Tony’s Chocolonely – sustainability, review

Tony’s Chocolonely has been on a mission to change the chocolate industry – specifically to eliminate slavery and child labor in West Africa. Right now, you can buy a lovely Rainbow tasting pack of Tony’s Chocolonely bars at the Grocery Outlet for just $5 (normally around $13). The variety pack is a good way to try out six of them together and find your favorite. 

Tony’s Chocolonely – Rainbow tasting pack

Tony’s Chocolonely rainbow tasting pack contains six bars (each bar is 1.8 oz.) with the following varieties:

  • Milk Chocolate
  • Milk Chocolate Hazelnut
  • Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt
  • Milk Chocolate Nougat
  • Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt
  • Dark Chocolate 70%

I really like this variety pack – each bar is a good size for two servings (or one, if you’re hungry) and all flavors are worth trying. It’s also pretty & would serve as a nice little gift for someone. The bars are wrapped in paper and housed in a cardboard box so the packaging is plastic-free, as are all Tony’s products. The two dark chocolate bars are vegan, while the milk chocolate bars are suitable for vegetarians.

I would probably choose the hazelnut or almond as my favorites, but all were good and it was fun to try new flavors (like nougat) that I wouldn’t have bought otherwise.

Tony’s Chocolonely – milk chocolate hazelnut

You can also buy large bars (6.35 oz.) of Tony’s Chocolonely on discount at the Grocery Outlet – I bought a bar of the milk chocolate hazelnut for $2, compared to a normal price of around $6. This is probably my favorite Tony’s Chocolonely bar based on taste alone – it has a really rich creamy texture that’s a bit like gianduja.

It’s a bit sweet, however, clocking in at almost 50% sugar content and I’d also like to eliminate dairy from my diet as much as possible. So overall this is not a common purchase for me – but it is delicious!

The dark chocolate bars are better choices from both health (less sugar) ethical (vegan) perspectives. So, the variety “rainbow” pack is a good way to figure out whether you can make the switch to dark chocolate, and you may feel a bit better without the extreme sugar rush : )

Tony’s Chocolonely, Milk Chocolate Hazelnut – Ingredients

Sugar, dry whole milk, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, hazelnuts, soy lecithin

Cacao and sugar are both Fairtrade certified – fully traceable for cacao and using a mass balance system for sugar. Hazelnuts are sourced from Spain and Italy.

Eliminating milk is one of the key actions that Tony’s could undertake to further improve the company’s impact. Tony’s does acknowledge this in its 2021 annual report, implying that using non-dairy milk may be on the cards. See my post on Endangered Species vegan milk chocolate for example of vegan milk chocolate that has a great texture and taste.

A bar of Tony’s Chocoloney, milk chocolate hazelnut, is pictured alongside the Nutrition Facts panel, ingredient lits, and fairtrade statement (fairtrade cocoa and sugar). Tony’s Chocoloney – ethical review

Slavery-free chocolate & Tony’s Chocolonely

Please check out the GSP post on slavery in the chocolate industry for a quick introduction to the topic and a quick summary of what separates good chocolate from bad chocolate, ethically-speaking.

A decision by the Slave Free Chocolate blog to remove Tony’s Chocolonely from its list of ethical chocolate companies has sparked a useful conversation on the topic. Here’s a comment on it from Tony’s 2021 annual report:

In late 2020 Tony’s was removed from the list of ethical chocolate companies published on slavefreechocolate.org’s blog. Not because cases of modern slavery suddenly appeared in our value chain – we’ve never found 1 in our own value chain. But because our liquid chocolate producer, Barry Callebaut, has been accused of slacking on sustainability and human rights abuses in their supply chain The fully traceable cocoa we use to produce chocolate is kept separate from Barry Callebaut’s other beans every step of the way. And working with Barry Callebaut is key to changing the industry from within.

Here’s a useful summary of the situation from Reuters:

Rather than condemning Tony’s Chocolonely, we should welcome its decision to try and make change from the inside out. The company deliberately chose to source cocoa directly from the Ivory Coast and Ghana to improve supply chains there and shine a light on where action against forced labour is needed. It could have gone for other less problematic sourcing routes, but made the decision not to ignore the risks in West Africa. As Tony’s Chocolonely says, “we go to where the problems are – so we can solve them”. It stands by its relationship with Barry Callebaut and says it is “triggering them to change.  – Reuters Events.

I mostly agree with this viewpoint. It’s almost certainly easier to secure an ethical supply of cacao somewhere like Ecuador or Panama, but it’s much more challenging in West Africa which supplies 70% of the world’s chocolate. Tony’s mission is to improve conditions in the Ivory Coast and Ghana by setting a precedent for others to follow.

Some critics believe we shouldn’t work with Barry Callebaut, one of the biggest cocoa processors in the world. But again, this decision is deliberate. Our mission is to make 100% slave free the norm in chocolate, not just our chocolate but all chocolate worldwide.

Here’s a video outlining the origins of Tony’s Chocolonely. Also, the Tony’s Fair, 2021 video is worth a watch.

Tony’s Chocolonely & cacao pricing

Paul Schoenmakers described the decision of Tony’s Chocolonely to take an additional step beyond sourcing Fairtrade to accelerate farmers’ progress out of poverty.

We decided then to start paying more and figure out how much more was enough to enable farmers to earn a living income.” He continued, “We worked on that model for a couple of years. With help from Fairtrade and the living income community of practice, I’m very proud that two years ago we were able to jointly publish what is now called a Living Income Reference Price for cocoa. – Fairtrade International.

Tony’s Chocoloney – ethical review. A pie chart shows the price breakdown for a bar of Tony’s Chocoloney chocolate. The fairtrade premium represents 1.6% of this total, Tony's additional premium is 1.4%, and the Chocoloney Foundation contribution is 0.7%.
Breakdown of the price of a chocolate bar from Tony’s Chocolonely

The price of fair cocoa only makes up a tiny fraction of a bar’s total price, so a bar wouldn’t have to be much more expensive to have fair cocoa in it.

Ethical rating for Tony’s Chocolonely

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Tony’s Chocolonely, which I’m rating 4 out of 5 Green Stars

  • Tony’s Chocolonely has raised awareness on slavery and child labor in the chocolate industry, particularly in West Africa, and is trying to change the system from within.
  • Tony’s is a certified B-Corporation, with a decent score of 101.
  • Cocoa and sugar are fair trade certified (using a mass balance system for sugar)
  • Tony’s is a carbon-neutral company – all CO2 is offset through JustDiggit.
  • Tony’s joined GoodShipping program and all shipping (by sea) is fueled by biofuel.
  • Wrappers are made from a mixture of recycled and FSC-certified paper. All packaging is plastic-free and Tony’s aims to go plastic free for entire supply chain soon.
  • Tony’s was voted as the #1 sustainable brand by Dutch folk
  • Room for improvement: Tony’s 2021 report doesn’t discuss pesticide use (pesticides used on cacao can be particularly nasty). Another key sustainability issue, maintaining forest ecosystems by growing cacao under the shade of others trees (e.g., agroforestry crops like avocado or mango) is only beginning to be addressed.
  • Milk is an ingredient in most of Tony’s bars, other than the dark chocolate varieties – it accounts for a large part of the bar’s carbon footprint and impact on animals, of course. This would be a good time for Tony’s to switch to plant-based milks – it’s totally doable, as demonstrated by Endangered Species vegan milk chocolate.

In my review of Alter Eco truffles, I figured that there’s room for improvement but Alter Eco deserved a lot of credit by introducing compostable wrapping for their truffles. The situation is similar here – some definite room for improvement but Tony’s deserves credit for helping to address slavery and child labor in West Africa.

Tony’s Chocoloney – ethical review. The image shows a large bar of Tony’s Chocoloney, milk chocolate hazelnut, and a variety pack of six bars. Underneath is a graphic showing a score of 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value
  • 4 green stars for social and environmental impact (4.5 green stars for the vegan dark chocolate varieties).

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

Modern Kitchen cream cheese – sustainability, review

Modern Kitchen is a new brand of vegan cream cheeses, made using whey protein that’s produced in a fungus by food tech company, Perfect Day. Modern Kitchen is one of four brands owned by The Urgent Company, which was established by Perfect Day to create products that use this vegan whey. I previously reviewed one of these brands, Brave Robot ice cream, and thought that it had issues with aspects of both taste and sustainability. Let’s see how Modern Kitchen cream cheese compares…

Modern Kitchen cream cheese is available at the Grocery Outlet, but not massively cheap (compared to other products at the Grocery Outlet) – it was around $4.50 for an 8 oz. tub. Then again, it retails for $8 in my local bagel place.

I bought the Harissa Pepper variety and tried it out on toast, crackers, etc. The good news: it doesn’t have that strange taste & texture that I found in all flavors of the Brave Robot ice cream that I tried. So perhaps the whey protein formulation has been improved, or it wasn’t the reason for the issues with Brave Robot. The bad news: the flavor of Modern Kitchen’s Harissa Pepper cream cheese just isn’t very exciting or memorable, other than being a little bitter.

Modern Kitchen – Spring Onion and Chive

However, I decided to give Modern Kitchen a second chance and try one more flavor – Spring Onion and Chive. I know how hard Perfect Day has worked to make vegan whey protein and I feel that it has the potential to replace dairy, but that the food products made with it so far have been disappointing. So when I tried the Spring Onion and Chive variety and pretty much heaved a sigh of relief – it was very good!

The flavors of the Spring Onion and Chive cream cheese work much better than the Harissa Pepper for me, which was a little surprising as I like harissa. The spring onion and chive tasted fresh and well-balanced (not overpowering). Somehow the texture is also better for this flavor – it has that cool, creamy taste that you expect from cream cheese.

I have no vested interest in Perfect Day or Modern Kitchen, but I do have a vested interest in the planet, so I like to see plant-based companies doing well. Having experienced disappointment with Brave Robot ice cream and then the Modern Kitchen Harissa Pepper cream cheese, I was wary about trying any more Perfect Day products. The Spring Onion and Chive variety, however, is so close to dairy-based cream cheese that I really can’t tell the difference.

A friend who tried both flavors felt exactly the same way – the Harissa Pepper was bitter and disappointing and the Spring Onion and Chive is far superior.

Modern Kitchen’s Spring Onion and Chive spread is definitely the best vegan cream cheese that I’ve tried so far. So, if you’re a cream cheese fan who’s looking for a plant-based product, I think it’s worth a try.

Modern Kitchen cream cheese: ingredients & nutrition

Modern Kitchen, Harissa Pepper – ingredients

Animal-Free Cream (Water, Coconut Oil, Non-Animal Whey Protein), Non-GMO Modified Potato Starch, Contains 2% or Less of Red Bell Peppers, Garlic Powder Paprika, Spices, Cultures, Salt, Potato Protein, Rowanberry Fruit Extract (Antioxidant), Non-GMO Modified Corn Starch, Paprika Color, Lactic Acid, Natural Flavor.

Modern Kitchen, Spring Onion and Chive – ingredients

Animal-Free Cream (Water, Coconut Oil, Non-Animal Whey Protein), Non-GMO Modified Potato Starch, Non-GMO Modified Corn Starch, Salt, Potato Protein, Contains 2% or Less of: Chives, Onions, Cultures, Rowanberry Fruit Extract (Antioxidant), Lactic Acid, Natural Flavor.

The main ingredient in both is coconut oil, which as you can see from the nutrition facts label, below, contributes a lot of saturated fat – 35% of the recommended daily value. Both varieties contain 1 g protein per 28 g serving size – not a very significant amount. Overall nutritional content is similar to regular cream cheese, minus the cholesterol but a little higher in saturated fat and sodium.

Modern Kitchen cream cheese Nutrition Facts. the image shows containers and Nutrition Fact panels for two flavors - Harissa Pepper and Spring Onion + Chive. Both varieties contain 7 g saturated fat and 1 g protein per 28 g serving. Modern Kitchen cream cheese sustainability, review.

Ethical rating for Modern Kitchen cream cheese

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Modern Kitchen cream cheese, which I’m rating 4 out of 5 Green Stars

  • Modern Kitchen cream cheeses are 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 insidious negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • The whey protein is made in a fungus by Perfect Day, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 91-97% compared to protein from cows.
  • The company doesn’t provides much information on sourcing of other ingredients, other than the starches bring non-GMO, or the company’s social impact.
  • Perfect Day have assembled a sustainability council – perhaps their reach doesn’t extend to The Urgent Company (Modern Kitchen) but it seems that some advice would be welcome on further improvements in sustainability and communication.
  • The container does not appear to be made from post-consumer recycled plastic.
The image shows two tubs of Modern Kitchen cream cheese over a graphic showing a score of 3.5 / 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.  Harissa Pepper and Spring Onion + Chive are the two flavors shown. Modern Kitchen cream cheese – sustainability, review.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Modern Kitchen cream cheese:

  • 4 gold stars for quality/value for the Spring Onion + Chive flavor (2.5 for the Harissa Pepper)
  • 4 green stars for social and environmental impact

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

Good Planet cheese – sustainability, review

A few kinds of Good Planet cheese can be bought (at a discount) at the Grocery Outlet. I’ve tried the shredded mozzarella and hot pepper cheese slices and thought that both were pretty good. I’ll get to sustainability later on and decide on a “Green Stars” rating for social and environmental impact. I also have a helpful comment from Good Planet’s CEO on the search for sustainable packaging for vegan cheese. But first, I’ll review the vegan cheese products in terms of quality.

Detroit-style pizza with Good Planet cheese

I first came across Good Planet cheese through an Oakland pizzeria, Square Pie Guys, who use it in their vegan Detroit-style pizza. Detroit-style pizza is cooked in a square cake pan; originally, 75 years ago, it was baked in steel pans from the auto industry. It has a cheesy, focaccia-like crust – bready in the middle but deliciously crispy on the outside. The outer surface of the crust becomes crispy and cheesy thanks to the layer of Wisconsin’s “brick cheese” (a slightly soft cheddar) that is layered out to the edges of the dough.

Anyhoo, the Good Planet cheese worked really well in that situation, so I was sufficiently motivated to try it out myself.

Good Planet vegan mozzarella

I made a couple of simple pizzas at home and tried four different kinds of mozzarella on top: vegan mozzarella from Good Planet, Forager and Miyoko’s Creamery, alongside some dairy mozzarella. Honestly, I thought that all three vegan brands of mozzarella performed as well as the dairy version in terms of taste and texture.

The differences became a bit more obvious when you consider appearance. Miyoko’s and the dairy mozzarella were almost indistinguishable – they both melted well and browned a little bit. Forager mozzarella wasn’t too far behind and then came the Good Planet mozzarella – it was the palest and least melty of the four cheeses. But wait! It just looked like it wasn’t melted – it actually had the texture of melted cheese.

So, I thought that the Good Planet mozzarella was as good as the others in all senses except for visual. Maybe you can get it to brown a little by cranking up your oven up to 500 °F (mine was reportedly around 450 °F) but I was still pretty happy with my version, once I took a bite.

Comparison of two brands of vegan mozzarella on a homemade pizza – Good Planet and Forager. The photo shows that the Good Planet cheese hasn't melted as much as the Forager cheese. Good Planet cheese – sustainability, review.
Comparison of two brands of vegan mozzarella on a pizza – Good Planet (left) and Forager.

Good Planet hot pepper cheese

I’ve tried quite a few of the vegan cheese slices at this point, and I’d rank Good Planet’s hot pepper cheese slices fairly high. There’s not a massive difference between many brands of vegan cheese slices, and that’s not too surprising as most of them are made from similar ingredients – coconut oil and starch. There’s definitely an opportunity for vegan food companies to be a bit more inventive with flavors.

The hot pepper slices from Good Planet are a bit better than most, simply because they have some character – a little heat (not that much) and bell pepper flavor. The vegan cheese slices melt fairly well on toast or in a grilled cheese and worked well enough that they didn’t last too long in my fridge (unlike one or two other brands). There are more flavorful vegan cheeses, like Miyoko’s cheese wheels, but they are a bit more expensive.

Good Planet mozzarella – ingredients

Filtered water, potato starch, coconut oil, modified food starch (potato), sea salt, mozzarella flavor (vegan sources), citrus fiber, sorbic acid (preservative), beta-carotene (color), powdered cellulose added to prevent caking.

Good Planet hot pepper slices – ingredients

Filtered water, coconut oil, modified food starch (potato & tapioca), sea salt, calcium citrate, green & red chili peppers, bell pepper flavor (vegan sources), sorbic acid (preservative), paprika extract & beta carotene (color).

As you can see from the ingredients, above, and the Nutrition Facts panels, below, there’s not a huge difference between these two products. They are also similar to many other vegan cheeses – saturated fat from coconut oil and a few grams of carbs from the starch.

Good Planet cheese – sustainability, review

One thing I just found out, though – the shredded mozzarella contains cellulose as an anti-caking agent – I think that’s why it doesn’t melt so well. I’m not a big fan of shredded cheese, in any case – a block uses less packaging you don’t have to deal with anti-caking agents that actually make it perform worse.

Sustainable packaging for vegan cheese

I came across this interview with David Israel, Founder and Co-CEO of Good Planet Food‪s, and thought there were some useful comments on sustainable packaging. I’ll share the video and then share a quote about sustainable packaging, taken from 23 minutes into the video.

“Packaging is a challenge. There is packaging out there that’s either recyclable or biodegradable. But the problem is – we can use it – but the consumers won’t want it and the buyers at the stores won’t buy it. Because it degrades the shelf life of your product, and it’s super-expensive. So it creates two problems – it shortens the shelf life of your product by a lot, literally probably by 80%, and then it increases your cost. So it makes it very challenging – I can do it – but our buyers at the stores will not by it because it prices us out of the market. Our team is constantly looking for packaging that’s biodegradable or recyclable. – from David Israel, Founder and Co-CEO of Good PLANeT Food‪s, Interview with Real Leaders Magazine.

Since then, Good Planet released a new product line – soft cheese triangles – that are packaged in cardboard that’s 90% post-consumer recycled. The best approach for most goods packaged in plastic is just to buy them sparingly and set a waste limit goal. This is a good time to refer you to my Green Stars Project post on a tactic that can help you reduce your domestic waste.

Ethical rating for Good Planet cheese

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Good Planet cheese, which I’m rating 4 out of 5 Green Stars

  • All Good Planet products are 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 insidious negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • Statement from Good Planet on its main ingredient, coconut: “The coconut oil we use is sourced from a supplier who is focused on improving farmer livelihoods and keeping them interested in growing coconuts, as well as rejuvenating the coconut industry in Indonesia and Malaysia.”
  • Besides that statement, Good Planet doesn’t provide much information on the impact of the company.
  • I did find a bit more information, however, in the video shown above – David talks a little bit about things like social impact and company ethos. For example, hiring transitioning felons and supporting local food banks.
  • Good Planet recently launched a new line of cheese wedges, packaged in cardboard that’s 90% post-consumer material (and recyclable).
  • However, the new cheese wedge line also introduces a new ingredient for Good Planet – palm oil. Good Planet was responsive to questions about this. Currently, I would rate their palm oil supply chain at mediocre (commodity market mix of RSPO-certified Mass Balance and Identity Preserved palm oil) but they have plans to seek out a more sustainable supply as they buy more palm oil in 2022. Hoping they’ll go the right way with that.
Two kinds of Good Planet cheese are shown and underneath is a graphic showing an ethical score of 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact. The varieties pictured are Good Planet mozzarella and hot pepper slices. Good Planet cheese – sustainability, review.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Good Planet cheese:

  • 3.5 gold stars for quality and value. I liked the hot pepper slices (4 stars) more than the mozzarella (3 stars).
  • 4 green stars for social and environmental impact

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

Luke’s Organic chips – sustainability, review

Luke’s Organic chips are almost always available (and discounted) at the Grocery Outlet – but not always the same varieties. Most varieties are good but I wanted to feature two of the more unusual flavors that I came across recently:

  • White Truffle & Sea Salt
  • Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle

The White Truffle & Sea Salt chips are not just any old white truffle and sea salt – they’re made with Urbani Italian white truffles and fleur de sel from Guérande, France. I’m pretty wary of truffle-flavored things as often it’s a synthetic truffle flavoring and can be awful, but in this case the truffle is genuine and the chips are really good.

I think they are often sold at Costco too, where they are pretty popular. I wouldn’t eat them in large quantities since they’re quite strong, but that’s a good thing, right? They also have quite a strong salt kick without adding a ton of sodium (see Nutrition Facts, below), thanks to the potent fleur de sel.

Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle is the kind of flavor that does well in the UK or Canada. A Canadian friend brought some ketchup chips into work once and they had a polarizing effect. I quite like Luke’s version and found them to be a good accompaniment to a Beyond Burger, taking the place of fries and burger condiments, all at once!

Luke’s Organic Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle chips are shown in a photo. A burger with these chips on the side are shown and behind it is a bag of the Luke’s Organic Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle chips. Luke’s Organic chips sustainability review

Luke’s organic potato chips – ingredients

Here are ingredients for the two flavors of Luke’s Organic chips that I’m reviewing here.

White Truffle & Sea Salt – ingredients

Luke’s Organic potatoes, Luke’s Organic sustainable oil blend (sunflower, safflower, and/or red palm fruit oil) Urbani white truffle seasoning (organic tapioca maltodextrin, sea salt, organic white truffle).

Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle – ingredients

Luke’s Organic potatoes, Luke’s Organic sustainable oil blend (red palm fruit oil and avocado oil) Organic seasoning (organic raw cane sugar, organic tomato powder, sea salt, organic maltodextrin, organic onion powder, organic salad mustard [organic vinegar, organic mustard seed, salt, organic turmeric, organic paprika], organic garlic powder, organic white distilled vinegar, organic ground mustard, organic annatto extract, citric acid, organic spices, natural flavor)

The ingredients for the ketchup chips look much more complex at first but it’s really just a sprinkling of some organic spices. Nutritionally, the two chips are so similar that I just included Nutrition Facts for the truffle chips in the image below. The ketchup chips only differ by tiny amounts of sugars, iron and potassium.

Nutrition Facts for  Luke’s Organic White Truffle chips are shown. Per 1 oz. (28 g) serving, the chips provide 9 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 16 g carbs, 0 g sugars, 2 g fiber, 2 g protein and 150 mg sodium (6% of RDA).  Luke’s Organic chips sustainability review
Every item in the Luke’s Organic line is USDA Certified Organic, Non-GMO and gluten-free.

Ethical rating for Luke’s Organic chips

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Luke’s Organic chips, which I’m rating 4 out of 5 Green Stars

  • All of the products are made with organic ingredients (potatoes, vegetable oil, spices, etc.).
  • The potatoes are grown on Luke’s Organic owned farms in South Dakota and Oregon.
  • Most Luke’s products are vegan – they have some cheese puffs and Cheetos-like snacks too.
  • What concerned me though was that their oil blend contains palm oil. I wrote to them to ask about their source and got a full response: “We source palm fruit oil only from small, organic family farms in Ecuador. It is certified Organic, Non-GMO and Fair Trade. Our supplier works with farmers directly to ensure that no deforestation or habitat destruction results from the growing or harvesting process. There are no orangutans in South America. The region in Ecuador where our Organic Red Palm Oil is grown has numerous small family farms, averaging 10 hectares (about 25 acres), interspersed throughout the regional forests. These subsistence farms were planted many years ago and are now being worked by second and third generation farming families.” Because of the massive problems that irresponsibly farmed palm oil has caused, I avoid products with this ingredient unless I know for sure that it’s responsibly-sourced.
  • Most of Luke’s Organic products come in large bags – especially those at the Grocery Outlet. I used Luke’s Organic as an example (in a GSP post) on how buying products in larger packages saves on material. I had bought a huge 28 oz. bag of Luke’s Organic chips at the Grocery Outlet and calculated that it uses 8-times less packaging compared to buying 28 x 1 oz. bags.
  • Room for improvement: more transparency – they haven’t shared very much information on their company operations from a sustainability standpoint. I believe that Luke’s used to be part of Palm Done Right but are no longer listed on that site.
Two varieties of Luke's Organic chips are shown - White Truffle & Sea Salt and also Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle. under the photo of the two bags of chips is a graphic showing an ethical score of 4/5 Green Stars, representing social and environmental impact. Luke’s Organic chips sustainability review

Summary scores (out of 5) for Luke’s Organic chips

  • 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 : )  

Oatly ice cream – sustainability, review

I recently picked up some Oatly chocolate chip ice cream (frozen dessert, technically) at the Grocery Outlet for $1.99. I’m not a huge consumer of ice cream but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to review Oatly – all in the name of science! I would have liked to have tried the strawberry flavor as I’ve heard good things about it (e.g., from vegan groups on Reddit) but chocolate chip seems to be the main variety available at the Grocery Outlet.

Bottom line: the ice cream itself is very good – it has nice texture, whether you eat it rock-solid or half-melted. The main downside for me was the chocolate chips – if they were thinner or had a lower melting point then they would meld better with the ice cream. They also didn’t taste like high-quality chocolate.

I honestly think you wouldn’t miss dairy ice cream much if you switched to a plant-based brand like Oatly. Comparing the plant-based brands that I’ve looked at on Ethical Bargains, I think Oatly ice cream is better than Brave Robot, for sure, and it’s almost on par with Ripple chocolate ice cream and So Delicious ice cream or mousse.

All of them are decent choices, although I wouldn’t buy Brave Robot again – it was my least favorite in terms of taste and also got the lowest ethical score of those that I tried (3/5 Green Stars – not terrible by any means). I would probably choose the So Delicious chocolate chip mousse over Oatly – I think it’s healthier and tastier.

Oatly chocolate chip ice cream – ingredients

Oatmilk (water, oats), chocolate chips (sugar, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter), coconut oil, sugar, dextrose, dried glucose syrup, low erucic acid rapeseed oil. Contains 2% or less of: natural flavor, mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, locust bean gum, guar gum, sea salt.

It’s composed mostly of oatmilk, sugar, coconut oil and some rapeseed oil (also known as canola oil). In terms of sugar content, it’s comparable to regular dairy ice cream brands like Ben & Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs. It’s has lower fat content compared to regular dairy ice cream and, importantly, has no trans fat. So, basically it’s a slightly healthier version of ice cream, but it’s still 22% sugar!

Nutrition Facts for Oatly chocolate chip ice cream are shown. one 105 g serving provides 16 g fat (10 g saturated fat), 2 g fiber, 23 g sugars, and 1 g protein. Oatly ice cream sustainability review

Oatly products are glyphosate-free

Oatly guarantees that the oats used are glyphosate-free, which is important. Glyphosate is a special concern for oats because it can be used as a desiccant to dry out the grain before harvesting. So, even though there are no genetically modified oat crops grown, there’s actually a risk of really high glyphosate in oat products because of its special use as a desiccant.

Ethical rating for Oatly ice cream

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Oatly ice cream which I’m rating 3.5 out of 5 Green Stars

  • All Oatly products are 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 insidious negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • Oatly’s frozen dessert cartons are now 97% bio-based. They feature a new type of paperboard with a bio-based plastic coating made from sugarcane. This paperboard is also made from 100% recycled material that’s certified by SFI (the Sustainable Forestry Initiative).
  • Oatly accepted funding from Blackstone group – a controversial decision as Blackstone has funded other projects with negative social or environmental impacts. You can read perspectives on this from Ethical Unicorn and also from Oatly and decide for yourself. My perspective is summed up in the post on whether you should support ethical brands owned by less ethical corporations. If Blackstone invests in more ethical projects, that’s a good thing.
  • Oatly posted the climate footprint of 119 products and launched new campaigns to advocate for putting climate declarations on food products to show people the impact of what they eat.
  • Oatly reduced water use per liter of oat milk by 19% from 2018, but the carbon footprint per liter increased by 20% (due to new production and logistics challenges). This was due to the higher carbon footprint of oats grown by new suppliers in Finland and Canada. At least they are transparent! The overall carbon footprint is still a lot lower than dairy.
  • However, Oatly are not particularly transparent about the other ingredients in the ice cream – chocolate, sugar and coconut oil. This was surprising to me, considering the length of Oatly’s sustainability report.
Oatly chocolate chip ice cream - ethical rating. the image shows a tub of Oatly chocolate chip frozen dessert over a graphic of 3.5 / 5 Green Stars, represneting a score for social and environmental impact. Oatly ice cream sustainability review

Summary scores (out of 5) for Oatly chocolate chip ice cream (frozen dessert):

  • 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 : )  

Miyoko’s cheese wheels – review and sustainability

I bought one of Miyoko’s cheese wheels at the Grocery Outlet for $5.99, recently – the Smoked English Farmhouse. Funnily enough, I had just bought a different variety – Black Ash – at a much fancier store in Marin a week earlier for $12.99.  You can also buy them directly from Miyoko’s Creamery, where prices range from $10-12. There’s eight varieties now – I’m going to look out for the Herbes de Provence, which looks tasty (why don’t vegan cheesemakers use more herbs??). I also want to try one of the Double Cream varieties to compare the texture to the two that I’ve tried so far which are both aged and firm.

[Insert joke about being aged and firm]

Miyoko’s cheese wheels – review and sustainability . A montage of the eight varieties of Miyoko's vegan cheese wheels is shown. Varieties include Garlic Herb, Winter Truffle, Sundried Tomato Garlic, Sharp English Farmhouse, Classic Chive, Smoked English Farmhouse, Herbes de Provence, and Black Ash
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Miyoko’s cheese wheels – ingredients

Here are the ingredients for the two cheese wheels from Miyoko’s Creamery that I tried so far:

Miyoko’s Smoked English Farmhouse – ingredients:

Organic Cashew Milk (Organic Cashews, Filtered Water), Organic Chickpea Miso (Organic Rice Koji (Organic Rice, Koji spores) Organic Whole Chickpeas, Sea Salt, Water), Nutritional Yeast, Sea Salt, Natural Flavors (derived from Oregano, Plum, Flaxseed), Cultures

Miyoko’s Black Ash cheese wheel – ingredients:

Organic Cashew Milk (Organic Cashews, Filtered Water), Organic Chickpea Miso (Organic Rice Koji (Organic Rice, Koji Spores), Organic Whole Chickpeas, Sea Salt, Water), Sea Salt, Natural Flavors (derived from Oregano, Plum, Flaxseed), Vegetable Ash, Nutritional Yeast, Cultures

Miyoko’s cheese wheels – review and sustainability. Nutrition Facts panels are shown for two varieties of Miyoko's cheese wheel - Smoked English Farmhouse and Black Ash. Per 28 gram serving they each provide 1 g fiber and 4 g protein, 1.5 g saturated fat, and 9 g total fat.

There’s not much difference in ingredients or nutritional content, even though the flavors are quite different. It’s nice to see that it’s more than 10% protein (4 g per serving) as most vegan cheeses contain zero protein.

Making a miso by fermenting chickpeas with koji (Aspergillus oryzae, the same fungus used to make miso and soy sauce) is an interesting approach to making cheese. The use of ingredients like plum and oregano suggests that a lot of work went into the development of these cheeses. So how did they taste?

Review of Miyoko’s cheese wheels

I already reviewed Miyoko’s Farmhouse cheddar, which I rated 4 regular stars for quality/value and 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact. I think that the cheese wheels maintain the same ethical standards, so the Green Stars rating hasn’t changed – see the next section for details. The flavor of these cheese wheels is more interesting, as you’d expect from the higher price.

Not that Miyoko’s more basic cheeses aren’t good, but I do think that these cheese wheels (at least the types that I’ve tried so far) have raised the bar a little. And that’s really needed in the vegan cheese world. I know that there are some very small companies making high-end vegan cheese, but there aren’t many “craft cheeses” with a wide distribution.

I really like the texture of these cheeses (getting closer to dairy!) – they work well on crackers and in sandwiches or on top of toast. Both have a slightly sharp, citrusy flavor and then the smoked farmhouse has a bacon-like layer of smokiness on top. My friend who likes smoked cheeses more than I do really liked the Smoked English Farmhouse, while I preferred the Black Ash.

Ethical rating for Miyoko’s cheese wheels

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Miyoko’s cheese wheels which, like Miyoko’s butter, I’m rating 5/5 Green Stars

  • They are vegan products, helping to mitigate climate change, deforestation, animal suffering and violence in society.
  • Almost all of the ingredients are organic.
  • Processing of organic cashews in Vietnam is performed safely, and workers receive decent pay and benefits (see previous post on Miyoko’s butter).
  • Miyoko’s Creamery has been a leader in the field of responsible vegan dairy products.
  • During lockdown, Miyoko’s Food Truck distributed 15,000 free grilled cheese sandwiches around the US to promote cruelty-free vegan cheese.
  • All products are free of palm oil.
  • Miyoko runs a sanctuary for rescued farm animals.
  • Woman-owned (& minority-owned) company.
  • Certified B-Corporation.
Miyoko’s cheese wheels – review and sustainability. The image shows two varieties of Miyoko's cheese wheels - Smoked English Farmhouse and Black Ash. Below them is a graphic showing 5 Green Stars, representing a perfect ethical score for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Miyoko’s cheese wheels:

  • 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 : )  

Miyoko’s vegan butter– review & ethical rating

Miyoko’s European Style Cultured Vegan Butter raised the bar in the vegan dairy space and paved the way for more innovation at Miyoko’s Creamery (and elsewhere). I already reviewed Miyoko’s Farmhouse Cheddar, and will soon be trying out Miyoko’s mozzarella and cheese wheels that I picked up at the Grocery Outlet, recently. I’ve been regularly buying the 16 oz. (1 lb) packs of Miyoko’s European Style Cultured Vegan Butter at the Grocery Outlet this year – its only $5.99, about the price you pay for 8 oz. at Whole Foods/Amazon.

What’s immediately appealing about the butter is the minimal packaging – two 8 oz. blocks of butter are wrapped in waxed paper and enclosed in a cardboard box. It’s pretty similar to regular dairy butter in that respect, and also in the sense that it’s best left out of the fridge for a little while before using. I do also like to cut a thin layer off a cold block, lay it on a slice of warm toast and eat it as it melts in. Wild, eh?

In terms of taste and texture, it’s my favorite vegan butter – it’s not exactly the same as dairy butter but the slightly tangy flavor is different in a good way. I also really like Miyoko’s cultured oat milk butter, which is a tiny bit sweeter but also very butter-like. Kite Hill makes a good vegan butter but I think it’s less sustainable than Miyoko’s butter (I gave it 3.5 Green Stars). Califia oat milk butter was really nice and made with interesting ingredients (like tiger nuts) but, sadly, they discontinued it.

So, I want to make a point about vegan products – don’t take them for granted because their success depends entirely on your support. And many of these small companies have to put up with a lot of pressure and bullying from conventional industry groups.

Miyoko’s Creamery wins court case over labeling laws

I’m going to write a post about this over on Green Stars, because it’s an issue that crops up again and again. Basically, Miyoko’s Creamery was told by the California Department of Food and Agriculture that it couldn’t use terms like butter on packaging. Long story short, Miyoko didn’t take this lying down – here she is, telling the story:

Miyoko’s cultured vegan butter – ingredients

Organic Coconut oil, Organic Cultured Cashew Milk (Filtered Water, Organic Cashews, Cultures), Filtered Water, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt

Non-GMO • Lactose Free • Gluten Free • Soy Free • Palm Oil Free • Kosher • Contains Nuts

It’s mainly composed of coconut, cashew nut, and sunflower oil, all of which are organic. The cashew milk is cultured (fermented) and that’s what gives this butter its complex flavors.

Miyoko’s vegan butter – nutrition facts A photo of Miyoko’s European Style Cultured Vegan Butter is shown beside the Nutrition Facts information panel for the butter. One serving of 14 g contains 10 g of fat, of which 4 g is saturated fat. Miyoko’s vegan butter– review & ethical rating.

Sourcing cashews for Miyoko’s vegan butter

A while back, I wrote to Miyoko to ask about their cashew sourcing policy (as there are a few ethical issues that come with cashew production) and received this response:

Thanks for reaching out to us about this important issue. Our organic cashews are sustainably sourced from Vietnam. The company from whom we purchase them has undergone a Social Responsibility Audit to ensure that they treat all employees fairly, pay a living wage, allow appropriate time off and shifts of a reasonable length, do not employ child labor, and have safe and appropriate facilities for employees to work in. In addition, the company only processes and packages cashews grown on farms in their sustainable network.

Since then, Miyoko’s Creamery has actually made a video to provide more information on cashew sourcing and processing in Vietnam:

Miyoko’s Creamery took the welcome (and rare) step of disclosing all major suppliers, spanning ingredients, engineering, and shipping. The company also commissioned a life-cycle assessment (LCA), which estimates that the carbon footprint of Miyoko’s butter is 21 times lower than that of dairy butter.

A table shows the carbon footprint of Miyoko's Creamery products next to the footprint of equivalent dairy products. Miyoko’s vegan butter– review & ethical rating.
The carbon footprint of Miyoko’s Creamery products next to the footprint of equivalent dairy products.

Ethical rating for Miyoko’s cultured vegan butter

There are only a few companies that I’ve rated 5/5 Green Stars on this site – for example, Nature’s Path, Spero, and Alter Eco. I’m happy to say that Miyoko’s Creamery is definitely up there too.

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Miyoko’s vegan butter, which I’m scoring 5 Green Stars

  • It’s a vegan product, as are all Miyoko’s Creamery products.
  • All of the ingredients are organic.
  • The packaging consists of compostable waxed paper and recyclable cardboard box that’s responsibly sourced (by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative).
  • The carbon footprint of Miyoko’s vegan butter is 21 times lower than that of dairy butter.
  • Processing of organic cashews in Vietnam is performed safely, and workers receive decent pay and benefits (see video, above).
  • Miyoko’s Creamery has been a leader in the field of responsible vegan dairy products.
  • During lockdown, Miyoko’s Food Truck distributed 15,000 free grilled cheese sandwiches around the US to promote cruelty-free vegan cheese.
  • All products are free of palm oil.
  • Miyoko runs a sanctuary for rescued farm animals.
  • Woman-owned (& minority-owned) company that does well on transparency.
  • Certified B-Corporation.
Miyoko’s vegan butter– review & ethical rating. A photo of Miyoko’s European Style Cultured Vegan Butter is shown over a graphic of 5/5 Green Stars, representing a perfect score for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Miyoko’s cultured vegan butter:

  • 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 : )  

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 : )