When Chris Cooney, aka: The Vegan Zombie, asked to try an Impossible Foods meatball at Natural Products Expo West, he expected to get a vegan treat from a proud-to-be 100% plant-based company.
After eating what he assumed was vegan, things quickly spiraled downward.
Cooney asked if the items were vegan, and to his surprise, was told the meatballs contained dairy cheese. However, the Impossible Foods Brand Marketing Manager quickly chimed in, correcting her co-worker, and let Chris know that yesterday they weren’t vegan, but assured him that today they added “vegan parmesan.”
Chris Cooney: “Do you know what brand of vegan parmesan it is?”
Impossible Foods Brand Marketing Manager: “I do not recall what brand it is.”
Still feeling a little unsure, Cooney later returned to the Impossible Foods booth and asked the chef who was cooking up the food what type of vegan cheese he was using in the meatballs and he replied, hesitantly, “Daiya Parm.”
For those who don’t know, Daiya does not make a parmesan cheese.
Multiple attempts to reach Impossible Foods via social media for an explanation failed, however after I reached out via email, letting them know this was their chance to clarify, or apologize, I received the following response:
“All the meatballs we served at Expo West contained cheese from cows’ milk. We served sliders, tacos and other samples that contained no animal-derived products (ie they were “vegan”). If there was confusion, I would like to personally apologize and will ensure that dietary and allergen information is included at future events.”
Communications Manager Rachel Soeharto
If there was confusion? Hmmm…
Chris and his buddy, No Egg Craig, did indeed eat cheese and that makes me sad.
So why does any of this matter? A vegan eats some dairy cheese; big whoop, right?
Well, if you watch the footage, you’ll see that it clearly looked like an honest co-worker stated the facts, followed by a hasty cover-up, rather than simply a bunch of people being innocently misinformed; at least to me. And that bugs! I’ve posted the footage below so you can judge for yourself.
More importantly, this faux pas matters because:
ALLERGENS CAN KILL
Dairy is an allergen and if a food product contains dairy, it must be clearly listed. If someone has a food allergy, they can become severely ill, or die, if they eat that food. It’s that simple. While companies are free to add dairy to their vegan food at tastings, they should let consumers know the truth, especially when asked.
We’re not talking about being unsure what’s in the meatballs Aunt Bertha dropped off at her church potluck. Natural Products Expo West is the largest food trade show in the world – with over 86,000 people attending this year. Companies launch their new products there, and those who staff the booths are expected to know everything about their food.
When I ask companies where their product’s ingredients are sourced, what’s in their “natural flavors” and how much the items will sell for when they hit the shelves – I get answers.
Natural Products Expo West is a very prestigious, informative event; to say there’s no dairy in your product, when you actually added some, is simply inexcusable, and dangerous.
It also matters to vegans, who like myself, have been vegan for decades – and likely to newbie vegans, too. Even if you eat animals, I’m sure you’d be upset if you asked for a “beef” burger and was given a patty of ground-up brains with anus bits and pieces. Transparency is integral to this trade show, and to our health. Consumers have been asking for it for years, and the Expo takes great pride in delivering.
So, do I want everyone to boycott Impossible Foods? Absolutely not. Please buy their products if you see fit. I applaud all steps towards a compassionate lifestyle, and this Bill Gates backed company is certainly doing their part to help.
I will refrain due to the animal testing controversy – another story, for another day. And if I want to eat something “meaty,” I’ll gobble up some Beyond Meat.
I simply want people to be honest about what’s in the food we eat. And I’m grateful Chris Cooney (and his buddy No Egg Craig) brought this odd and dangerous encounter to light.
And I’m happy that something good came of all of this: According to Impossible Foods, dietary and allergen information will be posted at all future events.
Or so we are told… wink.
Jackie Day, vegan for 30+ years and author of the bestseller The Vegan Way: 21 Days to a Happier, Healthier Plant-Based Lifestyle That Will Transform Your Home, Your Diet, and You (St. Martin’s Press / Macmillan).