What is in Your Cookies?
You probably have faced the dilemma of how to find out which products are Good and which products are Bad, never mind sorting out when Bad companies make Good products, or vice versa. A lot of consumers turn to the internet, to bloggers and reviews. But who can you trust? Who is the judge when a reputable company is accused of unsuitable practices? And what can you expect from a vendor of premium quality products?
Almost Vegetarian sent TreeHugger a tip linking their article about New Moon Kitchen cookies, asking us to spread the word to our readers. The accusations are sensational. But....are they true?This case came to my attention at the same time I was pondering the question of how consumers can get good information so they can make good choices. I was actively looking for an example to illustrate the complexity of the issue. I could not have hoped for a better one. You be the judge.
The Case:New Moon Kitchen bakes a great, high-quality cookie popular with Canadians looking for food which meets kosher or allergen-free standards and/or is suitable for vegans.
Almost Vegetarian warns readers: New Moon uses ingredients processed by animal bone char and containing petrochemicals.
Wow! What can a consumer do? For those concerned about the ingredients they are putting into their own bodies, or committed to reducing animal suffering, the case does not boil down to "well, the cookies taste good."
What can a company do? Clearly, New Moon Kitchens has good intentions and tries to produce a product that is a cut above. Are they guilty as charged? We started doing some Sherlock Holmes. And here is what the case might look like if it landed on Judge Judy:
The Search for the Truth:AV:Here I was, all set to write a nice post about these great 'vegan' cookies from New Moon Kitchen in Toronto, only to discover that the chocolate chips in some of their cookies are made with REFINED sugar. Not only is refined sugar NOT what I would call 'totally natural,' but CHARRED ANIMAL BONES are often used to refine sugar.
The chips also contain vanillin which is typically made from a PETROCHEMICAL RAW MATERIAL.
I've just polished off heaven knows how many of these things. I think I am going to be sick.
NMK:It's Eden here. I am the owner of New Moon Kitchen.
In response to this article what I'd like to say is that in creating my products I had a few things to gear my products towards. We are dairy free, egg free, nut and peanut free, and also kosher parve. Given that - the cookies are also suitable for vegetarians.
We chose the chips for their quality (look up Barry Callebaut chocolate and their ethics and quality before slandering their great product!) and for the fact that they could guarantee a kosher parve chip that was also nut and peanut free.
We try to please as many as possible, but give no claim on perfection. Everyone has different tastebuds, and makes different choices in their diet and in their consumer options.
I found this article to be unnecessarily negative. Before dissing a product or company - it would have been nice to get some banter back and forth about our products and choices. Toni is a supporter of your blog who sent you samples in good faith. This type of "journalism" is what hurts people for no good reason.
TH to AV:Have you verified that New Moon is NOT using natural vanillin, which can be extracted from the vanilla bean and that they ARE using synthesized vanillin? Have you verified that New Moon has not assured that their chip supplier uses a refined sugar processed with plant-based organic carbon filters?
AV:All the facts I have are in the post.
TH to NMK:I would like to hear your side of the story.
NMK:Excerpt of text from a letter from the supplier of the chocolate chips used at NMK:"I am sure that our sugar distributor does not use charred animal bones as a filteringagent.
TH, note to the jury:NMK did not stop at that. NMK president Eden went further upstream to determine the actual production facility supplying the sugar to the chip maker and verified the truth of the statement.
NMK:Here is the final say...no animal bone char.
TH:Can you get an answer on the vanillin?
NMK:Excerpt of text from a letter from the supplier of the vanillin in the chocolate chips used at NMK:Advise them that the vanillin used by (Chip supplier name removed) is an artificial vanilla flavor that is 99.9 to 100 % pure. It is chemically identical to the vanillin that is present and also the main flavor component in pure vanilla extract.
The vanillin you purchase is manufactured in a plant therefore it is considered an artificial flavor as opposed to pure vanilla extract that is obtained from vanilla beans and considered natural. The vanillin molecules in both products are identical.
There is no basic petrochemical present in the vanillin manufactured by (Vanillin supplier name removed) or any other vanillin producer.
TH:This one is a bit trickier. New Moon Kitchens does advertise their cookies as "totally natural." The artificial vanillin being used is chemically identical to the flavor molecule in natural vanilla extract. But that is certainly not what is understood by a consumer seeking a "totally natural" product.
New Moon Kitchen president Eden assured TH that NMK subscribes to a stringent safety program to ensure that all supplied ingredients continuously meet the advertised standards as non-allergenic. And the cookies are certified to Kosher standards. But it appears that the addition of an artificial flavoring two steps upstream of the cookies slipped the attention of R&D; at NMK. This points out the challenges faced by a small company striving to produce a premium quality product to control all of the raw materials used. Nonetheless, NMK will have to find a supplier which can commit to providing "totally natural" chocolate chips if that remains the intended standard.
Should customers be concerned about an "artificial" ingredient in their cookies? That is a question each consumer must answer for themselves. But one thing is certain: you can put any fears about health or environmental impacts of artificial vanillin to rest.
A very large data set on artificial vanillin is available. It shows that there are no negative health effects to be anticipated from consuming vanillin; in fact, the opposite is true: some indications suggest that vanillin has an anti-mutagenic effect if anything. Furthermore, there are no indications that environmental impacts might result from the artificial vanillin industry.
If one really stretches the analysis, one might wonder if more natural vanilla would be in demand, might it create an economic basis for protecting the rainforest habitat of the vanilla bean? But given the economic premium natural vanilla can command, it is unlikely that the availability of artificial vanillin is suppressing supply of natural vanilla extract. At this point, Judge Judy turns the deliberations over to the jury.
Case ClosedSo those are the facts of the case. What is your verdict?
Subscript:TreeHugger tries to bring the Good to our readers' attention. Sometimes we get it wrong. We depend on our readers to help us in the comments where we fall down. It is certainly not the author's intention to point fingers in cases where others have it wrong, or partially wrong. Instead, the author hopes that presenting this case study will give readers pause for thought about a complex issue, and promote a community of people who, by sharing information, enable good consumer decision making. And we leave you with this final thought, paraphrasing the words of New Moon Kitchen's president:
If you are not sure about a product, contact the vendor. They should be willing to answer your questions.