Letters to the editor, December 2003

This article was originally published in December 2003


I look forward to hearing a complete and detailed account from the co-op management’s point of view. I have been frustrated that there seems to be a disjoint between the newspaper’s account and what the co-op has officially reported so far. Can you comment on plans for publishing an official statement in the Sound Consumer? I understand that deadline issues prohibited a response in the November issue.
— David Carey

Editor: PCC received 15 letters expressing concern about media reports on our EcoFish and sustainable seafood program. Please see Your co-op at work (December Sound Consumer) for reports from the Board of Trustees and management.

Embattled farmers

On the “Embattled Farmers: 1776 to 2003,” (November Sound Consumer) … such a good piece of work, so important. I am going to need some extra copies.
— Betty Hughes


Thank you for the informative article, “Embattled Farmers.” I have been quite concerned about the loss of farmland and family farms — and about the concentration of power in a few agribusinesses. Could you give me any additional references?
— Aileen Jeffries, Winthrop, WA

Jody Aliesan replies: I don’t know of a formal bibliography, but there’s a growing body of literature on the subject. New historical summaries of agriculture over the last 50 years are providing more detail. Andrew Kimbrell’s Fatal Harvest (Island Press, 2002) has an extensive list of references and readings starting on page 377.

Joel Dyer’s Harvest of Rage (Westview Press, 1997-8) was my guide to many primary sources; his list of references is on page 295 of that book. Eric Schlosser’s bibliography for Fast Food Nation (Harper Collins, 2002) will give you a resource list for the industrialization and concentration of meat production (page 356).

I recommend the archives of www.ea1.com/CARP/. Web sites that are also useful are: The American Farmland Trust (www.farmland.org), Environmental Defense (www.environmentaldefense.org/home.cfm), and National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture (www.sustainableagriculture.net.

For an antidote, you might take a look at the new anthology The Essential Agrarian Reader, edited by Norman Wirzba (University Press of Kentucky, 2003).


Reading your article, “The New Buzz on Bulk Coffee” (November Sound Consumer) made me wonder about decaffeinated coffee. The coffee brands in the article were described as organically-grown, certified organic and fairly traded. What about the decaf beans? Are they de-caffeinated by non-chemical means? Is there even a safe means to produce decaf? I’ve heard of water-process, which always sounded safe, but I was recently informed that there is no such thing as non-chemical decaf. Can you clarify the decaf process and state how your vendors make their decaf?
— Brenda Biernat, Ballard

Goldie Caughlan, PCC Nutrition Educator, and Consumer Member, National Organic Standards Board, USDA/NOP replies:
The USDA National Organic Standards do not permit use of any toxic chemical solvents or methods for processing USDA-certified organic foods — and that includes organic decaf coffee. The natural water processing method you mentioned (usually called Swiss Water Process) is acceptable and is probably still the most widely used, although some have criticized it as producing a less flavorful decaffeinated coffee.

Methylene chloride (CH2CL2) has been the most commonly used form of chemical extraction and was defended on the basis that the coffee tastes better. We do not sell any of this type of decaf coffee in our non-organic coffee lines, nor would we, and it is also absolutely unacceptable for use in USDA-certified organic coffees. Methylene chloride has raised sharp environmental concerns for decades, since it is one of the chlorinated hydrocarbons most implicated in destruction of the ozone layer.

Ethyl acetate is another solvent said to get good results and is used by some companies whose coffees are labeled “naturally decaffeinated.” It does occur naturally in citrus fruit rinds but is said to be prohibitively expensive for most producers, so that most ethyl acetate-processed decaf coffee is done with a chemically synthesized ethyl acetate, regardless of the label statement. Remember, only if this or any other substance is certified as being a naturally occurring agricultural ingredient, and also, if it is extracted from the rind and commercially refined — only then would it be acceptable for processing a certified organic product.

Another effective process, supercritical carbon dioxide, is said to work similarly to the direct solvent extraction, but it uses no toxic chemical solvents, since the CO2 in a high-pressure system acts as effectively as the harmful chemical solvents. CO2 is listed as an approved organic processing substance.

All organic coffee vendors buy from many different sources, and there may be various acceptable (non-chemical) decaffeinated methods employed by the various processors. But the bottom line to remember is this: your cup of organic decaf is definitely not made with harmful substances or processes.

The competition

I am a PCC member and do all my shopping at the View Ridge store. As you are probably aware, Metropolitan Market opened last week on N.E. 55th and 40th N.E. I am committed to the co-op, but I decided I would at least go in the new store and check it out.

I walked through the store with my empty basket gaping at the insanity. It made me want to cry. Never before have I seen such a blatant example of misguided corporate yuppieism. I saw lots of “organic” and “natural foods,” even lots of things also available at PCC, but it was clear that these things were only there because there is a very high-profit-margin market for them. It was very surreal to see these foods alongside Coke/Pepsi, corporate sugar coated cereal, etc.

It’s clear that those running the place are shrewd business people and not those that care about the things behind the food like community, sustainability, environment, supporting local businesses, etc.

I found that the store bothered me a lot more than even Safeway or QFC; at least with them it’s clear where their motivation lies. This glossy, corporate wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing was particularly disturbing. I worry that many consumers will be tricked by this facade and feel OK about shopping there. After reviewing the whole store, I set down my empty basket and walked out very sad. If you haven’t been in the store yet I invite you to check it out, if only to strengthen your commitment to PCC.

Now is the time for PCC to distinguish itself from this garbage. PCC isn’t going to be able to compete as a yuppie natural foods market and could die trying. PCC needs to focus on the things that MM is ignoring and attracted most members in the first place: food availability and politics, community, sustainability, environment, health, local suppliers, commitment to workers, diverse dietary needs (vegan, vegetarian, special needs diets), bulk foods and reduced packaging, education, non-profit and fun!

Please keep this in mind in your daily decisions regarding PCC.
— Matt Taggart

Randy Lee, chief financial officer replies:
Our View Ridge store is going to be somewhat impacted by the new Metropolitan Market, so it’s encouraging to get some feedback from someone with your perspective.

We’re going to be doing some remodeling in the View Ridge store to make it a more enjoyable place to shop in an effort to keep it reasonably modern and competitive. They are counting on most of their volume coming from University Village QFC and Safeway, but will be happy to take all they can from us, too, if we aren’t attentive to every aspect of our own offering. Thanks for your support and for sharing it.

Also in this issue

Your co-op, December 2003

Shop early at Fremont on December 11, Talk to the Board, Looking for Board applicants, and more