Letters to the editor, April 2005

This article was originally published in April 2005

Omega-3 factor

Thank you for the clearly written article on the omega-3 factor in the February Sound Consumer. In my work as a teacher and author, I see fats as one of the most misunderstood areas of nutrition. This article helps.

I agree with the dietary recommendations in the sidebar but have two comments. The refinement process of oils includes using a hexane-like solvent poured on the nut or seed or expeller pressing the source (10 to 20 tons of pressure per inch) for extraction. The oil then goes through centrifuge filtering, treatment with alkaline chemicals (150º F), more filtering, steam deodorizing (460º F), bleaching with charcoal or clay, and a final filtering.

While the fatty acid profile may look good for refined canola oil, considering its exposure to heat, light and air in the refinement process, I don’t feel it’s a very vital food to consume. I recommend organic butter for baking. If the cows ate grass and clover, the butter from their milk may have more omega-3s. At any rate, butter is less processed and more stable. It also incorporates with flour better than oil to make a more delectable baked good.

While cold-pressed, unrefined flax, canola, walnut or soy oil may be a healthy choice for salad dressings and dips, it’s important to remember these oils are expensive, fragile and have a very strong flavor that resembles its source. The taste might be rather foreign and intense to some.

Much thanks to Rebecca Schiller and the Sound Consumer for providing good information about this important topic.
— Cynthia Lair

Editor: Cynthia Lair is a member of the nutrition faculty at Bastyr University and teaches for PCC Cooks. She’s author of “Feeding the Whole Family” and “Feeding the Young Athlete: Sports Nutrition Made Easy for Players and Parents.” Her next PCC Cooks class will be “Sports Nutrition for the Young Athlete,” this coming autumn.

Choices with integrity

I just read “News bites” and felt moved to share some thoughts. I definitely appreciate the 10 percent coupon in the paper and the bonus days on the 15th and 16th. Whole Foods doesn’t do that!

When Whole Foods opened, I spent 90 percent of my grocery dollars there. Over the last several months, my shopping habits have changed back to 90 percent at PCC Kirkland. Some things I’d gotten attached to, like the deli. It’s staying more in line with the type of store it set out to be — to provide organic, healthy choices. Robin in the deli always is so kind to make Goldie’s dressing on the spot if none is available — what great customer service and obviously that dressing is exclusive to PCC! The soup bar has the best chicken noodle ever and the deli is making an effort to include more organic ingredients in their entrées. I’d love to see a greater percentage of organic ingredients — it would be worth the price. Whole Foods deli is much more expensive and their entrées do not include organic ingredients.

Regarding the bakery selection — I appreciate the gluten-free options and that PCC’s baked goods include a higher percentage of organic ingredients. Please keep this trend up on both accounts. Whole Foods bakery does not include organic ingredients, according to their label contents.

Overall, I deeply appreciate PCC’s commitment to providing healthy culinary choices with integrity.
— M. Renner

Newman’s salad mix

I love Paul Newman products and was recently thrilled to find you had begun carrying his salad mix. That was until I bought a few bags and discovered that the lettuce had gone bad before I even had a chance to eat it!

I generally do my grocery shopping on Sundays and buy a bag of lettuce to make a salad for my lunch at work. On Mondays (the very next day) I would — to my dismay — have to sift through the lettuce mix pulling out all the brown, slimy pieces of lettuce contained within. I tried buying the Newman bagged lettuce on numerous occasions, always using it well before the expiration date.

Sadly, I have stopped buying the Newman brand salad mix and will only buy your loose “bulk” mixed lettuce leaves, or go to another store for a bag of lettuce (inconvenient).

It doesn’t seem this was a problem with the brand of bagged lettuce you used to carry, and as I said, I love Paul Newman’s products … but I will no longer buy his bagged lettuce. I can’t imagine the lettuce you used to carry contained preservatives and this product doesn’t … so I don’t know why there would be a difference and a freshness issue with this new product?
— Helen Forland

I have been extremely disappointed by PCC’s switch to the Newman’s Own Organics monopoly in the bagged fresh salad department. I have been continuously disappointed by the quality of the salads. I picked up a bag on 2/25 that had a sale date of March 9 on it, giving me over a week and a half of freshness. When we opened (it) on February 28 many of the leaves in the bag had already begun to disintegrate and I had to have my husband actually hand pick through the bag to find the edible stuff to put on our plates (I am colorblind so it’s hard to see the yucky stuff).

This is not a first-time occurrence. I have found this problem consistently in all of the Newman’s Own fresh bagged salad products I have purchased at PCC and Whole Foods. At Whole Foods I even bought it in the corn plastic container, thinking maybe having more space the lettuces may stay fresher, but I again ended up throwing more than half of it out, still with a week of freshness, according to the label.

Please bring back the variety in the bagged salad department, or consider dumping Newman’s Own as an inferior product and go back to what you were carrying before. I just refuse to buy this stuff anymore; it’s a huge waste of my money. I find it ironic that I have to take a trip to QFC to buy a decent bagged organic salad mix.
— Wendy Hughes-Jelen, West Seattle

Joe Hardiman, PCC produce merchandiser: Thanks for your letters and your pointed criticism of the Newman’s Own salad mix product. We couldn’t agree with you more about the poor quality of the Newman’s bagged salad products this winter season. The serious weather in southern California and record rainfall destroyed several crops this year and severely compromised the quality of all lettuce products.

These quality and production problems impacted all growers. Earthbound Farms, the label you prefer, wasn’t shipping product at the time you wrote, except to favored accounts. We were in a tough spot with continued high demand and very poor quality. But by April, all bagged salad growers will move from the troubled desert region into central California where availability and quality will be significantly improved.

Months ago, PCC decided to feature Newman’s Own salad mix label because its strong mission and values so closely paralleled PCC’s. Newman’s Own has donated more than $150 million to charities, including charities in the Puget Sound. Earthbound Farms is actually owned in partnership with Tanimura & Antle, one of the largest conventional lettuce growers in the nation; it sells the Ready Pak salad mix products.

We’ll continue to support the Newman’s Own label only if it can deliver on the promise to provide quality. When we’re able to find the Earthbound Farms product again, we’ll attempt to carry the variety you’re looking for at the PCC you shop. Please call ahead and ask for the product and we will make every effort to have it there for you. I’ve sent your comments on to the sales team at Newman’s Own office.

Tillamook and rBGH

It was with dismay that I read an article that Tillamook County Creamery Association’s milk suppliers are fighting the company after they were requested to stop feeding recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to their cows. I did not realize how much of the milk used for Tillamook cheese contained rBGH. I feel strongly that PCC should urge Tillamook to stop using rBGH milk in their products. If Tillamook fails in its effort, PCC should at least post a sign by the Tillamook cheeses stating that the milk used contains rBGH.
— Claude Ginsburg

Editor: PCC has posted signs at the dairy and ice cream sets with information on which dairies provide assurance of not using genetically engineered rBGH. For more on this issue, see Goldie’s column.

More on paper, plastic and cloth bags

Unless you walk or take the bus to shop at PCC, it isn’t difficult to keep your cloth shopping bags handy. I just toss them in the back of my car, where they’re always available.

I go one step further. I re-use my plastic produce bags, over and over again. When I unload vegetables into the bin in the fridge, I gather the bags together by one corner and hang them in my pantry with a clothespin, so the insides will dry.

(In) 2002, Ireland instituted “an environmental levy” of 15 cents per bag on plastic shopping bags. The reason for this levy is “to reduce the huge number of plastic shopping bags used every day that cause litter in our towns, in the countryside and along our coastline. Plastic bags also impact ecosystems, habitats and wildlife.” If you want to see what wanton carelessness with plastic bags looks like, go to Mexico. There, the countryside is festooned with plastic; every fence, every shrub, every tree sports colored flags of entangled plastic. Thank you for raising this issue.
— Goldie G. Silverman

I have an idea that PCC might want to try before going to the fairly drastic measure of charging for grocery bags as suggested by several letter writers in Sound Consumer. Borrowing the idea from the “give a penny, take a penny” tray found in some convenience stores, what about a bin near either the store entrance or the check-out stands for “bring a bag, take a bag?” Folks with extra (clean) paper and plastic bags could put them in the bin and folks who forgot to bring bags from home could take them out to use for their PCC shopping that day. That way more bags are re-used, PCC will have to buy fewer new bags and no one gets penalized for forgetting to bring bags with them that day.
— Karen Janes

Editor: Thank you Karen for a sensible suggestion. Unfortunately, health department rules prohibit used bags for grocery customers.

Your article (about paper, plastic and cloth bags) does not provide some information that I would find useful. Your article provides much information for both paper and plastic bags: sources of raw materials, corporate ethics, transportation costs, suitability for recycling and problems with final disposal. However, your article has no information about these aspects of cotton bag production. Where do companies grow cotton? Do they use genetically engineered plants? Do these companies grow and harvest cotton at a pace that the land may sustain? What kind of processing does the raw cotton undergo during the production of the fabric and final product? Do the dyes and transfers degrade into safe materials? How quickly do the bags degrade in landfills?

Answers to these questions would allow a better evaluation of the merits and costs of paper, plastic and cotton shopping bags.
— Tom Wimmer, Seattle

Editor: Good questions, Tom. In general, industrial cotton production is very chemical intensive, requiring large inputs of petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers. In 2004, 76 percent of the U.S. cotton crop was genetically engineered, raising additional concerns (See Genetically engineered U.S. food crops). PCC Farmland Fund shopping bags are made from 100 percent organically grown cotton and eco-friendly inks and dyes, which eliminates most of these problems as issues. I don’t know of any studies on how quickly cotton degrades in a landfill, but canvas bags can be used for many, many years, keeping thousands of bags from going to the landfills.

Also in this issue

News bites, April 2005

Tree fruit is number one, Organic farming stats, Gluten linked to osteoporosis, and more