Category: Healthy Living

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.

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”

Be Prepared to Spring Into Allergy Season

We want you to breathe easy and be prepared for the upcoming allergy season, so we assembled this list of tips. Different things work for different bodies, and we’ve had successes with:

 

  • Limiting foods that are mucus forming: dairy based products, refined flours, and processed foods
  • Drinking nettle and/or feverfew tea to support your immune system and reduce headaches commonly associated with allergies
  • Increasing your Vitamin C intake – foods like bell peppers, lemons, broccoli, and parsley are great additions to your diet
  • Supplementing with Quercetin, a bioflavonoid antioxidant found in citrus fruits. Take 1000-3000 mg daily as a natural antihistamine.
  • Getting and using a Neti Pot  – it helps to clear nasal passageways for pressure relief and congestion
  • Taking 1 tsp of black seed oil daily to reduce allergy-related symptoms. Black seed oil (or Black Cumin seed oil) is an antioxidant which has anti-bacterial and viral properties. Daily usage can help fight off infections of the respiratory tract. Its rich Omega 7 content hydrates the mucus membranes in your respiratory system and (bonus!) it doubles as a beauty product for hair and skin!
  • Using natural herbal and homeopathic products at the beginning of allergy season to reduce symptoms such as Deep Immune by St. Francis, Allergy Relief by A.Vogel and Sabalia by Boiron!
  • Adding Aromatherapy to your Allergy Arsenal!  Steam inhalation reduces sinus congestion and pressure headaches. Add essential oils such as family friendly Ravinsara (safe for children 6 months+), Eucalyptus and Camphor to hot water. (Note: do not boil the water to reduce the risk of injury.) Be sure to drape a towel over your head, close your eyes, and breathe deeply through your nose.

Continue reading “Be Prepared to Spring Into Allergy Season”

Post-Holiday Recovery Guide

Imagine if the New Year came complete with an all expenses paid trip to a luxurious spa, at which your primary obligations are subjecting yourself to every possible detoxifying treatment whilst sipping smoothies. Not in the cards? Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.

These are our top 3 picks for post-holiday recovery. Whether you ate too many cookies, enjoyed too many toasts or caught your toddler’s bug… stop by our Natural Apothecary and we’ll get you sorted.

 

Himalaya Liver Care

These vegetarian capsules are formulated to support the healthy daily detoxification and cell regeneration of your liver. If your head still hurts from ringing in the New Year, you’ll be happy to know it also works to eliminate “acetaldehyde”, the toxic byproduct of alcohol intake.

 

 

Flora Elderberry Crystals for Children and Adults 

Elderberry can be used preventatively, or at the onset of a cold or flu to shorten its duration. It’s used in herbal medicine to help relieve symptoms like cough, sore throat and catarrh of the upper respiratory tract (mucus discharge and buildup). Try this kid-approved recipe for an Elder-Power Smoothie and toast to your health!

 

Elder-Power Smoothie

Makes 1 smoothie

Ingredients:
2 tbsp. Flora Flax Oil
4 tbsp. organic Greek yogurt
3 g Acerola Powder
5 g Elderberry Crystals
1 cup frozen blueberries or raspberries
1 small banana
1 cup almond or coconut milk
Combine all ingredients, blend until smooth

Original recipe can be found here.

 

Genuine Health Advanced Gut Health Probiotic

Chock full of probiotic strains – 15 of them to be exact – specifically chosen to mimic human gut flora, this probiotic aids in food intolerances, allergies, skin issues, bloating, weak digestion, low immunity and brain fog. With 60-80% of our immune system located in our guts (yup!), the state of our digestive system is a key factor in our overall health. These shelf-stable vegan capsules are great for travelling or if you are on-the-go. So go – with your gut, that is!

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