Letters to the editor, June 2006

This article was originally published in June 2006

Wool for home insulation

I’m searching for volunteers to help with a green building event. We’re looking for individuals who want to promote more sustainable building concepts.

The project involves insulating a house built in 1938 (belonging to a Fremont PCC employee) with lamb’s wool. Yes, lambs wool! Using wool for home insulation is a traditional practice in Australia and New Zealand and is a fantastic renewable resource.

Here are some comparisons of wool versus fiberglass, the industry standard for insulation:

  • Cost per cubic foot for wool is about 35 cents. The cost for a cubic foot of fiberglass batting is 93 cents.
  • The R-value (efficiency) for wool is 3.5 per inch; fiberglass is 2.9 to 3.8 (Home Power magazine).
  • Wool also is fire retardant to 1,000 degrees and keeps its insulation value, even when wet.

We’re buying raw wool from Umpqua Valley Lamb, PCC’s lamb rancher in Oregon. This project completes the circle of sustainability and has tremendous potential to use farm products as renewable resources. Green building explores healthier alternatives to the sometimes toxic, current building methods.

We hope to create a team of people interested in learning about and contributing to this project for one or two days in mid-July. No experience necessary — all help is welcome. Please contact me at mf5325@yahoo.com for information.
— Mike Fox, Fremont PCC Meat Coordinator

Organic sustainability?

I heard a great piece on NPR about how wasteful some so-called organic foods really are. For example, grass-fed beef shipped to a New York market is “organic” because of how the cattle were raised — neglecting the immense costs in fossil fuel and pollution. Organic? Technically, yes. Globally sustainable? I don’t think so.

This made me wonder how much of this type of purchasing goes on at PCC: Organic grapes from Chile? Organic mangos from the tropics? Apples from New Zealand? Etc. How does a member reconcile this with the stated goals of the PCC board?

“Global Ends: PCC exists to create a cooperative, sustainable environment for our members and patrons in which the natural and organic supply chains thrive.”

This isn’t about being “politically correct.” In the long term, the earth will impose its own ecological justice. We can [however] ask ourselves, “Does this make sense — to expect to have whatever we want, whenever, from the global marketplace, regardless of the true ecological cost?”

I’m no saint. It takes tremendous discipline not to buy “organic” foods from faraway places. Should PCC stop carrying coffee? That would be very touchy with members who want their cup of Joe. Does that mean PCC must cater to every whim of members for fear of losing market share? Is it possible to uphold uncompromising, ecological ethics and still remain profitable? I don’t know.

Education as opposed to enforcement may be the most important role the co-op can play at this point. I’ll close by saying I’m very pleased lately with the increased editorial focus on ecological issues in the Sound Consumer.
— Jordan Van Voast, Ellensburg

Editor: The good questions raised are of great concern to PCC management and a key topic in discussions and meetings on who we want to be as a cooperative. You’ll be glad to know management is moving actively toward a sharper emphasis on local foods and considering guidelines that might limit what we import and from how far. No firm decisions yet, but we’re with you here and appreciate how clearly you articulate the issues.

Soy matters

I enjoyed your recent article “To fu or not to fu: Quality and quantity of soy matters” (April Sound Consumer). In your article you mentioned that although tofu was not fermented, it did not affect mineral adsorption because of the way it is made. But you did not mention whether organic soy milk would come under this category, or is it a highly processed food and therefore harmful to drink? I drink a couple of cups of soy milk every morning mixed with my green tea and I also use it on my oatmeal.
— Sally Barron, Seattle

Cynthia Lair’s article on soybeans and soy products included some welcome information for me and my family, but our biggest question remains unanswered. Soy milk is by far the soy product we consume the most of in our home, but we’re not sure now if it’s any easier for the human body to digest than cow’s milk and whether it has any other adverse effects on us (including our 2 1/2 year old son). I would love to ask Ms. Lair this question.
— Alex Korahais

Cynthia Lair, nutrition educator and author, replies: It’s good to remember that soy milk straight from the soybean tastes very different from what people currently buy in aseptic packages. It has a strong, beany flavor and bitter aftertaste. Soy milk producers have to do a lot of doctoring to make a good-selling, crowd-pleasing beverage. To give the soy milk the “mouth feel” of dairy milk, many commercial brands add things such as seaweed and sweeteners to add thickness and help the flavor.

Many soy milks also are supplemented with mass-produced calcium and D2, but are these supplements in the right balance with other nutrients so they’re absorbable? I’m not sure. I know these nutrients are not present naturally in the soybean.

I don’t believe that people who choose to drink several glasses of soy milk per day are necessarily harming themselves, but I’m not sure they’re helping themselves either. Ask yourself: Why are you drinking that much soy milk? What do you believe you’re getting from it? How is it adding to your vitality?

The simple answer, “Soy is good for you,” is a marketing idea. Like any food, soy milk has a back and a front — positive qualities and negative qualities — and being conscious of both and how they apply to your current condition is imperative in making a wise decision about how much to consume.

If your child has an allergy to cow’s milk, occasional soy milk (not more than once a day) can be alright. Just be aware of what foods the soy milk calories might be replacing. Neither processed soy milk nor homogenized, pasteurized cow’s milk are particularly easy to digest. That’s why most cultures ferment or culture soybeans and dairy milk. These natural processes aid digestion.

Cougar Gold cheese and rBGH

I recently became aware that Washington State University’s Department of Animal Sciences is inoculating its dairy cattle with a growth hormone that seemingly has been outlawed in many countries and that is, alas, providing the milk for that renowned Cougar Gold cheddar cheese and other products.

The issue was of great concern to a good friend of mine, Georgia Logan Monson, who died in December before she could continue her efforts to persuade the relevant WSU department to consider seriously the impact of its current policy. I promised her I would follow up on her concerns.

Georgia told me that PCC also has shown some concern for the issue and is therefore declining to sell WSU’s cheese products in its stores. Is there something more that can be done to alert Washingtonians about the issue? I would like to help in any way.
— Lyn Reynolds

Editor: I spoke with the manager of the WSU creamery and confirmed that the cows used to make Cougar Gold cheese still are injected with the genetically engineered growth hormone (rBGH) to increase milk production. He says rBGH increases the amount of cheese to sell and therefore increases income, but he heard respectfully that rBGH is undesirable to most consumers and that if rBGH were discontinued, he could market Cougar Gold cheese as a premium product. He said there are discussions every year about using rBGH. I’ll endeavor to bring this up with the dean and research director at WSU the next time we meet.

Help for our friends at Rent’s Due

I was saddened to hear of the medical and financial dilemma facing Mike Shriver (April Sound Consumer). But the article states, “There’s no affordable way farmers can get insurance unless someone works off the farm in an outside job.” This is untrue. For those in reasonable health, carriers in Washington state offer high-deductible catastrophic medical insurance for $30 to $70 a month, a small cost compared to the horrendous medical bills incurred through injury or illness.
— Justin Harris, AAMS, Financial Advisor, Seattle

I was enjoying the article on the Rent’s Due Ranch until I came upon the description of Mike’s aortic valve disease. Please review your information on cardiac anatomy. People have only one aortic valve, but each valve typically has three “leaflets.” I assume Mike was born with only two leaflets, thus creating his problems. You definitely provided us with a picture of some of the problems with our health care system and insurance needs for all. Thank you.
— Gayle Olsson

Coconut oil

In response to your article on the use of healthier fats in cooking (“The surprising truth about saturated fats,” February Sound Consumer), I’ve used coconut oil in baking with excellent results, but am wondering what is the best way to measure it since it comes in a jar and is solid?

I read somewhere to heat the jar in hot water to liquefy the oil. Is coconut oil meant to be used in recipes as a liquid or a solid?
— Karen Kent, Redmond

Editor replies: Like butter, coconut oil can be used as a liquid or solid. If you want to use it as a solid, here’s a simple way to measure it.

In a two-cup measuring cup, add a few ice cubes and enough water to measure one cup. Then simply scoop solid coconut oil into the icy water. Because it won’t melt in cold water, it’s easy to keep adding by the spoonful till the water level reads the amount you need. The coconut oil then lifts easily to add to your recipe. This method is perfect for pie crusts because the oil stays cold.

Also in this issue

News bites, June 2006

Washington asparagus, Canadian fat tax?, Miracle cherries, and more

Your co-op, June 2006

Election outcome, Annual membership meeting, Board meetings