No, soy is not bad for the environment

Soy is the main ingredient in our cheese. Surprisingly often, we get asked some version of this question: "Isn't soy bad for the environment?"

The short answer is: No, quite the contrary.

The rest of this post is devoted to the long answer.

Since we started working on Yeti Cheese, we realized that there's a lot of misinformation around soybean. Over and over, we read and hear stuff about soy that is just plain wrong from people that otherwise seem smart. I wonder who might be behind this? *cough* meat and dairy lobbies *cough*

A lot of this misinformation is around environmental concerns. This belief originates from the fact that soy is a major driver of deforestation, especially in the Amazon and neighboring regions in South America. Which is true. But that's not the end of the story. What is often left out is that the vast majority of soy is grown to be used as animal feed. There are different estimates to what this number exactly is, but most are upwards of 90%.

Break-down of soybean usage based on USDA data.

As the above diagram shows, the USDA reports that only 6% of soy are used as food for humans (e.g. as tofu or Yeti Cheese 😝). The rest is used either directly as animal feed, or processed to soy cake (also called soy meal) and then given to cows, pigs and chickens.

But what about soy oil?

The astute reader will now raise a remark about soy oil. After all, 19% of the processed soybean is made into oil which is consumed mostly by humans. Soy oil is one of the most used oils globally, but only because it is cheaply available as a by-product of soy cake production. Soy cake has great nutritional values and almost no fat (which has been separated into the soy oil) and is therefore sought after as livestock feed. Hence, soy cake is the main driver of soy demand, and not soy oil. There's nothing unique about soy oil, and it can easily be substituted with other plant-based oils.

Soy oil vs soy meal. Pretty clear why soy oil is separated from soy before feeding it to animals. Source: nutritionalvalue.org

Soy is one of the best food sources

In summary, people think that soy is bad for the environment because it is grown in insane quantities for the livestock agriculture industry. It's clear that shifting the population to a plant-based diet will reduce the demand for soy dramatically. This shift will also make free a lot of land where wild vegetation and biodiversity can be restored, capturing loads of carbon in the process.

So no, soy is not bad for the environment. Quite the contrary: It's one of the best food sources we have available on this little blue planet of ours.

Further reading

Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis

Soy Agriculture in the Amazon Basin

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