Daily Footprint, #33 – No Evil

Continuing on the theme on meat alternatives, I’m going to take a look at No Evil Foods, which began in 2014 by selling homemade products in farmers’ markets in North Carolina and has grown since then, recently expanding to Whole Foods markets across the US. They make a range of high-protein products to cook with and in this post I’ll focus mainly on their sausages, named The Stallion (Odd name; I don’t really want to have a mental image of a horse while I’m eating a sausage!)

A few notes about cooking with their sausages:

  1. They contain almost no fat, so I like to cook them in a decent amount of coconut oil until browned and then mix with other ingredients: cherry tomatoes and kale go well with them.
  2. They are dense and high in protein (one 85 gram sausage contains 25 grams of protein) so a little goes a long way. Also: the main ingredient is gluten, which I find hard to digest in large quantities

So what is gluten, exactly?

You probably already know that gluten is a protein that comes from cereals such as wheat. If you took some dough and kneaded it in water, washing away the starch, you’re left with gluten. In fact, this is exactly how you make gluten at home, as directed in videos like this one. The preparation of gluten apparently originated in China around the time of the birth of Buddhism, helping monks adapt to vegetarian diets. The term seitan (which refers to gluten prepared from wheat) was coined in the 1960s in Japan.

A meme-style image of Seth Rogen behind the wheel of a car, from the film The End, containing a quote from his character: "I do know what gluten is. Gluten’s a vague term. It’s used to categorize things that are bad. You know? Calories! That’s a gluten. Fat! That’s a gluten."

One thing that occurred to me after thinking about this: what happens to all of the starch that’s washed away when gluten is made on an industrial scale? Only about 14% of the wheat is gluten, so it seems like a large potential for food wastage. Wholegrain bread uses all of the wheat and two slices provides 7 grams of protein. I found this article that mentions that some Japanese gluten manufacturers were fined for dumping the starch solution down the drain. So, perhaps there are good and bad gluten makers (just to make gluten even more controversial than it already is!), some that waste and pollute and others that find a use for the starch..?

Several plant-based meat brands besides No Evil Foods (Tofurky, Lightlife, Gardein, and Field Roast, to name a few) rely on gluten as the main ingredient, so I’ll make some inquiries into industrial gluten production and report back when I cover one of those brands. (Please comment below if you have any thoughts on it).

No Evil: The Stallion, ingredients

These sausages are more of a hybrid between gluten and legumes – kidney beans, soy beans (shoyu) and chickpeas are the main ingredients after the gluten. All ingredients are organic except for the gluten.

Ingredients for The Stallion sausages: Vital Wheat Gluten, Filtered Water, Organic Red Kidney Beans, Organic Shoyu, Chickpea Flour, Nutritional Yeast, Sea Salt, Organic Smoked Paprika, Organic Garlic Powder, Organic Chili Flakes, Organic Fennel Seed, Organic Thyme, Organic Rosemary, Organic Cayenne, Organic Black Pepper.

A package of "The Stallion" sausages from No Evil Foods, composed of cardboard.

No Evil: Social and Environmental Impact

In contrast to the last two meat substitutes that I covered, No Evil Foods provide no information online about company operations. This page on their website provides a nice summary of the advantages of shifting from a meat-based to a plant-based diet. They sell plant-based products, so the information is relevant, but it’s lacking in specific information on their own company and products. To digress for a moment, one of the statistics listed on their website caught my attention:

91% of Amazon rainforest destruction is caused by animal agriculture

This statistic has been widely cited, but the original source is a 2004 World Bank report, which you can download here.

In contrast to the 1970s and 1980s, when occupation of the Brazilian Amazon forest was largely induced by government policies and subsidies, much recent deforestation seems the result of medium- and large-scale cattle ranching, which is increasingly profitable and dominated by powerful agents. – World Bank, 2004.

Three points made in the report:

  • Cattle ranching occupies nearly 75% of the deforested areas of Amazonia.
  • From 1970 to 2004, 91% of the new cleared forest is used for cattle ranching.
  • The cattle ranches are largely run by large corporations, not smallholders trying to make a living.

Beef exports from Brazil grew 10-fold from 1997 to 2007. They’ve stabilized since then and the rate of Amazon deforestation (which peaked around 2004) has lessened, thanks in large part to that World Bank Report and the Soya Moratorium. Most of the soy beans grown on deforested land were being used as animal feed. I’ll cover this, and the broader impact of soy, in a future post on a soy-based meat substitute.

Ethical rating for The Stallion sausages from No Evil Foods.

Since there’s a surprising lack of information on the company operations and impact, I think it’s a case of making an assessment based on what you see when you buy the product: ingredients and packaging. In reality, I imagine a fair number of Green Stars reviews will be based on these factors. Here are some summary points:

  • Ingredients are all organic except for the main ingredient, wheat gluten.
  • Organic wheat gluten is available, but none of the gluten based meat substitutes that I’ve come across use organic gluten. Here’s a post on the impact of conventional versus organic wheat.
  • Now that I’ve thought about wheat gluten, it seems like a somewhat wasteful product, unless the companies can demonstrate that the starch is not being wasted. And not causing pollution.
  • The packaging is comprised of an outer cardboard box, which is recyclable, and a thin plastic casing on the sausages.
  • All of their products are vegan.

For now I’d put them between 4/5 and 5/5 green stars. More transparency from the company and info on their gluten-sourcing would help decide on a final rating. Yes, I have questions about gluten (to be answered in the future, hopefully) but this is a vegan, mostly organic product that’s packaged mainly in cardboard. What do you think?

So this post ended up being more about gluten and the link between meat and Amazon deforestation than about No Evil Foods. But that’s actually a fairly common part of the process of doing ethical consumerism research. You feel like you’re getting sidetracked by having to research issues related (sometimes only tangentially) to the company that you’re researching, but you actually learn a little more about the world around us – the story behind the stuff that we use and how it impacts our planet.

3 thoughts on “Daily Footprint, #33 – No Evil

  1. I’ve been a near-vegan for ~5 years and vegetarian for maybe 20 years. I like sriram and loved the Field Roast apple/sage sausage, especially since my carnivore friends liked it, too. Then I went to a new doctor who wanted to test me for auto-immune disorders. She put me on a gluten-free diet and I stopped having stomach aches every morning! I’ve thought the g.f. thing was over-blown but now I’m part of it. I miss real bread and those sausages it’s more difficult to get protein so I’ve slid back to eating eggs and some dairy. I really think chemicals in wheat may be more the culprit for some of us rather than gluten and when I conquer some other health problems, I will try re-introducing a little organic wheat to my diet.

    1. Hey Karen,
      Thanks for sharing your experience. I also loved the Field Roast sausages but (like the No Evil sausages) I have a bad reaction unless I really limit them to a small proportion of a meal. The story on food intolerance is fascinating and I think we’ll learn a lot more in the next few years. One theory on sensitivity to wheat and other gluten-containing foods is that the fermentable sugars (FODMAPs) make a big difference: https://gut.bmj.com/content/65/1/169.
      My feeling is that wheat would not not so much of an issue (except for people with Celiac disease) if it wasn’t processed so much. Processing wheat into white flour removes the fiber in the seed coating and you’re left with just the carbs. Same deal with juicing fruit – you lose the fiber and other components that balance the fructose. Gluten may be a similar story – perhaps the protein is ok when part of whole wheat grains (around 12 to 14%) but less digestible when purified away from the other components and eaten in a more concentrated form.
      It’s also possible that the glyphosate that’s used on most conventional wheat in the US is also an issue: https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/Pages/2017-10-24-exposure-to-glyphosate-chemical-found-in-weed-killer-increased-over-23-years.aspx
      I’d agree – someday try introducing organic whole wheat and see how it works out.
      Good luck!

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