Soup is often touted as a good all-round meal; healthy, warming and nutritious. Yet there is a big difference between a home-cooked broth and a powdered soup from the supermarket. The latter is likely to be packed with extras, such as added salt and sugar, flavour enhancers and preservatives. It may also come from a company with dubious ethical credentials, and be guilty (like so many processed goods) of environmentally-unfriendly over-packaging.
Like many types of processed food, ready-made soups have been criticised for containing high levels of sugars, salt and artificial additives such as flavourings and thickeners. Packet soups have been most heavily condemned for offering little of nutritional value, while canned soups often use high levels of sugar and thickeners. Fresh carton soups are usually a healthier option, but many still have a high salt content.
The official guidelines for the ‘five-a-day’ scheme promoting fruit and vegetables (www.nhs.uk) say that convenience foods such as soups do count as a portion, but advise that people check the salt, sugar and fat content before buying. It goes without saying that products which include recognisable vegetables are more likely to count towards your five-a-day than ones that reduce everything to a powder.
Home-made soups, cooked with organic vegetables and with sparing use of salt, make healthy, filling and balanced meals, either on their own or with a helping of crusty wholemeal bread. If made in large quantities, they can be easily refrigerated or frozen for later use.
The famous cabbage soup diet takes the slimming properties of home-made soups to an extreme. By following an all-you-can eat programme of cabbage soup, plus a few portions of fruit and vegetables a day, the diet promises guaranteed weight loss – not surprising since it restricts the calorie intake to what is essentially a level of controlled starvation. Naturally, reputable dieticians will have nothing to do with it, and even supporters of the plan say it should be followed for no longer than a week.
Consolidation in the food industry means that supermarket shoppers are faced with an array of companies with problematic ethical records, while the smaller companies and brands are being squeezed out of the mass market.
Although campaigners against the irresponsible marketing of baby foods and breastmilk substitutes usually focus on the activities of Nestlé, Heinz has also been the subject of sustained and serious criticisms on the subject from organisations such as Baby Milk Action. It has been criticised for violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in countries including Pakistan, Uganda, Peru, Mexico, Ghana and Malaysia. More information on companies involved in this issue is available on the Baby Milk Action website at www.babymilkaction.org.
Farleys, a Heinz subsidiary, was also cited back in 1994 as having produced marketing material which played on the insecurities of women, by claiming that breastfeeding harmed the sex lives of many new mothers, and that ‘modern women’ regarded breasts as ‘more than just feeding machines’. Fortunately, the same claims have not been found in recent Farleys marketing materials.
Suma and Just Wholefoods both sell only organic brands of soup, and the New Covent Garden Soup Company has brought out a range of organic choices. Other than these, all the products studied are made from non-organic produce, which generally involves the use of pesticides and potentially environmentally-damaging growing systems.
Packaging is another issue, as it is for most convenience foods. Ready-made soup comes either in packets, cartons, packets inside cartons or tins. Although most of these can usually be recycled, the inclusion of ‘flavour-sealing’ materials such as foils and plastics can exclude some products from being remanufactured. None of the products examined in the table had any indication that they were packaged in recycled materials.
Ethical Soup Rankings Detailed Table
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We have created ethical rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Suma, Just Wholefoods, Baxters, Heinz, New Covent Garden, Campbells, Batchelors, Knorr, Carb options
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