Author: Spud

Flattening the Transmission Curve of COVID-19

Infectious Disease Prevention at The Sweet Potato

Staying calm and clear-headed can be hard when headlines clamour about the spread of COVID-19. Toronto Public Health has repeated that the general public’s risk continues to remain low here in Toronto. We take our lead from their evidence-based best-practice.

However, Public Health agencies at every level of the Canadian government have also warned this could change at any time and the implications are heavy. Right now, we also find ourselves in flu season and a hard season at that. Our priority is to ensure we are doing our part to slow down the spread and prevent any infectious disease, particularly as our health care system prepares for a predicted increase of COVID-19 cases.

We are committed to doing what we can to keep our community safe, especially because there are folks among us who are vulnerable to illness. 

Here’s What We’re Currently Doing Around the Store

As a grocery store, we follow strict protocols around food handling. We’ve increased our measures to include:

  • Stepping Up Cleaning. In addition to our existing cleaning regimen, we’ve created a new permanent role within the organization whose primary responsibility is to clean throughout the store during regular business hours (this is over and above the deep-cleaning that occurs after hours). Right now, fridge and freezer handles and doors, and other high traffic areas are being wiped down regularly with a Public Health Canada endorsed germicide that is effective at killing influenza viruses and the novel coronavirus among other microorganisms. 
  • Disinfecting Cart and Baskets. The cleaning of shopping baskets and cart handles is now part of our hourly cleaning schedule. If you would like to disinfect your cart upon entry, please take a disposable wipe located by the Customer Service counter.
  • Hand Sanitizing Stations. You’ll find hand sanitizer stations at the main entrance of the Apothecary, near the Customer Service desk, and outside our Customer Washroom. Please feel welcome to use these during your visit at The Sweet Potato.
  • Thorough and Regular Hand-Washing. Both at regular intervals during shifts, and as we move between tasks and departments, team members are constantly and thoroughly washing hands.
  • Full-Service Bulk Department. Right now in our Bulk Department, our staff will help you fill your plastic bags to limit the number of folks who touch the fixtures. These fixtures continue to be regularly cleaned, scoops and tongs sanitized. Please note that we cannot accept outside containers in our bulk section at present. 
  • Find our Hot Soup Pre-packaged in the Grab and Go Hot Zone. If you regularly grab a hot soup, you will now find it labelled and prepacked in our Hot Grab and Go area. 
  • Bakery Items have been packaged. Loaves, buns, muffins and cookies have been packaged in paper or cellophane. 

  • Stopping Self-Serve Coffee and Free Fruit for Kids. For the time being, we are stopping the sale of hot cups of coffee and our Free Fruit for Kids program. Kids are welcome to grab some stickers from our Customer Service desk. If they need a snack, please ask a staff member to grab a complimentary piece of fruit. They will pick the piece with their caregiver and leave the floor to wash it for you.

Our team’s wellbeing is of paramount importance. Staff who are unwell, stay home. We offer paid sick days and flexible schedules so that folks can take the time to get well. Folks who can work from home are now doing so.

The Best Methods of Prevention

We are all reminded that the best way to protect ourselves and the community from COVID-19 transmission and other colds and flu is through:

  • Regular and thorough hand-washing for at least 20 seconds 
  • Avoiding touching one’s face when in public
  • Social distancing including avoiding large gatherings, and avoiding handshakes, hugs and touching customers and colleagues while at work
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects
  • Encouraging annual flu vaccination to protect ourselves and those most vulnerable in the community
  • Staying home when sick 
  • Coughing and sneezing into a flexed elbow when a tissue is unavailable

Halting Collection of Black Plastic, Returnable Bottle and our Taring Program

We believe we have a responsibility as an employer to help keep our team and the community at large safe. Effective immediately, for the immediate future, we are not accepting any reusable bottles or black plastic back. 

Because many bottles and black plastic are returned dirty and are stored on-site, in consultation with City agencies we’ve determined that to help slow the spread of COVID-19 the safest measure is to stop this practice until further notice. The data on how long this novel coronavirus lives on surfaces is still unclear.

Likewise, we’ve been advised to pause our Taring is Caring program in bulk (that is our customers’ ability to bring their own refillable container to use in our bulk section). These were difficult decisions to make because environmental sustainability is a key element of our business, but we feel this is the best course of action right now to help safeguard everyone’s well-being.

Let us be clear, this is only a short-term suspension. Please continue to keep your bottles and black plastic at home. We’ll be accepting them again soon.

Invested in Stopping the Spread of Misinformation

Toronto has seen a rise in racist rhetoric and xenophobia. We hope you’ll join us in disrupting instances where misinformation is spreading, by keeping in mind that:

  • Adopting good hygiene as described above and avoiding those who are sick will help stem the spread of COVID-19
  • We don’t recommend any natural remedy as a cure-all for any infectious disease. We encourage folks to take the advice of their medical practitioner and to stay home when sick to limit transmission to others.
  • We do not recommend any diet as superior or one that will offer more protection from infectious disease.

Stone Soup Network – Building Community

We learned about Stone Soup Network in late 2019 and we decided immediately that we needed to become involved. Firstly, our very own City Councillor from back when we were Ward 13, Sarah Doucette is the Director of the Parkdale/High-Park chapter. We’ve known Sarah to be a true community champion and we were thrilled to hear of this new initiative.

The idea is simple: Stone Soup Network imagines a community where every neighbour is cared for. Through this program, a neighbourhood of strangers becomes a Stone Soup Network.

Stone Soup Network has gone ahead and created an online database of products and services they’ve received by donation from participating businesses in the area (anything from grocery and pharmacy gift cards; vouchers for legal, dental and financial services; movie tickets or dinner out at a restaurant). They then share this online database with their Social Connectors, who are front line workers at social agencies and religious leaders through the community who work with clients in need. These Social Connectors then link up clients with the goods and services that are available.

Stone Soup Network believes that in years gone by, this work was done by churches and other organizations who formed the centre of community life. If anyone was unwell or in need of a little extra support, their neighbours would know about it and pitch as they could.

These days, the instruments of community seem to be spread more thinly. People can become isolated. Needs remain unmet.

The Stone Soup Network is hoping to address this by centring community again. An enormous amount of goodwill and community building energy is already present. Stone Soup Network helps to harness it and channel it for maximum impact. You can learn more, or get involved by visiting their website.

Seventh Generation is on a Mission

What better way to welcome spring than using the power of plants for early spring cleaning?We've got Seventh Generation line of cleaners and dish soaps that cut through the toughest grease using plant-derived agents, so you can feel good about what you're cleaning with! Their multi-purpose wipes are great for appliances and kids' toys. Free from synthetic fragrances, their wipes also use essential oils for a natural and uplifting scent. 🌱

Posted by The Sweet Potato on Monday, February 24, 2020

Seventh Generation household cleaning products and baby care have always been popular at The Sweet Potato.

We love that their cleaners are plant and mineral-based so that you can feel good about getting that deep clean without harsh chemicals. And that’s not just some fancy marketing tactic on their part — unlike other companies, their labelling is clear and detailed and includes full ingredient lists right on the label (if you need a hand understanding the ingredients, they also have an ingredient glossary on their website).

They’ve chosen to use plant-based and biobased ingredients because they believe that natural ingredients are better for human health and the health of the planet. Building a more sustainable future is very much part of their mandate as a company. To that end, they’ve partnered with climate justice organizations in the US (where they’re based) including Sierra Club.

Together Sierra Club and Seventh Generation are calling on Mayors, CEOs, religious leaders, principals, and civic and community leaders, to commit to solutions that help reach 100% clean, renewable, and just energy across the United States by the year 2050.

Seventh Generation and Sierra Club have started a web series that detail important climate justice work happening across the US. You can watch the first episode here and follow this link for the full series: https://www.seventhgeneration.com/action/climate-justice-equity!

Brand Spotlight – MadeGood

We love to champion some of the companies we stock on our shelves. We are so lucky to meet some totally awesome people bringing lots of passion, innovation, and community love to the local food scene. Sometimes those companies even get to take things global. One of those companies is MadeGood.

We just love how MadeGood, a family business run by three siblings, Nima, Sahba, and Salma, and located right here in Toronto, has grown into an internationally recognized brand. MadeGood specializes in making truly delicious snacks families can feel good about: created from healthy organic whole food ingredients and without top-allergens, these are the go-to bars, cookies, and granola balls for nutritious school-safe snacks.

As a Certified B Corp business, MadeGood meets B Lab’s rigorous standards for social and environmental performance. They’re proud of the diverse and inclusive workplace they’ve built. And this has been the vision for their company from the beginning: Nima, Sahba, and Salma are New Canadians themselves and fundamentally understand the importance of creating a people-centred workplace that values the varied perspectives and experiences life brings.

Part of both their B Corp Certification and True Silver Zero Waste Certification means that MadeGood has also built an environmentally sustainable business. For instance, they divert more than 90% of their waste through reuse, recycling and composting.


And beyond that, MadeGood really loves to give back to a range of local and international organizations. Now these are snacks to feel great about!



Education Cuts Hurt Kids

We've got (most of) your essentials for this year's back to school! Shop our selection of litterless lunch wares, school safe snacks, and more in-store.

Posted by The Sweet Potato on Monday, August 26, 2019

We stand in solidarity with Ontario Educators fighting for a better future for this province. Education cuts hurt kids and that damage hurts our collective future.

We’re so grateful to Ontario Educators for fighting against the budget cuts that will result in fewer supports for students and even larger class sizes. And educators are fighting for our kids at great cost to themselves.

That’s why for the duration of the job action, all educators with a valid OCT, OSSTF, EFTO, OECTA, or AEFO card (accompanied with ID) will be extended a 10% discount* at The Sweet Potato.

Educators, please show your ID and card from one of the qualifying organizations for your discount at checkout. And thank you again for engaging in this important fight!

*some exclusions apply

The healthful benefits of GT’s Kombucha

Mounting research is pointing to the importance of maintaining a healthy human biome. That is, maintaining an optimal ratio of good gut bacteria in our bodies. So how exactly can we do this? One simple way is to increase the number of fermented foods in our diet which add living probiotics.

And one of the easiest ways to add living probiotics to our system is to drink ’em! We love GT’s Kombucha, a super refreshing, lightly effervescent kombucha that’s raw and unpasteurized and comes in a range of interesting (and delicious!) flavours.

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a tea that has been fermented by a living culture (a SCOBY – a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). During the fermentation period, the tea becomes naturally rich with probiotics, amino acids, polyphenols, and active enzymes.

Why are fermented foods important?

Fermented foods create living probiotics that we can ingest. Probiotics are instrumental in supporting a healthy and harmonious digestive system and promote overall wellness.

How does it taste?

If you’re used to sugary beverages, like soda pop or juice, the taste might first catch you off guard. Kombucha is slightly tangy, with a taste similar to an apple cider vinegar. GT’s Synergy line does incorporate organic juices which may be more palatable for those unfamiliar with kombucha’s tang.

What are those floaties in the bottle?

If you can believe it, those strands aren’t present at the time of bottling! They are the strands of SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria & Yeast) culture that form after bottling as an indication that the product is still living and active. The longer that the product is bottled, the more culture strands form.

Is it supposed to be fizzy?

The effervescence in GT’s Kombucha is totally naturally occurring! CO2 production is a by-product of fermentation and because of this, the fizziness can vary from batch to batch and bottle to bottle. Unlike with soda, the effervescence actually increases over time. So fresher product tends to be more still.

How should I store it?

Because kombucha is raw, living food, it should always be kept in the fridge. It should also be stored upright (not on its side) and should never be shaken.

Recycling Your Black Plastic

The Sweet Potato Toronto - recycling black plastic for our community

The Problem

You may have been surprised to learn last spring that black plastic isn’t recyclable in the City of Toronto. We certainly were, as were so many other businesses that, like us, thought they were making a prudent and environmentally sustainable choice.

We’re looking at more sustainable options going forward (stay tuned!). But we also wanted to come up with a better solution for all of the black plastic containers that we purchased back when we thought they were properly recyclable, and we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve come upon a solution that, while not ideal, we think is viable for the time being:

We’ve found a private recycling company that processes black plastic. We are sending our recyclable black plastic to their facility in Fergus, ON.  Here’s where you come in: if you’ve purchased some Sweet Potato Kitchen prepared meals, feel free to bring those plastic pieces back to the store for recycling. And beyond this, we’ve decided to open this recycling program up to our entire community. In other words, if you have black plastic at home that should be recycled (hint, most takeout in the city seems to rely on black plastic), please bring it into the store, cleaned first, and we will make sure it’s recycled responsibly.  We’re doing the same thing for baby food pouches – it doesn’t matter to us what brand they are, or from what store – we will accept all clean black plastic and baby food pouches, and we will pay for them to be recycled.

So What Can Be Recycled?

Recyclable black plastic includes CPET black plastic typically marked with the recycling symbol.  Food-safe black plastic like takeout containers, produce packaging, coffee cup lids are all examples of recyclable black plastic. (We cannot recycle office and household items like printer cartridges, computer packaging or accessories and equipment.)

Where do I bring it?

You can bring these items to our Customer Service desk anytime the store is open; our priority is diverting stuff from the landfill, so we don’t care what store they came from.  Not everyone has the ability to be zero waste, but we believe that there are very often creative solutions to the environmental problems we all face – and we’re delighted that our business allows us to offer this service to the entire community.  We’re constantly trying to improve the accessibility of our store and our services, and so we’re thrilled to extend this offer to everyone.

Please bear in mind – this isn’t a permanent solution (we hope). While we are happy to at present assume the cost of this endeavour, we don’t believe that private solutions are the fix for public problems (like the state of public recycling infrastructure) – so we hope you will continue to advocate for a more sustainable civic infrastructure.  In the meantime, however, we’re very glad that we won’t all have black plastic cluttering up the place, or going needlessly to landfill.

The Sustainability of Raincoast Trading

The Sweet Potato Toronto - image of the ocean with a rainbow in the distance

Here at The Sweet Potato, we’re approached by so many brands about stocking their product. But we’re pretty darn choosey about what ends up on our shelves. Of course, it has to taste good. And we prioritise local, organic and Canadian companies whenever possible. But we also have a long list of banned ingredients, ingredients that have been nixed because research suggests they may not be great for human health, they’re dangerous to the workers processing them, or because they’re bad for the environment. Well here’s a brand we’re only too pleased and proud to have on our shelves: Raincoast Trading, a Canadian seafood cannery.

 

Raincoast Trading logo

 

Raincoast Trading makes the best tasting canned seafood (among other fishy delights). It’s single-cooked and packed in natural fish oils, creating a rich and dense flavour, while upping the nutritional punch. But it’s their commitment to sustainability that makes us reach for them again and again. Raincoast Trading fishes with integrity, working hard to minimize overfishing, bycatch and habitat damage, all serious issues that face our marine ecosystems. In fact, every tin of Raincoast Trading seafood can be fully traced back to the fishing vessel, captain, harvest method and area of catch. This information is shared not only with consumers but with international ocean conservation groups too because it’s important to substantiate any claim of sustainability.

 

Their commitment to only sourcing from fisheries with sustainable stocks and to fishers who use responsible methods (like pole-and-line tuna fishing) have made them the ONLY Canadian packaged retail seafood company to be endorsed by Ocean Wise’s Conservation program. Yup, their cans carry the Ocean Wise seal of approval.

 

So next time you have a hankering for a tuna sandwich, are frying up some fish cakes, or want to get more inventive with your recipes, give Raincoast Trading a try. You’ll thank us later.

 

An FAQ on Farmed Fish and Seafood

We’ve had a lot of questions about farmed fish and seafood. It’s important to think about farming fish the way you would other farming practices: there’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here are some of the answers to our most Frequently Asked Questions. 

What is farmed fish & seafood?

Fish and seafood that aren’t wild caught, but rather raised in either open net pens in the ocean or in land-based aquaculture systems are considered farmed. Now as with all farming, whether that’s cattle, poultry or salad greens, there’s the gold standard and then there are harmful practices. We research, interview, visit farms, and insist on third-party certification to ensure we’re only ever selling healthy, sustainable fish and seafood. 

What is Aquaculture?

Aquaculture, also known as aquafarming, is the farming of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic plants and other organisms to produce food. It’s also used to restore habitat and replenish wild stocks, and rebuild populations of threatened and endangered species. There are two main types of aquaculture—marine and freshwater, where populations are cultivated under controlled conditions either directly in bodies of water, like the ocean or lakes,  or inland.

What are the pros of land-based or inland fish farms?

Some people hear inland fish farming and they look mildly horrified. Consider some of the challenges around farming fish in the ocean:

  • Escapes: If you’re farming a non-native species, escaped fish could compete with native species for resources like food, habitat and spawning areas.
  • Chemical usage: The open nature of ocean-based open net pens means that if farmed fish need to be treated with antibiotics or other chemicals, these would flow directly into the ocean.
  • Parasites: Ocean-based open net pens can also allow for parasites, such as sea lice to infect wild species

Given the potential issues that surround open net pens, land-based aquaculture systems can be a solid alternative. Escapes are unlikely, bio-security and control over water quality allow the farm to avoid disease outbreaks, meaning chemicals such antibiotics are rarely, if ever, used. Waste water is also treated, meaning polluted water won’t reach the ocean. Many inland facilities, and ALL of the land-based fish farms that provide us with fish, meet the HIGHEST STANDARDS for fish and seafood farming and are OceanWise certified.

What is Ocean Wise?

Ocean Wise is a Vancouver Aquarium conservation program, created to help businesses and their customers identify and purchase sustainable seafood. Whether it’s wild or farmed, the Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item lets you know that option is the best choice for the health of our oceans.

How does Ocean Wise make recommendations on farmed fish?

The Ocean Wise Seafood program bases recommendations on scientific reports published by the Seafood Watch program out of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Each fish is scored on ten different criteria that measures the impact of seafood farms on the environment. Fish must score at least 5.5 out of 10 to be recommended by Ocean Wise.

What’s BAP?

The Sweet Potato Toronto - BAP Certification

Best Aquaculture Practices – BAP–  is one of the world’s most trusted, comprehensive and proven third-party aquaculture certification programs. They’re committed to improving and growing the global supply of responsibly farmed seafood. Check their website for a list of certified facilities around the world.

What’s ORganic Fish?

Some folks are surprised to learn that organic fish are farmed! But just as it pertains to organically raising cattle, the designation speaks to the standard not only of their environment, but of what they’re fed. To certify fish as organic, a number of rules with respect to water recycling, disposal of waste and feed need to followed. This means the food the fish are fed must come from certified organic sources.

What do we mean by sustainable?

Limiting our environmental impact is one of the core values of The Sweet Potato. We look closely at how the foods we sell are cultivated. We value humanely raised meat and seafood, and practices that are environmentally sound. This means we focus on locally raised meat, seafood and produce, and will consider new technology like aquaculture and hydroponics when it means we are getting a ‘clean’ product.

What’s wild Atlantic salmon?

This is a trick question, and yet one, we’re asked a lot. There’s currently no wild Atlantic Salmon available in stores because wild Atlantic Salmon is an endangered species. If you’re eating Atlantic Salmon, it’s farmed!

Want to learn more? Our friends at Ocean Wise put together this Wild vs. Farmed Mythbusters video. And if you still want more, consider becoming an Ocean Wise seafood Ambassador.

 

 

What’s The Deal with Farmed Fish?

James Tober, The Sweet Potato’s red seal certified butcher & fishmonger, provides his thoughts on farmed fish

I’m not a city guy. I grew up in the country, hunting and fishing to help fill our freezer for the winter – and fill it we did, with moose, bear, deer, pickerel, salmon, bass and smelt, all caught in the wild. Between me and my five brothers and sisters, the family had to supplement our catch with farmed meats too, obtained on our weekly grocery store run.

In my mid teens I left the country, but I still return as often as I can. Every year on my return I’ve noticed it’s become increasingly hard to catch fish. The water is warmer, there are more worms in the fish I do catch, and there’s a lot more algae. This last summer, on our trip out to my dad’s, my daughter and I caught nothing! I didn’t want to believe it was my fishing skills, so I started to ask around. And sure enough, I kept hearing the same refrain: year after year it’s increasingly hard to catch fish. Stocks are depleted from the abundance I remember 20 years ago.

My next question was: WHY? These lakes don’t suffer from overfishing. So what’s going on here? Every single person I spoke with answered the same way: pollution and runoff are affecting spawning grounds and killing fish.

As a chef, butcher, fishmonger and dad, this hit me hard. Sourcing local, sustainable, and healthy options are a priority for me both personally and professionally. Where does this leave us?

 

Farmed Fish as a sustainable option

There’s no question there’s stigma and misinformation about farmed fish. Seventy percent of customers will walk away from the fish counter when they learn a particular fish is farmed, even though it’s Ocean Wise and Best Aquatic Practices (BAP) Certified. Interestingly, many of those people will then walk over to the meat counter and buy farmed meat without a second thought.

We need to start thinking about farmed fish the way we think about all animal farming: There’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. The process matters. The certification matters. The individual farm matters. 

I’ve been lucky enough in my career to meet people who are as passionate as I am about quality food, and who care about local sustainable options. So I reached out to Ned Bell, Executive Chef at Ocean Wise. Ned’s an international expert on sustainable seafood, and when I asked him about farmed fish he was absolutely clear on the subject: Wilderness is NOT a measure of seafood quality. He told me that we need to compare fish farming to other farming practices. This is a really novel way of thinking about this, even for me. But really, when was the last time you ate wild cow or pig?

Ned told me that, the way things stand, wild fish won’t be a sustainable option 40 years from now. Between pollution and overfishing, we have so damaged the oceans and wild fish stocks that inland aquaculture is our best way forward to help wild fish stocks recover. (Mind you, we definitely also need a global strategy to address pollution – but that’s a topic for a separate post). Ensuring your farmed fish is coming from a farm that meets the highest standards that govern fish and seafood farming matters immensely.

Fish farming, when done right, yields a great quality product and, when you take a long-term view of wild fish populations, is certainly a sustainable option. It’s also the only way to enjoy certain species of fish. Some of the pros of fish farming include: There is less water waste, no use of antibiotics, all the waste that is produced can be turned into compost and fertilizer, and the waste water is kept out of oceans.

And don’t forget, all organic fish are always, necessarily, farmed – how else would you know what the fish ate? That organic standard is about the quality standards that govern the water and feed – and is impossible to validate with a wild population.

Here at The Sweet Potato we know exactly where our food is coming from. We know about the farms we work with, including the source of farmed fish. We have certificates that demonstrate our offerings meet Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP). We work with National and International NGOs like OceanWise to ensure the choices we make here are the healthiest for both families and the planet.

I hope I have slightly if not completely changed your mind on inland farmed fish. It is a clean, sustainable, and viable way of putting fish in our diet. And it’s probably the only way my daughter will get the opportunity to grab a pole and show her kids how to fish.

Next up: a FAQ on what standards for fish farming actually mean.