Monthly archives "January 2009"

Off your kail

It’s been a great week so far. Our truck is back from its extended repairs after last year’s accident. The CSA in partnership with the Sustainability Institute and Slow Food Cape Town has reached its target and will be running from this week. One of our directors is getting married. And I’ve discovered the wonders of cloves for an infected wisdom tooth.

This week we had a request about kale from someone who didn’t like the taste, and was wondering what to do with it.

As someone who had my first glass of kale juice recently, and, when I’d finally managed to force it down, loudly announced that “I don’t like wheatgrass”, I can sympathise.

Kale was widely eaten in the Middle Ages, and in Scotland, the word is synonymous with food. Being “off your kail” has nothing to do with consuming too much malted whiskey – it means you’re too sick to eat. Kale is a descendant of wild cabbage, and is therefore also related to broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Being closer to the original wild cabbage, kale has retained some of its wild relative’s hardiness. It flourishes in most types of soil, and prefers cooler climates. It’s said that frost will produce kale with much sweeter leaves, which would explain the absence of sweetness in our local kale!

Kale is a superb food nutritionally – a true green wonder. If superfoods such as chocolate and ginger can have entire books written about them, surely kale is equally worthy, and certainly in need of the image makeover.

Much of the nutritional excitement around kale is to do with the various phyto-nutrients, and their cancer-preventative effects. Although what kale does is well-accepted, just how it does it is a little less clear. It seems that sulforaphane, a substance formed when kale is chewed or chopped, actually triggers the liver to produce detoxifying enzymes. So not only are the antioxidants in kale going straight to work, it’s actually encouraging the body to produce more.

As to what kale does – marked decreases in breast, ovarian, colon, lung and bladder cancer have been demonstrated. The benefits to smokers are particularly pronounced. A Singapore study showed that eating cruciferous vegetables lowered risk of lung cancer by 30% in non-smokers, and 69% in smokers. If kale was a pharmaceutical drug, you can be sure “miracle wonder cure” would be plastered on every billboard, and your email spam filters would be full of offers to buy cheap kale online.

Of course it’s not just good for cancer prevention. The vitamin C in kale helps with rheumatoid arthritis, and the Vitamin A with emphysema. There’s research indicating that the reason some smokers seem to show few ill-effects from their smoking has to do with their high Vitamin A intake from plants such as kale. A single cup of kale contains almost 200% of the vitamin A daily value.

I’d been told before that raw fooders, who eat a diet high in raw food and green juice, seem to suffer minimal sunburn damage. In researching kale, I discovered that it’s well-known for its carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin. These prevent damage from excessive exposure to ultraviolet light, and are particularly beneficial against cataracts.

There’s much much more about the nutritional benefits of kale, but, as one description says, “the beautiful leaves of the kale plant provide an earthy flavour”, using a term which sadly still retains a negative sense of plain, crude and unsophisticated. So although it’s great for you, does it taste good?

Some people seem to think so. In north-western Germany, the “Grünkohlfahrt” (kale tour) is apparently a regular feature in January, visiting an inn to consume large quantities of kale, schnapps and sausage (not necessarily in that order).

Kale and mashed potatoes are the basis for the traditional Irish meal, colcannon.

Right now I’m having kale in my favourite format – juice. I’ve “got back on the horse” after my first experience with kale juice, and now find I can appreciate its earthy delights. Kale juices nicely, and if you find the taste unpleasant, you can moderate it with some lemon, or apple for sweetness.

But in case you don’t have a juicer, or aren’t a fan, you may want some alternatives. There’s a website devoted to kale, containing numerous recipes. And I’ve posted a video by chef Jennifer Cornbleet preparing a kale dish.

To order head on over to

Have a great week,
the Co-op team.

A delicious kale side dish

In this week’s video, raw food author and chef Jennifer Cornbleet shows you how to make a delicious raw dinner side dish with kale.

Community Supported Agriculture project launches, and the notorious cowcumber


We’re very happy to be part of the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project that we know of in the country, along with Slow Food Cape Town, and the Sustainability Institute. A CSA is simply a partnership between consumers and farmers, and one of the primary aims is to close the gap between farmer and consumer, and to share the rewards and risks. The consumers pay upfront, enabling the farmer to establish his or her farm. In our case, the farmer is Eric, and he will of course be growing organically. He’s aiming to produce interesting lettuces, carrots, beetroot, cucumber, beans, sweetcorn, onions, butternut, spring onions and sweet melons.

Every week, those who’ve sponsored the project upfront will receive a box of mixed vegetables, depending on what is ripe and ready for picking at the farm. Each box will contain at least seven items (which could be a bunch of carrots, a bag of lettuce, etc).

Sponsors will also have opportunities to visit the farm, as well as receive regular feedback from Eric.

You only get one chance to join the CSA – at the beginning. It costs R715 (not payable to the co-op), and you will receive 13 boxes, which works out at R55 each – very good value we think. We aim to start with the first delivery on February 5th, though this may be delayed a week or so if not enough people join.

Eric’s box will be delivered to your house or collection point along with any other produce you order from us, as per usual.

Please note that the scheme is being co-ordinated by Slow Food Cape Town, so you need to make payment to them, not to the Ethical Co-op. For more details, and to make payment, contact Kate Schrire at

You can read a more complete overview here, as well as download more information here.


Cucumbers are a much-maligned food that’s often tossed in to salads as an afterthought. Cultivated for 3000 years and originally from India, cucumbers consist mostly of water. The good news is that the water is naturally distilled, making it far better than most of the water we drink. They’re very high in the mineral silica, which, put simply, holds us together. Bones, teeth, tendons, muscle – they all need silica. Together with water, silica also helps condition the skin, improving its complexion and hydrating it.

The English cucumber is probably more well-known here – it’s longer, thinner, and usually wrapped in plastic. The Mediterranean cucumber is another variety, usually shorter and slightly fatter, while what many of us commonly call gherkins are yet another, smaller variety of cucumber.

In Europe in the 1700’s a prejudice arose against eating uncooked foods, probably due to poor hygiene as the population became increasingly urbanised. Habits such as using saliva to clean foods probably didn’t help much. Cucumbers, not being the best candidate for cooking, were named cowcumbers, “fit only for consumption for cows”. They took on an even more fearsome reputation, with the famous diarist Samuel Pepys writing “Newburne […] is dead of eating cowcumbers, of which, the other day, I heard another, I think Sir Nicholas Crisp’s son.”

Luckily we’ve moved on from the 1700’s, and cowcumbers are no longer seen as murderous. Cucumber, especially the skin, is recognised to be highly nutritious, rich in Vitamin A, B-complex, C, folic acid as well as potassium, manganese and sulphur. Cucumber is one of the most alkalising of foods in the bloodstream (most of our blood is far too acidic in a modern diet), and especially when juiced, reduces uric acid, a cause of rheumatic ailments.

Cucumbers bruise and spoil easily. They’re best stored in a breathable bag in the fridge. Some conventional cucumbers are waxed, in order to protect the cucumber from bruising and spoilage. You’ll notice the wax by the cucumber’s excessive shininess. The wax is a food-grade additive, but, if you have to eat a waxed cucumber, rather peel it!

We have a limited number of Mediterranean cucumbers available on the site, so order quickly.

Update your orders

A reminder to our new customers that you only place one order a week, and it goes through at 2pm on Monday. You can order now, and then make any changes to your order right up until Monday. In short, if you’re one of the majority who wait until Monday to place your order, the chances are you’re missing out on lots of our limited availability produce!

Place your order at

Have a great week,
the Co-op team

Oranges and maize, a healthy diet?

A recent study looked at the levels of Vitamin C in supermarket oranges. I haven’t seen this study myself, but I’ve heard about it from 2 different people in the industry, so you can treat it as informed hearsay, and, if you can provide more information, please comment on the blog.

I bet you can guess what I’m going to say. That the study showed that supermarket oranges had less vitamin C than fresh organically grown oranges? Much less vitamin C? Well, no. The study showed that the supermarket oranges contained NO vitamin C. That’s right, none at all. Oranges, the doyen of vitamin C, the fruit against which everything else with vitamin C is compared, containing none at all.

The reason, as always, is a little harder to discern. Is it because they’re sprayed? Because the soil is so poor from years of chemical farming that the building blocks for the formation of Vitamin C are not there? Because, like so many cultivated plants, they’re usually not grown from seed, but grafted onto other citrus rootstock?

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that I’d prefer to buy organic oranges, from a source I know and can visit, rather than a heavily sprayed one from a supermarket.

A visit to Abalimi

If you want to see where some of your Ethical Co-op food comes from, Abalimi, who support a number of township growers, host visitors every Tuesday morning. A number of us from the co-op went along this week, and enjoyed seeing the passion of a group of urban farmers making a living from a small, windswept plot surrounded by a sea of shacks. The soil may be sandy, but it has never been damaged by chemical farming, nor contaminated by building activity (like my garden, which seems to uncover paint strips no matter how deep I go). Visit for more information.

Too many people?

Do you think there are too many people on the planet? Well, never fear, help is at hand. Genetically-modified maize has been shown to damage fertility. In one of the very few long-term studies, (which are usually drowned out by short-term, biotech company-funded studies), an Austrian team, commissioned by the Austrian Health Ministry, found that Monsanto’s NK603 x MON810 maize line, already approved as ‘safe’ for human consumption, damages fertility.

Remember that almost all maize grown in South Africa is genetically-modified.

As 2005 study on GM soya showed similar results. As happened then, expect a counter-assault from the biotech companies, with commerce and politics trumping science, integrity and good health.

Slow Food and Community-Sponsored Agriculture

We’re entering into a partnership with Slow Food Cape Town in support of the first local Community-Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) project. A CSA is where members of a community will support a farmer, usually paying upfront, and then sharing in the risk and reward of the harvest with the farmer. We’ll have more details about the project next week.

Head on over to to order.

Have a great week,
the Co-op team

Welcome to 2009

It’s 2009, and the great news is that we’re open again for orders, so no more driving around the city trying to find the best organic produce; it can all be delivered to your door, or to your nearest collection point.

Many of us are lucky enough to have had a holiday over the past few weeks. I’ve just got back from 3 weeks in the Eastern Cape, and found myself doing the above-mentioned driving today, so I’m especially glad we’re open for orders again. Some of our suppliers and farmers are still on holiday though, so the range is rather limited this week. Everything should be back to normal by next week.

Maize Farming

Much of my holiday was spent in a remote rural community on the old Transkei coast. The people predominantly grow maize. A botanist was working with the community, one of the poorest and least educated in the country, and he proved a mine of information. Much of the maize crop is lost to pests. The answer is not further impoverishment by handing food security to a rapacious multinational claiming the latest and greatest pest-zapping genes, but smarter farming techniques.

Something as simple as growing maize with pumpkin and a legume will not only add some diversity, meaning that if the maize crop is diminished, there are alternatives to improve food security, but this simple change alone will improve the soil’s health, and ultimately increase the maize yields. Farming is all about the soil. If the soil is healthy, the crops will be much more robust and healthy, and, when we eat it, much more healthy for us too. Genetic tinkering misses the point entirely, and just leads to unhealthier food as it leads us down the wrong path.

Reading between the lines

Unethical food companies are quick to use marketing to mislead, jumping onto the latest health bandwagon to boost sales. As an example, soft drinks routinely splash the Vitamin C content on the label, attempting to mislead customers into believing that the drink is healthy, when, in fact, synthetic Vitamin C combined with sodium benzoate results in the formation of benzene, a carcinogen. I hope it goes without saying that even without benzene, soft drinks are far from healthy!

David Wolfe meets the Health Ranger

This week’s video is a longer one, so hopefully you’ve got extra bandwidth after taking a break in the holidays. The conversation ranges from nutrition, ADD, and minerals, to using plants over plastic for packaging, and much in between. Watch it here.

And to order, go to

Have a great week,
the Co-op team