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.

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!