Letters to the editor, April 2010

This article was originally published in April 2010

Shopping for quality food

PCC is my favorite store in the world! This is not an exaggeration. It is simply the honest truth! I currently live in Austin, Tex., and visit Washington every few months to see my son and his family. I always look forward to shopping at PCC Redmond when I’m here.

I have lived in several different locations in the United States and abroad, have traveled extensively throughout the States, and have shopped at many “health food” or “whole food” stores. None of them can begin to compare to PCC.

Wellness and prevention are my passions and I believe in the importance of eating organic foods. PCC has the greatest variety and highest quality of organic produce that I have ever seen. The store is kept spotlessly clean and the food is beautifully presented. I very much appreciate the consistently welcoming, friendly and helpful staff members.

Even though I am now living in Austin, home of the original Whole Foods store, I want you to know that you get my vote, PCC, as being the number one natural food market around!
— Doris Steinkraus, Austin, Tex.

Green medicine

Thank you for the article, Let food be your green medicine (February 2010). Some, like me, would argue that the philosophy of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has led to large rates of cancer, diabetes and obesity.
— Timothy Muck

Gluten-free is easy

Three months ago, I found out that I am allergic to gluten of all things…

I must say that shopping for my groceries at PCC in Fremont is the best ever! Everything is so clearly labeled and easy to find with the orange tags sticking out from the shelves. You’ll have to thank your team for me. It is a very user-friendly system. I really have to HUNT for gluten-free stuff at other stores and there aren’t nearly as many choices. I am feeling much better these days with my new diet.
— Andrea Sligar, CPCE, Senior Catering Sales Manager, Catering by McCormick & Schmick’s

Agave concerns

My wife and I have been using agave syrup from PCC for some time as one of a few sweeteners that we consider to have fewer health negatives than the rest of them. In a recent issue of Dr. Mercola’s online newsletter there was an item with the catchy title “Sugar May Be Bad, But This Sweetener Is Far More Deadly.” Among his recommendations is the following:

Avoid agave syrup since “it is a highly processed sap that is almost all fructose … Agave’s meteoric rise in popularity is due to a great marketing campaign but any health benefits present in the original agave plant are processed out.”

The preceding recommendation follows a diatribe against high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) with which we have no argument. While Dr. Mercola stops short of saying that agave syrup and HFCS are the same thing, he paints them with the same brush and the implications are disturbing.

We do trust PCC to meticulously look out for our best interests and have been very impressed with those efforts. Would you please comment on the matter?
— Bill and Carolyn Crow, Kenmore


I just learned from a nutrition presentation that agave nectar is worse for you than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I did some further research and am convinced this claim is true. What concerns me is agave nectar is 70 percent fructose and HFCS is 55 percent fructose. Also, the stuff is processed in your liver! If PCC isn’t allowing HFCS, why are you allowing the sale of agave nectar? It’s marketed as a healthier sweetener, but it’s not healthy.

Please visit foodrenegade.com/agave-nectar-good-or-bad/. This convinced me that agave nectar is not healthy, and an ingredient I will avoid. I hope to see PCC take a stance and not carry this product.
— Marya Felenchak

Editor replies: Our nutrition educators and merchandisers are looking into the concerns and, in the meantime, we’re providing information through Sound Consumer articles so customers can make an informed choice. See an article on agave in this issue (Agave: considering the issues), and another last September [2010] in our archives (Bitter and sweet: agave syrup).


When I first learned of agave syrup in 2008, it seemed like an ideal alternative to sucrose-based sweeteners. It’s promoted as a boon to diabetics and as a safe substitute for table sugar. I enjoyed the flavor and appreciated that I needed to use less agave syrup than honey or brown sugar to sweeten my daily bowl of oatmeal.

It seems I wasn’t alone in my appreciation for agave. In the past two years, PCC has added two brands of agave syrup to its shelves and several PCC stores now offer agave syrup in bulk.

I read Goldie Caughlan’s September 2009 article in the Sound Consumer (Bitter and sweet: agave syrup) regarding the growing controversy surrounding agave nectar and its purported health benefits. After learning that agave syrup is derived from a chemical refining process and contains an alarming ratio of fructose to glucose, I decided that agave syrup was not for me.

But I wonder if I didn’t make that change a few weeks too late. In a chance reading of an article about the potential hazards of agave nectar, I learned that agave nectar contains toxins in the form of saponins, which may cause miscarriage. This was a devastating discovery: I had suffered a miscarriage in early August.

I understand the reasons for miscarriage are numerous and most often the loss remains a medical mystery. But had I any inkling that my consumption of agave syrup might in any way compromise the health of my baby, I never would have purchased that first bottle.

Although I’ve struggled to find peer-reviewed research into the effects of commercial agave, there’s a growing body of articles, blogs and commentaries that warn of its potential dangers. It appears that the FDA is not interested in pursuing “truth in labeling” laws regarding agave nectar.

I implore PCC to continue its investigation so PCC customers will make informed choices in selecting a product that may have a deleterious effect on their health and the health of their loved ones.
— Name withheld on request

Karen Lamphere, M.S., C.N., replies: My research reveals that there are hundreds of species of agave, and it appears that contraceptive steroids have been found in the sisilana and americana species. But these species are not used to make agave syrup.

Many other foods contain saponins, such as beans and legumes, soybeans, red wine, red onions, paprika and agave, yet except for the red wine, they’re not contraindicated in pregnancy. Saponins generally are considered beneficial phytosterol nutrients with antimicrobial and antifungal properties, as well as anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating properties.

Non-homogenized, slow-pasteurized milk

My naturopath advises me to consume non-homogenized, slow-pasteurized dairy products. My own research finds there is some concern that the homogenizing process “chops” up the protein chains and the fat molecules to such an extent that they present metabolic challenges that might be contributors to diseases, such as heart disease.

I really appreciate your offering of Golden Glen and Organic Valley non-homogenized products. Even if the concerns are found to be unwarranted, I recommend trying non-homogenized dairy to experience the taste and freshness — and you get some cream with it! Best health,
— Sharon Feola, Hansville

Dave’s bread

We have posted the following comment on the Dave’s Bread Web site in an effort to encourage him to convert his marketing strategy to conform with the high quality of his bread.

“Great bread, we love it. BUT we, and many others, are contemplating approaching PCC to discontinue your line because the use of ‘killer’ and ‘bomb’ are not amusing and should be rejected as marketing ploys. We are pondering a boycott because we don’t want to normalize these ideas for our children or promote this kind of thinking in our culture or at our table.

“You have an amazing story and your baking is a credit to whole grains. You’ve been through one transformation. We hope you consider trying another one, which transforms the thoughts behind the name on your good breads into concepts that truly embrace peace without bombs, life and good nutrition. Thanks.”

We encourage other PCC members to support this initiative and hope to see this change soon.
— Marcia, Marge and Doug

Soy in Vegenaise

At the deli in Issaquah the other day and needed a protein snack. Picked up the deviled eggs. Cannot tolerate soy so I always read all labels. Soy in the eggs. Why? I ask the deli manager and she tells me it’s in the Vegenaise. Great, why are we using soy-based mayo? Answer: not all people want animal-based products. Excuse me. This is an egg, it’s from an animal. Question: why not use regular mayo? Answer: it has eggs. Now I’m really confused.

Not everyone thinks soy is a wonder food and we avoid it like the plague. Why not use regular mayo on animal-based products?
— Kip Miller

Deli Merchandiser Leon Bloom replies: Your letter got us thinking and you’ll be glad to know that we’ve made a change: we’re now using regular mayo with eggs in non-vegan recipes, such as deviled eggs. We’re still using Vegenaise in our vegan recipes.

BPA in receipt paper

I recently learned that most paper receipts have bisphenol A (BPA) and that most cash register printers require this type of “thermal” paper. But BPA in receipts could be a concern for exposure to customers and also in its eventual release to water and soil, etc. from folks throwing receipts in recycling or composting, which is what I’ve been doing.

While I’m all for paper reduction (and love your two-sided receipts), I would prefer no BPA, since some of the info indicates this could be significantly higher “dose” than what we are getting from bottles. Do you know if PCC receipts contain BPA? If not, I’d like to talk with you about what you are using, to see if we can influence change beyond PCC. Thanks!
— Michelle Gaither, environmental engineer

Store Systems Specialist Dennis Stoddard replies: The National Cash Register (NCR) company has just come out with a BPA-free receipt tape — but it’s only single-sided. We’re actively talking with NCR, encouraging them to produce a two-sided receipt paper.

Also in this issue

News bites, April 2010

More farms in Washington, Non-GMO #1, GE alfalfa comments, and more

Supporting biodiversity with heirlooms

Josh Kirschenbaum stopped in the middle of the field, bent over a tangle of leaves, pulled a bit at the vines, and uncovered a deep-green globe freckled with yellow dots. That Moon and Stars watermelon, an heirloom variety, was one of 1,200 vegetable and fruit varieties growing on the Territorial Seed Company trial farm.