Letters to the editor, January 2011

This article was originally published in January 2011

Mexican produce?

You’ll have to forgive me, I have had a radical shift in my consumerism over the last two years and
prefer to buy most of my food, say 95 percent, from PCC, as I can be confident that it actually is
organic and as local as possible.

I’ve noticed over the last several months that there has been a lot of produce from Mexico. When I
asked one produce person about it, they seemed defensive and could not really answer the questions I
was asking, such as why the produce is coming from Mexico, where in Mexico is it coming from, are the
farms contracted, do the workers have fair wages and work conditions, is the produce really organic,
how can it be considered such when grown in another country, how do the certifications transfer,
etc.This is an issue of great importance to me, especially as I develop a wellness business in which I
want to be able to refer clients to PCC as an organization with integrity in its food sourcing.
I perused your website and there’s no mention of a relationship with a farm in Mexico that I saw. Any
information that you can give to clarify this would be greatly appreciated and I also wondered if your
employees are ever educated in this area, as it would be so helpful to have this kind of discussion
with them.
— name withheld upon request

Editor: Questions about produce from Mexico are fairly common and the reason for our cover story. See page 1.

Fresh, local, organic

Every month, the fliers from PCC say “Fresh Local Organic.” I’m curious what percent of all the food at
PCC is provided from local suppliers. It obviously is going to vary with the seasons. I also would like
to know what PCC’s definition of local is. It seems that if less than 50 percent of all products in
your store are local, it would be misleading to have that tag on your flier.

While the produce section is labeled very well, it seems like PCC is using “local” as marketing hype
given the amount of food I see that is from Washington compared to everything that is in the store. I
have seen the same thing from the big box stores. Given the awesome PCC Farmland Trust program, it’s
disappointing that there’s not more local food available, which may point to the impracticality of
actually buying local (which also would be useful to know). Thanks,
— Brian Edwards, Kenmore

Director of Marketing Laurie Albrecht replies: PCC’s definition of “local” is the Pacific Northwest —
Washington, southern B.C. and Oregon — essentially, a day’s drive. The “Fresh, Local, Organic” moniker
represents what we strive to feature and emphasize. As much as half of PCC’s produce is locally grown
during our harvest season. Five of our seven meat vendors are local, and all our fresh milk and eggs
are local. But we don’t have an overall percentage including packaged grocery and deli foods because
their origins are more difficult to define. Labels may show a local company address but the ingredients
may be from around the world.

Food safety

We’ve been following the progress of a pair of bills (known as the Food Safety Modernization Act)
through Congress, up to the passage of S510 by the Senate in December. There apparently are rumblings
that it may get sidetracked but if passed at some point and in some form, it sounds like it could pose
a serious threat to what PCC and its suppliers market and stand for.

We’ve been PCC members for years and our family’s diet and lifestyle follow closely and are vigorously
supported by PCC and other organic and natural markets and products that are available here in Puget
Sound. We do not want to see that threatened. I would think, based on the far-reaching potential this legislation could effect, that PCC would have information and strong recommendations regarding it. I would like to hear more about what PCC’s position regarding this is. Thank you,
— L. Hensley

Editor replies: PCC supports giving the Food and Drug Administration increased authority to inspect and
recall suspect foods but we don’t support regulations that would harm small-scale producers. Given the
complexity of these bills and the changing nature of the amendments, we’ve relied on organizations such
as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to inform us. NSAC’s Policy Director, Ferd Hoefner,
will help us sort it out in a February Sound Consumer article.

Eat your vegetables

Nice try but Goldie Caughlan missed the boat when she described the need for “good, healthful and pleasant” ways to get nine servings of vegetables a day and then gave us a bunch of very tasty recipes for side dishes. The problem with vegetables isn’t finding a tasty recipe. The problem is time! Emerald City Salad may be the top seller at the deli because it is tasty and prepared. I suspect few people are making it at home.

I have plenty of tasty, complex recipes for vegetable side dishes. I may make them once or twice a year. Side dishes and meals with many components are special occasion foods. Daily fare generally needs to be simple, fast, one-pot meals, or meals that rely on rice cookers and crock-pots. If you really want to have people eating veggies at every meal, work on recipes that are quick, tasty, complete, dense and filling.
— Karen Winter, West Seattle

Goldie replies: Yes, making vegetable dishes can be time-consuming and busy schedules affect even the best planning for healthy meals. We chose recipes with familiar ingredients and easy techniques that could be served as holiday appetizers (ratatouille or carrot patties) or as part of the regular home menu. We figure we all need encouragement and recipe ideas for continuing nutrition education!

Xanthan gum

Xanthan gum seems to be popping up on ingredient lists every which way. As the parent of a wheat- and egg-allergic child, I understand its appeal but it’s made from corn, and not organic corn, mind you. I find it personally frustrating as well, as I am allergic to corn.

I’m curious if others have noticed this connection and are similarly frustrated by its proliferation in the natural foods industry?
— Sarah Burkhart

P.S. You guys are still THE BEST at keeping me informed on issues regarding food and agriculture. Thanks!

Assistant Grocery Merchandiser Elin Smith replies: Xanthan gum has become much more prevalent in recent years because there are many more gluten-free products that wheat-sensitive people often purchase. Xanthan gum is used, for instance, as a thickening agent in gluten-free baking. The brand of xanthan gum that PCC sells is Bob’s Red Mill, and is labeled as being made from non-GMO corn.

Oil for baking

My question is what oil do you recommend for making home-baked goods, such as muffins and cookies? Just butter? Is grapeseed oil an acceptable vegan alternative? I do a ton of vegan baking at home and would like to hear your thoughts about this. Thanks
— Julie Cohen

[Former] Nutrition Educator Leika Suzumura, R.D., replies: I’d recommend almond, avocado or canola oil, or palm fruit shortening. All have a neutral flavor and can handle typical baking temperatures. If you use canola oil, choose organic because non-organic canola oil will be from genetically modified (GM) oil seeds. Grapeseed oil tolerates high heat but is a polyunsaturate, prone to oxidation, so be sure it’s fresh. Coconut oil is excellent for baking but may impart some flavor, depending on the brand.

Provide cloth diapers?

I’m a mother of two and the second time around I decided to cloth diaper my daughter. The world of cloth diapering is so vast and diverse these days with options as easy as disposables. I’m really enjoying it and am spreading the word to those who think it’s still about pins and plastic pants. These ain’t your mama’s or grandma’s cloth diapers!

It’s well known that disposable diapers are a threat to our babies, with the 60 plus chemicals put in them, and also to our environment. Disposable diapers take upwards of 500 years to decompose so the very first disposable diaper ever made is still out there and has hundreds of years to go before it’s gone. It’s estimated that every year 18 billion disposable diapers get thrown into landfills! With this said, I am surprised that PCC Natural Markets does not carry any cloth diaper options.

You carry the Seventh Generation brand of disposable diapers and while these are better compared to the mainstream chemical-filled diapers, they’re still a non-decomposing disposable diaper. So I’m writing to encourage you to look into offering cloth diapers to those of us who do cloth diapering. Our babies’ bums and the earth thank you. Thanks a fluff,
— Kate O’Connell

Category Manager Scott Owen replies: Thank you for pushing us to consider this again. Cloth diapers aren’t offered through our primary wholesalers but we’ll look for possibilities.

Discontinue plastics

As a consumer who has shopped at PCC since the early days when organic food was making its presence known to the lesser educated, I would like to know that we’re doing the same with environmentally toxic plastic containers and bags. Even those of us who have recycled a recycled plastic bag over and over, still are contributing to the problem in our waterways.

Please see the video, “Time to Bag the Bags,” at sierraclubgreenhome.com and consider not supplying any plastic bags, recycled or not. Or order from a company that creates biodegradable ones. Smaller businesses than PCC are using them.
— Concerned citizen

Director of Sustainability Diana Crane replies: Few issues are as challenging as responsible packaging. Our search for options is confounded by what the packaging industry has to offer. We once used those allegedly “biodegradable” plastic bags but discovered the claim is very misleading, and we tested “compostable” meat trays that lost their shape and leaked or didn’t compost under Cedar Grove’s process. Our suppliers are working to source alternatives and there’s some progress. One example is the compostable waxed-paper cups used in our gelato bars. Trash can-size compostable bags are available and smaller bags may be, soon. Once they are, we’ll evaluate their strength, ingredients (usually GM corn) and cost.

Roundup to save forests?

I recently defended glyphosate/Roundup as the safest, most feasible method to address invasive plants that threaten city forests and I would like to answer valid questions about different costs of removal.

According to an Oregon State University publication, manual control of Himalayan blackberry costs $3,500 per acre compared to $300 with herbicide. Manual control tends to invite weeds, erosion, and leave root fragments that require follow-up work, particularly with holly and knotweed. Holly stems are now outnumbering native seedlings 9 to 1 in local forests, so if we hope to save our greenbelts within existing budgets, we need minimal “cut-and-paint” applications by professionals who can avoid harming beneficial plants. The National Parks Service reports that nationwide, “noxious weeds spread at 14 percent per year and consume 4,600 acres of wildlife habitat per day.” Additionally, a quarter of U.S. agriculture’s Gross Domestic Product is lost to foreign plant pests and control costs. However, green jobs restoring native habitat will help support agriculture’s needed checks and balances, including pollinators.

In response to Mr. McConkey’s suggestion to use acetic acid/vinegar as an herbicide, it simply doesn’t work on many noxious plants, though it is helpful controlling seedlings and shallow-rooted weeds. 20-percent acetic acid has an acute toxicity far worse than Roundup, so wear gloves and eye protection to avoid burns.
— Steve Richmond, Garden Cycles

Also in this issue

The Farm Worker Pesticide Project: protecting people and the planet

Last spring, a group of workers tending orchard trees noticed a cloud of toxic fumes heading their way. Within minutes they were experiencing the pain and terror of acute poisoning: vomiting, abdominal cramps, dizziness, headaches, weak muscles, numbness, burning hot skin, and other symptoms.

NOSB meeting in Seattle

Mark your calendars: The National Organic Standards Board and the National Organic Program will hold their first meeting ever in Seattle on April 26-29. Consumers, vendors and other organic stakeholders may attend or testify.

Questions about Mexican organics?

In winter and early spring, while most of our regional farms lie dormant, grocery store produce sections remain well stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. Much of this vast selection comes from Mexico.