Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lay Some Shuga on Me...

...as long as it's fair trade! Yes, my faithful readers, sugar too can be fair trade. In fact, the vegan cane sugar I purchase at Whole Foods is! Sporting the vegan label indicates that bone char is not used to bleach the sugar. And the fair trade (or rather the 'Whole Trade') designation alerts consumers that producers on Malawi, where the sugar is grown, receive better wages and use more sustainable practices. While this may seem like a store-brand ploy at first glance, Whole Foods actually partners with third party certifiers - TransFair USA, Rainforest Alliance, and Fair for Life - ensuring a little more confidence in their marketing. Find out about other products that the stores carry under the fair trade label.

Ok, this is not an advertisement for a grocery store, so let's dig a little deeper into cane sugar production. About 70% of global sugar production comes from sugar cane, a tropical grass. It has typically been cultivated in large plantations, in which cane is the sole crop. Decreases in biodiversity, soil health, and water quality often result from the monoculture and degradation of the landscape. I remember the endless fields of sugar cane that used to be rainforest up in the Daintree region of Queensland, Australia...I wish I had taken a photo! Fertilizer and pesticide runoff into the waterways were huge concerns for aquatic wildlife and mangrove ecosystems downstream. World Wildlife Fund put out a report a few years ago on the environmental impacts and best management recommendations for sugar production. In terms of social impacts, fair trade labels and efforts such as the Better Sugar Cane Initiative set higher labor and workplace standards and seek to cut out middlemen that reduce income for producers.

Ok, so the stage has been set. And you know me; I am constantly baking something or other. But this time around, I was leaving in 12 hours and needed to make something small...

So, for a single person dessert, I tried my hand at a very scaled down recipe of these caramel shortbread bars. The caramel was quite fantastic and tasted like a burnt marshmallow (could be due to the fact that I did burn it...). Heat 2 tbs light coconut milk, 2 tbs sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and a pinch of salt over medium-high-ish heat until it started to caramelize (and maybe burn). Add a 1/2 tsp earth balance or coconut oil. Yum.

While I fell short of the ambitious posting regime for this past week, I still plan to blog about tea and bananas in the coming week. In the meantime...Happy World Fair Trade Day!

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