Monthly archives "October 2009"

Green shoots

I’m lucky enough to exist almost entirely on Ethical Co-op food, and I’m very grateful to have access to all this fantastic food without having to run around all over the city, or make compromises by settling on the sad selection available at most shops. Normally, when produce I like is out of stock, I mumble and grumble, send a few reminders, but eventually make do without. There are a few exceptions though.

The most important of these is cashew nuts. I’ve nothing against pistachio, pecan and pumpkin seeds, but I feel something is missing when I don’t have cashews.

My favourite nut, it’s not a true botanical nut, rather a seed. They’re quite different nutritionally to other nuts, and have a much lower level of fat than others. Since it’s the fats that go rancid, cashews can be stored for longer than most other nuts.

The cashew shells are toxic, and not because of pesticides! The cashew shell contains the same element as poison ivy, and, since the double shell is difficult to remove, workers can quite often get painful skin rashes if they’re not taking care.

Because of its relatively creamy texture, cashews are ideal when blended into a vegan “cheez” sauce, and are a great source of copper and magnesium. Cashews are a tropical plant, originally from Brazil, although India grows the most worldwide now. In South Africa, cashews are mostly grown close the Mozambican border. The organic cashews offered by the co-op come from the Philippines.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying I’m very happy we have organic cashew nuts back in stock. At the rate I’m going through them, I don’t know how long they’ll last.

Docke Farm
Docke Farm in Noordhoek is one of our more popular fresh suppliers. Much of his farmland floods in the winter, leaving it out of action for part of the year, but the soil rich and healthy when the waters recede. We’ll be offering more of his produce again now that his supply is coming back on stream. This week we’ve got carrots, marrows and peas from his farm.

Oranges and Lemons
If you want oranges and lemons from Kleinjongenskraal, make sure you order this week. Farmers have to take holidays too, and his produce will be unavailable for about three weeks.

How food shapes our cities
This week we’ve posted a TED presentation by Carolyn Steel on how food shapes our cities. She mentions permaculture as one of the necessary solutions. Compared to some of the mega-cities in the world, Cape Town is relatively sparsely populated, and the green shoots are breaking through everywhere. We’re lucky enough to have farms such as Docke, the numerous farms in Philippi, right in the city limits, township plots such as those supported by Abalimi, growing urban gardens thanks to the efforts of groups such as Soil for Life, and green schools thanks to organisations such as EarthChild and Seed.

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
the Ethical Co-op team

How food shapes our cities

This TED video, Carolyn Steel looks at how the need for food shapes our cities, the ancient beginnings, the related problems, and what we can do about it.

I particularly like the line about how the world needs people who can “stare at a pile of raw vegetables and actually recognise them.”

New website, a bumper offering, and news on the GM potato

New website

A mere year or so late, we’ve launched our new website. We hope it’ll make your experience that much better, but if it doesn’t, please let us know. And if it does, we’d still love to know!

Back in stock

Displaying good synchronity, our stock levels are nice and high this week. While we realise there are still gaps, we have lots of new products in stock, as well as the return of some long-lost favourites. Cashew nuts, oats and brown long grain are all back again, while some of the new items include pasta and pasta sauces from Bio-Italia, a new range of the ever-popular Tulsi teas, and, closer to home, a new range of organic soap from Township Trades, an NGO helping train young people from the townships.

We’re also excited to be offering sustainably harvested wild rooibos. Even something like rooibos can turn into farmland monoculture farm that devastates the original environment remaining. Heiveld Co-op hand harvests the plants every two years, helping to preserve the endangered flora of the Sandveld region, and is a great example of ethical and sustainable production. You can read about it in more detail on the site.

South Africa rejects GM Potatoes

To round off the great news, the SA government has rejected the recent application to grow genetically-modified potatoes here. It was one of’s first campaigns, and, testament to how things are changing, objections came from retail organisations who have in the past been quite supportive of GM crops, including McDonalds, Pick n Pay and Fruit and Veg City. Thanks to all who contributed

The Agricultural Research Council, who lodged the application, are of course appealing.

If you’ve been able to resist exploring our new site until now, you can head on over to to order.

Have a fantastic week,
the Ethical Co-op team

GM vaccines and organic standards

Genetically-modified vaccines

Everywhere organic standards have been implemented, they’ve come under attack by those who feel their financial interests are threatened. There are many organic standards, and they all vary widely in quality, and may be strict in one area and lax in another.

The US government standards, for example, are seen as strict when it comes to body products, but more lax when it comes to food products.

Most organic standards permit limited use of vaccines in livestock. However, many vaccines these days contain genetically-modified ingredients. While officially illegal in the US, they’re hard to regulate, and they’re frequently used on supposedly organic livestock.

It’s not surprising that, instead of closing the loophole, the US organics authority is considering a proposal to permit unregulated use of genetically-modified vaccines. Let’s hope their standards hold.

At least they have standards. South Africa has none, which means every corner store can stick an “organic” label on any product they wish, and there’s no legal criteria to which they need to adhere. We often come up against suppliers who sincerely believe their produce is ‘organic’, but when questioned further, we find they have no understanding of organic standards at all, and could mean small-scale, or that they ‘limit’ the use of pesticides, or simply don’t use various chemical nasties.

Remember that you can click on all of our products to get more information on which organic standards, if any, they adhere to. Remember as well that we consciously choose to support small farmers who can not afford to pay for organic certification, but that we believe farm according to at least the same standards.

Climate Change

Today is blog action day on Climate Change, and the internet is full of animations of the disappearing Arctic Ice, the news of the first appearance of flies at Mt Everest Base Camp, and so on.

A story on the melting Alpine glaciers caught my eye amidst all the noise. I remember the first time I got to play in the snow. I rushed outside and took a handful in my mouth, savouring the pristine taste of melting snow. However, it was on a farm in northern England, and the locals enjoyed bursting my bubble telling me how far from pristine the snow was likely to be.

The image of a glacial Alpine pool though remains for me the picture of pristine. However, even that image could be shattered, as pollutants that have been trapped in the ice for decades are being released into the waters as older and older ice is melted. That Alpine lake is now more likely to contain chemicals such as DDT, banned in Europe for decades, but still present in the ice from all those decades ago.

Perhaps one day, our grandchildren’s grandchildren can take a mouthful of alpine ice and have nothing more to worry about than a bit of wolf dung!


I was at Rocking the Daisies this weekend, and the daisies, at least those that were left standing, were rocking. It was great to see the effort they made, well beyond the usual greenwash, of greening the festival. I happened to walk past the green tent while a video on hemp was playing. It highlighted the well-known beneficial effects of hemp in many spheres, how it’s a superb food crop, superior to wood for making paper, and so on, as well as the influence of the chemical fabric companies in ensuring the industry’s demise.

The video was dated, if I recall, 1994, and it’s sad to realise that not much has changed. Hemp is still a marginal crop worldwide, illegal to grow commercially in many countries. People still confuse it with marijuana. Sadly, South Africa’s agricultural legislation is amongst the worst in the world, and a crop which could have so many benefits for small farmers is banned. We have a range of body products available from Hemporium, the South African hemp company – like all hemp products available locally however, they’re imported.

Collection Point changes

We have a couple of new collection points this week. We welcome Soil for Life, next to the Constantia Waldorf School, and Eirene Health Shop in Durbanville. Further details on the site. Remember you can change your default collection point by clicking on “Change details” once you’re logged in.

To order, head on over to

Have a fantastic week,
the Ethical Co-op team

Chamber pots and missing zeroes

Millions and Billions
I mentioned two week’s ago how 1 billion trees had been planted in India in a single 24-hour period, a world record. I was led astray by the BBC source for the news, and a reader pointed out that it should have been 1 million, not 1 billion. Pity!

So while India mourns the 999 million trees that never were, we welcome back everyone who’s managed to take a break over the school holidays.

Egg on their face
There has been quite a bit of publicity this week about World Egg Day, which falls tomorrow, Friday the 9th. Some of you may have seen the petition circulating about Pick ‘n Pay’s plan to celebrate the day by creating the world’s largest omelette, using 60 000 eggs.

Unfortunately they planned to use eggs from battery hens. The kind that spend their entire lives living in a hell realm of space smaller than an A4 piece of paper, declawed and debeaked so they don’t peck each other to death.

Right now, 23 million hens are being subjected to this. A further 23 million unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to have been born male never made it that far, and were sent to their deaths shortly after being born, no good for producing eggs.

Fortunately Pick ‘n Pay reacted to the outcry, and have decided to use free range eggs for this weekend’s event.

60 000 is merely a symbol, as long as only 3% of all eggs sold in South Africa are free range (never mind organic). According to Compassion in World Farming, who co-ordinated the petition, there is a surplus of free range eggs, but, much like organic food in general, there are those who’d like to keep it a niche product, justifying higher prices.

50% of eggs in the UK are free range, and the EU has introduced legislation that will ban battery cages by 2012. Hopefully we’ll follow the EU’s lead soon.

While free range eggs might be easily available, organic eggs aren’t. We hope to have ample supply this week though, from two suppliers, and both, while not only being organic, far surpass any minimum free range standards.

White asparagus
This week we have some unusual white asparagus. White asparagus is formed by depriving the asparagus plant of light. It’s not quite as nutritious as its green counterpart, but has a milder flavour, and is more tender.

Asparagus is a traditional component of many Ayurvedic remedies. It’s a great source of Vitamin K, Vitamin C and folic acid (particularly important for pregnant women). It contains a carbohydrate called inulin, which we can’t digest, but is loved by bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, the friendly bacteria in our digestive system.

There’s also a rather unusual side-effect of eating asparagus. One’s urine takes on a distinctive, foetid smell. When I first read about this, on Wikipedia, I thought perhaps the Wikipedia article had been vandalised, as the article seemed to be more about the smell of urine than about asparagus, but no, it’s a known phenomenon. Asparagus, when digested, breaks down into various sulphur-containing compounds, and it’s these which give the urine its smell. It’s not harmful at all, in fact these compounds are effective against certain parasites.

But, we’re all different. Just as the majority of people find coriander very pleasant, while a minority think it’s hideous and tastes like soap (apparently mainly due to a genetic variation), while most find “asparagus urine” unpleasant, some find the taste smell pleasantly sweet. The writer Marcel Proust said that asparagus “…transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.”

Now I’m sure if we had a marketing manager, they’d be shrieking at me not to end the newsletter on that note.

However, we don’t, and I’ll have to trust that the thought of Marcel Proust’s chamber pot doesn’t put you off buying lots of asparagus. Perhaps I can remind you we stock incense too!

To order, head on over to

Have a wonderful week,

the Ethical Co-op team

ORAC organics

ORAC Scale

Those of you who’ve bought the Soaring Free Superfoods raw cacao and goji berries, and read the labels (most of you I’m sure!), will have seen the ORAC scale printed on the back. The ORAC scale is a way to measure antioxidant capacity. It stands for “Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity”, and, put very simply, a high value is a good thing. Now, if you’ve seen the graphs on the cacao and goji, you’ll have seen how phenomonally high those foods are. Healthy foods such as beet greens (yes, you can eat beetroot greens) come in at 1946, guava at 1990, broccoli at 3083, blackberries at 5347. Goji berries blow them away, coming in at 25300, and raw cacao an unbelievable 95500.

But there are foods that are even higher.

Cloves top the list at 314446. Ground cinammon comes in at 267536, and ground turmeric 159277. Of course, you’re unlikely to eat quite as many cloves as you would cacoa, but these foods are have been a key component in Ayurvedic nutrition for good reason.

Remember also that there’s chocolate and there’s chocolate. Don’t think that buying a chocolate bar in the supermarket is the same thing as raw cacao! Processing the cacoa powder halves its ORAC rating, adding milk and sugar into a “dark” chocolate halves it again, and what passes for non-dark chocolate again has at best half as much. By the time you get to milk chocolate, there’s not much left!

Climate change

While the politicians fiddle around with climate change, proposing solutions such as cap and trade and carbon taxes, there are even quicker ways to get carbon out of the atmosphere. By putting it back into plants. If we converted all of our chemical farms, the monoculture deserts that pass for farmland in so much of the world today, to organic agriculture, 40% of our current carbon emissions could be sequestered. While transport and electricity generation all have important roles to play, simply farming intelligently and sustainably will have the biggest single impact.

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who completed the recent survey, or who gave interviews to the Graduate School of Business students who have been helping us. They reported back yesterday, and the information has been really helpful. Top among the concerns was quality, and we’ll be doing everything we can to improve this. Please remember to report any sub-standard produce to us as soon as possible. Not only will you get a refund, you may be pointing out problems we’re not aware of, and helping to improve the quality for everyone.

Collection Points

As always there are more collection point changes this week. Pentz Drive will be temporarily closed this week, while the Noordhoek collection point has closed. The nearest alternative is Harry Goemans in Sunnydale. A reminder that you can change your default collection point (as well as any other details) by clicking “Change Details”.

To order your antioxidants and other goodies, head on over to

Have a great week, the Ethical Co-op team