Tofu is a staple in the kitchens of many vegetarians and vegans alike. It’s versatile, easy to work with, and a pretty cost-effective alternative to meat and dairy.
Even though tofu gives the impression of being better for us and the planet, is it? What does it take make tofu? This article’s for you if you eat tofu but don’t know much about it. Let’s get started!
If you’re still not entirely sure what tofu is, here’s the basic low-down. Tofu is a processed food made from soybeans. It’s very high in protein, and very low in fat and carbohydrates, making it a logical addition to any balanced diet.
However, as you’ll come to find out, the production of tofu overshadows these few health benefits.
Tofu is made with GMO soybeans
Even though soy, and therefore, tofu seems like a healthy meat alternative, think again. At the very least, 90 percent of all soy crops in the United States are GMO. This means that nearly all soybeans, and their subsequent products in the US, are engineered to withstand certain herbicides.
Herbicides, like those used by Monsanto, are good for the soy crops, but terrible for your health, including your digestive system, reproductive system, kidney and thyroid, as well as vitamin stores – just to name a few.
Soy expert, Dr. Kaayla Daniel, offers exhaustive research on soy and why it might not be the best thing for the human body. But as you’ll see, it’s also not great for the planet.
How is tofu made?
To begin, soybeans are soaked and then grinded before the soy milk is separated from the pulp. Then, the soy protein is separated from the oil. At this stage, a coagulant is introduced to help the liquid matter to become solid.
Common coagulants used to make tofu are either calcium sulfate or magnesium chloride. Calcium sulfate helps to retain soy’s natural flavor. Magnesium chloride, on the other hand, helps to produce a smooth tofu.
Finally, soy products are pasteurized to increase their shelf life, as well as to expand the variety of soy products available in the market today. As many of us know, there’s for more than just tofu. You can find soy-based meat and cheese alternatives, and so much more.
Is tofu worse than meat?
A study from the UK’s Cranfield University, “How Low Can We Go”, reports that tofu can harm the environment since its production involves deforestation and high-energy processing practices, not to mention the cost of transportation.
And even though the cost of producing one pound of tofu is still much lower than the cost of producing one pound of beef, it’s still relatively high.
Why is soy (and tofu) so bad for the environment?
It might seem strange that bean crops can leave a dirty footprint on the planet, but soy is doing just that.
First of all, it’s important to realize that soy is commonly used as animal feed. Therefore, soy isn’t just used to feed humans. It’s used for livestock, and because of these worldwide appetites, it’s estimated that at least 300m hectares of forest have been removed to make way for soy crops. Just to give you an idea, 1 hectare is 10,000 square meters!
Not only do soy crops remove the earth’s forests, but soy crops also remove the forest’s carbon storage services, which negatively impacts global warming and greenhouse gas emissions.
Where is soy-driven deforestation happening the most? 80 percent of the world’s soy is grown throughout the United States, Brazil and Argentina.
And this leads to another problem with the soy industry: transportation.
If soy was only consumed by people in North and South America, the cost of transportation wouldn’t be so high. However, soy is shuttled all over the world, which only increases worldwide pollution.
Climate change and soy agriculture
When it comes to global warming and soy crops, it’s a catch-22. The larger the soy crops, the higher the climate can rise. The only problem is, with warmer global temperatures, the soy crops will probably suffer. In fact, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), soy crops will be the ones to suffer the most under raising global temperatures.
Because soy crops are sprayed with powerful herbicides, the biodiversity of the earth and the quality of the soil is greatly affected. What kind of herbicides you might be asking? Many crops are covered in a neurotoxin called hexane.
Soil erosion and water pollution
The chemicals used in the soy crops don’t stay within the dirt and soybeans. Unfortunately, they run off and contaminate fresh water and groundwater, impacting both the health of humans and wildlife.
This is very unfortunate as most people consume with the good of the environment in mind. Without realizing it, however, our consumption of soy-based products, like tofu, can negatively impact the health and wellness of our entire planet.
You don’t have to give up soy-based products
Even though soy production can have a negative impact on both you and the planet, that doesn’t mean you have to give up soy entirely. Since most soy is genetically modified, you do have to avoid most processed and soy-based foods – yes, even those convenient vegan and vegetarian meat alternatives.
But there’s a better option for you. Dr. Axe suggests two healthy soy-based products: natto and tempeh. Here’s why they’re better for you and the planet:
Look for non-GMO, organic natto. It’s a fermented Japanese soy food that provides your body with vitamins, minerals, protein and good bacteria. It looks like sticky beans, and it has a strong taste, so it might take some getting used to, but why not give it a try?
Tempeh is another fermented soybean product, this time hailing from Indonesia. It’s also high in protein and can help to lower cholesterol, while providing lots of vitamin B. It’s dense and chewy, and comes in a loaf-shaped form, which you can slice into bread-like pieces. It certainly has a distinct taste, but many people love it, and maybe you will, too.
On the one hand, it’s great that we have a meat-free option in the form of soy and tofu. Unfortunately, the production of soy and protein can be harmful to both people and the planet.
To counteract this issue, try to consume organic and non-GMO soy products, as well as fermented soy products, like natto and tempeh, into your diet.