Within the last few years, more and more dairy-free cheese options have come to market and consumers (like me) who choose to forego dairy have finally gotten back to that ooey-gooey goodness they knew in childhood. But, what’s “fake” cheese made of? If it’s not sourced from animals, where does it come from? While there are many cheese alternatives on the market, I have chosen to review the one I see most often in the grocery stores I frequent; Daiya Cheddar Style Cutting Board Shreds. The ethos Daiya espouses is that they want to promote plant-based lifestyles that are “better for our health, better for the planet, and better for animal welfare”. While I’m not so sure about them from a health standpoint (their products do contain a lot of oils), I would say that they are trying to follow through on their “better for the planet” assertion, and definitely follow through on their “better for animal welfare” assertion. They employ some practices and ingredients which are good for planet and their products are 100% vegan, but they are not transparent when it comes to their supply chain and worker welfare. This earns them a rating of 2/3 overall from me. If you’re looking for a product that’s vegan, but still gives you the same delicious experience as dairy-based cheese, Daiya is a good option.
Like many dairy-free cheeses, Daiya is mainly composed of water, various oils and starches, plant proteins and flavoring. The main starch in Daiya is tapioca flour, which comes from the cassava root from South America. Cassava root’s penchant for soil nutrient depletion does give it a bad reputation, however, due to its low water necessity for growth, it is possible to grow cassava sustainably if one rotates their crops appropriately. The two main oils in Daiya cheeses are expeller-pressed canola or safflower oil and coconut oil, both of which have relatively low environmental impact. Coconuts, and therefore coconut oil, don’t require large amounts of natural resources during growth, but finding the space to grow them can be tricky. In order to determine the level of sustainability of that ingredient, I would need to know how it’s sourced. Aside from their starches and oils, Daiya chooses to use highly-soluble pea protein in their Cheddar Style Shreds, which is an excellent choice on their part. Pea protein is one of the most sustainable plant proteins on the market, so I applaud their choice to use it in their product. Overall, with many of the ingredients in the Daiya’s cheese, the sustainability of the ingredient, and therefore final product, rests on the responsibility of the sourcing. Given that almost all ingredients are plant-based and can be sourced sustainably, I rate Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds 2.5/3 planets.
** Daiya doesn’t provide much information about their supply chains or production methods, but I was able to use some of the information on their website to build a broad-strokes picture of their practices. ** The term “expeller-pressed” listed in their ingredients in relation to oils means that the oil was naturally squeezed out of seeds as opposed to using chemical solvents to extract it. That means that Daiya is choosing responsible methods in order to source at least one the oil ingredients they need (their canola/safflower oil). Coconut oil, on the other hand, can be a little trickier to source responsibly. As previously states, while coconuts require relatively few resources to grow, sourcing coconut oil from sustainable farmers is key to reducing environmental impact. Daiya does not provide information about where they get their coconut oil; the best one can do is hope it’s sourced responsibly. Additionally, as the production and administrative headquarters being in Vancouver, the majority of the ingredients have to travel intercontinentally in order to be finished into a final product. This inefficiency in unavoidable given that things like coconut and cassava root must be grown in warmer climates, but it is still unfortunate that the ingredients must travel so far. I rate Daiya a 2/3 for their production efforts; it’s clear they use sustainable methods when possible, but the reality of their ingredient choices is that they create a very long supply chain.
Similar to their supply chains, Daiya does not provide much transparency related to their working conditions. I did find that both Daiya’s administrative and manufacturing branches are based out of Vancouver, and that they recently expanded operations to include a 4,000 square foot mixed-use office and production site there. However, I have a hard time believing that their Vancouver facility is where all their products are made; they do, after all, 15 varieties of dairy-free foods with multiple flavors of each. While it’s possible all their products are all made there, I wonder if they have factories elsewhere (perhaps in countries with fewer workers’ rights laws than Canada). The lack of transparency on their part regarding where and how they source their products is concerning, especially because they used ingredients from all around the world. There is no real way to know, given the information they provide, how the workers in their supply chain are treated. For ‘Who Makes It’, I rate them a 1.5/3 due to a concerning lack of transparency.