Monthly archives "September 2008"

The story of vanilla, and the renegade lunch lady

For most of us, our first exposure to vanilla was ‘vanilla ice cream’, a product which rarely contains anything resembling real vanilla pods.

The actual vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family, and only grows in hot and moist climates, originally coming from Central America. The ancient Totonaco Indians of Mexico were the first people to cultivate vanilla. They were later conquered by the Aztecs, and the Spanish conquistadores, arrived in Mexico and observed emperor Montezuma drinking Choclatl’, a beverage made of cocoa, corn, vanilla and honey.

Cultivating vanilla is extremely labour-intensive. It takes up to three years after planting for the first flowers to appear. The vanilla plant must be hand-pollinated, as the only insect that pollinates the vanilla vine is a particular Mexican bee. All commercial vanilla is hand-pollinated, a technique discovered by a 12-year old slave in 1841, after years of attempts to commercialise the crop. The fruit must remain on the vine for nine months, after which it is harvested, and heat-treated for a month, usually by leaving it in the sun. During this time it shrinks to a fifth of its original size. It takes another month before the distinctive flavour has fully developed and it is ready for use.

Today Madagascar is by far the largest source of vanilla, and it is a major industry in that country.

Children’s nutrition
Until the birth of my son, I ate, to put it mildly, unhealthily. I have him to thank for starting to study nutrition, and changing my own lifestyle for the better. Unfortunately, many children today are eating extremely unhealthy diets, and TV adverts ram junk food into our children’s psyches, and our lifestyle gives them little choice but to eat junk.

Ann Cooper, the ‘renegade lunch lady’, author of books on nutrition and director of nutrition services for the Berkeley (California) Unified School District features on our blog this week, as she lays into children’s diets, from an American perspective. See her TED talk on our blog this week.

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
the Co-op team

The renegade lunch lady on children’s nutrition

Many of us have our children to thank for starting to learn more about healthy eating.

Author, and director of nutrition services for the Berkeley (California) Unified School District in the USA, Ann Cooper is an outspoken activist for serving fresh, sustainable food to kids.

In this talk she looks at school lunches in the USA, and the disease epidemic being imposed on children because of the food they’re given to eat.

See more from the ‘renegade lunch lady’ at

GM foods to be labelled in South Africa

GM Food in South Africa to be labelled
Yesterday was an exciting day, as the Department of Trade and Industry handed down a ruling for mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods in South Africa. Yes, you read that right – genetically modified food will be labelled as such in South Africa.

The draft Consumer Protection Bill had originally removed a clause insisting on mandatory labelling, under the vociferous objections of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health, amongst others.

After two years of lobbying by citizens groups, the clause was reinstated.

Unfortunately, our multinational-friendly people-unfriendly Department of Agriculture is still responsible for determining the thresholds and technical requirements of the new regulations, and we’ll have to remain vigilant to ensure they don’t water them down.

What separates us?
On the blog this week is a talk by Jane Goodall on our interconnectedness with animals, and with each other, and how everyone makes a difference. And talking of making a difference…

Mining in the Transkei
The South African Department of Minerals and Energy has handed the rights to destroy the pristine Transkei coastline to an Australian mining company. As is usual in underhand deals like this, jobs are promised to the locals to minimise opposition, when in actual fact the locals will be left with the legacy of the destructive effects of open caste mining for generations, and the promised jobs will go to skilled outsiders.

Locals have seen through the charade, and local leaders, such as AmaMpondo king Mpondomini Sigcau are mobilising against the deal. There’s a good chance of it being overturned, as the extent of the local opposition has caught Mineral and Energy minister Buyelwa Sonjica by surprise, and she has since claimed that “a mistake was made, of not consulting properly, not by us as a department, but by MRC. We need to correct that”.

As much support as possible is needed. If you feel this issue is important, please sign the petition immediately, as it’s being submitted on the 19th of September.

Spring strawberries and Heritage Day
With spring come the first strawberries, and we have some on offer this week. Head on over to to place your order. Please remember when placing your order that Wednesday September 24 is Heritage Day, a public holiday aimed at celebrating our diverse cultural heritage and beliefs, so take note if you normally collect or take delivery on Wednesday instead of Thursday. Note also that our Pentz Drive collection point will be closed this week. The nearest alternative collection point is Mast Mews, in Bloubergsands.

Have a great week,
the Co-op team

Ethical foods and organic certification

What’s wrong with what we eat?
It doesn’t take overly-developed powers of observation to notice that most of us eat too little good stuff, and too much bad stuff. And it’s causing an epidemic of preventable diseases, as well as proving highly destructive to the earth.

View acclaimed chef Mark Bittman giving his humourous take on what’s wrong with what we eat in this video.

Ethical food
There are lots of new products on offer this week, as we continue to source the most ethical products around. Authentic food grown with a love for the earth, using organic principles, and sourced as locally as possible. Not all of our products are certified organic, as many of our smaller farmers and suppliers cannot afford organic certification, and we strongly feel they should be supported too.

An example is Abalimi, an environmental association assisting communities in the neglected townships of Khayelitsha, Nyanga and surrounding areas to grow organically. Organic certification in this environment is impractical, but we fully support their vision, and trust their integrity.

Naturally Organic
Another uncertified supplier growing using organic principles (non-certified organic) is new this week – Naturally Organic.

One of our goals is complete transparency, where buyers can see exactly where their food is coming from, and even go and visit the farm if they wish. Skye, of Naturally Organic, grows on a one-hectare plot in Philippi, and you can read his story by clicking on any of his products for more information. He is also happy to have visitors to his farm.

We’re offering swiss chard, turnips and a salad pack from Naturally Organic this week.

Talking about the weather again
The heavy rain continued this week, and while I was enjoying the snow-capped mountains in Ceres, some of our suppliers were seeing their harvests disappear. Vredenhof Farm have taken a heavy hit, and will be unable to supply anything for at least the next three weeks, and many of you would have again noticed too many “not available’s” on your delivery note.

Hopefully spring will live up to it’s name this week.

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
The Co-op team

A little light spring drizzle

It’s been raining

It’s not fun being a farmer in weeks like the one just past. Even the most sedentary and desk-bound of us couldn’t help but notice that it was raining. And not just a little light Cape drizzle to welcome in the spring, but bucketloads of heavy rain, and hail. Almost all of our fresh suppliers were affected, and many of our products this week were in extremely short supply, or unavailable entirely, due to hail and rain damage. Apologies to everyone who’s delivery notes were covered with the dreaded ‘Not Available’.

It’s at times like these we almost wish we irradiated our food, and could just haul out that bag of apples that’s been languishing in cold storage since 2006. Fortunately, we don’t.


South Africa irradiates between 5000 and 10 000 tonnes of food a year. There are various kinds of irradiation, but gamma radiation using cobalt-60 is one of the most common. Cobalt-60 is produced as a by-product of the nuclear industry, much like the case with flouride, another toxic industry pollutant marketed as beneficial.

Irradiation destroys nutrients and vitamins in food. I’m continually amazed at the amount of blatant misinformation and spin when it comes to the food industry. A pro-irradiation report asks “Are irradiated foods nutritious?” and concludes, very simply, “Yes”, in its summary. Except that, a few lines later in the same report, it’s mentioned that carbohydrates, proteins and fats are ‘largely unaffected’, as are ‘most vitamins’. Except for Carotene (a precursor of Vitamin A), Vitamin B1, Vitamin C, and vitamin E that is, which are ‘most sensitive’. But not to worry, irradiation only has a similar effect on food to ‘thermal energy’. In other words, a highly negative effect, as you may have noticed if you’ve left your food in the sun all day. And that’s just the effect on vitamin levels, not taking into account DNA damage, or the destruction of the natural enzymes in the food, making them harder to digest, and absorb the nutrients that are left.

Irradiation is a particular concern when done to food containing pesticides, as it combines with the pesticides to form unique radiolytic products, some of which are known toxins, and none of which have been studied for any long-term effects on the body.

The main purpose of irradiation is to kill off biological activity in the food, so what’s left will no longer age naturally, and appear fresher for longer. As with genetically-modified foods, the legislation in South Africa is extremely lax. While even the US applies mandatory labelling, that’s not the case in South Africa, though at least here some supermarkets commit to not offering any irradiated fresh food.

Back in stock

A number of old favourites are back in stock again. The ‘superfoods’, maca and hemp powder, are in the ‘Flour, seeds and grains’ section, and of course raw chocolate is still in the ‘Chocs, sweets and snacks’ section. Jaggery, and the Amaizin corn chips are also back in stock after a long absence.

To order, go to

Have a great week!

The Co-op team