Violife, Just Like Feta – ethical review

Violife has produced a vegan feta cheese, Just Like Feta, that’s probably the best vegan cheese product that I’ve had so far. It seems appropriate that Violife is based in Greece, where feta cheese originated. Typically, vegan cheeses like sliced cheddar and mozzarella are not really that appealing to eat on their own, but are alright when melted on toast or a burger. The Violife feta, however, is perfectly good to eat on its own, or (the way I’ve been eating it) in Greek salads. When combined with olives, tomatoes, etc., I really can’t tell that this feta is vegan.

The texture is about right for feta and, as it comes packed in a little brine, it tastes salty like regular feta. One of the ingredients is Glucono delta lactone, also known as gluconolactone, which is marketed for use in feta cheese because it adds a tangy taste. So, basically the cheese is salty, slightly tangy and approximates the texture of feta pretty well. If you’re not sure about vegan cheese, having perhaps tried some that feel like plastic and taste of nothing, I’d recommend giving it a try! It cost $1.99 at the Grocery Outlet, compared to a normal price of around $6.

In future posts, I’ll cover other cheese products such as spreads, cheddar, mozzarella, etc.

Plant-based cheese begins to take off

According to Forbes, in Jan 2020, plant-based cheese grew by 69% over the previous two years but still represents less than 1% of cheese sales. However, vegan cheese is getting better and it has been fun to try out the many brands that I’ve come across at the Grocery Outlet, from Miyoko’s Creamery to Violife, Daiya, So Delicious, and others.

Here’s how Miyoko Schinner (founder of the Miyoko’s Creamery, based in the SF Bay Area) describes it:

“Vegan cheese options were created for people who had become vegans or vegetarians who loved cheese and craved a replacement. While current offerings may have been reasonable substitutes that were ‘good enough’ for vegans, they do not taste and perform like cow dairy and have low if any appeal to omnivores,” she says.

Forbes.

Miyoko herself was one of the first people to market a cultured vegan butter that was head and shoulders above the kind of products that were available until then (like Earth Balance). Since then, Miyoko’s Creamery has produced pretty good cheese products that helped me kick the dairy cheese habit. Now I’ll include Violife’s feta too.

Violife, Just Like Feta – ingredients

Filtered Water, Coconut Oil, Potato Starch, Salt (Sea Salt), Glucono Delta Lactone, Flavor (vegan sources), Olive Extract, Vitamin B12.

As mentioned above, the glucono delta lactone adds a tangy taste and is made by microbial fermentation of glucose. According to Violife’s FAQs, “the vegan flavouring in Violife is derived via simple extraction or fermentation of plant based sources.” So they are not giving much away there. I like that Violife went to the trouble to add vitamin B12 to the product, helping vegetarians who may rely on dairy for B12 to switch to this plant-based version. Like most vegan cheese (and regular dairy cheese, for that matter) the product is predominantly fat. Here’s some nutritional information along with certifications and a few of the awards that Violife has picked up:

Violife, Just Like Feta – ethical review. A block of Violife's Just Like Feta is shown next to Nutrition Facts and certifications such as Vegan and non -GMO certified.

Ethical rating for Violife’s vegan feta

Overall, I think that Violife deserves 4.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • It’s a certified vegan product as are all of Violife’s products.
  • The main ingredients (coconut, potato, olive) rank well for sustainability and there are no controversial ingredients like palm oil.
  • Being an EU product, the ingredients are a little more controlled than they would be in the US.
  • It’s a very good substitute for animal-based feta. As mentioned in my post on Fry’s BBQ pizza, this is important even as an ethical criterion because we aren’t so likely to move away from animal products unless vegan versions are actually tasty.
  • Packaging is about as minimal as it can be for this kind of product. See below for a note from Violife about switching to recyclable plastic for products such as its cheese slices.
  • Violife hasn’t done a very good job so far at communicating on sustainability. This is odd, for such a high-profile and award-winning vegan food company. However, I did get some responses from the company, which I’ll summarize after this video that introduces Violife.

Violife’s main ingredient: Coconut oil

Growing coconuts doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides. Furthermore as members of Sedex we procure ethically cultivated coconuts and our suppliers – also members of Sedex – forbid the use of monkeys and children for the collection of the coconuts. The coconut is harvested in Indonesia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea.

– Violife, personal communication

The first statement is not accurate: some coconut farms do use pesticides. Agricultural inputs such as pesticide, fertilizer and herbicide are usually quite low on coconut farms but it depends on the grower.

Violife Packaging

We are happy to say that Violife has already been conducting tests with recyclable materials in order to switch our packaging to eco-friendly materials and the time line for this is estimated for our tray packaging of slices to be March 2022 and for the grated bags, May 2022.

– Violife, personal communication

Violife company Sustainability

Regarding energy and water use, etc. please kindly note that we are currently working on the lifecycle assessment of Violife products in cooperation with an external agency. This project is very crucial for the company as in our notion is to hold scientific documentation for the evaluation of environmental impacts, such carbon emissions, use of water, land and energy, waste production and biodiversity.

– Violife, personal communication
Violife, Just Like Feta – ethical review. Violife Feta is shown and underneath is an ethical rating of 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Violife’s Just Like Feta:

  • 4.5 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 : )

Califia Plant Butter – ethical review

Califia have recently brought out two Plant Butter products and they are both on sale at the Grocery Outlet. They’re named Sea Salt with Avocado Oil and Sea Salt with Olive Oil, and are pretty similar in most respects. The ingredients are almost identical except that one contains pressed avocado oil and the other is made with pressed olive oil. Coconut oil is actually the main ingredient in both cases, so you may not notice a massive difference between them.

I’ve been buying less and less dairy since lockdown began and I owe it in part to the large variety of plant-based alternatives that are now on the market. I’ve already covered one of Califia’s plant-based milks, Califia Protein Oat Milk, and just finished evaluating a vegan feta cheese from Violife that I really liked. At some point, I’ll write a summary post of my favorite plant-based alternatives to dairy products.

Review of Califia Plant Butter products

I’ve used these products over the last two months and find them to work well in most situations – fresh bread, crackers, toast, etc. They are fairly dense, which I actually prefer, compared to some of the lighter (whipped) products that I’ve bought before. Being denser means that they take a tiny bit more work to spread, but with the upside that each tub lasts longer. The latter is more important to me as I’m trying to minimize plastic waste.

The Califia Plant Butters are quite cheap at the Grocery Outlet – prices range from around $0.99 to $1.99 per tub compared to a normal price of around $5. It’s a good opportunity for omnivores or vegetarians (like me) to try out new products that may help them kick the dairy habit.  

Califia versus Kite Hill butter

I already reviewed Kite Hill butter and think that the Califia butters are close to the Kite Hill product in terms of taste and spreadability, with Kite Hill having perhaps a slight edge. (Although, being more airy and spreadable, the Kite Hill product has the downside, mentioned above, of not lasting as long.) Both Kite Hill and Califia products include cultured (fermented) ingredients and I think that’s partly why both taste significantly better than older products like Earth Balance.

In terms of social and environmental impact I think that the Califia products are slightly better than the Kite Hill butter – see the ethical review later. Bear in mind, though, that both Kite Hill and Califia are much better than palm oil based products like Earth Balance.

Califia Plant Butter – ingredients

Plant Butter, Sea Salt with Avocado Oil

Ingredients: Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil, Water, Cashews, Tigernut Paste (Tigernuts, Sunflower Seed Oil), Fermented Oregano, Flaxseed and Plum Extract, Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt, Cultured Dextrose, Natural Flavor, Nutritional Yeast, Cultures, Beta Carotene (Color).

Plant Butter, Sea Salt with Olive Oil

Ingredients: Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Water, Cashews, Tigernut Paste (Tigernuts, Sunflower Seed Oil), Fermented Oregano, Flaxseed and Plum Extract, Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt, Cultured Dextrose, Natural Flavor, Nutritional Yeast, Cultures, Beta Carotene (Color).

Califia Plant Butter - ethical rating. Califia's two plant butter products are shown: Sea Salt with Avocado Oil and Sea Salt with Olive Oil. Underneath, the Nutritional Facts are shown for these two products.

What are tiger nuts?

The fifth ingredient in both products is tiger nuts – an ingredient that you don’t come across every day. Although they are called nuts, they are actually tubers that are found under the fast-growing yellow nutsedge plant. Also known as chufa, tiger nuts are grown across the world, particularly in Africa and South America, and are often eaten as snacks or made into a type of horchata.

“The tiger nut is between the tuber and the nut [in terms of nutrition],” says José Ángel Pérez Alvarez, a researcher at Miguel Hernandez University of Elche in Spain who studies tiger nuts. For instance, there’s less protein than a typical nut but more than the typical tuber. There’s more starch than the typical nut but less than the typical tuber.

NPR

Tiger nuts were revered by ancient Egyptians, featured in paintings and sometimes entombed along with Egyptians and their belongings. I like that Califia is including this unusual ingredient and that they are utilizing most of it – both the oil and also the fibers that contain beneficial prebiotics.

Take tiger nuts, or as they’re more poetically known – “earth almonds.” Not only do we use the naturally occurring oil they contain, but we use more of the nut in the spread, as well.

Califia

Resistant starch is a prebiotic. It’s the fibre that doesn’t get digested and makes its way to the colon to feed the microflora in our gut. Resistant starch also helps you feel fuller, longer.

The Chufa Co.
Califia Plant Butter contain tiger nuts (also known as chufa). The image shows the yellow nutsedge plant on the left. Top right is an image of dried tiger nuts. Bottom right is an ancient Egyptian tomb painting showing the preparation of tiger nuts.
The yellow nutsedge plant (left); dried tiger nuts (top right); and an ancient Egyptian tomb painting showing the preparation of tiger nuts (bottom right). Image credits: Wikipedia and NPR.

Ethical rating for Califia Plant Butters

Overall, I think that Califia Plant Butter deserves 4 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • They are certified vegan products, providing a more ethical alternative to dairy.
  • The main ingredient, coconut oil, is a sustainable crop, in general. Olives are generally better than avocados, so I would pick the pressed olive oil product over the avocado oil version.
  • Palm oil free.
  • Califia works on conserving water by working with farmers who use more efficient drip irrigation systems and also reclaiming all water from their manufacturing facility for use on nearby farms.
  • Califia makes a good effort at protecting bees and encouraging integrated pest management on supplier farms.
  • Califia did a decent job at using renewable energy in the past. However, the company missed the goal to transition to 100% renewable power by 2020 and now seems to be slipping behind.
  • I’d prefer if Califia sourced organic ingredients.
  • Packaging should be made with recycled plastic (rPET), as discussed in the post on Califia Protein Oat milk.
Califia Plant Butter - ethical rating. Califia's two plant butter products are shown: Sea Salt with Avocado Oil and Sea Salt with Olive Oil. Underneath is a graphic showing an ethical rating of 4 out of 5 Green Stars, representing a score for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Califia Protein Oat milk:

  • 4 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 : )

Endangered Species Oat Milk Dark Chocolate

Endangered Species Chocolate (ESC) has brought out a range of vegan “milk” chocolate bars made with oat milk! I picked up a bar at the Grocery Outlet to try out: it’s 55% cacao and called Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate. Normally it has a wrapper with zebra stripes (so it’s known as the zebra bar) but my version had Valentine’s Day branding. This is typical of Grocery Outlet’s approach – selling items at a discount because the packaging is no longer relevant. Who wants chocolate in a pink wrapper in March or April? I do, because it means less food waste!

I’ve always liked Endangered Species chocolate and often buy their 72% cacao bars (the chimpanzee bar) to use in baking. It’s definitely one of the cheapest chocolate bars from a company with an ethical mission. Their three-ounce bars, including the new oat milk bars, sell for around $3 normally and were on sale for $1.49 at the Grocery Outlet.

Endangered Species Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate – review

Like many people, I grew up loving milk chocolate like Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Cadbury’s is now owned by Mondelēz International, which ranks fairly low, ethically speaking. Also, Cadbury’s products in the US are made by Hershey, which ranks even lower, and they totally suck. I’ve also found myself eating less and less dairy, especially since lockdown began.

In any case, I’m excited that vegan milk chocolate bars are on the market now. I expect that the Endangered Species bars aren’t the first on the market but this is the first one that I’ve tried. To be honest, I didn’t even really think of it as milk chocolate – I looked at the ingredients and imagined chocolate with oats. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I tried it – it really is a substitute for milk chocolate!

The texture is good – it’s not quite as creamy as the Irish-made Dairy Milk that I grew up with, but it’s not far off. Thankfully, it doesn’t have any of the chalkiness or grittiness that you find in low quality oat milk. Being 55% cacao, it’s less sweet than Dairy Milk and most mainstream conventional milk chocolate bars, which is also a good thing. I would buy it again and look forward to trying out the cherry and raspberry versions when I come across them.

Endangered Species Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate – Ingredients

The ingredients are simple:

Chocolate liquor, cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole grain oats, soy lecithin, vanilla.

Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla are traded in compliance with Fairtrade standards, total 83.7%. I’ll discuss the ingredients in the ethical review, coming up next!

Here’s the nutrition info and certification logos:

Endangered Species Oat Milk Dark Chocolate - Nutritional Facts and certifications (fair trade, vegan, non GMO, gluten free, kosher) are shown. On sale at the Grocery outlet

Ethical rating for Endangered Species Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate

I actually wrote a green Stars review of Endangered Species chocolate bars back in 2015, before the Green Stars Project site existed. I did some research this week to update this and contacted ESC for clarification on a few things. Some things have changed for the company but the ethos is similar and I’m maintaining the same rating of 5/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact. Here’s a summary of reasons for this ethical rating:

  • It’s a vegan product, with oat milk substituting for cow’s milk.
  • 84% of the ingredients are certified by Fairtrade America: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla.
  • Endangered Species Chocolate purchases Green-e certified renewable energy to match 100% of its operations.
  • 10% of ESC profits are donated to non-profits that work towards conservation and protection of endangered species. Recent donations have been made to The National Forest Foundation and The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
  • Over $2.6 million has been donated to non-profits by ESC since 2016 and the company hopes to reach annual donations of $1 million soon. Annual revenue for ESC in 2018 was $38 million, so there are no major red flags there. (An unscrupulous company might cook the books so that booked profits are tiny relative to revenue.)
  • ESC’s approach is to commit to long-term partnerships with farmers in Côte d’Ivoire. A lot of the world’s chocolate is produced in West Africa, and Côte d’Ivoire in particular has many issues from child labor and forced labor to deforestation and some particularly nasty pesticides. So it’s good that some are trying to support sustainable agriculture and a better standard of living there.
  • On that note, ESC could do better at reporting on some farming sustainability metrics.
Endangered Species Oat Milk Dark Chocolate. An ethical rating of 5 out of 5 green stars for social and environmental impact is shown next to the product.

Endangered Species versus Alter Eco

I reviewed Alter Eco chocolate truffles back in December and it was the first product to score 5/5 Green Stars, so I thought it would be good to briefly compare the two chocolate makers. Both Alter Eco and Endangered Species Chocolate have offset their carbon footprints and source fair trade certified ingredients. Alter Eco is blazing a trail with its Alter Eco Foundation, which is working towards sustainable agroforestry, while Endangered Species Chocolate is blazing a different kind of trail with charitable donations to conservation funds and attempting to improve conditions in Côte d’Ivoire.

We do work with small farmer organizations versus mass growers which is great for a lot of reasons, especially the prevention of deforestation which is the number one environmental problem caused by cocoa farming in West Africa.

Whitney Bembenick, Director of Marketing & Innovation at ESC

So the two companies are both good for some overlapping reasons and some reasons that are unique to each company.

ESC may be lagging Alter Eco a little on sustainable agriculture (or at least reporting on it) but scores extra points for supporting conservation programs, working towards better conditions in Côte d’Ivoire, and for developing good vegan milk chocolate. While there’s some room for improvement in both companies, I think they are both in the top 10% in terms of social and environmental impact and therefore both deserve 5/5 Green Stars.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Endangered Species Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate:

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

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

Grocery Outlet Wine Sale, Spring 2021

The Grocery Outlet spring 2021 wine sale starts on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 and runs for a week – all wines will be discounted by 20%. The Grocery Outlet was listed in 2020 by Wine Enthusiast as one of the top value-driven places to shop for wine in the US. Check out the longstanding GrossOutWine blog for current tips on top wines at the Grocery Outlet.

I’ve been thinking of how to handle wines here on Ethical Bargains, and have decided that one approach might be to look at various topics on sustainability in the wine industry. So what I might do is to feature a wine and then discuss one aspect of sustainability related to that wine (and perhaps Q&A with a winemaker) – it’ll be educational for me too! So, kind of along those lines, here are my two favorite Grocery Outlet wines right now:

Best wines of lockdown: Cardella Ruby Cabernet and Sangiovese

In second place…

Cardella Sangiovese 2014 (Fattoria Cardella – Vineyard 22).

3.9 points on Vivino.

$20, directly from Cardella

$6.99 at the Grocery Outlet ($5.59 during the 20% off sale)

And the winner is…

Cardella Ruby Cabernet 2014 (Fattoria Cardella – Vineyard 22).

3.9 points on Vivino.

$22, directly from Cardella (sold out)

$6.99 at the Grocery Outlet ($5.59 during the 20% off sale)

These wines won silver and gold, respectively, at the San Joaquin Valley California wine competition in 2017. OK – I know that’s a small competition that focuses on wines from the San Joaquin Valley – a region not really known for amazing wine. However, Cardella wines have regularly won awards at major events such as the Finger Lakes and Sunset International Wine Competitions.

Grocery Outlet Wine Sale, Spring 2021. Top picks are Cardella 2014 Sangiovese and Ruby Cabernet. Bottle labels are shown.

I had the Sangiovese first and was really happy with it – it’s one of my favorite grapes but it’s not that common in California. The wine is unusual, not just for being a Californian Sangiovese, but also in that the Cardella vines are located in the San Joaquin Valley, near Mendota, CA.  If you want to hear more about Cardella, check out David Wilson’s  podcast over on Grape Encounters – David was very excited to discover Cardella winery! And for a region known mostly for its massive agricultural output, it’s nice to see a San Joaquin Valley winemaker creating some excellent wines.

The Sangiovese is still on the shelves (in some stores – this is the Grocery Outlet so there are no guarantees!) and then last week I spotted another Cardella wine – Ruby Cabernet, also from 2014. Ruby Cabernet is also an unusual grape to come across, so I picked up a bottle to try it out. The top three-quarters of the cork was falling apart, so be careful when opening (perhaps this is why the wines are on sale at the Grocery Outlet). But the bottom quarter of the cork was still in good shape and the wine itself was fabulous!

The Ruby Cabernet definitely wins my Best Wine of Lockdown award, with the Sangiovese probably ranking second or third out of all the wines I’ve had over the last 12 months (and it has been quite a few).  The Ruby Cabernet seemed really consistent to me in that it tasted great straight after opening as well as 2 days later, and was almost as good on its own as with food. Maybe somebody can translate that into better-sounding wine terminology, for me?

I’ve been having the wines with things like the Fry’s Woodfired BBQ pizza that I just reviewed, Greek salad (made with vegan feta that I’ll be reviewing soon) and vegan bacon (also to be reviewed soon!) on sourdough.

“The Napa area says it makes the best Cabernet Sauvignon, in the Paso Robles area it’s the best Syrah, and the Lodi area claims to make the best Zinfandel. The San Joaquin Valley makes the best Ruby Cabernet.”

– Nathan Cardella, on Farm Progress

Wine sustainability topic: Water

The Cardella family, at least back in 2012, had a 3000-acre farm that included 1,000 acres of tomatoes, 500 acres of almonds, 300 acres of fresh-market onions, 150 acres of Pima cotton, and 500 acres of wine grapes. The vast majority of the grapes were sold to big wineries and only about 2% of them were used to make Cardella’s own estate wines.

In the vineyards, Cardella wine grapes grown for the large wineries receive 2.5 to 2.75 acre feet of water annually. The grapes for estate wines, which are grown differently, can get by with 1 to 1.5 acre feet of water.

This difference in the level of irrigation between the grapes grown for the large wineries and the grapes used for estate wines is interesting. Many crops like tomatoes, nuts, olives, and grapes are often more flavorful when provided with just about enough water to meet their needs. Try out some dry-farmed tomatoes if you don’t believe me.

A correlation between the quality of a wine and the level of water conservation is of course a good thing. It fits with a general rule of ethical consumerism to buy smaller amounts of higher quality things. In other words, don’t buy bad wine – If you’re on a budget then seek out good wine that’s on sale : )

Anyone who knows about farming in California’s San Joaquin Valley knows how scarce (and expensive) water is becoming. Cardella had to be as frugal as possible out of necessity by employing drip irrigation, and only as needed.

“Nathan Cardella credits the farm’s miserly use of water on several other factors. The farm’s 100 percent use of surface and subsurface irrigation saves large amounts of water annually.”

Farm Progress

I learned something interesting when researching water for winegrowing – several regions (in Europe) are required to rely on rainfall for irrigation.

To protect wine quality, irrigation is illegal in some of the world’s best wine regions, particularly in Europe. That includes the five B’s: Burgundy, Bordeaux, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello. A look at the average rainfall for many of those regions, however, shows that they typically get plenty of rain.

SevenFiftyDaily

So you could see this as a sustainability plus for wines from these regions.

Here’s another interesting article from SevenFiftyDaily on The Next Wave of Sustainability in Wine. A few quotes from it:

In Oregon, an organization called the Deep Roots Coalition has been spreading the gospel of dry farming since 2004.

Irrigation makes vines lazy, keeping them close to the surface of the soil. When they don’t get water from above, the vines seek moisture deep below the topsoil, which is healthier for the vines (even in drought conditions, the vines can still find moisture from deep below the top layers of soil).

Grapevines are able to adapt to dry conditions—on the Greek island of Santorini, for example, vines subsist on just a few inches of water a year.

Not saying that you want to seek out Santorini wine, but to be aware that some wines come with a much larger water footprint, depending on how and where the grapes were grown.

Cheers!

Fry Family Foods – Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza

I bought a new vegan pizza from the Grocery Outlet recently – Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza – and I think it’s most likely the best vegan pizza that I’ve ever had! A significant portion of my all-important (especially during lockdown) freezer compartment is now occupied by four Fry’s BBQ pizzas.

The South African brand was completely new to me – after expanding distribution in the UK in 2018, Fry’s has just started distributing to the US this yearlaunching in Sprouts stores as well as the Grocery Outlet). When I saw a selection of Fry’s vegan products in the Grocery Outlet freezer last month, I cautiously bought two items – vegan sausage rolls and the barbecue pizza. Since then, I’ve bought and tried a few more products from Fry’s range (vegan “chicken” nuggets and crispy “fish” fillets) so I’ll be covering some of them in a future post. But I’ll start with the pizza as that’s what I had first.

About Fry’s Family Foods

The Fry Family Food Company has been making vegan meat substitutes in South Africa since 1991. After becoming vegetarian in the 80’s, Wally and Debbie Fry experimented in their Durban kitchen, making plant-based sausages and other meat substitutes for themselves, and then for friends and neighbors, and it grew from there. You can imagine that there wasn’t quite so large a market for plant-based foods back then, so Fry’s did well to survive for three decades. Now it’s distributed to more than 30 countries and besides the main facility in Durban, SA, Fry’s has a headquarters in Australia and a contract production facility in the UK.

It turns out I’m not the only fan – Fry’s has been scoring high in the UK’s annual Vegfest awards, winning the best vegan “meat” award again in 2020. I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of these awards but I watched a bit of the 2020 award ceremony and saw that Fry’s was lauded for its longtime support and advocacy for initiatives like Meat Free Mondays. 

Here’s a pretty fancy video that tells the Fry’s story, complete with a reenactment of scenes from their early days:

Review of Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of BBQ sauce, so I really wasn’t expecting to love this pizza so much. It also appeared to be lacking in (vegan) cheese, so I thought it might not really taste like pizza. However, it tastes like it has cheese on it, so I inspected the ingredient list (see below) to figure out what was going on. There’s an ingredient sprinkled on top that’s cryptically called Vegetable Preparation and it basically fits the bill as a vegan cheese: It’s made mainly from veggie starch and coconut oil. The pizza works because of the way everything ties together – the grilled peppers, sauce, cheese, and vegan chicken strips. But the best thing about it is the crust – it’s a thin, flaky crust that’s like a cross between a good flatbread and Neapolitan pizza.

Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza – Ingredients

Because the ingredient list is so long (like many pizzas [so many parentheses!]), I’ve highlighted the main ingredients in bold font.

Soft Wheat flour (Gluten) (31%), Fry’s Vegan Chicken-Style Strips (11%) (Vegetable Protein [Soya, Wheat {Gluten}], Vegetable Oil [Sunflower Seed], Flavouring, Maize Starch, Yeast Extract, Potato Starch, Wheat Flour [Gluten], Thickener [Methyl Cellulose], Salt, Garlic), Tomato Passata, Tomato Pulp, Vegetable Preparation (Water, Modified Potato and Maize Starch, Vegetable Oil [Coconut Kernel], Vegetable Protein [Rice], Salt, Vegetable Fibre [Acacia Gum, Chicory], Flavourings, Stabilizer [Tara Gum], Colourants [Calcium Carbonate, _-Carotene], Preservative: Sorbic Acid, Vitamin B12), BBQ Sauce (8%) (Water, Beer Stout [Barley], Sugar, Tomato Puree, Vinegar, Modified Starch, Molasses, Salt, Garlic Puree, Smoke Flavouring, Spice [Mustard, Cayenne, Cumin]), Water, Grilled Red Peppers (4%), Grilled Yellow Peppers (4%), Red Onion (4%), Vegetable Oil (Sunflower Seed), Vegetable Oil [Olive Fruit] (Extra Virgin), Salt, Yeast, Vegetable Oil [Olive Fruit], Sugar, Oregano, Basil.

Fry Family Foods Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza nutritional information chart.

Ethical rating for Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza

Since I’m going to review several products from Fry’s Family Foods, I thought I would start by doing this review without looking for any information besides what’s on the packaging. The point of that is just to give an idea of how to write a Green Stars review without having to do much or any research online, as many people don’t have time for that. In future reviews of Fry’s products, I’ll add more information as it becomes available.

Fry Family Foods Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza is shown with an ethical rating of 4.5 out of 5 green stars for social and environmental impact

So, based purely on the information available on the packaging, here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza. I’m scoring it 4.5/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

  • It’s a completely vegan product, as are all of the company’s products
  • It’s the best vegan pizza I’ve ever had – this is important (even as an ethical criterion) because we aren’t so likely to move away from animal products unless vegan versions are actually tasty.
  • The pizza contains no palm oil, being made instead mainly from (more expensive) coconut, sunflower and olive oils.
  • The ingredients are not organic but are listed as GM-free.  This is a complicated issue (see my post on the Impossible Burger for a bit more info on it) and while I would prefer organic ingredients, being GM-free does at least imply some independence from the Agrichemical industry. I’ll provide some more info in future posts on Fry’s here and I’m also in the middle of writing a few posts on the Agrichemical industry over on the Green Stars Project.
  • There’s a fair bit of international shipping involved (with refrigeration) in getting this pizza to me as it’s made in Italy. The weird thing about pizzas in the US though (including Trader Joe’s pizzas) is that almost every pizza I’ve ever examined or bought here has been made in Italy.
  • Packaging is minimal, with a very light plastic wrap and outer box.

One thing to bear in mind in general is that pizza’s remarkably easy to make at home, so perhaps I should feel guilty that so much of my freezer real estate is taken up by frozen pizza. Perhaps I could defend it by pointing out that making pizza at home might involve buying (vegan) cheese, tomato sauce, etc., all of which has to be packaged and shipped too. A more general defense, however, is that transportation normally constitutes only a small part of food’s carbon footprint, compared to growing and processing ingredients. There are some exceptions, of course, such as items transported by air.

Overall, “food miles” do not matter as much as other considerations when deter-mining the carbon impact of food production, consumption, and disposal (except perhaps for fresh food that is air freighted). Minimizing food waste and composting the unavoidable food waste could have a much larger benefit than switching from a distant supplier to a local supplier. – Wakeland et al.

The good thing about doing ethical evaluations (even brief ones like this one) is that they help us evaluate broader life choices.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza:

  • 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 : )  

Tom’s of Maine Prebiotic soap

I normally only buy food items at the Grocery Outlet but on a recent trip I needed soap and decided to check their supply. There are plenty of not-so-sustainable products at the Grocery Outlet so I wasn’t surprised to see a whole lot of Dove soap. Dove, made from palm oil by Unilever is one of the worst choices when it comes to ethical soap. However, there were also two brands that I’ve bought before – Kiss My Face (to be reviewed later) and Tom’s of Maine. I bought one of each and tried out the Tom’s soap first – it piqued my interest because it’s something new: probiotic soap!

How does prebiotic soap work?

First of all – what are prebiotics? Well, you know how important the microbes in your body are? You can take probiotics such as live yoghurt that contain beneficial bacteria (Lactobacillus, etc.) or you can eat food that contains prebiotics, which encourage the growth of these beneficial bacteria. In general the beneficial bacteria thrive on things like soluble fibers, which you can get from a diet of veggies, or as a supplement like inulin (not insulin – inulin is a form of soluble fiber). So that brings us to soap – what’s the deal with prebiotic soap? Because you don’t eat soap, right?

As a microbiologist, I know how important the microbes in and on are bodies are. Most of us know that gut health is really important, but we are only starting to think about the microbial population (microflora) on our skin.  I first heard about this after reading about a couple of scientists who had changed their routine – David Whitlock, an MIT chemistry graduate who hasn’t showered for years and is now developing a microbial spray designed to break down ammonia on our skin. Then there’s James Hamblin, lecturer in public health at Yale who weaned himself off soap and deodorant and recently published the book, Clean: The New Science of Skin and the Beauty of Doing Less.

I don’t think either of them will be using the Tom’s of Maine product, since neither of them uses soap, but I think they’d be interested in the results. The first questions you’d have to ask yourself are: Why put the prebiotics in soap? Aren’t you just going to wash them right off your body? Wouldn’t they be better in a spray or moisturizer?

Perhaps small amounts of the inulin that’s in the soap may stay on your skin but that begs a follow-up question: Is it known that inulin on your skin will have the same beneficial effect as inulin in your food? I don’t think this question has been answered yet (I did search the science literature but found nothing concrete) and my feeling is that the product received FDA approval on the basis that it’s safe, but that doesn’t mean it’s effective.

I guess the proof would be in the pudding (or in this case the showering) and this may be more obvious to people with skin conditions. I’ve used the Tom’s of Maine prebiotic soap for about two weeks now and have found it to be perfectly fine. I can’t really comment on the impact on my skin microflora but as far as soaps go, I quite liked it : )

Tom’s of Maine Prebiotic soap – Ingredients

Here are the ingredients for the Fresh Apple variety that I bought – the Rose-scented version is basically the same (just a different fragrance). 

Sodium Palmate*, Sodium Cocoate or Sodium Palm Kernelate, Water, Glycerin, Inulin, Fragrance**, Sodium Gluconate, Sodium Chloride, Fructose, Glucose, Sucrose. *Rainforest Alliance Certified **natural

Note that sodium palmate is basically detergent made from palm oil – and as you probably guessed the sodium cocoate and sodium palm kernelate are made from coconut and palm kernel oil, respectively. I’m never particularly happy to see the word “or” in an ingredient list – it’s usually an indication of a larger company that’s switching between commodity ingredients based on market prices. So, let’s get to the ethical review!

Tom's of Maine Prebiotic soap is shown with an ethical rating graphic of 2.5 out of 5 green stars for social and environmental impact.

Ethical rating for Tom’s of Maine Prebiotic soap

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Tom’s of Maine Prebiotic soap, which I’m scoring 2.5/5 Green Stars.

  • Tom’s of Maine was a pretty responsible company that was acquired by a large multinational corporation, Colgate-Palmolive, in 2006. Sadly, Tom’s of Maine stopped reporting on corporate responsibility after that.
  • Tom’s of Maine is a certified B-corporation, achieving an OK score of 93.6 (80 is the minimum score to qualify).
  • Tom’s of Maine doesn’t test products on animals while Colgate-Palmolive still does, but is acknowledged by PETA to be working towards regulatory change to reduce requirements for animal testing.
  • 100% of Tom’s energy usage was offset by wind energy credits, post-consumer recycled cardboard is used for packaging and vegetable-based inks for printing. Or at least that was true when Tom’s of Maine reported on sustainability and Corporate Responsibility. Now it’s all mixed into Colgate Palmolive’s reporting.
  • Last year Tom’s of Maine developed a recyclable toothpaste tube, a step forward for the industry.
  • This particular soap is vegan, cruelty-free, and packaged in a cardboard box (no plastic wrap).
  • 10% of Tom’s of Maine profits go to good causes in Maine, such as the Nature Conservancy.
  • The primary ingredient of this soap is palm oil. It’s certified by the Rainforest Alliance but note that the next ingredient may be palm oil (Sodium Palm Kernelate) that’s not Rainforest Alliance certified (no asterisk).
  • As a subsidiary of Colgate Palmolive, I think it’s likely that Tom’s of Maine palm oil sourcing overlaps with that of Colgate. Colgate-Palmolive gets a mediocre score on the WWF palm oil scorecard – about a B.
  • You can read about Colgate-Palmolive’s palm oil sourcing policy here – the policy states “no deforestation of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forest or High Conservation Value (HCV) areas” but doesn’t exclude deforestation in general.
  • Ethical Consumer gives Colgate-Palmolive and Tom’s of Maine their worst rating in the soap category.
  • Bottom line – I’d rather be cautious and avoid products made from palm oil where possible – unless a company provides a lot of information to assure customers that the palm oil is truly sustainably sourced. Soap can easily be made from sustainable vegetable oils, for example olive oil or coconut oil.

So, not a fantastic score, and that’s mainly because of the palm oil. Tom’s of Maine is a pretty responsible company in many other ways and some of their other products would get a much higher ethical rating. But I will only support products made from palm oil if I have a high degree of confidence in the company’s sourcing policy.

I actually thought that Tom’s of Maine would do a better job on palm oil sourcing (that’s why I picked up the soap) but now that I know more I won’t buy Tom’s of Maine palm oil soaps unless their policy improves. I hope they do tackle this because Tom’s of Maine tries to be a leader in some areas, like the development of its recyclable toothpaste tube. Its parent company, Colgate-Palmolive, has a track record that isn’t terrible – it’s just not good enough. This soap is still more responsible than several mainstream soaps like Dove soap, made by Unilever. However, I think there are much better options out there, as far as social and environmental impact goes, such as Kiss My Face olive oil soap, Dr. Bronner’s soap bars and Alaffia soap.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Tom’s of Maine Prebiotic soap:

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

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

Sierra Nevada Wanderland nectarine ale

I picked up a six-pack of Wanderland nectarine ale from Sierra Nevada, on a recent trip to the Grocery Outlet. It’s a German-style Kölsch made with nectarines that are grown near their brewery in Mills River, North Carolina. At this time of the year I’d normally be drinking wintry ales and barrel-aged beers but things are different this winter. I really like this beer and think it’s perfect for an afternoon outdoor gathering – the only kind of gatherings happening for most of us at the moment.

Wanderland breaks the mold of this style of fruity beer, with 7.5% alcohol and dry-hopped with lupulin, for some hoppy citrus without the astringency.  It just became available in Jan, 2021, and so far has accumulated a pretty good score of 84 on Beer Advocate. A six-pack of Wanderland Ale cost $8.99 at the Grocery Outlet, compared to a regular price of $11.99 at BevMo. As I mentioned in my post on Deschutes Obsidian Stout, beer isn’t sold a massive discount at the Grocery Outlet, but prices are usually a little cheaper than other stores. The selection of beer at the Grocery Outlet is also becoming more interesting – and more current too, with Wanderland released by Sierra Nevada only last month. It’s vegan, by the way.

Sustainability in brewing

Over on the Green Stars Project I’ve written about sustainability of your local pub, featuring examples like Sierra Nevada’s taproom in Berkeley, Torpedo Room.  Going out for a pint of draft beer is one of the best ways to reduce your impact since packaging is reduced to a minimum. Getting a growler of beer to go is probably the next best thing, assuming you reuse the growler several times. Sadly, the Torpedo Room is closed due to Covid-19, but do check it out when it opens again, if you find yourself in the Bay Area. They have some impressive beers on tap. Meanwhile Sierra’s taprooms in Chico, CA, or Mills River, NC, are open for business.

Anyway, the main things to look out for if you’re searching for a sustainable beer are commitments to a low-waste footprint and efficiency in the brewery (water, energy, etc.). Check out the post on Deschutes Brewery for a comparison to this post – both Deschutes and Sierra Nevada are leaders in sustainability among the medium/large breweries. Sierra Nevada, in particular, was a major influence in the emergence of the craft brewing industry and has been a sustainability leader since the 1980s. More detail in the ethical review, coming right up!

Sierra Nevada Wanderland nectarine ale - ethical rating. An bottle of Wanderland nectarine ale from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., along with label art details, are shown above an ethical score of 4.5 out of 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Ethical rating for Sierra Nevada Wanderland ale

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Sierra Nevada Wanderland nectarine ale, which I’m scoring 4.5/5 Green Stars.

  • Sierra Nevada’s main brewery in Chico, California, was listed as a platinum level Zero Waste Facility all the way back in 2013 – 99.8% of their brewery waste is diverted from landfill. Waste is fed to their state of the art composter and the compost is used on their estate fields.
  • Going back over three decades, Sierra Nevada has set the bar on sustainability – not just among breweries but for companies in general. Their sustainability map gives a nice overview of how this is applied at the brewery.
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing doesn’t generate all of its energy needs on site yet but has made good strides towards this goal with solar panels, fuel cells, and microturbines. The fuel cells and microturbines are powered by biogas generated by treating their wastewater in anaerobic digesters.
  • The carbon dioxide that’s generated during brewing is collected and reused for packaging beer. Most breweries release the CO2 into the atmosphere and then purchase more for packaging the beer.
  • Sierra has multiple programs for conserving water such as rainwater collection at its Mills River brewery.
  • They’ve also addressed packaging, with high recycled content – and recyclability of course.
  • In Chico, Sierra built its own rail spur to reduce trucking miles.
  • They usually don’t use organic grains or hops though (except for their estate ale), something that Bison in Berkeley and a few others are doing. Organic beers seem to be slow to catch on because they are expensive to make (and for hops there are yield issues) – New Belgium, another great sustainable brewery, withdrew its organic Mothership Wit beer due to lack of demand.
  • To fill the gap here, Sierra could share more about sourcing of barley and hops (farming practices employed).
  • They had a “Farm with Your Brewer” program to encourage farmers to use sustainable practices (no-till; dry farming; minimization of fertilizer and pesticide) but I’m not sure if it’s still in practice.
  • Sierra makes biodiesel from used fryer oil from the Brewery restaurants.
  • Sierra’s east coast brewery in Mills River, NC, became the first brewery in the US to achieve LEED Platinum status (LEED = Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Summary scores (out of 5) for Sierra’s Wanderland nectarine ale:

  • 4.5 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 : )  

Impossible Burger 2.0 – review and ethical rating

When I saw an entire freezer full of Impossible Burgers at a local Grocery outlet, I did a double take. I had not imagined seeing them on sale there – especially at a price of $2.50 per pack, each containing two of the plant-based burgers from Impossible Foods (compared to a regular price of $6). I’ve been vegetarian since I was 15, so I’ve eaten my fair share of meat substitutes but had not yet tried the Impossible Burger. Over on the Green Stars Project I’ve evaluated some of these substitutes, including Tofurky, Quorn, Beyond Meat, No Evil, and good old tofu.

A few vegetarian friends said that they’re not that interested in Impossible Burgers because they are too similar to meat. I do like some meaty things like Beyond Sausages, reviewed here previously, so I had an open mind.

How to cook Impossible Burgers

After thawing a pack of burgers, I cooked one in a preheated pan, coated with a very small amount of olive oil, for about 4 minutes per side until the middle looked cooked (viewed from the side). I can see why vegetarians/vegans may not be interested in this style of meat substitute – it is very like meat in taste, texture, smell, and even the way it cooks, turning from red to grey and then brown. After cooking, I had to smother it with ketchup and dill to give it a different flavor because on its own it just wasn’t appealing to me. With these additions, I thought the burger wasn’t bad and can certainly imagine people who love the taste of meat loving them. That was, after all, the whole goal of the company – to replicate the experience of meat in order to combat climate change.

I also tried making a burger into breakfast sausages (I did this for the Beyond Meat burger too), by mixing herbs and spices into the burger and then forming it into four small sausages. I added a lot of herbs and spice – around two tablespoons of herbs (sage, thyme) and spices (paprika, mustard, fennel seed) into that one little burger. The sausages weren’t bad, but not as good as the breakfast sausages that I made from the Beyond Meat burger.

Four breakfast sausages on two slices of walnut bread are shown. The four sausages were made by combining one Impossible Burger with fennel and mustard seed, sage, thyme, and smoked paprika.
Breakfast sausages (on walnut bread) made by combining an Impossible Burger with fennel and mustard seed, sage, thyme, and smoked paprika.

Impossible burger versus Beyond Meat burger

The Grocery Outlet is also currently selling Beyond Meat burgers at a steep discount, so it’s a good time to try out these two products and compare them. That’s exactly what I did, and here’s a summary:

  1. As a vegetarian, I prefer the Beyond Meat burgers to the Impossible Burger, simply because the Impossible Burger tastes too meaty to me and I think that the Beyond Meat burgers have a more nuanced flavor.
  2. However, if you’re used to eating meat then you may prefer the Impossible Burger – I’d recommend trying both.
  3. In both cases I add a lot of dried dill and organic ketchup, along with tomato, napa cabbage, etc., to my burgers, particularly for the Impossible Burger, where I feel the need to mask the overly meaty flavor.

More about Impossible Foods

You may know the story already – Pat Brown, longtime vegan and professor of biochemistry at Stanford University, decided that the best way to combat climate change is to develop a plant-based meat substitute that would motivate consumers to move away from eating meat. That’s not new, but his research did turn up new ideas for making meat substitutes meatier. A key factor that gives meat its distinctive taste is hemoglobin – that iron-containing molecule that carries oxygen through our bodies, making our blood red. Dr. Brown didn’t imagine himself starting a food company but he came to the conclusion that it was the logical course of action if he wanted to use his biochemistry skills in the most effective way to mitigate climate change.

To make their vegan burger, Impossible Foods selected a plant-based substitute for hemoglobin known as leghemoglobin – it’s an iron-containing, oxygen-carrying molecule that’s found in the roots of legume plants. Impossible Foods makes leghemoglobin in yeast cells, by a process that’s not that different to making vegetarian rennet or insulin. So it’s a vegan product, although there was some controversy in the vegan community as the novel leghemoglobin product had to be tested in animals. Pat Brown issued a statement about that.

Impossible Burger – ingredients

The Impossible Burger that has been on shelves since 2019 is actually the second version of the product: Impossible Burger 2.0. The big difference is that the main ingredient was switched from wheat protein (gluten) to soy protein. More specifically, Impossible Foods sources genetically modified soy that’s engineered to be resistant to glyphosate.

Here are the ingredients in Impossible Burger 2.0:
Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2% Or Less Of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant), Soy Protein Isolate, Vitamins and Minerals (Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12).

Nutrition Facts for the current burger from Impossible Foods, the Impossible Burger 2.0 are listed, as per the label. Each 113 g burger provides 240 calories, 14 g fat (18% daily value), 8 g saturated fat (40% DV), 19 g protein (31% DV), 9 g total carbohydrate including 3 g of fiber (11% DV). The burger provides substantial amounts of vitamin B12 (130% DV), thiamin (2350% DV), niacin (50% DV), iron (25% DV) and other vitamins and minerals.

The Center for Food Safety (a San Francisco based nonprofit) filed a lawsuit last week, challenging the FDA’s approval of leghemoglobin, and it’s certainly true that humans don’t have a history of eating this molecule as it’s mainly limited to legume roots. However, is it any more risky than the artificial colors and preservatives found in other processed food items – or than meat itself, for that matter?

Genetically modified (GM) ingredients in the Impossible Burger

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that two of the ingredients in Impossible Foods’ latest burger are genetically modified (GM): the yeast that makes the leghemoglobin and the soy plants that supply most of the protein for the burger. This will really require a whole separate post (probably over on the Green Stars Project) but here’s my quick take on it: I don’t have a problem with the GM yeast – it’s the same technology brought us vegetarian versions of rennet (for making cheese) and drugs like insulin (which was sourced from pigs before the yeast was developed). I do have an issue with the GM soy, and I’ll briefly explain why.

I don’t fear GM soy from the perspective of the gene itself – as a molecular biologist I know that the DNA editing in itself isn’t usually a big risk. I’m also not too worried about traces of glyphosate in the soy that Impossible Foods uses – here’s a summary of that issue. (I do, however, think that glyphosate levels in some foods warrant concern.)

What does concern me is the form of agriculture that goes hand in hand with the GM soy – usually referred to industrial agriculture. It involves the systemic use of increasing levels of glyphosate, a broad spectrum herbicide that kills all plant life, in combination with neonics, a class of insecticide known to harm bees. It also involves the worldwide use of a crop that lacks genetic diversity, coupled with control of the seeds, herbicide, and insecticide by a handful of corporations (e.g., Bayer Corp., which now owns Monsanto). But it’s more complex and nuanced than just those points so I’ll post a link to a detailed discussion of this when it’s published on the GSP.

Impossible Foods versus Kite Hill

Pat Brown is also a founder of Kite Hill, which produces a range of dairy alternatives that are made from cultured almond milk. I previously reviewed Kite Hill butter here on Ethical Bargains, having bought it at the Grocery Outlet. So, with a founder in common, I thought it would be mildly interesting to briefly compare my impressions of Kite Hill and Impossible Foods

I found Kite Hill’s vegan butter to be a very good butter substitute and have continued to use it, including for pastry. Like the Impossible Burger, it’s a very good reproduction of the original animal-based version. I ended up giving Kite Hill an ethical rating of 3.5 Green Stars as a balance between being a vegan product but falling a bit short on some sustainability metrics. For example, the Kite Hill container should be made from post-consumer recycled plastic instead of virgin PET and the company should be more transparent on corporate responsibility and ingredient sourcing. Impossible Foods is doing a better job on two out of three of these issues, which I’ll highlight in the ethical review.

Ethical rating for Impossible Burger

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Impossible Burger 2.0, which I’m scoring 3/5 Green Stars.

  • It’s a vegan product, playing an important role in changing humanity’s eating habits by being, perhaps, the most meat-like burger to date.
  • The newest version of the Impossible Burger has a carbon footprint 89% smaller than a beef burger and also uses 87% less water, 96% less land, and cuts water contamination by 92%. – Data from Quantis. This is similar to the impact of other meat alternatives, e.g., products from Beyond Meat, Quorn, etc. To put it into perspective, most protein-rich plant foods such as peas, beans, etc., have even better numbers.
  • The packaging consists of a container that’s made from post-consumer recycled PET, a plastic film (to keep the heme from oxidizing), and a label made from polypropylene (why did they not use card for this?).
  • In Impossible Foods’ 2020 Impact Report, you can read about how the company has started initiatives on many issues, from waste minimization and food bank donations to gender and racial equality.
  • Most of the impact report describes fairly new initiatives rather than actual results, so it’s all early stage. One initiative that I do find exciting is to attempt recycling of the water (by reverse osmosis) that comes from their yeast/leghemoglobin fermentation. Success with that could be a big step forward in sustainability for the biotech industry.
  • What’s lacking in Impossible Foods’ reporting is meaningful information about the company’s sourcing of the main ingredients: soy, coconut, and sunflower.
  • On that note, by far and away my biggest problem with Impossible Foods is the use of industrially farmed soy and sunflower. I’m hoping that this is done for mainly economic reasons (Pat Brown stated that pricing is their biggest challenge) and that perhaps they will bring out a version 3.0 made from sustainably-farmed ingredients. Even if they sourced soy and sunflower that’s not treated with neonics, this would be a start.

Considering the points above, Impossible Foods does deserve credit for creating a meat substitute that has fooled food critics and won over many meat eaters. Right now it’s an Imperfect Burger rather than an Impossible Burger, until the ingredient sourcing changes, but it’s still a whole lot more sustainable than a beef burger.

Don’t forget that if you do eat meat, you’re most likely dealing with animals that were raised on GM soy and corn, thus combining the issues of industrial agriculture with even the larger ethical and environmental problems of the meat industry. So, although imperfect, the Impossible Burger is definitely an improvement on meat (just not as high-scoring as Beyond Meat burgers, in my opinion).

Summary scores (out of 5) for Impossible Burgers:

  • 3.5 gold stars for quality and value – that’s very subjective and will depend on how much you like the meaty taste.
  • 3 green stars for social and environmental impact.

I expect that there will be many different opinions on this product. Please share your rating in a comment below!

So Delicious vegan ice creams – ethical review

I was So Impressed with the So Delicious chocolate chip mousse that I bought at the Grocery Outlet that I picked up two varieties of ice cream on my next visit. Here’s what I purchased:

1. So Delicious Peanut Butter and Raspberry ice cream (made with oat milk)

2. So Delicious Coconut Macaroon ice cream (made with cashew milk)

Like the chocolate chip mousse that I wrote about last time, I really liked raspberry ripple ice cream growing up. So I liked the raspberry aspect of the Peanut Butter and Raspberry ice cream was really good for me. The peanut butter was a bit heavy, so I had to eat this ice cream in fairly small doses – but that’s actually a good thing ; ). The two flavors did work well together, though and it was only after eating it that I got the message that it was basically PB&J!

The Coconut Macaroon was basically as-advertised. The best thing about it was the little pieces of actual coconut macaroon mixed into it – giving it some texture and variety. It would be a nice alternative to vanilla for serving with pie.

So Delicious Peanut Butter and Raspberry ice cream – ingredients

Oatmilk (Filtered Water, Whole Oat Flour), Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Peanuts, Peanut Oil, Black Raspberries, Sugar, Pea Protein, Rice Starch, Natural Flavor, Salt, Black Currant Juice Concentrate, Guar Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Citric Acid.

So Delicious Coconut Macaroon ice cream – ingredients

Organic Coconutmilk (Filtered Water, Organic Coconut), Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Cane Sugar, Organic Rice Starch, Organic Coconut, Palm Oil, Filtered Water, Pea Protein, Organic Sunflower Oil, Guar Gum, Locust Bean Gum, Sea Salt, Natural Flavor.

So Delicious vegan ice creams – Nutrition Facts are shown for two varieties of So Delicious ice cream, next to that for Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's.

As mentioned in the post on So Delicious mousse, I was surprised that conventional ice cream (e.g., Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs) still contain trans fats (1 gram per serving for vanilla ice cream from both brands). Trans fats, as you probably know, have been strongly linked to heart disease as well as cancer and diabetes. These So Delicious ice creams contain quite a bit more sugar and fat than their mousse and other light desserts, but are still an improvement over dairy ice cream in that they contain some fiber, less total fat, zero cholesterol, and zero trans fat.

Ethical rating for So Delicious ice creams

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of So Delicious ice cream, which I’m scoring 4/5 Green Stars

  • These ice creams are vegan, as are all So Delicious products.
  • The top ingredients for both products (except for the oats) are certified organic.
  • The So Delicious website provides a decent amount of info about packaging, including their use of plant-based plastic (from sugarcane) and post-consumer recycled or FSC-certified paperboard for some products. The ice cream pint containers are non-compostable (because of a thin plastic lining) and also non-recyclable in most places.
  • So Delicious is part of Whitewave Foods, which is now owned by the French multinational food company, Danone Group. Danone Group, like many multinationals, is a mix of good and bad. The negatives are similar to those of Nestlé – bottled water and pushing infant formula in developing countries. But, overall, Danone looks better than Nestlé to me.
  • Danone North America is a certified B-corporation, just about qualifying with a modest score of 84.9.
  • Neither So Delicious nor Danone North America report on ingredient sourcing or corporate sustainability.
  • The coconut macaroon flavor does contain a very small amount of palm oil, but the PB & Raspberry flavor doesn’t and, in general, So Delicious products don’t contain palm oil. The WWF gives Danone a pretty good score on its palm oil scorecard.

Summary scores (out of 5) for So Delicious Chocolate Chip Mousse:

  • 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 : )  

Beyond Meat Cookout Classic burgers

Having stocked up and reviewed Beyond Sausage previously, I was excited to see Beyond Meat Cookout Classic burgers on sale at the Grocery Outlet, recently. This is a 10-pack of their burgers on sale for $7.99, compared to a normal price of around $17. This was a limited release from Beyond Meat and they are no longer in stock on the company website, so at this point availability is probably very limited.

The Grocery Outlet is also currently selling Impossible Burgers at a steep discount, so it’s a good time to try out these two products and compare them. That’s exactly what I did, and I would summarize the comparison as follows:

  1. As a vegetarian, I prefer the Beyond Meat burgers to the Impossible Burger, simply because the Impossible Burger tastes too meaty to me and I prefer the more nuanced flavor of these Beyond Meat burgers.
  2. Conversely, if you are used to eating meat then you may prefer the Impossible Burger – but I’d recommend trying both.
  3. In both cases I add a lot of dried dill and organic ketchup, along with tomato, napa cabbage, etc., to my burgers, particularly for the Impossible Burger, where I feel that I need to mask the overly meaty flavor.

Bottom line is that I really like the Beyond Meat Classic Cookout burgers and intend to stock up on more of them while they’re still at the Grocery Outlet. They’re also very light on packaging, but I’ll get to that later.

Beyond Meat Cookout Burgers – ingredients.

Water, Pea Protein, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Rice Protein, Natural Flavors, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Apple Extract, Pomegranate Extract, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Vinegar, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Sunflower Lecithin, Beet Juice Extract (for color), Carrot.

Beyond Meat Cookout Classic burgers - Nutrition Facts. 290 calories total, including 22 g fat, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugars, and 18 g protein. Also provides 20% of iron daily recommended intake.

How to cook Beyond Meat Classic Cookout burgers

Basically you store the burgers in the freezer and take them out to thaw in advance of cooking. You can thaw them at room temperature for a few hours if cooking the same day or in the fridge overnight, where you can keep them for up to a week before cooking. I tried cooking one from frozen but it’s not recommended as you may end up with a cold or even frozen center, depending on how you cook them. So thaw and then cook in a pan (non-stick or regular) that’s pre-heated with a very thin film of olive oil – or you can omit the oil as the burgers have plenty of fat in them. I cook them as directed, for 4 minutes per side on medium-high heat and add sometimes a slice of vegan cheese to the top after flipping them (I’ll get around to reviewing that cheese someday!).

You can also take a raw burger and mix in herbs (thyme, sage, etc.) and spices (smoked paprika, mustard, etc.) and then shape the burger into breakfast sausages. The burgers are fairly large so each one can be turned into three or four breakfast sausages.

Ethical rating for Beyond Meat Classic Cookout burgers

I’ve previously written about the sustainability of Beyond Meat on The Green Stars Project, and also reviewed Beyond Sausage on this site. Overall, I think that Beyond Sausage deserves 4.5/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • A vegan product that avoids hardship to animals.
  • A life-cycle assessment showed that Beyond Meat burger is far more sustainable than beef, cutting water use, land use, and greenhouse-gas emissions by over 90% each.
  • A 2018 Oxford University study looked at various metrics such as carbon and pollution footprints and land use. Peas and other legumes had the best scores on all fronts.
  • Legumes such as peas general require far less fertilizer because the plants fix their own nitrogen.
  • Packaging for these 10-packs of Beyond Meat burgers is nice and minimal. There’s a cardboard box and inside is one bag containing all of the burgers – that’s not a lot of packaging for 10 burgers. You can recycle the box and, for bonus points, you could repurpose the bag for something like kitty litter disposal.
  • I’d like to see corporate sustainability reports from Beyond Meat and more information on ingredient sourcing.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Beyond Meat Classic Cookout burgers:

  • 4.5 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 and sane : )