Ice-cream. We all know it’s not that good for us. But how good is it for the rest of the world?
As with most foodstuffs, there’s a whole complex of issues surrounding the production of this tempting summer treat. We take a quick look at a few of them.
Almost half the ice-cream sold in the UK is produced by Unilever, including, Walls and Ben & Jerry’s. Like most of the others, it recently received the Ethical Consumer’s worst possible score for supply chain management. The exceptions were all smaller independent companies.
The available alternatives to dairy ice-cream go beyond soya ‘iced desserts’ – there are now options made with cashews, coconuts, almonds, oats and hemp. You may also be concerned about what you’re indirectly funding when you buy dairy-free. Vegans have been avoiding old standby Swedish Glace since 2011, when it was bought by Unilever, which not only sells uncertified dairy, but is also known to use animal testing.
The US Food Standards Agency suggests ‘almost all’ soya and ‘much of’ the maize produced in the Americas (the biggest suppliers) is now genetically modified. The EU animal feed industry currently imports around 70% of its soya, maize and rapeseed so there’s a growing chance of GMOs finding their way into uncertified dairy food chains as well as some soya desserts. Again, the trick is to choose organic.
Unsustainable palm oil and its impact on people and the planet is a major concern. It may turn up in ice-cream coating toffee or butterscotch pieces, or as a cheap fat and emulsifier in budget ranges. Cheaper ice creams with long ingredients lists almost always contain some. Many companies are now using coconut oil instead. Stick to explicitly palm oil-free brands, and look for evidence any coconut oil has been sustainably sourced.
Most of us know too much sugar can damage our own health, but sugar production is also associated with environmental damage, poor workers’ rights and land grabs. Some of the more forward-thinking companies are experimenting with alternative sweeteners like agave syrup or fruit.
Vanilla production in Madagascar has been linked to forced child labour. Soil Association organic certification includes a clause on workers’ rights and child labour, or at least look for Fairtrade accreditation.
Cocoa production has similar issues, although many manufacturers now have explicit policies regarding sourcing. Not all ice-cream contains chocolate, of course, but many varieties do. Booja Booja has built its entire business around close direct co-operation with growers.
What to choose
Avoid dairy with its associated animal welfare issues, and choose from one of the vegan iced desserts available, of which Booja Booja is undoubtedly the most appealing. Apart from water, its Hunky Punky Chocolate is a gorgeous, truffly confection containing nothing but thoughtfully sourced organic cashews, agave syrup and cocoa. Other gloriously simple flavours also free of dairy, gluten, sugar, palm oil or soya, include vanilla and ginger.
Try not to eat too much!