Letters to the editor, October 2009

This article was originally published in October 2009

Sustainable sushi

I have a question about seafood. Do PCC’s screening measures extend to the sushi that’s made on site?

I notice that some packaged sushi, such as the sushi at QFC, has ingredients such as carbon monoxide (to preserve the color, I believe). Because I don’t cook much fish, I usually eat it only as sushi. I’d like to know that the sushi available at PCC is subject to the same careful examination as the other seafood offered at your stores. Thanks!
— Heidi Stahl


At the Redmond PCC I asked the person making sushi where their seafood came from. He informed me that the sushi bar is a franchise run by Southern Tsunami/AFC Sushi out of California and all ingredients are supplied through its distribution chain. The brochure from this company and its Web site do not address whether the seafood is wild or farmed. This information needs to be provided to customers like me who have assumed the sushi bar is a local entity and maintains the same standard of sourcing as the deli take-out department. I never purchase farmed fish and it appears the sushi may be made with that.
— Barbara Koslosky, Bellevue

Editor replies: We’ve recently reviewed the seafood used in our sushi to ensure it complies with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. We’ve had to work closely with Southern Tsunami/AFC Sushi to provide a tailored sushi selection that meets the same standards as our other seafood. The company has made changes for us, sourcing wild Alaskan salmon, real (Jonah) crab, cuttlefish, handline-caught Yellowfin tuna, and capelin roe (Masago) — all “best choices” or “good alternatives” under Seafood Watch standards.

We’ve discontinued sushi made with sea eel (wild caught in China), octopus, farmed Yellowtail tuna, and shrimp not from the United States or Canada because they’re not considered sustainable. All our sushi is made with organic produce from our stores, such as carrots, cucumber, avocado and lettuce.

Grass-fed cattle

I know cows are not meant to eat corn but exactly what is “grass-fed” or “grass-finished”? What’s the difference? And what kind of grass? I’ve read that a mixture of natural grasses and other plants (the ruminants’ natural diet) produces much less methane because those foods digest properly in cows’ stomachs. Robinette’s point (“Beefing up the Palouse,” August Sound Consumer) that grazing cattle on “fallow land” in order to restore nutrients naturally to the soil makes good sense for the soil. However, the whole picture should be considered. What are they grazing on?
— Linda Lunsford, Olympia


While PCC usually does a splendid job of sifting through information, I believe there’s misinformation in the article “Harvesting Sunlight” (August). I believe the owner and his cattle are standing in a field of alfalfa, which is a legume, not a grass. The note at the end of the article states that the product is 100 percent grass-fed-and-finished. Interpret this as you like but my interpretation is that, as well as grass, these cattle eat a legume that’s grown for its higher protein content than grass. Let’s label and call this product what it is, a non-grain-fed animal.
— Scott Engler, Seattle

Editor replies: Even cattle that are range-grazed for a year or more may be “finished” on a diet of corn and grain in the last few months before market. A label that declares “grass-fed-and-finished” leaves no doubt about the “finishing” diet.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s voluntary standard for “grass-fed” meat was set in 2007. It says grass, forbs (including brassica and legumes, such as alfalfa), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state shall be the only feed for the lifetime of a ruminant animal, with the exception of milk prior to weaning. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Routine mineral and vitamin supplementation also may be included. (See the USDA AMS Federal Register Notice, October 16, 2007.) In other words, alfalfa is perfectly legitimate to include in the diet of 100 percent grass-fed-and-finished meats.


I find it particularly distressing to see PCC promote the meat industry as a solution to climate change or any other global problem. The meat industry is an industry of death, of animals that suffer cruelly and die needlessly. The health benefits of a vegetarian diet are widely accepted and grazing and other animal-based agriculture practices are highly detrimental to the environment compared to plant-based agriculture. It’s ironic that your other front-page story is about a PCC employee working toward the political freedom of Tibet, a country whose primary religion is rooted in the concept of non-harming of all living beings. Shame on PCC for promoting a cruel, death-based meat diet and agriculture.
— Doug Stumberger, PCC member, Seattle

Editor replies: We respect your opinions and wish to clarify that research shows meat-eating per se is not responsible for increasing greenhouse gases but rather the corn/soybean/chemical fertilizer/feedlot/transportation system for the industrial model. (Read www.grist.org/article/2009-08-07-debunking-meat-climate-change-myth/) We also wish you to know that our meat vendors meet humane standards advocated by the Humane Farm Animal Care program. Our merchandisers have witnessed some slaughter procedures and say they are as quick and painless and free of cruelty as possible. (Tibetans, FYI, traditionally are meat-eating people.) PCC always has advocated that a healthy diet should be plant-centered — with meat (if desired) in small portions no larger than a deck of cards.

Growing and harvesting vegetables also emits a lot of carbon because it takes so much from the soil and typically relies on mechanical weed control. WSU’s interim Director of Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Chad Kruger, says research shows that without large ruminants such as cattle in planned grazing, soil quality reaches stasis very quickly and does not achieve the level of health that it does with planned grazing.

Diet sodas linked to diabetes

Your glycemic index article (July) confirmed what I’ve known about my own hunger and energy levels — that slow carbs (whole grains, beans, nuts, greens) are a more consistent fuel, not to mention better nutrition. I’ve noticed an energy drop after eating stevia and artificial sweeteners that suggests an insulin reaction at the mere taste of sweets. Are you aware of any studies linking diabetes to over-consumption of diet sodas?
— Steven Richmond, West Seattle

Editor replies: Three separate studies reportedly have found significant links between consumption of diet soft drinks and diabetes and a closely related condition, metabolic syndrome. The most recent was published by “Diabetes Care” in January, reporting that a study of 6,800 men and women found those who drank diet soda at least once a day had a 67 percent higher risk for type 2 diabetes, and a 36 percent greater risk for metabolic syndrome.

Two earlier studies reported by the journal “Circulation” also found diet sodas increased the risk for metabolic syndrome. The theory is that diet soda may interfere with the body’s ability to assess how many calories are consumed, a view supported by additional research reported by “Behavioral Neuroscience” (Feb. 2008). Whether this holds true for natural, non-calorie sweeteners, such as stevia, remains to be seen.

Plastic packaging

I’m writing to ask for clarification of your response to a letter concerning deli packaging. You defended not using GM corn containers, which I understand. However, I don’t understand why it’s not possible to use paper containers.

Your reply was, “Paper and potato starch packaging typically has a plastic liner as a moisture barrier, which doesn’t compost.” It seems to me that even if most paper and potato starch containers have a plastic moisture barrier, PCC would endeavor to source one that does not have the barrier. I recently went to a restaurant and was given a paper container for leftovers. I peeled away the layers and could find no plastic.
— Michelle Teague, Bellevue

Merchandising Category Manager, Scott Owen, replies: If the container is paper with no lining, then it can’t hold a liquid. No container we’ve seen from more than 25 manufacturers uses a liner other than plastic or GMO-corn based plastic (PLA)/Engeo. Within a year this should change; the linings we hope to see in the future are from potato starch. We’ve urged manufacturers to hasten this type of product to market but they’re still at the drawing board.

No soy, please

I’m always surprised when I go to the PCC deli and read the little placards that describe the ingredients of a mixed dish. Often the dish will sound really good and have a vinaigrette dressing but then I read the ingredients and invariably one of them is soy.

I’m curious why soy gets a free pass at PCC. You never would include other major allergens, such as peanut, walnut, milk and wheat (gluten), but soy oil and soy protein are in nearly everything. Could we please research sauces and see if we can make delicious ones without soy? Thanks,
— Ed Waldock

PCC Deli Merchandiser, Leon Bloom, replies: We’ve switched to a version of the product where soybean oil is replaced by flax and olive oil. Whole, organic soybeans still are an ingredient but no soy oil or soy protein are listed in the ingredients. I know of no other vegan product that can substitute. Many of our dishes, such as Perfect Protein Salad, are created with vegans in mind.

There are many deli recipes that contain no soy, such as Methow Valley Salad, Rainbow Salad, pasta salads, some chicken salads, most meat dishes, and sandwiches with hummus or pesto as spreads.

Loyal produce stand

As a former Seattleite now living across the Cascades on the East side, I’m always glad to receive the monthly newsletter and ad pages from my well-loved PCC on the West side. As a way of expressing my enthusiasm for all aspects of the green world, I’m submitting this humorous little poem.

“I feel cornered,” Marian Berry said. “I cantaloupe with you!”

“What’s your raisin?” cried the jilted Clem N. Tine.

“I’m engaged to wed a lima bean,” she said, “far from Peru.”

“Lettuce dump him!” said her suitor. “Orange you mine?”

He begged, “Honey, do nut end this, if you carrot all for me. I will be so melancholy if I lose. Has he got a decent celery? I bet I have him beet. Endive assets, too. Compear us — then, you choose.”

“You aren’t giving me mushroom to think,” Miss Berry said to him.

“Still, I’m grapeful for your offer, yes, indeed. But ‘a woman must go where her mango,’ so the experts warn. It’s too late for us to-mate-o, Clem. Godseed.”

Thanks for all the good you do — educationally and foodamentally.
— Susan J. Barry, Richland, Wash.

Also in this issue

Saving farmland with conservation easements, part II

Last month we discussed the benefits of buying conservation easements. The PCC Farmland Trust buys easements in lieu of purchasing property because they are less expensive and help ensure the land will be protected from future non-agricultural development. This month we continue to explore this idea, focusing on the trust’s pioneering work using easements for organic farming.

The acid alkaline balance

Foods can be categorized as carbohydrates, proteins and fats, but they also can be classified by how we process them. Our bodies transform nearly all foods into acids or alkaline bases, and we need a balance to be healthy.