This week I thought that I would do a review of one of my family’s most beloved desserts: Newman-O’s. My family has purchased Newman’s Own products for years, and you can always find a package of their delicious take on Oreos in our pantry. Newman’s Own is famous for founder Paul Newman’s commitment to donate all company profits to charity. A noble cause, but do the ends justify the means? This is hard to tell given that Newman’s Own has essentially zero useful information on its website relating to how its implements sustainable practices. The most helpful page I could find was a vague “commitment” to uphold transparency in its supply chains. But how has Newman really demonstrated its commitment? It hasn’t. At least not in any way they want anyone to know about. After scouring the internet for many, many hours I was able to find very little about product sourcing of Newman’s Own ingredients, even the most basic ones. When a company makes virtually no effort to provide insight into its production processes, I resort to assuming the worst. Since I could not find specific information relating to Newman’s Own ingredients I researched the overarching trends in supplier industries like chocolate, sugar, and palm oil. The results were startling. The vast majority of these industries are dominated by unsustainable practices in just about every way, which feeds into my doubts about Newman’s Own sourcing of ingredients. Newman’s Own assumes it can disregard sustainability efforts because of its charitable donations, but the company needs to be pressured into realizing that donating is not enough. Real change starts from the bottom up, and cannot be substituted with philanthropic efforts at the top.
Newman-O’s are made from several certified organic ingredients, most notably unbleached wheat flour, sugar, corn starch, palm fruit oil, and cocoa. Even though you are enjoying a sugar filled dessert when you indulge in these cookies, you can have some peace of mind knowing that the ingredients are of relatively high quality. There are a few inorganic ingredients in the mix as well, but they make up much less of the overall composition of the cookie. Although all these ingredients may not be terrible for your body, they are definitely terrible for the environment. Palm, cacao, and sugar cane are among the most unsustainable crops produced commercially, more of which I will detail in the latter sections. In this section, I would like to note the packaging of Newman-O’s. Oftentimes people only think of the actually food product when considering sustainability, but I feel it is just as important to consider the packaging. In many cases, the marketing tactics that go into the packaging make it just as much of a product as the food inside. Newman O’s come in a plastic tray that is surrounded by a thin plastic wrap sporting the “All Profits to Charity” slogan. The plastic tray may be recyclable, but from personal experience I have rarely seen this part of the product get recycled in practice. It does not take extensive statistics to show that most recyclable materials do not get recycled, just go to your local dumpster or landfill. The thin plastic around the Newman O’s is not recyclable in any way that is accessible for a typical consumer, and is also routinely thrown in the trash. Although Newman O’s may not harm your body in the short-term, the long-term effects of the entire product are and will continue to affect us for the foreseeable future.
The yumminess that makes these cookies taste so good is rooted in the high concentration of chocolate and sugar that each bite contains. However, the industries behind each of these key ingredients utilize destructive processes that are detrimental to our environment. Chocolate is made from cacao beans which grow on cacao trees, which are grown on large tracts of land that used to be rainforest. In countries like the Ivory Coast in Africa, rainforests have been decimated in recent decades to accommodate global increases in chocolate consumption. Trees are burned down on a massive scale, leading to the extinction of numerous species and the emission of smoke cloud pollution into our atmosphere, contaminating the air we breathe. Palm trees and sugarcane cultivation results in very similar damages, as well as reduced soil quality, high water usage, and water contamination. Sugarcane in particular is quite water intensive to produce, and the fertilizer runoff from the tracts of land where it is produced serve to pollute local water supplies in the typically impoverished communities this crop is grown. The top ingredients in Newman O’s have a poor track record in terms of environmental impact, and the company gives us no reason to believe they are doing anything to halt the perpetuation of these processes.
When you enjoy the crunchy outer layer of chocolate in a Newman O, chances are the chocolate was produced with child labor. I was shocked to find that millions of kids are practically forced into dangerous labor on cacao farms around the world, and receive little compensation for their efforts. Most cacao farmers, including kids, make in a week the equivalent of one hour at a minimum wage job in the United States. Revenue is instead rerouted to manufacturing and retailer bigwigs who bask in the profits that come from the abuse of agricultural workers. Sugarcane workers often develop respiratory issues from the burning process that is used to maximize the amount of sugar obtained from one plant. As they struggle to breathe, they are subjected to a blazing sun with no shade, hazardous levels of chemicals, and severe injuries as a byproduct of the machetes and other equipment used during harvest. Governments, non-profits, and the public have pressured the corporations behind this abuse to change their ways for years, but the companies have just continued to ignore public pressure. The truth is that the labor practices that go into making the ingredients to some of our favorite foods are downright cruel. Change needs to happen yesterday, and companies like Newman’s Own need to start earning our dollars by showing us how and where they get their ingredients from. Without transparency there can be no trust, and it is time Newman’s Own realize it.