Category: The Sweet Potato

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.

We’ve come a long way, baby!

WE’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY!

 

As we prepare to celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a party like no other, we can’t help but get nostalgic as – digging through old boxes – we find pics that really bring us back.

 

Do you remember how we started? We were a bunch of kids when we opened the High Park Organic Market – learning to buy and sell produce, teaching ourselves how to build displays, and working a full week in three days. We’d start just after dawn, working through the weather, and busting butt the way that only young people can. We don’t have a ton of photos from back then; nobody really expected things to go the way they did, so we weren’t preoccupied with documenting things.

 

After a few years, our customers convinced us to open a year-round store – you probably know how this part goes. Some of you might even remember how it looked in those early days: we had handmade wooden shelves, and the front of the store was occupied with our short-lived smoothie bar!

 

Remember this?

One lesson we learned early on was to pay attention to what our customers wanted, and be unafraid of change.

 

Post smoothie bar, we used the space at the front of the store for what we lovingly called the “Chip Cave”: cases of potato chips, stacked floor to ceiling. We had a little seating area at the front, which folks really appreciated, although at least one person seemed to think that chairs were only an impediment to real relaxation!

Around that time we started to really grow and specialize, hiring new managers and expanding our offering. Word got around that The Sweet Potato was on the up and up and we won Now magazine’s Best Of Toronto in the Organic Grocery category!

 

 

 

We’ve always been pretty involved and invested in the Junction neighborhood, and we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to step up our community game. Every year, we donate hundreds of pumpkins to the Junction Pumpkinfest – the local pumpkin carving event for kids and families – and every year it’s a treat for our staff to dress up, head out, and spend the day reveling in the mad energy of kids wielding sharps in service of their creativity!

 

“Let ME do it!”

 

At a certain point, we started to think it was time we got serious about our branding, and so we put our heads together and came up with a pretty great slogan (if we do say so ourselves):

 

 

 

Our team expanded to include some great design talent, and we started expressing our sweet attitude visually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We ran a Body Care Blitz through the summer of 2017, and had SUCH a good time designing a new themed ad every week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And with the opportunity to sponsor a local roller-derby team came an opportunity to build an ad that was too good to pass up!

 

 

 

 

Our flyer also went through a bunch of changes over the years… do you remember shopping this sweet design exactly five years ago?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, we kept on growing and improving. We got fancy new fixtures, and a great new fridge, and added a bunch of freezers, and had the great idea of dispensing free fruit to kids… and then there was that one summer when we got written up in two different Japanese culture magazines!

 

We’re pretty big in Japan.

 

When we had grown as much as we could at our original Dundas Street West location, we started planning to move to Vine Ave. We got the word out, and gave out free ice cream every Sunday during the summer to help folks find their way to the future site of our new store!

 

 

We learned a new lesson during this time: moving an existing store and setting up a new store should – by rights – take a lot longer than a few days, or even a week. No matter; our awesome team worked round the clock to miraculously open the doors of 108 Vine Ave just in time for our  Grand Opening Party on September 24th, 2017.

 

 

We’ve been at our new location for over five months now and it’s amazing how quickly we’ve adjusted. Even more amazing: how our customers have welcomed us once more to this community we’ve been so proud and privileged to call home.

 

You – our customers – have been the source of not just our survival, but also our growth and evolution. You asked for a year-round place to buy organic and local produce in the company of the weird and wacky folk like the few who started the High Park Organic Market; we opened our Dundas West store.

 

You asked for aisles wide enough to push full-sized shopping carts and strollers (heck, both!) through, an apothecary where you could stock up on vitamins and supplements, an expanded product selection, a sweet community space to eat and catch your breath… the list goes on. And to you, we say a resounding and enthusiastic: YES! Because every day as you shop our (now spacious) aisles, you give us the humbling, overwhelming gift of being able to be our fun and quirky selves, obsessed with bringing you the most incredible and exciting selection of products we can get our hands on at the sweetest prices. You let us do what we love. And we love doing it for you. 

 

Happy 10 years! Thank you!

 

 

Past Potatoes – Lindsay Lee

Past Potatoes is our feature that looks back at some of the awesome crew that have helped shaped the ‘Potato over the years. A few have embarked on some pretty cool life adventures!
What’s your name Lindsay Lee (nee Holung)
 
When did you work here?
August 2013-September 2014
 
What do you like, or what stands out for you about The Sweet Potato?
The people. Whether it was a fellow cashier hollering out a produce code I’d forgotten, or a regular customer sharing their book recommendations while I rang through their morning coffee and muffin, there was a feeling of true community in the store that made work very rewarding. I made some lifelong friends during my time there, and still enjoy visiting them on the other side of the till whenever I’m in the neighbourhood!
 
What’s your favourite produce?
Nothing quite beats the honeycrisp apple. Or the smell of fresh turmeric when sliced.
 
What amazing things are you off doing now?
I left The Sweet Potato to pursue a puppetry gig in the UK, and since then have been between London and Toronto performing marionettes on screen. My current day job is with a fantastic independent Canadian publishing house, where I can freely geek out about my love of Canlit and CBC Radio, and tell the world about our amazing books!

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!