report is this: “Conagra Brands is a proud partner of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action (USFRA)…” Other USFRA members include Monsanto (Bayer) and the organization exists to promote industrial agriculture practices such as feeding with antibiotics, raising animals under intensive conditions, using GMOs and pesticides, etc.
  • Conagra’s greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, increasing by 2% from 2019 to 2020.
  • Waste generation per lb of food produced at Conagra increased by 28% from 2019 to 2020
  • Conagra management is 68% male and 86% white and the board of directors is 73% male and 73% white.
Earth Balance Pressed Sunflower Oil Spread - Green Stars rating for social and environmental impact. Earth Balance, now owned by Conagra Brands, is scored 1 out of 5 Green Stars for ethics. The product, Earth Balance Pressed Sunflower Oil Spread, is shown over a graphic of 1 (out of 5) Green Stars.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Earth Balance Pressed Sunflower Oil Spread:

  • 2.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 1 green star for social and environmental impact

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