Monthly archives "July 2010"

I see a world…

I see a world where cities are pristine, clean, green and wonderful places to live. Where much of our food is grown locally. Where fish and birds swim with our children in the rivers.

So many of us unthinkingly view cities are naturally dirty, smoggy, and see the country as the only alternative. It doesn’t have to be like that. Small garden plots can produce a remarkable amount of food, with enough to share for the wildlife. I wonder why huge rural farms don’t manage to share anything, and any visiting insect finds itself dead rather than fed.

Space in cities is a challenge, but there are wonderful designs for urban farms, skyscrapers of greenery rather than office drudgery. But there’s still much to do. The Johannesburg CBD is threatened by rising acid mine water. The kind produced when someone, somewhere, saw the poisonous runoff and blocked out any thoughts of where it would go, where it would end up. “Not part of my job”, perhaps they thought.

Except there were many “someones”, and now it’s a crisis in the Johannesburg CBD.

Tigers and Cheetahs
Even out of the city it’s been quite a week. First there really were tigers in Africa after a “pet” tiger jumped off a bakkie (near the Wimpy in Delmas, of all places to choose) and had a few hours of freedom before being recaptured. Next, there’ll be cheetahs in India. Well, there soon will be, after a plan to reintroduce cheetahs to India 63 years after the last one was shot, purportedly by the Maharajah of Surguja. The cheetahs will be transferred from South Africa, Namibia and Iran. India hardly has space for the tigers, I wonder where the cheetahs will go.

Sick of…
Someone today said they were “sick of guavas”. Guavas have been widely available for a while now, and perhaps they’ve been overdoing it. Someone else told me they appreciated the warm, sunny day today more coming as it does after the cold weather.

Change is such an important part of our lives. After the winter where variety is limited, we appreciate the first taste of the spring and summer fruits. But supermarket homogeneity robs us of that. We have the same fruit all year round, and rarely experience the thrill of food coming back into season, and that first taste.

Right now it’s clearly winter, with my fruit bowl loaded with oranges, lemons, naartjies and grapefruit. Not to mention shaddock, which I’m tasting for the very first time today. It really does taste like a sweet grapefruit.

We have quite a few new and returning products this week, too many to highlight in Featured and New. There are a number of new certified organic herbs and spices, including cayenne pepper and tarragon, as well as two new superfoods from Soaring Free Superfoods.

Remember, while you’re reading, others are ordering, and we’re probably almost out of milk and eggs already! Head on over to to see what’s left.

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team.

Shaddock ‘n roll, there’s 15 billion chocolate bars to eat

You may remember the dramatic food price spikes of 2007-2008. At the time, the main causes were attributed to increased oil prices, climate change, biofuels, and increased food consumption, especially meat, as populations grow and become wealthier.

All of these were undoubtedly, and will continue to be, a factor.

However, another important factor has now been in the spotlight recently. Speculation by financial institutions. In particular, an investment type even more removed from reality than most. Derivatives. A derivative is not based on an exchange of goods or money, but is a contract with a value linked to the expected future price of an asset. While initially contracts were aimed at offering farmers a guaranteed price for their goods, providing them with some security, things soon became murkier as speculators disconnected from growing or selling wheat got involved. The US government in the 1930’s introduced regulation to control this, but this was repealed in the early 1990’s under intense pressure from the banking industry. In 2008, at the height of the food price increases, 80% of wheat contracts were held by those with nothing to do with wheat beyond trying to profit from it. Farmers were suffering from the volatility, and the poor were hardest hit by increased food prices.

Speculation came under the spotlight again recently when a single trader, a hedge fund, bought 240,000 tonnes of cocoa, 7% of the total annual global production, sending prices surging. That’s enough cocoa for 15 billion chocolate bars. Not even I can eat that much.

While growing as much of our own crops locally is a good response, if we want to continue to eat foods like rice and chocolate that aren’t available locally, we’ll have to buy them on the world market – one that’s hopefully regulated for the benefit of all, not just speculators who trade at our expense.

We have quite a few items back in stock this week, mostly herbs and spices. And, if the array of white basmati, brown basmati, white jasmine, brown jasmine, brown health, brown long-grain, thai red, white round and wild rice isn’t enough, we have black rice back in stock as well. Although most rice shares a similar nutritional profile, black rice is very high in iron.

Wild rice is a different species, native to the US. According to an Ojibwe legend (a Native American people living near Minnesota in the US), Nanaboozhoo was out hunting. He returned, having failed to find any game. As he came back to his pot of boiling water, he saw a duck sitting on the edge. It flew off as he approached, but Nanaboozhoo saw some grass floating in the water. He made soup from his water, and it was the best he’d ever tasted. He followed the direction the duck had taken, and saw geese, ducks, mud hens and all sorts of other birds feasting on the grain which grew in the waters.

As a result, Nanaboozhoo gave up killing deer, and manoomin, the wild rice, became an important cultural symbol (and gastronomic delight) for his people.

We also have something new in the fresh line this week. Coming from Kleinjongenskraal farm in the Cederburg is a crop of shaddock – a pale green to yellow citrus fruit, with a sweet flesh and very thick rind. It is usually pale green to yellow when ripe, and apparently tastes like a sweet, mild grapefruit, though often larger in size.

I look forward to trying it out this week!

To order, go to

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team

Jack Spratt would eat no fat

Fats are vital for our health in all sorts of ways, and, while proteins and carbohydrates get most of the attention, fats are usually relegated to a byline, or mentioned in lurid headlines saying how harmful they are.

There’s a marked difference in the way men and women handle fat. On average, fats make up around 22% of a woman’s bodyweight, and only 15% of a man’s. Female hormones protect women from the cardiovascular effects of excess fat to a much greater degree than men, and women, at least until menopause, suffer one-third as many heart-attacks and strokes.

So, while women need to be eating more fat by body weight, and are better protected against excess, it’s women who are often targetted by the “low-fat” food industry.

However, while fats are vital to health, not all fats are equal. Two of the healthiest fats are hemp oil, which we’re offering new this week, and flax oil. Hemp oil has an almost perfect balance between omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, and is ideal for long-term use. Flax oil does not have this same ideal ratio, but is very high in LNA fatty acids. Most of us who eat a diet high in processed foods will have far too little of this essential fatty acid, and flax can help restore the deficit.

The problem is most of us have a diet far too high in unhealthy fats. Hydrogenised and trans-fatty acids are associated with higher rates of heart disease and cancer, and these fats are readily available. Present in most margarines, they’re commonly found in shortenings and most processed, “convenience” foods.

Most of these start with a low-quality, highly-processed oil, but healthy fats too, when heated, become harmful. Hemp, flax and olive oil shouldn’t be heated much, if at all. For cooking, coconut oil is the best choice.

To top up your fat needs, we offer hemp seed oil, flax oil, a balanced omega 3-6-9 oil, 2 varieties of olive oil and 2 varieties of coconut oil. And if that’s enough fat, and it’s time for a protein boost, there’s hemp powder too.

Paul from Vondis will be on Cape Talk and 702 this Saturday at 8am to answer all your questions about pet nutrition. So if you’ve got concerns about vegan food for dogs, or wonder just what goes into most “healthy” pet foods, this is your chance to ask him.

To order, head on over to

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team

Lovely food from lovely people

Trawling through the news today, it seems almost overwhelmingly negative. Alarm about rising toxicity in the Gulf from the oil, the poisonous chemical dispersants, the burning of the oil, and rising methane levels due to fractures in the surface of the ocean floor.

Baboons and rhinos being killed for sport, for aphrodisiacs, or to ‘keep the peace’. Members of an environmental group protesting a new golf course near George assaulted. Record low ice levels in the Arctic. Rising threats and instances of another outbreak of xenophobic violence.

But the strange thing is that when I get my news from people, not print, the picture changes. We are surrounded by people doing what they love, passionate, and making a difference to all they encounter.

If we are doing what we love, with love, we find that loving is not limited – the more we practice it, and circulate it around, the more we have to offer and the more returns to us.

Eating the best food for our body, for the people producing it, and for the planet is then not a matter of racking up a score on some imaginary green checklist – it becomes an expression of who we are.

Have a loving week full of lovely food!
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team

To order, head on over to

Server failure

Our veteran server failed this morning. Apologies to everyone trying in vain to access the site – it’s not just the misbehaving SEACOM international cable! We’ll be back and running as soon as possible.

The whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead

I have a library full of books about food and nutrition. Fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, blood alkalinity and blood type – it’s all there, in great detail. I read an interview today with Michael Pollan, author “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Food Rules”. He sums up all the advice into one beautifully succinct line.

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plant”.

There you have it. Most of what we eat now isn’t food. Our bodies go into overdrive trying, in vain, to extract some goodness out of the processed mess we stuff down our throats, designed for the tongue rather than the tummy. And it doesn’t count if it’s “derived from” a plant.

Take sugar, for example. I remember an advert from childhood saying something like “sugar is the natural one”. Well, yes, if the definition of “natural” includes bubbling sulphur dioxide through the cane juice, spinning centrifugally to remove the outer coating, then dissolving into a syrup with phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide, skimming off a layer, decolourising with activated carbon, then concentrating and repeatedly crystallising in a vacuum, producing white sugar. For brown sugar, some of the waste washings are then added back to this to colour it.

As Pollan says, “the whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead”.

So why do we eat all this junk? Pollan blames the processed food industry, which realises that the more processed a food is, the more profitable it is. We can attest to that. Fresh food gets bumped and bruised, attracts bugs because it’s actually food, gets old quickly and never looks the same from one week to another. It annoyingly only grows part of the year. It’s much easier, and more profitable, to deal with highly processed food.

It’s just not so good for us.

A view of the oil spill
This week’s video shows some of the first video footage of the scale of the devastation in the Gulf to date. So how are you helping to reduce oil consumption?

California Dreamin
California is so often the leader in environmental initiatives. The state has proposed an aggressive climate change law, setting limits on emissions of greenhouse gasses by cars, oil refineries and other industries, and mandating targets for renewable energy use and fuel-efficient cars.

The oil industry, far from lying low in the wake of the Gulf oil disaster, is sponsoring a ballot to stop the initiative. Calling it the “let’s burn more oil” initiative wouldn’t sound too good, so the backers, which include Texas oil giants Valero Energy and Tesoro, are calling it the “California Jobs Initiative”, and paint the law as an “energy tax”. Thanks to the deep pockets of the oil industry, and the importance of the bill as what’s first applied in California is often rolled out across the rest of the US and the world, lobbying on the bill is expected to reach $150 million dollars. That’s over a billion Rand. Perhaps the oil companies spending their millions are worried about more than taxes and jobs?

California doesn’t lead the way in banning toxic chemicals though. Here Europe is at the forefront, with the result that toys and other products that are deemed toxic in Europe are dumped in the US and South Africa. California is trying to catch up though, proposing a ban on chemicals such as lead in children’s toys and jewellery, hormone-mimickers in plastic baby bottles, and toxic flame-retardants in furniture.

Yes, the proposal is also meeting vehement opposition from industry groups.

New this week
We have a few returning items this week – black kidney beans, buckwheat and soya milk return after a long absence. And we’re offering a balanced vegan dog food, from Vondis. View and order at

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical Co-op team

A view of the oil spill

The catastrophe in the gulf continues unabated. This video shows some of the footage of the spreading oil, and its effects on dolphins and whales in particular.

How are you helping by reducing your oil consumption?