So Delicious Chocolate Chip Mousse

So Delicious is a brand of plant-based (vegan) ice creams and other frozen desserts – including ice-cream sandwiches that I’ve heard good things about and am excited to try. I picked up a tub of So Delicious Chocolate Chip Mousse at the Grocery Outlet ($1.49 compared to a regular price of around $5) and to be honest my hopes were not that high – for two reasons.

1. I don’t eat much ice cream anymore because the high sugar content can cause a mood crash.

2. The last time I tried a vegan ice cream (I don’t remember the brand) it was icy and fairly tasteless.

However, the So Delicious Chocolate Chip Mousse took me by surprise by being none of the above – it was barely distinguishable from regular ice cream and was actually fairly low in sugar: 9 grams per serving compared to around 24 grams for regular ice cream. The mousse, part of a low-calorie range from So Delicious, has a large 330 printed on the front of the tub that indicates the total number of calories inside (so that’s 110 calories for a regular serving of 1/3 pint). Normally I go for nutrient rich foods, but ice cream is an exception – since most of the calories in ice cream come from fat and sugar it’s better to have a lighter version. The So Delicious mousse contains 4 grams of fat per serving, compared to around 20 grams for vanilla ice cream from Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s.

But the best thing about it, though, was the taste – and how the ice cream brought me back to my childhood, like that great scene towards the end of Ratatouille. Growing up in Ireland, we had chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream bars known as the Choc Ice. The So Delicious Chocolate Chip Mousse is really similar to the flavor and texture of a Choc Ice and it’s one of the best ice creams that I’ve had in a while that’s also fairly guilt-free.

It looks like this may be another “limited edition” product that’s now only at the Grocery Outlet. I don’t know if that’s because it’s brand new, or (more likely) has been updated – there’s a new product on the So Delicious site that looks almost the same, but it’s called Cocoa Chip Light Frozen Dessert instead of Chocolate Chip Mousse. (I prefer the latter name.)

So Delicious Chocolate Chip Mousse – ingredients

Ingredients: Filtered Water, Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Coconut Oil, Cane Sugar, Erythritol, Chicory Root Extract, Pea Protein, Cocoa, Organic Cocoa, Sea Salt, Guar Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Tapioca Starch, Chocolate Liquor, Natural Flavor, Xanthan Gum.

When I looked up nutritional information for some conventional ice creams (Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs vanilla) I wasn’t too surprised at the large amount of fat and sugar, but I was shocked to see that both contained 1 gram of trans fats per serving. Trans fats!?! I was pretty sure these had been phased out of all but the very junkiest of foods after they were so strongly linked to heart disease and cancer. Anyway, that’s another perk of going with a plant-based brand like So Delicious – zero trans fats.

So Delicious chocolate chip mousse, nutritional information, shown next to nutritional information for two kinds of dairy vanilla ice cream - Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's.

Ethical rating for So Delicious Chocolate Chip Mousse

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

  • A vegan product, as are all So Delicious products.
  • Does not contain palm oil, a common ingredient in ice cream.
  • The top two ingredients (tapioca and coconut) 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. However, the ice cream pint containers are non-compostable (because of a thin plastic lining) and also non-recyclable.
  • 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 – you’d have to dig into Danone, the parent company, and by that point you’re dealing with generalities rather than specifics on this product.

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 : )  

Quorn vegetarian turkey slices – ethical review

Last week at the Grocery Outlet I bought some Quorn Meatless Turkey-Style Deli Slices, to give them their full name. They were $1.99 for a pack of 10 slices, compared to… um, actually I don’t see a price for them online – I guess they are very new, or very limited. Having lived in the UK and Ireland, I’m very familiar with other Quorn products – as one of the pioneers in vegetarian “meat substitutes” Quorn was a great help in my early days of being a vegetarian.

These slices were better than I was expecting. I buy Tofurky deli-slices from time to time and the Quorn product is a bit closer to the taste and texture of turkey (if that matters to you). It looks like they made a small error in the packaging but stating that it contains two servings instead of three – I think that’s often how stuff ends up at the Grocery Outlet. There’s some slight problem with the packaging, or perhaps the product is being tested out on a trial basis, or close to expiration. Either way, it’s a win-win for Grocery Outlet customers and for reducing food waste.

Overall, I liked these vegetarian turkey slices and thought they would work for someone who’s trying to go plant-based but still craving the taste of real turkey. They work well on toast combined with tomato, avocado, or one of the vegan cheeses that I’ll be reviewing in the coming weeks.  Nutritionally, they pack in a lot of protein (9 grams per serving) and a fair amount of fiber (4 g), while being very low in fat and sugar.

Quorn Meatless Turkey-Style Deli Slices – ingredients

Mycoprotein (65%), Egg White, Yeast Extract, Milk Proteins, Pea Fiber. Contains 2% or less of Canola Oil, Natural Flavor, Onion Powder, Sage, Potato Maltodextrin, Sugar, Salt, Tapioca Dextrin.

Ethical rating for Quorn Meatless Turkey-Style Deli Slices

I’ve profiled Quorn Foods over on the Green Stars Project, so I’ll refer you to that post for more information and just summarize it here. In that post I rated Quorn’s vegan burger patties 5/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact. The footprint of these turkey-style deli-slices is a bit higher as they contain eggs and milk protein. Quorn do source cage-free eggs for their products and did receive a Good Egg award from Compassion in World Farming for the company’s avoidance of caged eggs. Ideally Quorn would source pasture-raised eggs as these are a significant step-up in quality of life for hens, compared to cage-free.

So take a look at the post on the Green Stars Project on the sustainability and ethics of Quorn, and you can find more background info on why I’m scoring these Quorn deli-slices 4/5 Green Stars

Quorn Turkey-Style Deli Slices ethical review. An image of a package of Quorn Meatless Turkey-Style Deli Slices is shown over a graphic of 4 Green Stars, representing an ethical rating for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Quorn Meatless Turkey-Style Deli Slices:

  • 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 : )  

Nature’s Path nut butter cereal – ethical review

I bought two kinds of cereal from Nature’s Path at the Grocery Outlet recently – Almond Nut Butter Crunch and Coconut Cashew – they were $1.99 for each 10-ounce box, compared to normal prices of around $5. As usual, I’ll do a quick review on taste/quality and then a separate ethical review that considers the social and environmental impact.

Nature’s Path nut butter cereals – ingredients

Almond Nut Butter Crunch: Yellow corn flour*, corn meal*, whole grain rolled oats*, cane sugar*, sunflower oil*, almond butter*, peanut butter*, sea salt, honey*, rice starch*, tocopherols (Vitamin E). *Organic.

Coconut Cashew: Yellow corn flour*, corn meal*, whole grain rolled oats*, cane sugar*, sunflower oil*, cashew butter*, peanut butter*, dried coconut*, sea salt, honey*, rice starch*, coconut flavor*, tocopherols (Vitamin E). *Organic.

Nature’s Path cereal – review

These Nature’s Path nut butter cereals are interesting in that they are basically two kinds of cereal mixed together: organic corn flakes and granola-like nut butter clusters. I haven’t had corn flakes for a long time and I was more attracted by the nut butter aspect of the cereal. I don’t even buy much cereal – and it’s usually granola or homemade muesli if anything. However, with 95% of my meals being at home this year I’ve been buying more cereal and also trying a wider variety of plant-based milks too. I did review Califia’s Protein Oat milk, but I usually reserve that (or homemade oat milk) for my coffee and instead I’ve been using hemp milk with this cereal. I’ll post a review of the hemp milk soon, hopefully.

Bottom line with these cereals: I like both of them and would buy again. The texture provided by the mixture of corn flakes and nut clusters works for me – that’s important as I really dislike cereals that have no texture or that go soggy quickly. (Yes, that’s a first-world problem, I know.) Another thing that’s important for me is that breakfast provides some long-lived energy, not a sugar high that’s followed quickly by a mood crash. So, these cereals tick the boxes in terms of texture and nutrition, and in terms of flavor I actually liked them about equally. Your choice may be dictated more by whether or not you like coconut, more than anything else.

Unlike the previous post where I bought Back to Nature cookies without knowing a huge amount about the company, I’ve purchased and reviewed a Nature’s Path product before. Similar to the situation with Clif Bar (reviewed in a recent post) I had originally looked into Nature’s Path about 5 years ago – so it’s time for an update!

Ethical rating for Nature’s Path nut butter cereal

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

  • Nature’s Path Foods is a family-owned Canadian triple bottom line company (with a female CEO) that’s focused on sustainability. The company helped establish the Sustainable Food Trade Association and is a pioneer of the organic farming movement (e.g., Nature’s Path made the first USDA certified organic cereal).
  • Every ingredient in the nut butter cereals is organic (except for salt, where that doesn’t apply).
  • Nature’s Path purchased land for organic farming in Canada and the US, which it crop shares with family farmers. Crop sharing supports smaller, independent organic farmers in a similar way to community supported agriculture (CSA).
  • Going beyond organic, a Nature’s Path farm was one of the first to receive a Regenerative Organic Certification. This includes the use of specific farming practices that help put more carbon into the soil. Anyone who has read about this (The Soil Will Save Us is a good book) knows how important soil carbon is.
  • The cereals are almost vegan – they are labeled as vegetarian as they contain honey.
  • Nature’s Path reduced their CO2 emissions per pound of product quite a lot since 2008 and aimed to be carbon neutral by 2020.
  • The company donates at least $2 million each year to food banks and supports environmental causes such as endangered species protection and community gardens. Its EnviroKids products support 1% For the Planet.
  • Nature’s Path has made a lot of effort to reduce waste and all three of its manufacturing facilities are now zero waste certified, diverting 92% of waste from landfill.
  • In an effort to reduce packaging waste, the company introduced cereals packaged in “Eco Pac” bags made from #2 plastic (HDPE), the same type used for most plastic bottles, which makes the bags much more widely recyclable than the normal #4 bags (LDPE).
  • The nut butter cereal boxes are made from recycled paperboard and printed with vegetable-based inks. It must be said that each box only contains ten ounces of cereal – that’s 5 servings or 1150 calories, total – it would be nice if they packed a bit more into each box to make the packaging go further.
Nature’s Path nut butter cereal review. An image of Nature's Path nut butter cereal varieties, Coconut and Cashew crunch, and Almond crunch is shown with an ethical rating of 5 Green Stars beneath it.

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

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

This is the second product to receive a top score of 5 green Stars! Although it’s a perfect score, almost no company (or person) is perfect but many deserve recognition for being a pioneer in one area.  The previous 5-star company was Alter-Eco, which I thought especially deserved a 5-star rating for introducing a compostable wrapper and for its work on regenerative forestry. In the case of Nature’s Path, its pioneering work on organic farming and regenerative organic agriculture to support soil health (an absolutely critical issue) helps seal its 5-star rating!

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

Back to Nature cookies – ethical review

I bought two kinds of cookies from Back to Nature at the Grocery Outlet last week – Chocolate Chunk and Classic Creme. Cookies are one of my favorite things to bake but (similar to my excuse for buying several pizzas) I was feeling worn out last month and bought these attractive-looking boxed cookies, together with the pizzas and some Deschutes beer to complete my comfort food trifecta!

Back to Nature cookies – review

If you’re vegan, you may have come across articles mentioning that Oreo cookies are actually vegan. However, as this article points out, there are other aspects to a product’s ethics other than whether the ingredients are plant-based or not, and the palm oil in Mondelēz International’s Oreos is a key factor.  So, I was excited to find that the Back to Nature cookies are not only vegan but also taste great – and one variety is very similar to Oreos!

Don’t get me wrong, cookies that you bake at home are likely to taste better, but these cookies aren’t at all bad, ranking above average in taste and texture compared to other store-bought cookies that I’ve had in the US. The Chocolate Chunk cookies are at least as good, if not better than the other chocolate chip cookies that I’ve had here (e.g., Newman’s Own and Whole Foods’ 365 brand). Both varieties of the Back to Nature cookies have typical sugar content for this kind of cookie (there’s a little less sugar in the Classic Creme cookies compared to ultra-sweet Oreos) but they both have the benefit of being significantly lower in saturated fat compared to 365 and Newman’s Own cookies.

A photo of two Back to Nature cookies - Chocolate Chunk and Classic Creme. Ethical review of Back to Nature.

Back to Nature cookies – ingredients

Chocolate Chunk cookies: Unbleached Wheat Flour, Semi-Sweet Chocolate (Sugar, Unsweetened Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla Extract), Cane Sugar, Safflower Oil, Leavening (Baking Soda, Ammonium Bicarbonate), Brown Rice Syrup, Sea Salt.

Classic Creme cookies: Unbleached Wheat Flour, Cane Sugar, Palm Oil, Safflower Oil, Cocoa Powder (Processed With Alkali), Brown Rice Syrup, Leavening (Baking Soda, Ammonium Bicarbonate) Sea Salt, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavor.

Back to Nature Foods – ownership

I’m realizing now that this could be is an example of me buying a product that looks kind of sustainable and socially responsible and then finding a different story when I do a little research. See, for example, the story of the Sweet Earth pizzas which turned out to be owned by Nestlé (although Sweet Earth is still a good company, IMO). Basically, at one point, Back to Nature Foods was owned in part by Mondelēz International – the same multinational food giant that makes Oreos!! That is, until 2017, when Back to Nature Foods was acquired by a company called B&G Foods. So, the question then becomes: is this just a brand that’s more ethical in name than in nature? Let’s do an ethical review!

Ethical rating for Back to Nature cookies

Overall, I think that these Back to Nature cookies deserve 3.5 Green Stars (Chocolate Chunk variety) and 3 Green Stars (Classic Creme variety) for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • All Back to Nature products are made with plant-based ingredients, with the exception of a few products that contain honey.
  • My central problem with the cookies is that the company provides zero information on ingredient sustainability or social impact (on the package or online). One Back to Nature product is organic, but these cookies are not.
  • This is especially true of the Classic Creme cookies which contain palm oil. Back to Nature provide no info on palm oil sourcing. Perhaps they are every bit as bad as Oreo’s in that respect… we just don’t know.
  • Similarly, there’s no information on sourcing of chocolate – either the human impact (which can include child labor and slavery) or the environmental impact (which can include deforestation and some of the worst pesticides).
  • The box is made from recycled (and recyclable) paperboard and printed with vegetable inks.
  • However, the inner wrap is not compostable or recyclable, nor is the tray that holds the cookies as it’s made from polystyrene. That’s disappointing as polystyrene is not eco-friendly.
  • One thing I do like about the packaging is that it’s very compact, relative to the substantial amount of cookies inside, minimizing the amount of plastic needed.
  • Back to Nature is “working with The Nature Conservancy to plant more than 130,000 trees throughout the United States in 2020, as a supporter of the Plant a Billion Trees Program”.
  • To put that into perspective, that’s a donation of $200,000, which amounts to about 1% of the company’s net profit (EBITA) back in 2017.
  • It must be said that The Nature Conservancy has received a fair amount of criticism and doubt over its motives and links to the oil and gas industry.
  • Back to Nature was owned in part by Mondelēz International but is now owned by B&G Foods which also own various brands of frozen food (Green Giant), Mexican food (Ortega) and spices.

Overall, it’s a mix of good and bad. Perhaps the packaging is a good example – the outer box is made from recycled paperboard but the inner tray is made from polystyrene. Similarly, the products are vegan but the company has not disclosed essential information on sourcing of key ingredients.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Back to Nature cookies:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value.
  • 3.5 green stars for social and environmental impact for the Chocolate Chunk cookies
  • 3 green stars for social and environmental impact for the Classic Creme cookies

The Classic Creme cookies get a lower score because they contain palm oil, with no info on sourcing. If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Clif Bars – sustainability and ethical review

I bought a box of Clif Bars at the Grocery Outlet last week – specifically Chocolate Peanut Butter bars from Cliff’s Sweet and Salty range. It cost $6.99 for a large box of 12 bars at the Grocery Outlet, compared to $18 if bought directly from Clif Bar. You can find them on sale online for as little as $13, but the GO price is still almost 50% cheaper.

Clif chocolate peanut butter bars – review

Each Clif bar is 68 grams, providing 260 calories, 10 g of protein, 8 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat), 4 g of fiber, 20 g of sugars, a few minerals and a little vitamin E. It’s fairly typical of Clif energy bars in that it’s moderately nutrient-dense but pretty high in sugar and not as nutritious as a meal composed of veggies (no energy bar really achieves that, but some come closer). I’m just realizing that the Purely Elizabeth bars that I reviewed last month are also marketed as Salty & Sweet and I had also tried the peanut butter version. I didn’t even think I liked peanut butter that much!

Peanuts are a good source of protein and because peanut plants are legumes, fixing their own nitrogen from the air, they can also be a sustainable crop. I usually try to buy organic peanut products from a reputable source – not only for the environment but also for heath (avoiding pesticide and aflatoxin residues). Clif do use organic peanuts in their bars and, in fact, most of the ingredients are certified organic.

The wrapper is sadly not compostable (few are, but it can be done – see my recent review of Alter Eco) but it’s pretty lightweight. The bar has some crispy & crunchy bits (e.g., chopped peanuts) adding important texture that’s sometimes missing in energy bars. It’s not overly salty or sweet, which is good, but also not knocking my socks off in terms of flavor. However, I think it’s a good option for hiking or having around the house during a global pandemic, when you don’t want to go shopping too often. Actually, the more I eat it the more I kinda like it – you could think of it as a more muted, and more ethical, alternative to a Snickers bar.

Clif Bars – sustainability and ethical review. A photo of Clif's Chocolate Peanut Butter bar from Cliff’s Sweet and Salty range, together with the wrapper, showing the ingredients and nutritional info.

Ethical rating for Clif sweet and salty bars

A few years ago, on the Green Stars Project, I wrote two posts on energy bars – one that contains ethical ratings for several brands (and a recipe for making your own) and another that specifically looks at the ethics of Kind Bars (which I think deserve a low rating of 2 Green Stars). I’m going to take the Clif bar review that I wrote in 2015 and update it here, since that was a few years ago. Overall, Clif has continued to do well on reducing the company’s impact (such as greenhouse gas emissions and waste) and working with non-profits to support projects related to renewable energy, reforestation, and community well-being.

Overall, I think that these Clif bars deserve 4.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • 82% of all Ingredients used by Clif are organic and/or certified by the Rainforest Alliance.
  • Clif has a goal to divert at least 90% of company waste from landfill. Recently Clif announced that its bakeries in Idaho and Indiana have already reached this goal and are pursuing zero waste certification.
  • The Clif bar wrapper is not compostable but Clif is working on a goal of 100% of its packaging being reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. However, Clif could make compostable wrappers work in 2021 if it really wanted to.
  • The box that contains Clif Bars is FSC-certified and made from recycled (and recyclable) paperboard.
  • Clif Bar’s own facilities use 100% renewable electricity.
  • Clif Bar building are built with sustainability in mind (LEED green building certification)
  • Thanks to collaborations with Native Energy, Cliff offset core emissions since the company began (going back 18 years) – not just with carbon credits but by financing renewable energy and sustainability projects.
  • Clif Bar is also working with Native Energy and other non-profits (American Forests) to compensate for emissions from tangential activities like corporate travel and supply chains.
  • Clif is working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to develop solar farms that also work as pollinator habitats.
  • Clif has a strong workforce culture of social and environmental responsibility, ranging from paid volunteer time to subsidies clean transportation.
  • Cacao and palm oil is certified by the Rainforest Alliance, an organization that receives some criticism for its standards or enforcement of these standards. I’d prefer to see organic, shade-grown cacao that’s certified Fair Trade and also palm oil (which Clif Bar sources from South America) that’s certified by Palm Done Right.
  • It looks like Clif is no longer a member of 1% for the Planet and also not a certified B-Corporation (which I was surprised to see).
  • Overall, Clif Bar does a great job at describing the social and environmental impact of company operations, with stories within stories that start in Clif’s Aspirations page.
Clif Bars – sustainability and ethical review. A photo of a box of Clif's Sweet and Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter bars next to an individual bar. Beneath it is a graphic showing an ethical rating of 4.5 out of 5 Green Stars.

Overall, there’s room for improvement in some areas but Clif has been an industry leader in key areas such as addressing climate change.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Clif chocolate peanut butter bars:

  • 3.5 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 : )  

How sustainable is Kite Hill Butter?

Kite Hill butter is now on sale at the Grocery Outlet for $1.50 per 8-ounce tub – that’s 75% off the normal price. So, if you normally use conventional dairy butter (or vegan butter that’s made from palm oil that you’re not certain is ethically sourced) it’s a good time to try out Kite Hill’s vegan butter.

Also, I had originally scored Kite Hill 3 Green Stars but on further reflection I think it deserves an ethical rating of 3.5 Green Stars. The upgrade is largely based on the fact that the product works well as a replacement for conventional butter, hence helping more people to make a switch from animal products.

Listening to a podcast featuring Patrick Brown (co-founder of Kite Hill and Impossible Foods), it’s clear that this is his main goal in life now. I’m hoping that other improvements to the product will come with time (see the original post below for details on the rating).

Grocery Outlet Ethical Bargains

I found Kite Hill butter at the Grocery Outlet last week – $2.99 for the 8-ounce tub, normally $6 at other stores. I’ve now tried it a few times on various toasts and sandwiches and found it to be fine – it spreads well, melts well, and has a fairly neutral flavor that doesn’t interfere with whatever you’re creating in the kitchen. At the same time, Kite Hill butter doesn’t really add anything because the flavor and texture are both so neutral. It doesn’t elevate toast in the same way as good butter from pasture-raised cows (e.g., from Humboldt Creamery or Kerrygold) but it’s as good as most conventional dairy butters in the US. Update: actually I like Kite Hill butter the more I use it, and in a direct tasting versus conventional dairy butter (Tillamook) I think Kite Hill was actually better.

Trying different kinds of butter, searching for…

View original post 630 more words

Sweet Earth pizzas – ethical review

I found two kinds of Sweet Earth pizza at the Grocery Outlet last week – the Truffle Lover’s and Protein Lover’s pizza. On top of the names being kinda like awk-ward, the marketing is a little confusing – at first I wasn’t sure whether I was buying a vegetarian or vegan pizza, or even an omnivore pizza in the case of the Protein Lover’s pizza, which is covered with “pepperoni” and “Tuscan grounds.” It turns out that the pepperoni and the ground Tuscan (!) are both plant-based and the cheese is actual cheese, from cow’s milk. So, long story short, they are vegetarian pizzas.

Sweet Earth pizzas – review

First I tried the Protein Lover’s pizza and discovered that, like the Beyond Sausage that I reviewed last month, the experience depends greatly on how you cook it. The first pizza that I cooked was great and the second, not so great. That’s right, I bought three pizzas and cooked two of them within a week – pretty healthy behavior for someone dealing with November, 2020, I think! The difference in taste, I think, was down to the fact that I followed directions for the first one, cooking it for 16 minutes until it was really browned, while I pulled the second one out of the oven when it smelled cooked and looked a little brown. Big mistake! The plant-based protein toppings (especially the Tuscan grounds) don’t work unless cooked fully. When cooked properly, though this pizza was really good – everything works well together, including the roasted peppers, which are often not roasted properly in commercial kitchens.

The Protein Lover’s Pizza is a now a pretty limited edition as it looks like the Tuscan grounds were dropped – on Sweet Earth’s website it has been replaced by a Pepperoni Lover’s pizza. Hence, they ended up at the Grocery Outlet for $4 instead of a normal price of around $6.50. I’d recommend it, especially to vegetarians who are craving a very meaty pizza experience, or (like me) have never had pepperoni pizza and wonder what it might taste like. Just cook it properly!

I also tried the Truffle Lover’s pizza (topped with lots of mushrooms grown by Far West Fungi in nearby Santa Cruz) and found that one to be more straightforward to cook. The truffle flavor was really good – just enough to complement the mushrooms rather than overpower everything. I’d recommend both pizzas and found them both to be a comforting way to get over what was arguably the most globally stressful month of the millennium so far – especially combined with a tasty wine. If I was served either of them at a good Bay Area pizza restaurant, I probably wouldn’t guess that they were pre-packaged.

Sweet Earth Truffle Lover's pizza - a photo of the cooked pizza from Sweet Earth, now owned by Nestle.
Sweet Earth Truffle Lover’s pizza

Sweet Earth is owned by Nestlé!

Just now, while researching this post, that I discovered that Sweet Earth was acquired by Nestlé in 2017! This is a bit of a shock to me as I try to avoid Nestlé products if at all possible. I’ve been aware of Sweet Earth and bought its products since before that time – its Benevolent Bacon is one of the best bacon substitutes that I’ve ever had – and I generally liked the company. Do I still like them now that they are owned by Nestlé? Well, I’m going to do some more research and will report on an ethical rating at the end.

The topic of a smaller, fairly ethical company, being taken over by a larger less-ethical company is not uncommon and I think they have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If the smaller company drops its standards after being acquired then I’ll drop them like a hot potato. To take an example, I feel that Ben & Jerry’s slipped after Unilever took over, while Whole Foods has generally maintained its standards so far, since being acquired by Amazon. I’ll still shop at Whole Foods, although less often than I used to, even though I don’t love Amazon. In the case of Sweet Earth, it irks me to think that my money is in part supporting Nestlé, but on the other hand you can argue that if a company makes a move to become less harmful then that’s a good thing, of course.

Sweet Earth pizzas are shown - the Protein Lover's and Truffle Lover's pizzas - and an ethical rating of 3.5 out of 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact

Ethical rating for Sweet Earth pizzas

Overall, I think that the Sweet Earth pizzas deserve 3.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Sweet Earth is a small, local company, based in Moss Beach, on Monterey Bay, that’s focused on the development of plant-based foods (often fully vegan or sometimes vegetarian, like these pizzas).
  • Most of the main ingredients for these pizzas (such as the wheat crust) are organic but most of the cheeses are not. This is disappointing, particularly now that Nestlé may possibly be supplying the cheese.
  • Organic mushrooms for the truffle pizza are supplied by local, small business, Far West Fungi.
  • Sweet Earth have an Eco Clock on their site which is fun to watch and catalogs some facts and figures like greenhouse gases avoided (79,000 tonnes), water conserved (82 million gallons) and animals saved (24,000 cows, 84,000 pigs and 2.7 million chickens).
  • The Eco Clock is a nice way to present the impact of plant-based protein (which applies to many companies) but it’s disappointing that Sweet Earth doesn’t provide more specific information on sustainability or social impact.
  • Packaging is typical of that for pizzas – a very light plastic film and the rest is cardboard (although not recycled or FSC-certified, to my knowledge). The pizzas are quite nutrient dense, so it makes that piece of plastic exist for a good reason (compared to more junky food).
  • Sweet Earth has grown with a trend of mostly women in positions of leadership.
  • Sweet Earth was acquired in 2017 by Nestlé, a company with a poor ethical track record. On the one hand I don’t want to support Nestlé in any way but on the other hand it’s good that Nestlé is improving by adopting more plant-based foods. I like Sweet Earth, having bought its products before the company was sold to Nestlé, and will continue to support them, but only if the original company values are maintained.

I’m wavering between a score of 3.5 and 4 for these pizzas and I think if it wasn’t for the new ownership by Nestlé, and the vagueness in Sweet Earth’s responsibility reporting that comes with that, they might get 4 green stars. In fact, for Sweet Earth’s vegan products I’d rate some of them 4.5 green stars. I chose to buy these pizzas with cheese on top, even though I know that cheese often isn’t great in terms of ethics (animal welfare) and environmental impact. I always eat vegetarian food and try to be fully plant-based (vegan) more often. The ethical score drops by perhaps 0.5 or 1.0 green stars because of the cheese and I think it’s important to remind myself of that. A vegetarian pizza is generally not as ethical as a vegan pizza but more ethical than a meat-based one – and we do what we can on our paths : )

Summary scores (out of 5) for Sweet Earth pizzas:

  • 4.5 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 : )  

Alter Eco Salted Caramel Truffles

I bought some Alter Eco Salted Caramel Truffles at the Grocery Outlet last week and have already happily munched through half of them. The box of 10 large truffles was $3.99 at the Grocery Outlet, compared to the normal price of $8 from Alter Eco (they are often on sale for around $6 online). If you’re not familiar with them, the best comparison is the popular Lindor truffle from the Swiss chocolatier, Lindt (aka Lindt & Sprüngli). They both involve a creamy chocolate truffle filling surrounded by a round chocolate shell. As it happens, the Alter Eco truffles at the Grocery Outlet are also about the same price as Lindor truffles.

Alter Eco Salted Caramel Truffles – Review

The Alter Eco truffles come in a cute box of 10 truffles, suitable as a “stocking filler” or small gift for someone at work. Overall, I really like these chocolates and would buy them again. I wish I had a Lindor truffle to do a side-by-side comparison, but I did have one about a year ago and my gut instinct is that they are quite similar but that I slightly prefer this Alter Eco version. If I was to nitpick, I’d say that the salt isn’t as pronounced as it should be. They used fleur de sel, which is normally in the form of large flakes that provide a little salty kick when it hits your tongue. In this case I think it’s blended in. But not very salty is better than too salty. The caramel flavor is just right, the shell is not hard, and the inside is deliciously creamy.

Alter Eco versus Lindor truffles

Having established that the cost of the Alter Eco truffles (at the Grocery Outlet) and Lindor truffles is similar, and that the Alter Eco truffle probably tastes better, the more important metric for this site is how to they compare ethically? I won’t spend too much time discussing Lindt but they are mediocre in terms of ethics. They may not be quite as bad as Nestlé, Mondelez, and Ferrero, but on several metrics like palm oil and cacao sourcing Lindt is doing poorly when compared to Alter Eco. For example, Lindt points out that its palm oil sourcing follows RSPO guidelines, but as I pointed out on the Green Stars Project, RSPO certification is not sufficient to safeguard rainforests.  

Don’t get me wrong, Lindt & Sprüngli is not the worst company out there (ahem, Nestlé! *cough* Hershey!) but it pales in comparison to Alter Eco, which is one of the most ethical chocolate companies. Most of the big cholate makers’ success depends upon cheap cacao that’s sourced at the expense of the people and habitats of cacao-growing regions (mainly in West Africa). So if you’re serious about issues like human rights, child labor, and deforestation, then you would choose Alter Eco truffles over those from Lindt. I’ll get to the reasons now in the ethical score part!

Certifications for Alter Eco Salted Caramel Truffles. The certification symbols are shown for organic, gluten-free, Fair Trade, B-Corporation, FSC, and Climate Neutral
Certifications for Alter Eco truffles

Ethical rating for Alter Eco Truffles

Overall, I think that Alter Eco deserves 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Alter Eco has developed compostable wrappers for their truffles! The wrappers are made mostly from eucalyptus and birch.
  • The box is also FSC-certified and it looks like Alter Eco is very close to its goal of excluding plastic (even shrink-wrap for shipping) and only using packaging that’s recyclable or compostable.
  • Alter Eco covers 100% of its carbon footprint by planting trees and conserving land in the Peruvian Amazon, through the Pur project.
  • 92.8% of the truffle ingredients are Fair Trade certified – in fact Alter Eco pays 1.3 times the Fair Trade price.
  • All of the relevant truffle ingredients are certified organic and are sourced from farmer-owned coops
  • To go beyond organic the Alter Eco Foundation was launched to transition cacao farmers from monoculture to regenerative agroforestry
  • Alter Eco is a certified B Corporation (with a very good score of 134)
Alter Eco Salted Caramel Truffles - ethical review. An image of the box of Alter Eco truffles is shown next to a single truffle in a wrapper that's labeled as compostable. Underneath this is an ethical score of 5/5 Green Stars.

The importance of compostable packaging

Once in a while, I feel that a company makes such good progress on one metric that it adds extra weight to the score. Don’t get me wrong, Alter Eco scores highly on almost all metrics. The one thing that these truffles are not, however, is vegan – all of their truffles are made with organic milk. Obviously, this impacts the ethical score and I would normally reduce the score (probably to 4.5 green stars, considering that it’s organic milk) but Alter Eco has made such large contributions to other areas such as the compostable wrapper and supporting sustainable agroforestry that I’m awarding the company 5 stars.

Our dependence on single-use plastic is such a huge problem that any company that’s tackling this deserves recognition and support. Besides the compostable wrappers for truffles, Alter Eco developed compostable pouches for other products such as quinoa. The company’s goal is not to stop there but to further improve upon this, working towards zero-footprint packaging.

By the way, Alter Eco does make some vegan chocolate products – check out their FAQs for a list (I like their dark chocolate quinoa bar).

Summary scores (out of 5) for Alter Eco truffles:

  • 4 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 : )


PS: The Alter Eco Foundation – working towards sustainable agroforestry

This is just a quick postscript to tell you a little more about the regenerative agroforestry that the Alter Eco Foundation is working towards:

Conventional cacao tree cultivation focuses on monoculture, which often results in soil degradation and biodiversity loss. Instead, our co-ops practice dynamic agroforestry, a method of agriculture which strives to mimic the natural evolution of the forest and improve the overall well-being of the farms (fincas), cultivating a wide variety of crops.

In maintaining the life of the trees and creating a healthy ecosystem, regular pruning is essential. Leaving the clippings on the ground creates a natural layer of mulch which protects the soil from drying out. These clippings eventually decompose, increasing the humus (the organic part of soil formed by decomposing leaves and other plant material) and nitrogen in the soil, which are important nutrients for healthy crops. Due to the balanced system of dynamic agroforestry and natural enemies controlling pest populations, there is no need for pesticides. Additionally, dynamic agroforestry uses all available resources in the natural ecosystem. For example, in dry months banana stalks can provide water to growing cacao trees for up to three months, requiring no additional water source!

Deschutes Obsidian Stout

I picked up a six-pack of Deschutes Obsidian Stout at the Grocery Outlet last week. Beer is not sold at such a steep discount at the Grocery Outlet compared to wine and food – it was $8.99 compared to the normal supermarket price of $9.99. But The GO has started stocking a pretty good selection of beers, and I’ll be featuring some of them on this site in the coming weeks. And a 10% discount isn’t bad, in any case.

I haven’t yet been to Bend, Oregon, home to Deschutes brewery (hoping to make it someday) but I’ve been to the Deschutes pub in Portland and recommend getting a beer flight if you’re in town after things return to normal. At the moment, during lockdown, they’re limited to pick-up and delivery but they’re also selling bake-at-home pretzel kits!

Here’s a little clip about Deschutes from the craft brewing documentary, Pints:

Deschutes Obsidian Stout- review

Deschutes Obsidian Stout gets good ratings on the popular beer review sites, Rate Beer and Beer Advocate. On the latter site it’s ranked 8th on their list of the best American stouts. Really, it’s one of the few stouts in the top 50 on that list that you’re likely to find in a regular supermarket. The chocolate stout from Rogue Ales (another Oregon brewery) is ranked 13th and Sierra Nevada stout is ranked 50th on the Beer Advocate list.

I’m from Ireland, home of good stouts, so my standards are pretty high. On top of this, stouts have become more complex since Obsidian was first released, with ingredients like coffee and chocolate and post-brew aging in bourbon barrels becoming quite common. Having said that, I like Obsidian Stout as a good example of a simpler stout that derives most of its flavor from roasted malts and black barley. At 6.4% alcohol, it’s fairly strong but obviously nowhere near the alcohol content of barrel-aged stouts. It’s a little more bitter than some stouts, so if you don’t love it then rethink what you are eating alongside it 🙂

I also usually just wait until I’m in a bar before I have a stout because most of them are better on draught (often with nitrogen) but circumstances are different this year. A nice thing about Obsidian is that it pours well from the bottle, forming a good-sized coffee-scented head, and overall I think it’s a good comforting beer for this time of year.

Deschutes Brewing – sustainability

In 2016, Deschutes Brewing was recognized as a global sustainability leader for practices such as restoring water in the Deschutes river, minimizing waste, and offsetting energy use with renewable energy credits. You can read more about Deschutes’ efforts on sustainability on their site. I’ll summarize that info along with a few other facts I found online in the ethical review, below.

Deschutes Brewing – social impact

One nice thing about Deschutes is that they are still independent and have an employee stock program. Researching the company just now, I was half expecting it to be owned by one of the mega breweries by now. Not the case!

Deschutes Brewery has always been family owned and operated. An Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) was set up in 2013 so employees now own a percentage of the company.

Deschutes also has a Community Pints program to support any eligible non-profits that apply. How it works: For every pint sold on each Tuesday of the designated month, the non-profit will receive $1.

The Deschutes mission statement might look like standard blurb, but it becomes all the more important in the wake of the protests and unrest in Oregon over the summer:

Since 1988, one thing has not changed – Deschutes Brewery is still a community gathering place. We are here to perpetuate a sense of belonging, and believe that everyone is equal over a beer. We commit to supporting people of all races, ages, genders, orientation, socioeconomic status, beliefs and backgrounds.

Is Deschutes Beer Vegan?

As you may know, beer and wine often undergoes a fining step that involves clarification by adding an agent that helps remove suspended yeast and protein. Gelatin and a kind of collagen from fish (isinglass) are commonly used as fining agents. However, Deschutes uses Irish moss for clarification of most of their beers. They clarify this (haha) on the Deschutes website:

We do not use animal products in the cellaring or brewing process. The clarifying agent we use in our brewhouse is made from Irish Moss, a red algae. However, experimental beers brewed at our pubs sometime use lactose, isinglass, honey or other specialty ingredients, but we call it out in the description listed on the menu.

So Deschutes’s bottled beers, such as Obsidian Stout, are in fact vegan.

Deschutes Obsidian Stout - a photo of a six-pack of this stout from Deschutes Brewing is shown over a graphic of 4.5 Green Stars, representing an ethical rating (on a scale of 1-5 green stars)

Ethical rating for Deschutes Obsidian Stout

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

  • Deschutes Brewing was recognized in 2016 as a global sustainability leader for conservation of energy and resources in various aspects of the business from building efficiency to waste minimization.
  • Water conservation: Deschutes funds the restoration of one billion gallons of water into the Deschutes River every year to offset the company’s water usage through the Deschutes River Conservancy water leasing program
  • Carbon Footprint: Deschutes works with the EPA’s Green Power Partner to reduce energy use and also purchases renewable energy through the Blue Sky program.
  • A note on the last point: in 2016 it was reported that Deschutes Brewing offset even more green energy than they actually used but the Deschutes Brewery website now states that 30% of power used by the main brewery is offset by wind and solar. So I’m not sure which is correct. Are they just bad at reporting on their own sustainability metrics or has their percentage green energy use dropped significantly since 2016?
  • Bottles are made form 70% recycled glass, as far as I know. Again, this info was found in an article on Deschutes Brewery but the company website makes no mention of this.
  • It’s a family and employee-owned business, with a stock program for employees.
  • Employees rate Deschutes Brewing at 4.1 on Glassdoor, a high score for that site.
  • Deschutes contributes to various local charities and plays various roles in the community including the support of local conservation organizations and ingredient suppliers.
  • Deschutes Obsidian Stout (and virtually all of Deschutes’s bottled beer) is vegan, relying on Irish moss for clarification.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Deschutes Obsidian Stout:

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

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

Califia Protein Oat milk – sustainability

I picked up a bottle of Califia Protein Oat milk at the Grocery Outlet a week ago for $1.99 – it’s normally $6 at other stores such as Whole Foods. I am very fussy about what I put in my coffee and over the last couple of years I’ve found two things that work well: homemade hazelnut milk and oat milk. The Califia Protein Oat milk worked really well in my coffee and tea – it’s similar to Oatly, which I’ve also bought at the Grocery Outlet. I want milk that doesn’t change the flavor of the coffee much but that adds a little body and creaminess. Both Oatly (especially the Barista Blend) and Califia Protein Oat milk meet these criteria. There are other milks that work well in cereal – I’ve bought hemp milk and sesame milk at the Grocery Outlet and thought both of them were great with cereal but not so good (for me) in coffee because they change the flavor too much.

This week, I experimented by making my own oat milk (I’ll report on that in a separate post) and achieved results that were pretty similar to commercial oat milk from Califia and Oatly. It turns out that making oat milk is really easy and it’s also dirt cheap. You may not think that you have the time (and on some weeks, perhaps you won’t) but if you try it once I think you’ll find it a good way to reduce your packaging footprint.

Califia Protein Oat milk, photographed in it's amphora-shaped plastic packaging. How sustainable is Califia?

Califia packaging – sustainability

One of the most striking things about Califia is their award-winning packaging, which, according to Califia is “based on the classical, feminine proportions featured in a Greek Amphora.” It’s also very ergonomic, being easy to grasp and open. On the downside, it contains a lot of plastic, and unlike some other plant-based milk companies (e.g., Ripple) it’s made from virgin plastic (PET) rather than recycled (rPET). Researchers from the University of California, Davis, recently published a paper that looked at the impact of Califia almond milk and found that the packaging contributed over 40% of the product’s Global Warming Potential (GWP). This isn’t too surprising as the packaging really is super bulky! The researchers made a suggestion to Califia for reducing its carbon footprint: Switch to lighter packaging that’s made from recycled plastic.

So there’s no doubt that Califia should be using rPET to make their bottles. If we want to continue using plastic packaging in such large quantities then it really has to be recycled as much as possible, and the only way in which a recycling works is if there’s demand for recycled plastic fibers. Califia do try to make recycling a little more efficient by making the label easy to remove, but it needs to step up and use rPET for bottles, as Ripple Foods does. In an ideal world, Califia could take it a step further and introduce reusable glass bottles within California – Strauss creamery, across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin, has implemented this system successfully for years.

Califia Protein Oat milk – ingredients

There is more to the new Califia Protein Oat milk than just oats – it’s made with pea protein as well as oats, increasing the protein content from around 2.5 grams per serving (for typical oat milk) to 8 grams per serving. It also contains flaxseed oil to deliver omega-3 fats (720 mg of alpha-linolenic acid per serving) and good amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin E. So by combining oats with the two main ingredients of Ripple milk (pea protein and sunflower oil) and then adding in the flaxseed oil and mushroom powder, it looks like Califia is emulating the flavor of oat milk and the nutritional profile of dairy milk. But it has advantages of conventional dairy milk in that it contains fiber, less sugar, and no cholesterol.

Califia Protein Oat milk ingredients: Oat milk (Water, Oats), Pea Protein, Sunflower Oil, Sunflower Butter, Calcium Carbonate, Flaxseed Oil, Dipotassium Phosphate, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Tricalcium Phosphate, Gellan Gum, Vitamin D2 Mushroom Powder.

Califia Protein Oat milk, nutrition facts are shown next to those for Humboldt organic low-fat milk. How sustainable is Califia?
Califia Protein Oat milk, nutrition facts (on left) compared to those for Humboldt organic low-fat milk.

Ethical rating for Califia Protein Oat milk

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

  • It’s a certified vegan product, providing a more ethical alternative to cow’s milk.
  • The main ingredients, oats and peas, are very sustainable crops, in general.
  • Califia does a decent job at using renewable energy: their goal is to transition to 100% renewable power by 2020. I contacted Califia to ask if they have achieved this but haven’t received a response yet.
  • Califia also 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 also make a good effort at protecting bees and encouraging integrated pest management on supplier farms. It would be good to get an update on oats and peas now that these ingredients are taking center stage.
  • I’d prefer if Califia sourced organic oats and certainly organic sunflower oil/butter.
  • Packaging should be lighter and made with recycled plastic (rPET).

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

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

As mentioned at the beginning, oat milk is super-easy to make at home and also really cheap. Califia’s product does add nutritional value by adding flaxseed oil and mushroom powder, but of course you could also do this at home. The major downsides of Califia’s product are the large amount of virgin plastic in the bottle and the lack of organic ingredients. I’m going to try making homemade oat milk regularly, but as far as commercial products go, this is a pretty good one. I’ll cover others in upcoming posts.

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