What’s the deal with soy?
Soy, when compared to other crops, is a relatively recent addition to Western diets. Slowly but steadily, the soybean as a legume finds its way on our plate: products like tofu, soy milk (or “drink” according to new EU laws), tempeh, a fermented soy-bean “cake”, miso, and soy sauce play important roles. Thus, the bean enriches culture and inspires to experimentation outside of its home countries!
Why we eat soy – consciously…
This type of legume, originating from East Asia, has been much praised for its positive implications on health, particularly the high content of isoflavones. Research suggests that isoflavones can have protective effects against chronic diseases. Furthermore, Soybeans deliver important omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
But health is just one reason why people consume soy products. Many also discover soybeans for themselves because of their broad and creative applicability in diverse cuisines, a way to discover new ways of preparing, tasting and experiencing. In short, like most eating among humans, its success is ultimately dependent on how easy it is to make tasty things from it!
Furthermore, a significant amount of consumers are concerned about animal health and well-being, as well as climate change effects fostered by large scale meat-production. Soy products can replace or substitute the protein intake.
… and unconsciously
Even if one is not an advocate of tofu, tempeh & co., these days it's actually harder than you might think, to not consume soy in some way. While, as mentioned before, there is a growing market for processed soy beans for human consumption, the majority - 80% of world's soy - is consumed indirectly. Soy bean meal, for instance, is a basic feed for cattle, poultry and pork, which ends up on the human table. In addition, if you read the labels on many products in your local supermarket, you will find that it turns up in many many products, most commonly as an emulsifier called soy lecithin.
The market of soy beans
Growing populations and an increasing demand for soy products and meat (remember, soy is feed for animals), drove the market upwards in recent years. But before this commodity can be traded on the world markets, it first must be grown. And this is where the problem begins.