Letters to the editor, February 2006

This article was originally published in February 2006

Microwaved food

Just a super thanks for the article “Microwaved food: is it healthy?” (January). In September 2004, after doing the research, I tossed my microwave and have seen a dramatic health improvement. Unable to eat any grains, dairy products, eggs or caffeine I was skinny, unhealthy looking and weary, though I had been eating a healthy diet of PCC meats, vegetables and fruits since 1998. After the microwave toss, my color, muscles, weight and energy slowly improved and now I actually can eat small amounts of rice, millet and eggs regularly.

The change could be due to strict adherence in eating only organic fats and meats, or the turmeric I started taking about the same time. But I’m not about to start microwaving food again to see what happens. Thank you for your article, which has more weight than anything I have been saying to friends and family.
— Isobel Bascus


I truly appreciated your research and article on microwaving. I have shunned it for years but had nary a fact to support my aversion. Thank you.
— Cynthia Lair, nutrition educator and author


I read your article: “Microwaved food: is it healthy?” I appreciate the information you provided. At the same time, in today’s fast world, not everybody has the time to supervise pots cooking the old-fashioned way. Are there any alternatives to microwaving? The house I recently bought had a built-in Miele steam oven and I read some studies from Germany that steam ovens provide similar speed and convenience, but are much healthier, even kill less vitamins and nutrients than traditional cooking. Did you run into any such data while doing your research?
— Martin Pagel, Seattle

Editor: I hadn’t heard of the Miele steam oven – thanks for that. I just use a small sauté pan with a few drops of water to quick-steam my leftovers. Another alternative is the toaster oven for heating leftovers or prepared foods. Both methods are fast and cleanup is nominal.

Access to pasture

Your story on access to pasture for organic dairy cows (January) leaves the impression that cows in confinement fed “calorie-dense grain” and “a heavy grain diet” are being fed exclusively grain, like beef cattle in feed lots. Not so.

Most dairy farmers feed a mixed ration of alfalfa hay, grass silage or corn silage, with some grain and protein supplements. When a cow enters the milking parlor she gets another shot of grain, the amount based on her production. But the bulk of the confined cow’s diet is still roughage: hay or silage in the winter and “green-chop” brought from the field — at least in western Washington where most dairy farmers still own pastureland. You could check this out with one of the local WSU Extension Dairy Specialists.

There’s been a recent movement for more pasturing of dairy cows in some parts of the United States, especially the South. But unless dairy producers can control the ever-increasing costs of their production — or increase the price they receive for their product — I don’t think we’ll see many cows grazing in pastures in our part of the country.
— Robert Nein, Mercer Island, PCC member and contributor to PCC Farmland Trust, American Farmland Trust and Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland

Editor: I regret giving this impression and didn’t intend to imply “a heavy grain diet” is exclusively grain. Perhaps I ought to have phrased it “a diet heavy on grains.” Thanks for the feedback.

For the anonymous customer

This is to all my wonderful customers that I have gotten to know through the years. Thank you so much for all your kindness and generosity and the nice things that you have given me. It means so much.

And to the customer who gave me a beautiful Christmas card with a most generous PCC gift card inside who is known only as “An anonymous customer.” Thank you so very much. I feel so very blessed to have all of you in my life.
— Christina, cashier at PCC Issaquah

Organic deli?

While reading the December Sound Consumer where concerns regarding organic standards were discussed, I couldn’t help thinking (somewhat frustrated) of a glaring inconsistency in PCC’s approach to promoting the use of organic food: its own deli. I’ve tried many times to find dishes composed of 100 percent organic ingredients and have been forced to walk away from the glass shields shaking my head.

I’ve asked deli managers, “Why can’t you make at least a few dishes all organic — like one of the soups and a couple of salads?” The replies sound like something from a Safeway sales rep: “It’s too expensive.” “Our customers want to see the same dish year ‘round so we’re forced to use non-organic ingredients.”

I’ve countered that I would gladly pay extra for organic prepared food (just like I drive out of my way to avoid Exxon and Chevron in search of Citgo, or tell my neighbor that I’ll weed his lawn if he’ll throw away his Roundup bottle, etc. — the revolution has to begin with baby steps).

I believe a lot of other people would pay more as well, given the reasons they’ve come to PCC in the first place. In response to that I usually am given a sad toss of the head with a knowing look that implies, “I share your pain but there’s nothing I can do.”

Surely PCC can do something as a vanguard business that prides itself on championing organic lifestyles. Let its cutting edge, the deli, where knife meets the board, put out something that bears the standard it claims to be upholding: a dish with a little sign that says 100 percent organic.
— Michael Caufield, Seattle

Deli Merchandiser Jan Thompson replies: I hear your frustration and the need for a more complete answer. You’ll be glad to know some dishes are all organic: Carrots de la Fez, the Italian Broccoli Salad, the Green Bean Sauté and Goldie’s Greens.

Numerous others are all organic except, at times, for one or two ingredients. In the black bean and corn salad, the beans, corn and olive oil are organic, but the peppers may or may not be. In the brown rice and veggie salad, the rice and most of the veggies are organic, but the celery may not be. And the marinated beets — the beets and olive oil are organic, but the raspberry vinegar isn’t. All grains, rice, tofu, beans, flour, milk and coffee always are organic.

We’re really careful — perhaps overly careful — not to overstate the truth in our signage. Rather than make a mistake in what is or isn’t organic from one day to the next, we set a high bar and strive to use the most organic ingredients every day.

Availability varies — sometimes from store to store — and costs fluctuate, complicating signage. Olive oil recently jumped from $97 to $110 per 35-pound unit, but we still use organic olive oil. All of which is to say we’re constantly weighing seasonality, distance traveled by the product, and cost to offer choices in our delis at a price that most of our customers can afford — every day.

Escarole underrated

I’m thankful to the produce department (or at least the Kirkland store) for managing to stock organic escarole at least some of the time. It’s an essential staple at my house. It’s substantial enough to be worth putting the work into washing. It keeps nicely for several days after washing and spinning-dry. It’s flat/simple enough (unlike frisee) to wash easily. It’s good, alkalizing nutrition without being bitter. As raw salad/sandwich greens, it’s as durable as cabbage but easier to chew.

Unfortunately, folks in the produce department say it’s a challenge to sell, that there aren’t many takers. That’s hardly surprising since the display label calls it “A bitter salad green,” a mis-description guaranteed to repel people. Compared to radicchio — “A mildly bitter salad green” — though escarole is, in fact, far sweeter than radicchio as well as far more affordable.

Please, could the label descriptions be updated? For instance, “Radicchio, a mildly bitter salad” (unchanged) and “Escarole, a substantial salad green.”
— Olemara Peters

Produce Merchandiser Joe Hardiman replies: Thanks for your insights. Yes, we have modified our signage to emphasize the virtues of organic escarole: “Full-flavored salad green with dark green, white-ribbed, slightly crumpled leaves. Variety of endive often called chicory.”

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