Thankfully with baby food there has been substantial interest and study of the sector – everybody wants to ensure that whatever baby eats or drinks is natural and provides the best form of nutrition. Parents have to consider a lot when feeding their baby, such as when certain foods should be introduced and therefore need to have confidence that the brands they choose are the very best.
The World Health Organisation has developed an International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes in response to serious criticisms of the marketing practices of baby milk/food manufacturers over many years. A large amount of evidence exists supporting prolonged breastfeeding, therefore the Code advises that the later a child is introduced (earliest six months) to solid food, the better. Moving from breastmilk to substitutes at an early age can have a detrimental effect on the baby’s health, particularly in poorer countries.
Unsurprisingly parents are looking more and more for organic food for their babies – and in response to the demand there are now exclusively organic companies there to fulfil their orders. Organic food has its obvious benefits because babies are much more vulnerable to toxins present in pesticide residues.
Following the “banana wars” of the 90s, banana trade was liberalised allowing for a greater influx of unethically produced bananas from Central America, largely at the behest of the United States of America. Why unethical? For years the EU imported its bananas mainly from the Windward islands in the Caribbean, grown much less intensively and more sustainably than those from Central America where working conditions are very poor and operations are managed by huge multinational corporations with little regard or concern for the wellbeing of their employees.
We cannot really influence this battle anymore, however with the introduction of Fair Trade bananas, we can influence the way workers are treated which are increasingly being stocked in supermarkets around the country.
Why should we do this? I guess you would already have come to some conclusions about issues like this before deciding to visit the Woollyeyes website! Workers in these Central American banana farms are exposed to appalling health hazards where they themselves come into regular contact with the aerial spraying of pesticides.
There are varieties of bananas which are more resistant to infection, and the spread of these would be welcomed in the battle to move away from the almost archaic method of pesticide spraying. More and more bananas are being imported from farms which have not been sprayed and this is also to be welcomed. Once again, deciding to go for the ethical option may cost a few pence more initially, but that decision will be one more step on the way to a cleaner future for our foods and may aid in the end of unfair working practices around the world.
The biscuit market is incredible and with focus on ‘healthy’ biscuits and biscuits for the kids we’re finding it increasingly difficult to decide which biscuits to eat (hint – try to steer clear of all of them!). They have nothing going for them, save for flavour, and once you’ve forgotten about that then there’s really no good reason to go back to them. They are incredibly fattening and their labels can be misleading. Take for example, a claim that a packet of biscuits is healthy because it is 80% fat free. Does that mean that 20% of it is fat? Or that the remaining 20% contains fatty products? And if so, how can you, as a consumer, measure this?
Ingredients-wise, people who have to be careful are those with certain food choice issues, like vegetarians and vegans, and people with allergies. Some biscuits contain dairy products which are not marked on the labelling like butter or whey powder. Others may involve some form of animal fat or related animal by-products.
GM ingredients are a thorny issue with all food products, and the biscuit industry is no different. Just because people object to eating GM products does not mean that the food companies are going to listen – the powerful and influential Food and Drink Federation is actively lobbying for GM to become more and more involved in the production of food, basing this goal on the idea that it will somehow improve the quality of food and allow for greater quantities of food to be produced. We as consumers have to be careful about what we eat – the only way we can get companies to stop using GM or other disagreeable practices is to be vigilant – check labels constantly. I know this might sound like a rather time consuming process, but for now you have the power to decide – one day all products may be manufactured in this way and your right to decide will have disappeared.
The biggest problem we have with the perception of bottled water is that it is somehow a lot better for you than tap water. We will come back to that argument shortly.
From an environmental-impact perspective, if you consider that a bottle of Perrier is bottled at source in Vergeze, France, we might be drinking water that has travelled many hundreds of miles before it reached our lips. Furthermore, we in Britain seem to have drawn the short straw when it comes to the attitude of the bottled water industry towards us as consumers. For example, in Germany, most mineral water is sold in a refillable glass bottle which can also be returned to the manufacturer for recycling. Instead, preferring to lessen the work they do, they ask us as consumers to recycle and deal with the mess they give us in the form of whatever packaging they’ve chosen to give us their water in.
Back to the question of purity in the water, we have to try to understand what it means by ‘pure’ water, ‘natural’ water and ‘spring’ water before cross-referencing these with tap water. For example, if you have high blood pressure and require a low sodium diet, you have to be careful about the type of bottled water you purchase – some ‘mineral’ waters may contain more than the maximum 20mg of sodium per litre.
So what should we do? Well – and here’s a shock – drink tap water! The Drinking Water Inspectorate believes that we have been programmed by big industry to believe (through media images, sponsorship deals with sports personalities etc) that tap water is somehow not as clean or good for you as bottled water. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
To illustrate – Health Which? conducted a taste test, giving both filtered and unfiltered tap water from Thames Water a 5/5 score, a score which only 7 out of 40 bottled waters achieved. You have a plentiful source of clean, drinkable water in your own home!
The public ideal of what bread should be like has, thankfully, changed in recent times, with many more people prepared to buy wholemeal, granary or organic out of a perceived need to change from white.
Our concerns about the Chorleywood Bread Process way of manufacturing bread, the industry standard since 1961, arise because the process involves getting the bread to absorb more water than traditional methods, the use of additives and bleaches (especially in the case of white bread) which serve to ‘cleanse’ the bread of most of its nutritional value, meaning that later in the process vitamins and minerals have to artificially be added back in.
What alternatives are there open to you? The equipment to return to home baking is well within your grasp – this will not only ensure that your bread is free from additives but will remove the need for plastic packaging that comes with buying outside. Be careful about wholemeal bread though – what most people don’t realise is that because the wheatgrain is retained it means that the pesticides, fertilizers and post-harvest storage treatments used before the bread reaches the bakers remain in the wholemeal loaf! So this makes it even more important that now you’ve shown the willing to switch to wholemeal you should go the whole hog and choose organic.
Remember – good bread only requires flour, yeast, water and salt.
There has been a misconception perpetuated by the food companies that somehow your morning is incomplete without cereals. Furthermore, that cereals provide the only nutritious breakfast you can have. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In 1998 the National Food Alliance found that some breakfast cereals contained 10% more salt than sea water! Meanwhile Kellogg’s claim that they were ‘serving the nation’s health’ was found to be spurious when it was revealed that Corn Flakes contained one of the highest levels of salt in any cereal available. Let us understand something first – these cereals are manufactured products – you will not find a farm anywhere growing cocoa pops on trees, or tending their muesli in the fields of Yorkshire.
These foods lose much of their nutritional benefit as they are being manufactured so have to be added back into the product later on – so all those vitamins are not naturally occurring in the cereal you are eating, they have had to throw them all in and then claim that the cereal is the healthiest way to start the day!
If that doesn’t make your blood boil, consider this – the marketing campaigns of most of these cereal companies focus a great deal of their time and effort trying to attract your children to want to eat their product. And how do they maintain that product loyalty? Sugar! Salt! Addictive substances to the average man, but all the more potent for children who are less resistant to the effects of both. Sugar Puffs, Cocoa Pops, Frosties to name but a few all contains high levels of sugar and artificial sweeteners to addict your child to that product – indeed some of these products, it has been claimed, mean that a bowl of cereal could provide your child with twice the amount of sugar as a jam doughnut.
Back to the farming of these cereals and it is not uncommon for pesticide residues to be found in many corn-based cereals even after processing. GM content has, thankfully, been moved away from with Kelloggs, Weetabix and Quaker all claiming to not involve GM in any of their cereal products.
Butter & Margarine
The butter and margarine issue is one that flared up in the 1980s with the discovery of the problems associated with high-cholesterol-causing saturated fats. The issue again came to the surface when it was found that margarine, the product that most butter converts had shifted their allegiances to, contained something else called ‘trans-fats’ which could raise the level of bad cholesterol to the same level as butter, without the added benefit of the good cholesterol found in butter.
So look out for these – make sure that whatever butter or margarine you buy has low levels of saturated fats and does not contain any trans-fats.
Oliver oil butter products are becoming more and more popular. Ethically, we cannot complain, unless you’re worried that they’re being manufactured by some hideous family of thugs operating out of Sicily. Health-wise, you can’t go wrong. Olive oil itself is proven to be of benefit as a cardioprotective – it has been linked with a reduction in heart disease. However it should be stressed that it should be consumed as a replacement for other saturated fats – if you continue to consume these then the benefit may be negligible.
One of the major benefits in favour of butter, certainly from an environmental point of view, is the fact that it usually comes wrapped in a single piece of paper, whereas margarine and other similar spreads tend to be packaged in plastic tubs. This of course is quite alright if you actively engage in recycling, but consider the amount of people who do not!
It’s coming to something in the history of mankind where there exist situations in parts of the world whereby politics and social change can be reliant upon the whims of chocolate manufacturers. Thankfully these chocolate firms have been working together to develop something called a ‘Global Industry Protocol’ which is a method of certifying that cocoa has been grown ‘under appropriate labour conditions’ which one would assume excludes conditions akin to slavery.
According to a survey by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria (published July 2002), it was found that the majority of children working on cocoa farms were less than 14 years of age and that approximately 1/3 of children of school age had never been to school. The Ivory Coast produces nearly ½ of the world’s cocoa, and it is from here that both Mars and Nestle buys large quantities of its cocoa. According to the Earth Island Journal, it is very hard to ensure that the Ivory Coast is free of slavery.
Perhaps on a brighter note, Cadbury’s claims to buy 90% of its cocoa from Ghana which is a signatory to a tough code of conduct against the trafficking of child workers. The 2001 documentary by Kate Blewett and Brian Woods called ‘Slavery: A Global Investigation’ brought the attention of the public to the problem and in the ensuing outcry calls for Cadbury’s and Nestle to switch to buying their cocoa from non-slave related cocoa plantations were made.
However, to date, the only chocolate guaranteed to be sourced from cocoa plantations that treat their workers fairly and do not employ slaves is fair trade chocolate – including All of Traidcraft, Day Chocolate and Green & Black’s Maya Gold chocolates. Cadbury’s is the only major mainstream manufacturer which has so far revealed that it has a supplier code that ‘measures up to the conventions of the “International Labour Organisation”, and applies to all of their business units’, but this revelation was not accompanied by published evidence.
Cider, beer and lager
Now how could your favourite tipple possibly fall foul of ethical trade concerns? Back in the day it was all the rage to drink your local ales, perhaps sample those from neighbouring towns or counties. Heaven forbid you should come across some Guiness. These days we’re spoilt for choice, with beers from all over the globe ready for us to buy in bottle, can and even tap form. This is where one part of the problem lies. By promoting the import of beers from all over the planet, ingredients are often being shipped and can travel over 24,000 miles. While a lot of these so-called foreign beers are being brewed under licence in the UK, many are still coming through via our borders.
The farming process that goes into the production of the beverages is another problem for environmental campaigners. While organic farmers will use a mustard-hops combination to deal with pests, normal hop farmers resort to pesticides, using so-called ‘scorched-earth’ methods with huge long dusty tracks between and underneath the crops.
Unfortunately, organically farmed hops are very hard to come by – New Zealand is the main source of supply! We should have no problems cultivating our own organic hops in this country, and it is potentially a source of great profit.
- Drink at a local pub, not one that is part of a chain or associated with a particular brewery.
- DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE
- When drinking outdoors, use a can. When at home, use a bottle.
- Wherever you are, make sure you correctly dispose of your empties.
The cooking oil of choice at the moment is olive oil with every man and his dog claiming some form of physical benefit discovered by the consumption of olive oil over other oil products. However, while the craze continues, there is cause for concern at the farming methods being used to cope with the huge upsurge in global demand for olive oil. Mediterranean countries are finding that with the rush to expand production local ecologies are being threatened and increased levels of soil erosion is taking place.
GM – cooking oil cannot escape this problem. Due to the nature of cooking oil, currently it does not qualify for a badge to say whether or not it contains GM products as neither protein nor DNA is thought to be present in the oil. If you want to remain free of GM products, buy only sunflower oil, olive oil or organic oils.
Good oil guide
- Opt for glass bottles rather than their plastic counterparts.
- Low risk of active GM materials being found in oil.
- Use olive oil for the lowest risk of GM contamination.
Let’s get things straight – crisps are not health foods. They are not naturally occurring; they are snack foods, or junk foods. Crisp manufacturers love to market their products, especially targeting youngsters but they tend to stay very quiet when asked about what goes in to the products that they are supplying to the kids.
From the health aspect we can already take a look at how insidious the marketing strategies of certain crisp companies embed the image of the crisp within the ideal of a successful national hero. By associating such an unhealthy product with the aspiration to be a sporting hero the crisp companies are creating a paradox, whereby the more crisps you eat, the less likely you are to ever become a successful athlete due to the amount of fat, additives and other nasty ingredients found in a bag of munchies.
Baby Organix recently undertook a survey which found that children are consuming more than twice the amount of salt recommended by the government. The UK Asthma and Allergy Research Centre says that ‘significant changes in children’s hyperactive behaviour could be produced by the removal of colourings and additives from their diet.’ Alongside fairly well-known additives, monosodium glutamate is the most controversial given its links to:
- burning sensation in the back of the neck, forearms and chest
- numbness in the back of the neck, radiating to the arms and back
- tingling, warmth and weakness in the face, temples, upper back, neck and arms
- facial pressure or tightness
- chest pain
- rapid heartbeat
- bronchospasm (difficulty breathing)
This despite its being banned from inclusion in baby foods.
If you absolutely have to buy crisps, go for certified organic crisps – they are always totally GM free. Additionally a lot of supermarkets are now selling self-branded organic crisps which are manufactured on their behalf (before being relabelled) by companies such as Stour Valley Foods, Jonathan Crisp and Tra’fo crisps, as well as Kettle.
On the packaging side of things the biggest culprit of wastage has to be Pringles – which with their hugely wasteful tins use six different materials including steel, aluminium and others – and when you consider that Pringles now make up at least 10% of the UK ‘bagged snacks’ market, they are responsible for much of the landfill waste currently plaguing our country.
Yes! The healthy option, everyone knows it’s good to get a bit of fish in the belly to improve your skin, blood-flow and the like. So what’s the problem here then?
Overfishing is the problem. Now that we have expanded human knowledge of marine ecosystems we can see that by certain of our actions we are depleting stocks of fish in some areas in a way that is unsustainable. An example of this is the situation faced by the fishermen of Newfoundland in 1992. The Canadian Grand Banks, then one of the richest natural resources was farmed beyond repair. Almost overnight the cod stocks disappeared. Why was this the case? Well, with the advancement of fishing technology, it became easier to target and catch fish, and so this meant that fishermen had to have bigger boats to catch more fish – so with all of this in mind it is little wonder that by reducing the odds of catching the fish and enlarging the capacity for fishing the fishery in that area completely died out. 40,000 people lost their jobs, but more importantly, the fish stocks in that area remain devastated.
We cannot simply blame bad fishing practices, however. The fish was being caught to meet a market which allowed fishing of endangered species and is very short-sighted in nature. If something’s ok for today, tomorrow and next week, that’s fine – problems that might surface in five, ten years’ time aren’t ours to worry about. That’s the sort of greedy attitude which causes these sorts of problems. In fact, while I shall avoid a diatribe aimed at greed, I will point out that most of the world’s problems are linked to it – the love of money really is the root of all evil – all the bad things in the world that we see stem from this greed to have more than the next person.
The argument often put forward by the fishing industry is that if we reduce quotas then they will be without jobs or their livelihoods will suffer. This is again the product of greed and short-sightedness. If current fishing levels are allowed to continue or perhaps rise, then we will soon have depleted world fishing stocks and have to return to biting our fingernails for nutrition. But the situation of the fish isn’t just about what we have to eat. The fish we catch are part of a delicate balance of the ecosystem; remove the prey of one particular type of sea predator and they will have to find another way to survive or they too will die off.
This of course is not to target all fisherman. We aim our consternation at the big fishing corporations, not the little one-boat fisherman from Iceland who is part of a small community that actually depends for its day-to-day existence upon the industry. They, unfortunately, will be squeezed further and further out of the market by the large operators with their fleets of fishing boats.
What can you do?
Once again as with all consumable products, you can only act by speaking with your money – if you demand fish from sustainable and well-managed stocks to help safeguard the world’s seafood supply you can help to reverse the trend that has seen vast quantities of previously healthy fish stocks dwindle into nothingness.
Food for cats and dogs
The petfood market is very hard to break down (much like kibble!) as the petfood selection available in supermarkets comes mainly from two major manufacturers – Mars and Nestle.
However you can think about ways in which to ‘ethically’ feed your pets. Try by focusing on buying organic food – that way you can avoid factory-farmed meats. There are some organic brands now being stocked such as Yarrah and Pascoe’s, so keep an eye out.
Why should we be concerned about the ethical nature of our petfood? Our concern is not linked to the other business activities of the parent companies, although again there are issues there. The actual procedure of research and development that goes into the production of new petfood products may shock you. They include (in the UK):
- The isolation of animals for long periods of time
- Endoscopy and tissue biopsy
- Irregular diets being fed to test subjects which may cause dietary distress
- Regular sedations
- The application of skin irritants to animals
- Plucking of hairs from the base of the tail.
This is just in the UK where restrictions are already considered fairly strict. Elsewhere, including the US, the treatment of animals in test environments may be more invasive.
Where possible, try to avoid tins – the petfood content can be as little as 40% with the rest of it made up of water, increasing the weight of the goods being transported. Try to stick with paper bags which are lower-impact packaging. If you can, buy in bulk!
Yes – we’re having a crack at ice cream now. Why be surprised? Nothing is sacred.
You will be very lucky to find a pure ice cream on the market – the best you can hope for is an organic option which minimises the use of artificial ingredients. A pure ice cream will include only natural products churned and frozen. Ice creams you find on the market are riddled with artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavourings, acidity regulators and emulsifiers. Not good news.
Ideally you should avoid the following e-numbers: annatto (E160b), sunset yellow (E110) and carmoisine (E122) because they have been linked to a variety of ailments including asthma, rashes and hyperactivity; there is also a possibility of carcinogens being present.
So again, looking after your own personal interests should begin with the ingredients label, and not the price tag. Organic or nothing.
Jams and Spreads
Home-made jams, marmalade, lemon curd and other spreads usually have made much better ingredients than those on the supermarket shelves however these take time and skill to make. Therefore if you’re going to be buying from the supermarket, it’s best to get the most information you can about what goes into their concoctions.
In order for a jam to be considered a jam, it only requires 35% fruit content. Marmalade can contain even less – just 20% of it has to be made of fruit. The horror doesn’t stop there – commercial jams can include fruit from concentrate or frozen fruit, both of which will mean that the nutritional value of the fruit included in the jam will be so severely reduced as to be almost negligible.
Packaging-wise, you should try to stick to just buying those jams, marmalades and other spreads that are sold in glass jars. Resist the change to squeezy plastic bottles!
What are the ethical issues where hot drinks are concerned? I mean, it’s a fairly harmless enterprise, isn’t it? Nothing quite like a good cup of warm cocoa before hitting the sack. Or is there?
Consider the hapless cocoa farmer. On average, he will earn just £50 per year from cocoa. £50 a year! Cocoa farming is once again another industry subject to the whims of big industry. Cocoa has been developed in many varieties that can grow in the sun but these die off so quickly that their trees have to be treated with high doses of pesticides. Another factor to consider is the working conditions of the cocoa farmer. Chocolate and cocoa supplied from certain countries has been brought into question, particularly those originating from the Ivory Coast as the companies responsible cannot confirm whether the cocoa or chocolate was produced under conditions of slavery. Not really something you’d want to associate your bedtime drink with, is it?
One way of being able to truly go to bed with no ethical conundrums bouncing around your cranium would be to buy from Cocodirect, a fair-trade company that ethically sources its cocoa from farmers who receive a fair price for their goods and guarantees no child or forced labour.
Who to watch out for
You may be surprised to learn this, but Horlicks, Galaxy and Maltesers are to be avoided on ethical grounds. Not because of the drink itself, but the behaviour of their parent companies. Horlicks, whilst being a traditional and old-fashioned drink, is owned by Glaxo-Smithcline, the pharmaceutical giant which is being boycotted by all right-thinking people for its attempts to block cheaper versions of its anti-AIDS drug in third world countries, its involvement in animal testing and for its political ties to the Republican party in the US. Glaxo-Smithcline was also ruled to have misled consumers over its claim of a sugar-free Ribena which actually contained sugar!
Mars, which produces both Galaxy and Maltesers, is being called into question over its involvement in animal testing for its petfood division.
Cadbury’s has also been rebuked over its questionable marketing strategies which have included a campaign purported to encourage children to participate in sporting activities. The idea was for them to buy chocolate bars in order to get ‘free’ sporting equipment for their schools. The only trouble with that was that in order to receive a ‘free’ basketball, 170 chocolate bar wrappers (representing 3kg of fat and 38,000 calories) would have had to have been produced, not the most economical or healthy way to build up a sports department for your impoverished local comprehensive.
If you’re a pasta aficionado you’ve probably got your favourites. While they are generally very healthy products, we can always try to go that step further and opt for organic pasta or ‘fresh’ pasta; you may even want to try making your own! Vegans need to be aware that some ‘richer’ forms of pasta contain egg.
Going for an organic pasta
There are now increasing amounts of own-brand organic pasta products on sale in UK supermarkets which is great news considering that supermarket own-brand pasta accounts for more than three quarters of all UK pasta sales. This is undoubtedly a good sign and a positive step towards sustainable agriculture.
Thankfully because there are no GM varieties of pasta cleared for sale in the EU, all dry pasta in its standard form should be GM-free. The only possibility would be red-coloured tomato pasta which may contain GM tomato paste.
If you have a wheat or gluten intolerance, try a rice pasta created by a company called Orgran which is created in a clean environment, away from all other food influences.
There are three separate issues to do with the existence of soft drinks – health, business ethics and packaging. We will deal with these issues in order.
Firstly on the health side of things, if you value your health then stay well away from fizzy drinks. There is nothing whatsoever to recommend them from a health point of view, save for if you’re actually trying to make yourself incredibly unhealthy. On average we consume two litres of liquid per day (or four pints) and in the UK around 20% of this is purely from soft drinks.
The soft drinks available for you to buy over the counter can contain up to 15 cubes of sugar, more than half the recommended daily maximum – in a single drink! This can then lead on to dental problems and other potential health risks associated with excessive sugar intake. The acidity of these drinks is also a cause for concern as it can lead to tooth decay. Back in 1996 research showed that 30% of 13 year olds were subject to dental erosion caused by high levels of acid in the soft drinks that they consumed on a daily basis.
Beyond sugar and acid, we come to the mental health issues associated with giving children highly caffeinated drinks that their brains are not able to cope with. Caffeine is an addictive substance that has been known to cause hyperactivity, disrupted sleep patterns and withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and a general malaise. Kidney stones have also been linked with the consumption of cola, while artificial sweeteners (found in ‘diet’ drinks) have been linked with a number of health problems.
On the business ethics side of things, we must be careful about the parent companies of the brands of soft drinks that we buy (if we must buy them!) for many of these brands cooperate with one another in different ways by providing licensing agreements for their products in different parts of the world. Nestle is linked with a number of products which do not necessarily carry the Nestle logo simply because Nestle might hold the brand name despite no longer producing a particular product.
Packaging-wise we should all be concerned at the disgusting amount of waste produced by the soft-drinks industry – looking at the volume of packaging that is wasted on a yearly basis, we’re talking about six billion aluminium cans (that’s one per person on the planet), 225 million plastic containers and six billion glass containers. Only a third of steel and aluminium cans are recycled, with a paltry 5% of plastic containers being recycled in this country.
Good tips for soft drinks
- Don’t buy them!
- If you have to buy them, one per day is more than enough.
- Buy those packaged in glass bottles – glass can be recycled indefinitely.
- If you buy cans make sure you crush and then recycle them.
Yes even soup is not safe from our ethical analysis. For the healthy mind, one ought to really avoid things like packet or canned soups which are often found to contain high amounts of sugars, salt and artificial additives such as flavourings and thickeners, while even carton soups may contain levels of salt not generally considered to be healthy.
We would advise you take the time to make your own soup with natural ingredients and a very minimal amount of salt which will provide you with the healthiest, most filling and balanced of meals, and you won’t even have to dispose of the packing that a can, carton or packet would leave behind.
Other concerns – once again if you have to buy from outside, buy organic as this is the only way to guarantee that your food was ethically produced without the use of pesticides or environmentally-damaging artificial growth mechanisms.
What should we consider when it comes to sugar, beside the obvious health risks? Sugar is not necessarily a bad product, like anything, taken in moderation it can be part of a balanced diet. We should also think about how the sugar is sourced, who farms it, and how it is processed before it arrives in our food or on our table.
The sugar you’ll most commonly be exposed to is white processed sugar or ‘refined’ sugar, as if the connotations linked with something that has been ‘refined’ can possibly apply to a product that gives you no benefit whatsoever beyond a vaguely pleasant taste. If we consume more than is necessary we can not only say goodbye to our teeth but also look forward to possible diabetes, dyspepsia as well as heart and liver disease. Sugar consumption can also affect brain activity, particularly that part which controls your concentration.
In man’s past, our ancestors would have made up their sugar requirements or need to satisfy their sweet tooth by eating fruit or sweet vegetables which would have had the added bonus of providing vitamins and nutrition which refined sugar does not contain.
Organic sugar can be found – if you look hard enough, you’ll find products that have undergone minimal processing from companies like Rapunzel, Sucanat and Syramena. If you have to buy sugar – go for these.
Tea and Coffee
The first products used to spearhead the ‘fair trade’ campaign were tea and coffee, since then we have seen the ‘fair trade’ market explode as consumers and supermarkets realise that such issues really matter and have been concerned enough to take positive steps. The tea and coffee industries are still dogged by those who claim ‘fair trade’ practices but who actually fall short.
So how, in tea and coffee terms, does one decide whether something is fair trade or not? The criteria for earning a Fairtrade Mark are as follows:
- Collective bargaining and representation for workers
- Good basic wages or purchase prices
- Welfare provisions
- Health and safety
- Good environmental practices
- Long-term trading relationships based on continuity and mutual advantage.
Therefore if you find a tea or coffee brand without the Fairtrade Mark, you can safely assume that at least one of the above criteria has not been met in the production of that particular beverage.
Manufacturing practices are important in the tea and coffee industries. Most tea plantations use some form of pesticide and many workers have complained that protective masks, goggles or gloves are rarely provided – this is replicated across countless coffee plantations in Brazil and Colombia.
Thankfully as the trend towards Fairtrade brands grows, consumers are beginning to find that far from proving to be a cheap alternative to old favourites the new organic Fairtrade teas and coffees are of good quality and provide superb taste. One fantastic thing you may not realise is that when sales go up above and beyond forecasts, these Fairtrade brands pay premiums back to the tea, coffee and cocoa producers who supply the product.
The ‘Water of Life’ is an interesting category as there are no major criticisms to be had of the product aside from business ethics associations with parent companies that might have unethical business practices in other areas of the corporation.
What should we be aware of when making our yoghurt purchases?
Firstly the meaning of organic in this sense has a dramatic effect on the quality of an animal’s life in the process of producing the dairy. The Soil Association claims that an organic farm will allow its calves to be suckled for up to nine months, instead of the standard practice on normal farms to take them away from their mothers a few days after birth.
Organic cows are generally given better treatment, cared for on a more individual basis than in standard herds. If you’re willing to give it a try, goat and sheep yoghurt is also likely to be more ethically farmed as there is less demand for it, and one bonus of this is that the milk involved does not adversely affect people who are lactose intolerant.
What is a ‘live’ yoghurt? It’s not yoghurt where you have to sit with your head under a cow and wait for the milk to ferment. Live yoghurt contains two different types of bacteria which are naturally found in the human gut. This means that, unlike ordinary yoghurt bacteria, the live bacteria is able to pass via the stomach into the intestines and apparently improves digestion as well as prevents colon cancer.
Vegetarians should be aware of some yoghurts which contain gelatine – often used as a thickening agent for fat-reduced yoghurts.
Be on the lookout for some soya yoghurt which make up the majority of non-dairy yoghurts. These contain the same bacterial cultures as conventional yoghurt, but also will likely be highly processed with added salt, sugar and other additives.
You could of course simply make your own yoghurt! Buy a pot of ‘live’ yoghurt, add some milk and leave it in a warm place. If you’re going to try this, we would advise that you search around for the most hygienic way to store the yoghurt.