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Good Bunnies, Bad Bunnies
A consumer-focused edition on choosing good foods, from chocolates and beer to cheese and diets
Easter is just around the corner and it’s both a great and a terrible time for the sweet-toothed among us. So I reckoned that if we have to damage our teeth, we might as well do it for a good cause.
As the name suggests, it ranks and grades 56 of the world’s largest chocolate companies, which apparently account for 95% of the world’s cocoa, on six key sustainability issues - traceability and transparency, living income, child labour, deforestation and climate, agroforestry, and agrichemical management.
Those scrutinised include brands (Ben & Jerry’s, Hershey, Mars, Lindt, Godiva, etc), companies (Hagen-Daaz maker General Mills, Toblerone maker Mondelēz, etc) and retailers (Aldi, Lidl, Carrefour, Tesco, Costco, Walmart, etc).
The scores are based on a detailed questionnaire and the final tally is illustrated in coloured bunnies and eggs - hence this week’s title.
In a nutshell, green is good, yellow is “at least they’re trying”, orange is “need improvement”, red is “not good”, and a broken egg is “they didn’t bother to respond or disclose information”. NOTE:- These are my lazy interpretations. For a fuller picture, do look at their detailed methodology here.
The Good Bunnies
In a press release, the collective behind the Scorecard praises Original Beans for their ‘regenerative’ approach to growing and making chocolate and Tony’s Chocolonely for seeking to end slavery associated with the cocoa sector. Both happen to be Dutch companies.
The Bad Bunnies
The Unknown Bunnies
I asked the folks behind Chocolate Scorecard what to do if you are at a shop and can’t access its site or the brand you’re looking at isn’t featured. Here’s their advice:
Look for Organic, Rainforest Alliance, or Fairtrade seal. That’s a good place to start.
However, certification has limitations. See this piece as to why but in short, certification schemes have had limited impacts on some issues, including on farmers’ income and reductions in child or forced labour.
Ask who they source their chocolate from. It’s likely to be one of the suppliers assessed in the Scorecard.
Look at the methodology and ask the same questions.
Only 11% of chocolate companies can fully trace where their cocoa comes from.
West Africa produces three-quarters the world’s cocoa, with Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana being the largest producers.
Over the past 60 years, these two countries have lost most of their forest cover - around 94% in Côte d’Ivoire and 80% in Ghana. Approximately one third is to grow cocoa.
1.56 million children are exposed to child labour in cocoa production these countries, according to a 2020 report.
Nearly 40% of companies surveyed did not have a policy to monitor, reduce or eliminate the exposure of children to pesticides used in cocoa production.
Scrutinising “Climate Friendly” Labels
Last week, Netherlands-based Changing Markets Foundation published a report on misleading claims made by food companies about how green their products are. It also updated the spiffy Greenwash website to include food.
The report is based on an analysis of major food and drinks brands to see if they engaged in greenwashing - exaggerating or outright lying about how green your products are - over the past year.
“Greenwashing in the food sector is rampant: our investigation discovered an array of claims that are being placed on even the most carbon-intensive food products, such as beef. Particularly prevalent were climate claims such as ‘carbon neutral’, ‘climate positive’ and ‘net zero’, as well as specific claims about low methane.”
The report is short and sweet but the fun is in going to the website and checking out the long list of offenders, which is like a who’s who of F&B companies, from household names like Nestlé, Lidl, and Amazon to those like Arla, Danish Crown, and Cargill, which we are less familiar with but whose products we use regularly.
The greenwashing comes in various forms: just-your-regular-facepalm types where a small change in packaging is used to big up the green credentials, the subtle ones with images that evoke our idealistic perception of farming and nature, and the more egregious ones where claims are a result of offsets, misrepresenting the facts, or omitting key details.
Changing Markets also conducted a YouGov poll of some 4,000 adults in the UK and Germany to go with the report and found that almost half (49%) regularly buy products with sustainability labels or certification.
Almost a third (29%) also said they are willing to pay more for products labelled carbon neutral, climate positive or low methane. (Note from Thin: Saying willing to pay and actually paying are two different things though, as we have seen time and again on efforts to change consumer behaviour not just on food but also on fast fashion. So I hope the intentions actually translate into actions.)
Searching For Climate- and Health-Friendly Diets
An open-access (YAY!) paper from researchers at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine scored the carbon footprints and dietary quality of six diets: vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, keto, paleo and omnivorous. The data is based on nearly 16,500 U.S. adults but I think it could be useful for other developed nations too.
Their findings are not necessarily a surprise, but interesting nevertheless.
“On average, pescatarian diets may be the healthiest, but plant-based diets have lower carbon footprints than other popular diets.”
Keto diets have the highest carbon footprint, followed by paleo and omnivore. These three also have the lowest diet quality although the exact order is slightly different depending on the scoring system. It must be said, however, that the indices used for determining diet quality was mostly based on the types of food instead of health outcomes or the composition of nutrients in these diets.
The researchers defined these diets a bit more loosely than what we would normally think of so I thought it is worth sharing their descriptions. These consumption patterns are over a 24-hour time period.
Vegan diets - consumption of less than 0.5 oz (14.17 grams to those of us who believe in the metric system) of meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs combined and less than 0.25 cup (118.29 ml) in terms of dairy.
Vegetarian diets - less than 0.5 oz of meat, poultry and seafood combined.
Pescatarian diets - consumption of seafood and less than 0.5 oz of meat or poultry.
Keto diets - less than or equal to 50 g of net carbohydrates (total carbohydrates minus total fiber)
Paleo diets - less than 0.5 oz total of grains and legumes and less than 0.25 cup of dairy
Omnivorous diets - all other diets that contained meat, dairy, and other animal-based foods along with plant-based sources of carbohydrates.
The below image from TABLE, a collaboration between the University of Oxford, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Netherland’s Wageningen University and Research, gives a good snapshot of the findings.
Systems, Not Just Security
Once again, I went on my soapbox to talk about why we need to look at food through a systems lens and not just in terms of whether we have enough food, which is what people tend to think when we use the word “food insecurity”.
This time, it’s in the form of an analysis for Utrikesmagasinet, a free online newspaper for the Swedish Foreign Policy Institute.
Shout out to Ola for suggesting me to write it. Oh and get DeepL or GoogleTranslate plug-ins first before you attempt to make sense of it. It’s in Swedish.
Three Good Reads
Everything I, an Italian, thought I knew about Italian food is wrong - Financial Times
This was the best piece I read this week and it hit on multiple levels. I live in Italy, I’m an absolute foodie, I love Italian food and I’m bombarded with all the handwringing over the possible disappearance of Italian food culture, despite there being little to no evidence of it happening.
I touched on some of those debates in my recent issue on insects but the FT writer Marianna Giusti did a fantastic job producing an article that is funny, informative, poignant and also quite horrifying in highlighting the advent of “gastronationalism”.
The disturbing questions raised in the FT become even more vivid when taken with this news.
The proposal needs to be passed by the parliament, but as my former colleague Angelo Amante wrote, this is is not the only initiative from the far-right government when it comes to stopping “non-conventional food from being served on Italian tables”. It is also preparing decrees around insect-based products.
- Today is the deadline for submissions to the process on agriculture and food security (formerly Koronivia, now abbreviated to the Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work). I read all 17 submissions so far so that you don't have to🧵
This one is a little left field - it’s a Tweet thread rather than an article, but it is an important one if you’re interested getting food and agriculture a more prominent role at the UN climate negotiations. Thanks Oliver!
Oh and if you’re wondering what Koronivia is, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.