Monthly archives "February 2011"

Fracking up the Karoo

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, has been hitting the headlines recently. Fracking involves injecting huge amounts of water mixed with sand and toxic chemicals into shale to release the shale gas stored there. It was not viable until fairly recently, but a worldwide shalerush is now on as companies rush to exploit as much as possible before any pesky legislation gets in the way, or awareness of the damaging effects spreads. Perhaps twenty years ago there’d have been no internet to bring to our awareness the destruction fracking has caused elsewhere, or to mobilise opposition so quickly.

There’s no excuse now. Fracking requires huge amounts of water, a crime in a water-starved area such as the Karoo. And not only does is waste water, it contaminates the water supply in the area due to the toxic chemicals used.

Our friends in the US have faced the worst of it. Much like genetic modification was first permitted there with almost no testing, thanks to political connections ensuring that the legal position is that genetically modified food is just like any other variety, and therefore requires no special testing, fracking chemicals have been given exemption from being disclosed under drinking water protection laws.

So while how much flouride or chlorine is used in water is relatively carefully monitored, there are no controls for what’s used in fracking.

With no-one watching, a toxic soup has been injected into the US water supply. In one site in Pennsylvania, a drinking well that was previously fine found arsenic at 2600 times acceptable levels, benzene 44 times above and naphthalene five times above federal safety standards.

And what’s all this for? We need more natural gas so that we can continue to leave our geysers on all the time, leave lights burning all day. Natural gas is also an important part of the process for producing synthetic fertilisers, making our low-nutrient food look big and attractive in the shop aisles.

Shell, Sasol, Anglo American, Falcon Oil & Gas, Bundu Gas and Oil, Statoil and Chesapeake Energy. These are the companies whose shareholders are rubbing their hands in glee at the profits they can look forward to. All while communities far away are left with the destructive legacy.

There’s no excuse, and it needs to be stopped.

New this week
Organic nuts can be rarer than hens teeth, so we’re very happy to have both organic pine nuts and organic hazel nuts available this week to add to our existing range of cashews, brazils, pecans and almonds.

If you’re looking for any of SOIL’s essential oils or spritzers, make sure you order this week. Our supplier is going to be away for a month – we’ll be holding limited stock over that period, but this is the last week until April that the full range will be available.

We also have coconuts back – both the green and mature coconuts, as well as coconut slices and very limited quantities of dessicated coconut.

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical team

To order, head on over to

Ugly food

One of the curses of the modern food economy is the massive wastage and rejection of “ugly food”. If a pear has markings on the skin, it’s rejected. If an apple isn’t a nice round shape, into the waste bin it goes. If a carrot looks like a fork, away with it!

Yet all of these foods are perfectly edible and nutritious. More so if you consider that the “beautiful food” has probably been sprayed to kill anything that comes near it. Sharing your apple skin with a bug or two is better in my mind than covering it with multiple layers of pesticide.

This week, in the spirit of ugly food, we’re offering garlic that in the words of the farmer looks “terrible” but still packs a punch.

Garlic is traditionally associated with healthy blood, and not just in warding off vampires. Salmonella, fungal, yeast and candida infections, and e-coli are all inhibited by garlic.

So, if you can handle separated cloves and a challenge to your aesthetic sensibilities, give our “ugly garlic” a try!

We also have garlic powder and garlic-stuffed olives available if you’re looking for further alternatives to a silver dagger.

New this week
We have a host of other new products this week, including raw muesli (cacao and goji varieties), mesquite powder, poppadums and shoyu soy sauce. We also, after a long absence, have vanilla pods back in stock, from both Soaring Free Superfoods and Good Life. The Soaring Free Superfoods vanilla is a hefty 50g (my jar contained 16 pods) and the vanilla floored me with it freshness. The pods were soft, spongy and aromatic. I don’t know how long they’ll stay in this state, but I’m burning out my blender going through vanilla-enhanced smoothies right now.

Tell us what we’re missing
The Ethical Co-op meets my needs perfectly. But does it meet yours? Almost everything I use in my house comes from us, but what are those products you make that special trip to the shop for? Tell us which products we are missing, and why they would fit our ethical criteria – are they cleaner, greener, healthier and fairer than anything else out there? Suggestions below and we’ll do our best to source the pick of those for you.

Have a great week,
Ian and the Ethical team

To order, head on over to

Only a bit player

“What can I do?” A phrase used by so many of us, unthinkingly, but behind it can lie powerlessness, victimhood and a refusal to take responsibility. What can an individual in Egypt do against the secret police, besides risk torture and death? Logically, not much. But by refusing to take that stand, millions are standing together to take action, and bring change to the country.

While some of the most marginalised individuals in Egypt are taking responsibility, I got a mail in my inbox recently from a giant multinational, doing the direct opposite.

Chocolate purchased from the Ivory Coast is a large source of funds for the army there, backing a brutal regime in a country now on the brink of civil war. A recent call by Avaaz to stop purchasing chocolate from the Ivory Coast was met with a “what can I do” from Unilever, a massive multinational. The key was the line “This is because our suppliers source from many different countries and supply us based on how we want the ingredients to taste rather than where the beans come from.” They’re simply refusing to engage with their suppliers about the issue – an excuse so many others use whether it involves genetically-modified foods, harmful ingredients or dangerous practises.

We all have choices, and our actions make a difference. Our challenge is one of awareness, of mindfulness. We’re not aware of the farmworkers being poisoned when we choose to buy heavily sprayed food, nor are we aware of the flourishing life on an organic farm when we support them. But our choices, in all areas of life, make a difference.

Of chocolate
And, talking of chocolate, we have our full range of raw chocolates back in stock. Euphoria Foiled’s mint and plain, and Gayleen’s orange, ginger and mint flavours are all available again.

And none of it from the Ivory Coast!

For those preferring traditional chocolate bars, we have dark chocolate as well as orange varieties, although stocks are starting to run low and we may not have for a while.

Digestive system
For those looking to get their digestive systems back in shape (perhaps still recovering from festive season over-indulgence), nothing beats eating the right foods.

Sauerkraut is back in stock, and besides being high in Vitamin C, the high bacteria count from the fermentation process work wonders in the gut.

Some spices that are particularly good include ajwain, a superb digestive and also helpful for colic, carraway and fennel seed. Those spices aren’t just for flavour – they have powerful effects on the body as well.

Have a great week, filled with abundant health,
Ian and the Ethical team

To order, head on over to (this time the URL is correct!).

Going bananas

When I was slightly younger than my son is now, I remember going to nursery school, and having to take a fruit each week. While most of the class took apples, I was always a little bananas, and would refuse to eat anything else but the yellow fruit.

I must have been a little ahead of my time, as banana consumption has skyrocketed in recent years, and it is now the most-consumed fruit in many parts of the world. It’s a staple of smoothies, that recent, and much healthier, usurper of milkshake’s status.

A banana is also a perfect example of the risks of reducing crop diversity. There are a few thousand species of banana in the world, but commercially, we produce almost exclusively only one – the Cavendish.

But, as a consequence of putting all our eggs in one basket, or bananas in one bunch, a fungal disease is decimating banana plantations around the world. Tropical Race 4 has hit Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia hard, and is now making an appearance in South and Central America. Bananas, due to the way they are commercially cultivated cannot develop disease resistance – there are no seeds and new plants are grown from the shoots of the mother plant, and are genetically identical) – so commercial plantations are at risk.

It was a similar fungal disease that removed the then dominant Gros Michel, apparently a tastier alternative, in the 1950’s. Plantations became unable to support the variety, and the blander Cavendish variety, which did not suffer from the same disease, took over.

There’s not yet a viable commercial alternative, meaning it’s quite possible that bananas may not be available in the markets and shops in a few years.

Cue genetic modification to the rescue to create a disease-free alternative and save the starving. In fact, there’s quite a lot of support for this move, as bananas, being sterile, pose no risk of spreading genetic material into the wild, or into non GMO-bananas.

The problem though lies with our reliance on commercial monocultures. People around the world eat thousands of varieties of bananas, eaten right where they’re grown, amidst vibrant plots of multiple crops, where no disease can imperil them. In spite of the rest of the world’s love affair with the banana, 87% of bananas consumed in the world are eaten right where they’re grown, so a GMO banana will do nothing to help developing countries food security.

Genetic modification as we see it now is about control of the food supply and the financial bounty that entails, rather than doing what’s best for anyone.

However, there are cases of minds being put to good use, towards sharing the abundance rather than controlling it. The non-profit Honduras Foundation for Agricultural Research has been working on breeding disease-resistant bananas, and have already come up with one possible alternative – the Goldfinger. Interestingly, they have also succeeded with a technique for producing seeds of the tastier Gros Michel by hand-pollinating the flowers, similar to what happens with vanilla worldwide.

Producing plants in this way means that the plant can develop genetically, naturally, rather than being a sterile hybrid frozen in time.

Watermelons going fast
Disappearing even faster than Cavendish bananas are watermelons – there are only a week or two at most of watermelons left, so this is one of your last chances to enjoy. And for those of you blown away by the sizes last week – “mediums” were listed as 8kg+, though they went up to 12kg, we have small’s available this week too.

Have a wonderful week,
Ian and the Ethical team

To order, head on over to