Category: Environment

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.

10 Natural First Aid Essentials for Camping

Ahhhh, the great Canadian outdoors… We sure are lucky here in Ontario to have access to some gorgeous wilderness, provincial parks, and campgrounds. If you’re planning a camping trip, here are 10 items we think are essentials for first aid and personal care. Whether you’ve got an intense backpacking canoe trip planned or a laid-back family campout, you’ll sure want to have these on hand.

1. Sunscreen

Spray or cream, everyone needs a full spectrum, sweat and water resistant sunscreen all day, every day. If portability’s a thing, we love Badger Balm’s SPF 35 Sport Face Stick Sunscreen. It’s mess-free, gentle enough for kids’ skin, and fragrance-free, meaning it won’t attract bugs! Another plus? It’s small enough that everybody can carry a stick in their backpack (and it’s air-travel friendly in case you’re planning a far-flung camping adventure).

 

2. Bug Repellent

The Sweet Potato Toronto - natural bug repellent with citronellaWe all know that DEET is the chemical repellent found most effective at repelling bugs. Concentration matters here: for DEET a concentration of 15-30% seems to be best (lower than 15% doesn’t seem to do the trick and higher can be pretty darn toxic to humans).

But there are reasons you may want to stay away from chemical pesticide-based repellents including the fact they are not baby-safe and those more sensitive to chemicals don’t tolerate them well.  Some people find spraying DEET-based repellents to clothing and the exterior of tents are a good option, while they leave natural repellents like those that are Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus or Citronella based for their skin. Lots of our customers swear by Druide Citronella Insect Repellent Spray which you’ll find in our Body Care section.

 

3. Anti-Itch cream

Even if you’re diligent about keeping bugs away, you’re likely to get the odd bite. For this, we yell DAPIS! (We really do, we love this stuff!) Have you tried Dapis gel? It’s an amazing homeopathic remedy that helps soothe the itching and pain of bug bites and hives and it’s totally safe for kids. New to the Apothecary, we are pretty enthusiastic about this product and it’s a must-have for your camping first aid kit.

 

4. Calendula Cream

With natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, calendula cream is a staple for bathroom cabinets, diaper bags and first aid kits. Great for rashes and scrapes and slow-healing cuts, it’s soothing and safe for all ages and most skin types.

 

5. Electrolytes

Ener-C's electrolyte drink mix is an important part of your first aid kit. In fact it's great to have on you at all times.

Like Gatorade without the grossness or Vitamin Water without the hype, stick these individual portion packets everywhere. Great for before, during and after exercise to support muscle function and rehydration, Ener-C Sport Electrolyte Drink Mix dissolves in water to create a sweet berry-flavoured drink that replenishes your body’s electrolytes. Super important to keep these on hand during a hiking excursion, because you never know when the heat and exhaution will pack that double whammy punch. These are available in our Apothecary!

6. Hand Sanitizer

Prairie Naturals Germ Force is an all natural hand sanitizer that's alcohol free. Antibacterial and soothing, it contains aloe

If you’re put off by the ick factor of camping, that’s fair!  Thank goodness for Prairie Naturals Germ Force hand sanitizer, our pick for clean hands on the go. It’s antibacterial, paraben free and the addition of aloe makes is soft on skin, unlike alcohol-based sanitizers.   

 

7 & 8 Biodegradable Shampoo and Soap

The Sweet Potato Toronto - all natural vegetable glycerin soap is a good option to take camping. Just don't use it in the lake. Nothing is actually lake safeHere’s something kinda controversial: those biodegradable shampoos and soaps that advertise themselves as lake-safe? We’re calling BS!  If you adhere to environmentally conscious best-practices, in fact, no product is “lake-safe”

What we recommend are unscented, biodegradable soaps, shampoos, and body washes, but in the absence of a shower on a campground, you need to bring water for bathing to the shore and do your cleaning at least 200m from any body of water. While biodegradable products are awesome and most definitely more earth-friendly than their counterparts, some take up to 6 months to break down and that’s under ideal conditions.

Soap Works pure vegetable glycerin bar is one option we carry and recommend while camping.

This time of year, Druide Citronella Shampoo/Shower Gel flies off our shelves. It’s a multipurpose wash and great for the whole family. Plus the citronella scent won’t attract bugs.

 

9. Protein Bars and Protein Powders

The Sweet Potato Toronto - Lara bars are a great gluten free and vegan protein bar great for healthy eating on the go like when campingHow do you pack in protein and nutrients when both refrigeration and weight are an issue? Protein bars and individual protein powder sachets are one way! These may not be your tastiest option, as far as delicious meals go, but they are the perfect accompaniment on a hike for during an intense day of portaging.

 

10 Multivitamin

The Sweet Potato Toronto - SISU multivitamin is an important way to fill nutritional gaps when campingIf you’re planning an intensely physical two-week backpacking canoe trip or the like, obviously your food choices are going to be pretty limited. Food needs to be non-perishable, easy to cook and eat and weigh as little as possible. It’s fair to say you’ll be eating differently than at home. And that’s why we recommend a great multi to fill any dietary holes you might have while adventuring.

 

May the great outdoors welcome you, return you feeling at rejuvenated!

Alternative Menstrual Products

Please note – in this post we are using, to the best of our ability, medical terminology to refer to the anatomy of folks assigned female at birth.

We think it’s a good thing to be informed about the products that we use on and in our bodies. In Canada, there are lots of government regulations and oversight of medical devices such as band-aids, powered toothbrushes, and the silicon medium used in plastic surgery. But do you know what isn’t subject to that regulation? Menstrual products! Vaginal tissue is endodermal (meaning, basically, it’s inside-the-body tissue), and functions properly in part by being a porous membrane – all of which means that it’s super sensitive both physically and chemically. So the substances that menstrual products are made from and with can really affect your body and well-being.

Continue reading “Alternative Menstrual Products”

Organic and Natural Foods Industry Glossary of Terms

The Sweet Potato - crop of lettuce

If you’re new to the world of natural and organic foods and farming, this list will help give you the vocabulary to make informed food choices.

Farming

Organic Agriculture: Organic farming is a strictly regulated farming practice that doesn’t allow for the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Organic farming:

  • Uses non-GMO (genetically modified) seeds;
  • Employs environmentally-conscious farming practices;
  • Helps create and maintain nutrient-dense land;
  • Works with natural climate rhythms;
  • And protects the water supply.

Lands also need to be certified organic, which is a process that typically takes a minimum of three years. During this process, organic standards are employed in farming practices so that the land can be certified.

In North America, labels from Canada Organic, USDA National Organic, Pro-Cert, or Quality Assurance International let you know the product has been certified as organic by an official third party organization recognized by the Canadian government.

Transitional Farming: Obtaining full certification as an organic farm is a commitment of both time and money. Crop farms interested in pursuing certification for land that had previously been used to grow conventional crops, must first apply for transitional certification. A “transitional” crop is grown on land that’s in the process of converting from conventional to organic. Certified transitional farms use organic standards in their farming practices and need to do so for a minimum of three years for organic certification. Before the three-year mark, any crops grown on the field are considered “transitional” crops and cannot be sold on the organic market.

Biodynamic Agriculture: Similar to organic farming principles, biodynamic agriculture also draws on insights made by Rudolph Steiner, a mid-20th century German philosopher. Today the biodynamic movement encompasses thousands of regenerative gardens, farms, ranches, orchards, and vineyards in a wide variety of climates, ecological contexts, and economic settings.  

Hydroponics: Hydroponics, a subset of hydroculture, is a method of growing plants without soil. Instead of soil, plants are grown in a mineral nutrient solution in water. Hydroponic nutrient solution can be made from fish waste, duck manure, or normal nutrients (fertilizer). Hydroponically grown plants are housed in plastic reservoirs in greenhouses.

Aquaponics: Refers to a system that combines aquaculture (the raising of aquatic animals like fish, snails, or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. In normal aquaculture, waste from the animals raised accumulates in the water, increasing toxicity. In an aquaponic system, water from an aquaculture system is fed into a hydroponic system in which waste is broken down by bacteria and utilized by plants as nutrients. The water is then recirculated back to the aquaculture system.

Permaculture: A combination of agriculture and social design principles that work together to support natural ecosystems.  The three core tenets of permaculture are:

  • Care for the earth: Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply.
  • Care for the people: Provision for people to access those resources necessary for their existence.
  • Return of surplus: Reinvesting surpluses back into the system to provide for the first two principles. Sometimes referred to as the Fair Share ethic to reflect that each of us should take no more than what we need before we reinvest the surplus.

The focus of permaculture is not on separate elements but rather on relationships created among them by the way they are placed together. Permaculture design seeks to minimize waste, labour, and energy input by building systems with a high level of synergy. To this end, permaculture designs are constantly evolving.

Local: Local produce, meat, and seafood are fresher, healthier, and have less impact on the environment because they’re harvested when ready and travel less of a distance to reach your plate. Moreover, it keeps dollars invested in local communities.

The definition for local in use by The Sweet Potato is less than 200 km, though no standard definition exists.

Clean: We use clean to mean free from synthetic chemicals including hormones and antibiotics, fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Clean does not mean a product has been certified organic, but it is Non-GMO and raised and produced responsibly.

GMO Genetically Modified Organisms

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms that have had their DNA altered or modified through genetic engineering usually to introduce a trait not seen naturally in the organism. Where foods are concerned, many cash crops like soy, corn, canola, potatoes, alfalfa, squash, beets, and flax have been genetically modified to resist pathogens or herbicides or to change their nutrient profile.

With concerns related to food safety, regulation, labelling, environmental impact, research methods, and the fact that some genetically modified seeds are the intellectual property of corporations, the public are increasingly demanding organic and certified Non-GMO foods. At the Sweet Potato all our produce is grown from non-GMO seeds. As well, our full bulk and bakery line is GMO-free!

 

Animal Welfare

Cage-Free: Eggs produced by cage-free hens describes hens that may or may not be permitted outside but do roam freely. Eggs from hens that only roam indoors may be labelled ‘barn-roaming’, ‘barn’, or ‘cage-free’.

Free-range: Animals that are raised ‘free-range’ can roam freely outdoors for at least part of the day. This term can apply to meat, eggs, or dairy farming.

Organic Meat: Organic meat comes from animals that have been raised without treatment of hormones or antibiotics and have been fed a diet free from anything grown from GMOs and with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. As well, minimum space allowances and access to the outdoors are part of criteria that need to be met. Organic meat can be fully traceable from flock to farm and is certified by an independent third party.

 

Trade

Fair Trade: What started as a social movement that advocates for the payment of higher prices to exporters of commodities from developing countries to developed countries has become a fully certified industry. Fair trade practices seek to promote greater equality where inequality exists as the starting point.

It promotes sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers in developing countries. Fair trade is grounded in three core beliefs:

  • That producers have the power to express unity with consumers;
  • That world trade practices that currently exist promote the unequal distribution of wealth between nations;
  • And lastly, that buying products from producers in developing countries at a fair price is a more efficient way of promoting sustainable development than traditional charity and aid.

With the certification of the industry, producers now need to apply for and pay to join a certifying body. Some criticism has arisen around how this prevents access for the most marginalized producers.

Direct Trade: Advocates of direct trade practices promote direct communication and price negotiation between buyer and farmer/producer. There is no precise definition for the term and no third-party certification. The term was coined for the coffee industry but is now applied to other growers such as cocoa, nuts, and handicraft artisans. The term was born out of frustration with the limitations of Fair Trade certification, mainly that certification is too onerous and costly to farmers and artisans who must qualify and apply for the very certification meant to offer them protections.

Our Banned Ingredient List

The What: Buying Practices

From our first days in the Farmer’s Market at High Park, we’ve been clear about our buying standards. We value the trust you put in us to nourish your family and we really want you to feel at ease when you shop here. From our very first days till now, our produce has always been GMO-free.

We’ve always tried to source produce that’s both organic and local first. When that’s not available we look to our trusted local, clean farmers and then to certified organic farms further afield. And we always work to ensure our labeling is clear and direct so you know exactly what you’re buying.  

Over the years as we’ve grown as a company, we’ve been lucky to add entire departments and a crew of buyers to our team. It’s important for us to ensure our team is well equipped with current data to make the best decisions about what foods to stock on our shelves.

 

The Project: Make a List We Can Stand Behind

To this end, we set forth on a project to analyze a bunch of ingredients we haven’t historically let in our store to ensure there was enough reason not to. We want these sorts of regular analyses to become part of how we do business because so many of the banned ingredient lists floating around out there are woefully out-of-date. This information is helpful only insofar as it’s kept current.

We want to set the standard for best practice in the industry when it comes to our buying policies. And we wanted to test certain claims. So we looked hard at the available research and we formalized a BIG list of ingredients we won’t let in our store. This is our Banned List.

 

Here’s Why

We’re not scientists, we’re not pretending to be, and for lots of the stuff on our list there’s no firm consensus in the scientific community. After all, these things have been approved for consumption by Health Canada. But when a number of studies echo similar results, we listen. When the allowable safe “dosage” for certain ingredients consistently decreases over time, that’s a red flag (we’re looking at you, artificial food colourings). We’re not interested in just abiding by legal requirements. We’re interested in holding ourselves to a stricter standard.

When it comes to human health, the well-being of farmers and producers, and harmful ecological practices, we want to err on the side of safety. Ingredients you find on our list are there because they satisfy one of three criteria:

 

1) Research suggests it’s detrimental to human health;

2) Research suggests farming or processing the ingredient is harmful to workers;

3) Research suggests the environmental impact of producing the ingredient is harmful.

 

Take butter flavour as an example, diacetyl. This is a fine ingredient to ingest as far as we know. It’s often included in microwave popcorn that you buy at conventional stores, and used to create a rich butterscotch flavour in some alcoholic beverages.

But there’s increasing evidence that the way in which it’s processed is potentially hazardous to the workers who handle it, causing serious lung disease when inhaled. In fact, the US National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety has issued this exact warning while the California legislature seeks to bans the use of diacetyl entirely.

 

The Banned List
Take a look at our list of of banned ingredients and please be in touch if you have follow up questions or concerns. We’d be pleased to discuss our rationale and the studies we looked at to arrive at our list.

Banned Ingredients 1p PDF for web – June 2017

Paper vs. Plastic

The Sweet Potato - paper bags vs plastic bags. We looked at the data and plastic bags won out

Image via Climate Kids

Every now and again we get asked about why we stock the kind of grocery bags we do. Good question! With paper, compostable, and plastic bags available, we wanted to be sure we were making the most intelligent decision for ourselves and our customers.   

Here’s an overview of the data:

Paper Vs. Plastic

As it turns out, of the three types of bag available, paper is worst on the environment! We know… we were shocked, too.  After all, paper is a natural material, which is fully biodegradable and at the very least recyclable. But that’s not the full picture. In fact it turns out that a whole lot of GREENWASHING is responsible for our notions of paper being the more eco-friendly alternative.

Paper bags use a lot more resources in the manufacturing process and generate a heck of a lot more waste for a bunch of reasons:  

  • Paper is HEAVY. Its volume takes a lot of energy – as in fuel and electricity – to transport and process and it occupies a lot of space in landfills.
  • Producing paper bags uses an awful lot of freshwater.
  • Paper bags tend to be used ONCE because they’re so prone to ripping.

Consider the following chart:

 

The Sweet Potato Toronto - chart showing the environmental impact of various types of bags. Paper bags are the clear loser when it comes to environmental responsibility

Chart via Chemical & Engineering News

The Takeaway:

Plastic bags outperformed paper bags environmentally on manufacturing, reuse, and on solid waste volume and generation. And the more times you use a single plastic bag, the less the environmental impact.

Don’t Forget to Reuse and Recycle

One of the things that further separates plastic bags from paper is that data shows they’re often reused at least once or twice before their retirement.

The great news for Torontonians too is that plastic bags can now be recycled. And this is so important: that plastic bags end up where they’re supposed to at the end of their lifecycle. One of the most destructive aspects of plastic bags is when they end up where they shouldn’t be, particularly when they land in lakes and oceans.

What About Compostable Bags?

Thinking these were the environmentally friendly option, we carried compostable bags in the shop for a bit many years ago. Then we learned that compostable bags are actually banned in municipal green bins! It turns out municipal waste treatment facilities can actually be harmed by biodegradable bags in their system.
We All Win with Reusable

Directions to create a no sew reusable bag from an old tshirt via Mommypotamus. Because reusable bags are the most environmental responsible

Image and no-sew tshirt bag instructions via Mommypotamus

It’s estimated that every reusable bag made from cloth or recycled plastic eliminates the use of 1000 plastic bags!

If you’re feeling crafty, here’s a fun DIY project if making your own bag from materials around your house is your jam. We’re particularly loving the old superman t-shirt bag!

Also stay tuned for a new BYOB(ag) incentive program coming to 108 Vine!