Letters to the editor, May 2008

This article was originally published in May 2008

Social justice for farm workers

Thank you for publishing The Hands That Feed Us in the April [2008] Sound Consumer. It’s a privilege to be associated with an organization willing to take a visible role in promoting awareness of farm worker justice issues. I hope PCC continues to place itself out front on important social issues related to its business.
— Stephen Tan, Cascadia Law Group PLLC member, PCC Board of Trustees

Support a sustainable Farm Bill

I was intrigued by the letter in the April Sound Consumer [Global warming and food choices] about the current scarcity of Washington-grown produce on PCC shelves. To recap, the writer questioned whether PCC was walking its talk in its commitment to providing locally-grown produce. The editor clarified that local growers can sell more profitably at farmers’ markets and can keep workers employed year-round staffing those direct sales to the public. A side effect is that produce is diverted away from retailers such as the co-op.

How fortunate we are to be here at last. Our local growers are beginning to have options. Sometimes they have more demand than supply. They have a shot at providing employment year-round. Twenty years ago this was a fantasy. We, as co-op members, helped. We persistently bought from our co-op, which provided growers with a market. We paid the higher prices and put one foot in front of the other to help build an industry literally from the ground up.

But PCC and other food retailers are left with the significant logistical challenge of filling their shelves for us from other sources. A question for PCC: given these new distribution trends, what do you perceive our food retail industry will look like in five years? In 10 years? And to PCC and the community at large, what can we do going forward — as loyal co-op members and ardent supporters of local sustainable farming — to support the health and vitality of both endeavors?
— Ann Childs, Mount Vernon

Editor replies: These are great questions. The answer is that we as consumers need to continue supporting direct sales at farmers’ markets … and continue shopping locally owned grocery retailers that are committed to supporting local, organic farmers. Shopping at national chains often does not support smaller, organic farmers. They typically source from industrially owned operations and put smaller farms at a competitive disadvantage.  

In five to 10 years, given shrinking oil supplies — which non-organic farming depends upon — I hope we’ll see growing strength among smaller organic farms through more equitable agricultural policies. Seattle, for instance, is proposing a Local Food Initiative, which will support farmers markets, encourage purchases of locally produced foods by schools and hospitals, and promote sustainable farming.

Such smaller circles of dependence mean more food security, but also would help revive rural communities that have been hammered by policies favoring commodities (corn, wheat, soy) over vegetables and fruits.

The industrial model fostered by current federal Farm Bill policies is forcing many small farmers out of business. The propaganda says smaller farmers can’t compete, but that’s not honest. They can compete, but only if we have policies that don’t so strongly favor industrial commodities. Organic farmers don’t get any subsidies, nor do vegetable and fruit growers. In Europe, if I understand correctly, the governments subsidize farmers, not specific crops, and that encourages more diversity.  

Such debates are what the battle over the Farm Bill is about. It didn’t pass in 2007 and it’s unclear whether it will pass this election year. But it’s the reason PCC ran a letter campaign for specific Farm Bill policies. You still can send a letter by visiting Issues & Education/Farmland.

Fair labor GROW bananas

Thank you for your article about the GROW program (GROWing a community one banana at a time”, January 2008, Sound Consumer). It gave me hope to know the bananas we purchase not only are organic and fairly traded, but they also are helping support communities in Mexico with such things as education and clean water.

My first view of banana plantations was much different; it was during a field course in Costa Rica in 1995. I remember stopping our van for large bags of pesticides to be shuttled over the road by pulley system, and seeing the plantation workers in hazmat suits. One of my classmates interviewed several workers and asked if they were aware that the pesticides used caused sterility in men (pesticides banned in the United States). One answer was very telling: “Yes, we know this is true and several of my co-workers can no longer have children. I just pray it doesn’t happen to me.”

I’m extremely grateful to have the option of shopping at PCC, knowing that I’m purchasing healthy food and supporting healthy conditions for workers as much as possible. GROW takes it a step further and gives me hope that something as simple as buying quality food can support communities in a much greater way. As Joe (PCC’s produce merchandiser) said about the young men at the plantation, “It’s amazing how hard they work.” We benefit immensely from that work and it seems that GROW is taking one more step towards an equal and fair trade.
— Mary Beddoe, Seattle

Editor: See the Your Community Web page (May 2008 Sound Consumer) for details on a small event to meet the people who provide us GROW bananas and run the GROW foundation.

Bisphenol A

I’ve been reading about the widespread use of epoxy resins containing bisphenol A (BPA) used to line nearly all metal food cans. Because of its hormone disrupting and carcinogenic effects, I’m concerned about the long term implications of purchasing canned goods with this kind of lining.

I know PCC has very high quality and safety standards for products you carry. I’m curious to know if the canned products in your stores contain BPA or if you work with your suppliers to provide products that use other kinds of linings.
— Monica Duke, PCC member


I hope that articles in the media about bisphenol A will prompt PCC to take action. In a Salon.com article, Two Words: Bad Plastic, researcher Frederick vom Saal said bisphenol A produces adverse effects in “phenomenally small amounts” and that these amounts are at levels lower than what the FDA considers safe for daily human consumption. In other words, the old way of thinking about toxicology — that smaller amounts of a toxin are less harmful — is proving to be no longer true with particular classes of chemicals.

Bisphenol A is reported to occur in food can liners, water filters, CDs, dental sealants, textiles, paper, electronics, etc. I’ve been storing leftovers in glass containers for many years and drink home-filtered water from non-plastic containers. However, I’m now concerned there may be numerous products sold at PCC, many of them organic, that have bisphenol-A in the packaging and I’d like to know which products.

Would PCC be willing to survey manufacturers that supply our stores with products that potentially contain BPA and publish the results? Providing this information not only will allow us to make informed choices but also may help nudge manufacturers to find safer alternatives to bisphenol-A, sooner than later. Thanks very much.
— Sarah Westervelt, Seattle

Editor: Yes, we’re surveying vendors. See Goldie’s update, May 2008 Sound Consumer.

Magnesium sources?

Regarding the Cal-Mag story in March, I wonder where I can get magnesium in my diet. I’ve been to the emergency room for weird heart thumping and the diagnosis was that I was low in potassium.

But lately I’ve been hearing about magnesium being necessary in diets, like potassium, for heart health. Yours is the second article I’ve read that did not include where I can obtain it in nature versus a supplement. I imagine it’s in dark leafy greens, but would like to know where else. Can you help?
— Sherri Ault, Kirkland

Editor: According to information from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which addresses food sources for magnesium, artichokes rank #1 with 1,880 mg, followed by pumpkin and squash seeds, tofu, navy beans, almonds, black-eyed peas, limas, chickpeas, spinach, chard, cashews, avocado, lentils, sweet potatoes and peanut butter.

Green leafy vegetables also are a great source of magnesium because magnesium is an essential component of chlorophyll (green pigment in plants) and it helps trap the energy of the sun during photosynthesis.

A few large clinical studies, including the DASH study (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), found that a diet high in magnesium, potassium and calcium, and low in sodium and fat can lower blood pressure significantly. Another group of researchers studied 30,000 U.S. male health professionals over several years and found a greater magnesium intake was associated significantly with a lower risk of hypertension.

Non-organic grapes in winter

I just returned from PCC Greenlake and to my great disappointment saw that the non-organic grapes imported from Chile had returned! They’re like the sea lions at the Ballard locks that keep swimming back even when they’re shipped all the way to California!
I thought that PCC had done away with the offending non-local, non-organic grapes. What happened to PCC’s local, organic mission?
— Joe Olson, Seattle

Editor replies: PCC always advocates eating organic and local but we also offer some non-organic produce when organic isn’t available. In fact, the non-organic grapes from Chile are a high-demand item among PCC shoppers during our off-season even when we offer numerous organic fruits, including tangerines, oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, papaya, mangoes and bananas.

Rhubarb is our first local organic fruit available in April. June brings local, organic strawberries and cherries.

Same product, different ingredients

yogurt. Both contained gelatin. On my next trip to PCC, I was surprised to see that your Yami containers listed pectin instead of gelatin. Then yet another friend told me she had just discovered her Silk soy milk label indicated it was made in China. I went home and checked my Silk from PCC, which said “Made in the USA.”

Is it common for brands to make variations of their products with different ingredients and sources? I think my friend’s Yami was not organic and the other friend’s Silk was organic, but I’m not positive.
— Kelly Stumbaugh, Seattle

Grocery merchandiser Stephanie Steiner replies: Yami’s organic and non-organic yogurts are not the same. At PCC, we carry only the organic line, which uses organic tapioca starch as the main thickener, not gelatin. Regarding the soy milk, different items from Silk easily could come from different co-packers and different sources. When growing seasons are finished in one area of the world, sourcing could shift to another area.

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