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.

Help Us Help The Stop CFC!

Image courtesy The Stop Community Food Center / Zoe Alexopoulos

If you’re not familiar with them, The Stop CFC (community food center) is a really interesting organization. They started in the early 1980’s as a food bank, but have since transformed into… well, into a community food center! They offer cooking classes, community gardens, they offer support groups and community advocacy, they teach perinatal nutrition and host movie nights… the list goes on and on, but the main point here is that after adding all these other services, they are still also a food bank.

The Stop strives to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds health and community, and challenges inequality.

Here at The Sweet Potato, we are big fans of The Stop. Their mandate is actually very similar to our own, and they do amazing work in our community – which is why we support them as much as we can.

This December, we are again running our annual Food Drive in Support of The Stop.  We’ve got a bin set up inside the store for donations of dry goods, and we’re also matching all monetary donations dollar-for-dollar.

If you are able to give, they have provided us with a list of their most-requested items:

  • Canned fish
  • Peanut butter (or any sort of nut butter)
  • Dried beans (or canned beans) – especially Kidney Beans
  • Pasta
  • Gluten-Free pasta
  • Pasta sauce
  • Brown Rice

Anything you are able to provide would be great; we think they do really great work, and we are eager to support them as much as we can.  If you want to read more about them, you can visit their website, where you can sign up for an event, volunteer, or just learn about all the great stuff they do.

We hope you’ll help us help them make sure everyone has a warm, happy, and well-fed holiday season!

A Holiday for Everyone

There’s something special about the meals associated with winter holidays. Something about a set and laden table, with the cold dark just outside the windows – it makes things feel particularly comfy, and wholesome, and welcoming.

And with that spirit in mind, we want to make sure that our holiday meals are open and accessible to everyone, not just folks who share our personal preferences for what to eat and drink. We try hard to accommodate different diets and lifestyles, so that everyone we love can come together and be thankful in joy and deliciousness:

First, there’s always our perfect roast turkey recipe and delicious cranberry sauce. In addition to that, and the many yummy veggie dishes, we always like to have at least one more hearty main dish that isn’t meat based. We love the sound of this vegan meatloaf, but in a pinch we might just grab one of the frozen Vegan Roasts we sell at the store.

Like a lot of other of people, we like to cook our stuffing outside the bird – this allows the bird to cook more quickly and evenly, makes sure the stuffing itself is cooked properly, and most importantly lets us make several different kids of stuffing, including ones for our friends who are vegan and paleo or keto.

Many of our favourite veggie dishes are already totally vegan-friendly, like our Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Shitaaki Miso Gravy, Roasted Maple Delicata Squash, and Mashed Sweet Potatoes; others can be made so with just one or two easy substitutions, like our Crispy Brussel Sprouts, made with nutritional yeast instead of Parmesan, and our beloved Grean Beans with Garlicky Pine Nuts, in which we just omit the butter.

For dessert, we like to serve a variety of fresh fruit, as well as our vegan-friendly Peach Sorbet; this year we’re planning on making a paleo-AND-keto friendly avocado ice cream!

As well as food, though, it’s always important to us that our place be really accessible and inviting – both physically and emotionally. That is very much an ongoing process, and it starts by asking some simple questions about what we can do to help our guests (including the ones we don’t know yet!) navigate our space with ease and comfort. While this article is more concerned with having a large dance-type party, the questions it asks and points it raises are a great starting point to help you throw parties for everyone. Which is the goal, really – because aren’t good times even better when they’re shared?  

Happy holidays!

What’s YOUR Turkey?

Image by Flickr user Joyocity

Food means so much to us, in part because it’s delicious and in part because it’s so intimately connected to memory. That said, it’s also where we do some of our most delicious experimentation! In the spirit of the holidays, we love a roast turkey, but we also wanted to know what the alternatives are (especially because we might have so many guests that we can’t cook all the turkeys in our oven) – so here’s a few cool different ways to cook a bird:

 

  1. The traditional oven-roasted bird.
  2. Spatch-cocked. We’ve never done this, but our amazing butcher at The Sweet Potato will always happily spatchcock a bird for anyone, so we’re strongly considering it.
  3. Smoked. You don’t need an official smoker for this, you can do it on any bbq big enough to hold the bird (even a propane grill!)
  4. Deep fried. I know that sounds pretty extreme, but I have family who do this every year – they just set up outside with a big pot on a propane burner (like this one), and basically just sit around, enjoying a seasonal beverage, until it’s done.
  5. Poached! It might sound funny, but it’s guaranteed juicy, nearly impossible to overcook, and it’s a tremendously convenient way cook a second-turkey without a second oven.

If you try any of these, or you have your own atypical bird-cooking technique, we’d love to hear about it!  Let us know in the comments, below!

The Sweet Potato Toronto - school lunches from around the world - a sampling of what's eaten for lunch in Japan

School Lunches Around the World

School Lunches Around the World

The Sweet Potato Toronto - school lunches from around the world - a sample menu from France

Image via Karen LeBillon

Isn’t it interesting that there’s no such thing as ‘kid food’ in much of the world? And how different countries treat the “public school lunch” is fascinating. The effects of a quality national school lunch program have broad positive implications for overall health and happiness for years to come. Canada could totally learn something from these three countries. 

France

The Sweet Potato Toronto - sample monthly school lunch menu in France

Image via Karen Le Billon. Learn more about school lunches in France at her site

Renowned for their fine cuisine, France’s lunch game is strong. Starting in their preschool program all the way through elementary that ends at age 12, it’s a four course meal that begins with a salad (beet, or grated carrot), followed by a protein served with a side of grains or veggies, a cheese course and finally dessert. Of course there’s fresh baguette served with every meal too. And this is all by design: the French curriculum, where lunch is concerned, includes “developing the palate” as well as developing social skills – table manners, conversational skills – necessary to a successful life.  

 

Japan

The Sweet Potato Toronto - school lunches from around the world - a sampling of what's eaten for lunch in Japan

Image via Domo Daruma

In Japan, early childhood education emphasizes healthy eating and all that goes along with preparing and consuming meals. Students take turns serving up the hot meals to their teachers and peers each week, and in many jurisdictions, there are no janitorial staff to do the day-to-day tidying. Students are responsible for keeping the classroom, and school at large, in order.

 

Lunches are also not rushed and loud. It’s a sacred time where students are encouraged to take their time savouring their meal. Lunches are served in classrooms – most elementary schools don’t have cafeterias. So it’s a cozier setting already.

Brazil

The Sweet Potato Toronto - school lunches from around the world, a sample of a lunch in Brazil

Image via Huffington Post

Brazil’s Zero Hunger Program, administered through their public schools feeds over 42 million students every year. Not only has it been instrumental in decreasing malnutrition rates, and working healthy eating into the curriculum, it’s also groundbreaking in the way it supports local farmers. Thirty per cent (30%) of ingredients for school lunches must come from local family farms. Brazil is a growing country, with an emerging economy, but it, above others, has done much better in its bid to eradicate extreme poverty. Their national school lunch program is both reason and example of how. Brazil’s school feeding program is considered one of the best in the world.

 

With all these international models, it’s a shame we don’t do better at school lunches in our own backyard. Food is political, food is fun, food is how we socialize and celebrate, access to whole foods is necessary for good health. Food literacy is something we should be including in our curriculum. Here’s hoping we move in that direction.

Looking for more back to school Content?

After School Snack Ideas to Keep Hangriness At Bay

Top Tips to Make this the Best Year Ever

The Next Most Important Meal of the Day

What rivals breakfast as the most important meal of the day? Ask any parent of school-aged kids and they’ll all answer “after school snack”. Yup, post-school pick up is prime hangry time. Those kids have been holding it together all day, working really hard, and that school bell can release a lot of tension. One way to help manage after-school energy dips is with a favourite nutrient-dense snack. Try these quick and fun ideas!

After School Snacks: The Tried and True

It doesn’t need to be IG-worthy or a pin from Pinterest. Some crackers, cubed cheese and fruit will be devoured in moments. Or if your kids want to go the sweet route, their fave yogurt, a dollop of jam, topped with granola and berries will feel like dessert before dinner.

Avocado Boats

Image via Super Healthy Kids. Full recipe here.

If you want to win silly points for almost no effort, smash some avocado, dress it however your kids will eat it, put it back in the rind, surround with waves of tortillas. Avocado Boat. Done.

 

After School Snacks: On the Go

Fruit and Veggie Loaves

The sweet Potato Toronto - Sweet Potato Kitchen's daily fresh-baked banana bread

Banana bread, zucchinni muffins, pumpkin chocolate loaf – this is the season to hide fruit and veg in delish baked goods. Packed with fibre and protein, baked goods are a great way to pack a nutritional punch on the go.  Don’t feel like baking? The Sweet Potato kitchen has freshly baked banana bread every day. And oh is it good. Like really, really, really good.

Energy Balls

The Sweet Potato Toronto, after school snack ideas - energy balls

Image via Amy Gorin Nutrition. Recipe for Almond Pistachio Cocoa Bites here.

Protein balls are all the rage right now and with good reason. These gooey little spheres pack a real nutritional punch and are super quick to whip up. With no-bake recipes that include ingredients like nut butters, oats, seeds, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, and dates they are pretty tasty to boot. Kids love ’em and they’re a super choice if you want to level blood sugars and fill tummies enough to get you through to dinner hour.

After School Snack: Frosty Treats

Remember last September here in Toronto when the summer weather finally arrived…in September? September and October are such transitional months here and it can be nice to have snacks on hand that mind the weather. 

Frozen grapes dipped in yogurt

The Sweet Potato Toronto after school snack ideas - frozen grapes dipped in yogurt

Image via Super Healthy Kids. Visit site for full instructions

Here’s a cool idea (literally), freeze grapes, then dip them in yogurt, then freeze them again to set. Easy-peasy, and an instant kid classic for sure.

Chocolate Covered Frozen Banana Bites

The Sweet Potato Toronto , after school snack ideas - thekitchn.com recipe for banana bites

Image via the kitchn. Full recipe here.

Not exactly a healthy balanced snack. But points for both wow and yum factor. Plus I’m pretty sure science agrees, chocolate’s got loads of health-promoting properties. 

Looking for more Back-to-School Ideas? Check out these posts!

Quick and Fun After-School Snack Ideas to Keep the Hangries at Bay

School Lunches Around the World