Letters to the editor, November 2002

This article was originally published in November 2002

Carrot candy

I’ve been a PCC member since you opened Kirkland in 1978. However, five years ago we moved to Orcas Island when we retired, and unfortunately do not get to the mainland much at all. Counting the ferries, etc., it’s about a 5-hour trip.

However, on those rare occasions when our off-island trips coincided with a Nash’s Best season, I’ve been able to load up on these wonderful carrots. I’ve often said that I’d rather have a Nash’s Best carrot than a Snicker’s Bar!
— Grace Muse, Eastsound

In appreciation of Grace’s longstanding patronage and her contributions to the PCC Farmland Fund, and because we share her passion for Nash’s Best carrots, PCC has arranged to send 20 pounds of Nash’s Best carrots to Grace’s door. Nash’s Best are being harvested this year for the first time from the Delta Farm in Sequim, 100-acres saved forever by the PCC Farmland Fund.

On direction and purpose

PCC needs to maintain its spirit as a cooperative instead of expanding into another chain supermarket. It is self-defeating to try to market natural foods to a larger consumer market because the quality of the food will get watered down to match the palette of less aware consumers. It’s the same with any industry. I have seen small record labels, book publishers, etc. get bought out by larger distributors and the quality and spirit of the small companies were lost.

There’s nothing wrong with staying small. Sometimes, almost always, progress is a bad thing and only creates bad energy. Don’t stoop to meeting current market demands and instead satisfy your current membership with high quality natural food and spend less on marketing and advertising to the college crowd. If they were raised properly they’ll find their way to natural foods the way the rest of us did through word of mouth.
— Patty-Lynne Herlevi, Seattle

Product standards

After reading September’s cover story, “The Changing Face of Organic Foods,” I felt compelled to write this letter. On the one hand, I’m heartened that organic foods have become more mainstream and that more consumers are supporting this market.

On the other hand, I was horrified to learn that Philip Morris owns Boca Burgers. More egregious, PCC carries the Boca product. I find this unconscionable. I would hazard a guess that most of your customers prefer products that do NOT support the world’s largest tobacco company. How can PCC, in good conscience, carry this product? And why?

I understand that I have a choice. I don’t have to buy Boca foods. However,
by selling Boca brands, you are sending a very clear and disturbing message — you’ve sold out. It’s not that I’m against big business. But having murderers for bedfellows is another story.
— Carol Raitt, Seattle

Product choices

I am a health care provider living just five blocks from the co-op and have been a member of PCC for 33 years.

Over the past four years in the neighborhood I have sent you about 50 new customers, let alone all of those who shop before or after their appointments with me, as many of my clients do, particularly since I do allergy work and nutritional counseling. One significant aspect of my work is helping those who have sensitivities to sugar make transitions in their diets, especially if parasites or yeast problems are present, which have become endemic.

The co-op once held the value of health, and now you refuse to carry — for instance — frozen Rice Dream, and countless, redundant sugar-laden products literally crowd out those that many actually need to make extremely difficult dietary transitions. Those products have been replaced by others that exacerbate and cause their conditions. I have taken this up repeatedly with staff, as have friends in the neighborhood, and we get lame explanations at best, supposedly based on financial considerations.

Much of the time I am driven to Whole Foods for products I had been buying conveniently with you for years or decades. I have filled out your forms, only to receive messages that I have to special order the very things that had traditionally set the co-op apart from other stores. This would be awkward but possible if it were for myself, but I am thinking about all the people I work with, who are not stable enough in their new habits to go to such bother to try something new, when resisting temptation alone is dicey at that stage.

You have finally alienated me. If I began to send my client load to Whole Foods, you will lose business whether or not you prostitute any and all previous values, showing that this isn’t necessarily the most intelligent way to do business. My words may be harsh, but my commitment to the co-op has been strong enough that I am taking precious time to provide what I had hoped in the past was valuable feedback and now suspect is merely another waste of time at the end of a battle lost.
— Teresa D. Dietze, Seattle; Suzette J. Heiderich; Catherine Alpert; Rhobby Roberr; Ann E. Moses; Geraldine R. Haugen; S. Novetski; Kathleen Stack (four additional signatures are not legible)

Re: Quorn

I read your recent article about Quorn in the PCC paper (Sound Counsumer, September 2002). Your statements are so biased as to discredit your credibility. PCC should disseminate information — not bogus claptrap. Quorn is made from sugar fermented aerobically (not anaerobically as you incorrectly state) with the mold Fusarium venenatum. Perhaps you don’t realize that many so-called health foods are created in vats using molds and bacteria, as is Quorn.

A couple of examples:
Soy Sauce: made from soybeans fermented aerobically with the mold Aspergillus oryzae, then anaerobically with Lactobacillus bacteria.
Yogurt: milk fermented anaerobically with Lactobacillus bacteria.
Tempeh is another.

Jeez, who would eat all that moldy bacteria-laden stuff? Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of certain fungi. Fusarium is also a type of fungus. Fusarium is not a mushroom, but it is much closer to mushrooms than “the octopus is to a human.” This is CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) B.S.
— Alan Cheetham

Goldie Caughlan, PCC Nutrition Education Manager, responds:
Ouch! But, thank you for the feedback, Alan. You didn’t say if you are a personal fan of Quorn, but I believe many people reading your comments have become Quorn fans and some are probably happy that you “took a swing” at me! A well-informed, conscious consumer will ask the hard questions, all the time.

It is not necessary that we agree, Alan. I appreciated receiving your comments and read the material you sent me. Thanks again for taking the time!

Please let me make myself clear about the issues. I wrote about both Quorn and about Splenda (an artificial sweetener) in the September issue. I did so as I continue to address the increasing concerns many readers express about changes taking place within the food industry at large.

New types of products, from increasingly sophisticated food factories, are making inroads into natural foods stores and food cooperatives every year. We need to examine this. The issues are part food safety, but they go beyond that. We need to ask “What is food?” “What is nourishment?” “Where does my food come from?” “What criteria should I use when making food choices?” It’s not a simple issue, is it?

Let me state for the record that PCC does not have any solid reason to be concerned for the food safety of either the Quorn product (or the sweetener, Splenda, which I also wrote about). We would not be selling these products if we had clear evidence that they’re unsafe. Safety is the basic responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration to make such legal decisions. But as PCC’s Nutrition Education Manager, I feel it is entirely appropriate to discuss the food industry and to point out that marketing, money and politics do affect every bite of food that you or I take.

As to your comments about yogurt, soy sauce and tempeh, you’ve mentioned a few of the traditional fermented foods that have been part of the human food supply for many thousands of years. I agree with you that these and many others are time-honored foods. They rely upon the processing of untold generations of multitudes of friendly fungi and bacteria. They all add to the enjoyment, nourishment, quality and health of our food supply and have done so for many thousands of years. Thank goodness for them!

As to the use of this newcomer, the fungus known as Fusarium venenatum, some scientists have been quick to welcome it into our kitchens. But we also have others who are raising several sharply different points of view; my article addressed a few of those. Their underlying questions should apply to each one of the thousands of new products being developed in a seemingly endless stream these days: Is it well conceived? Is it necessary? Is it nutritious (in every sense?) Is it safe? Is it time-tested? Is it likely to cause hidden allergies? Is the production of it environmentally sound? Did the regulatory system fully address these issues? And more.

Internationally, there is a troubling trend in the 21st century to turn more and more of our food supply over to the realm of large multinational corporations. Astra Zeneca, the giant pharmaceutical company that owns Marlowe Foods, maker of Quorn, is just one such company. But there are many others, as we know. Some multinationals are also now the owners of large organic food companies (See September 2002 Sound Consumer, “The Changing Face of Organics”).

Some consumers say, “It just gives us more choices and we’ll choose to buy it or not.” We do have a responsibility to think about what we are buying. But my concern is that we need to have far more information than we usually have in order to decide whether to support a product with our purchasing power. If we do not think, do not “snoop,” do not probe, do not question, do not look beyond the label … then how shall we decide?

Also in this issue