Letters to the editor, June 2011

This article was originally published in June 2011

Feasting on fiddlehead ferns

As cold spring showers down its last dregs, I find myself struggling to eat well. The struggle is made more difficult when I consume stories such as one today about sugar’s impact on the immune system. Often these stories leave me feeling that I can’t eat anything, which usually sends me right back to junk food.

This morning I walked into PCC committed to starting over, setting my intention once again, to eat in a way that supports my health. As I reached for a 5-pound bag of carrots (for my old standby, comforting carrot soup from “The Moosewood Cookbook”), I noticed some little swirls of green and paused. I’d heard of fiddlehead ferns but never had eaten them. I might have passed them by once more, simply enjoying their whimsical, sweet appearance, had you not also included a (laminated) magazine page with information about the stalking, storing and preparation of fiddleheads.

Reading the suggested preparations I realized that, not only are fiddleheads easy to prepare, I also had the few simple ingredients at home to make myself a delicious Sunday brunch. And I did! (Frittata with crimini mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and shallots.)

So, thank you for bringing your customers this little burst of early spring, for the clever (and effective) presentation and, in a world where the simple act of eating can feel confounding and overwhelming, for providing inspiration and opportunity for gustatory renewal. Happy spring,
— Heidi Stahl

Inclusive community

My family recently visited the West Seattle store and I was so happy to see an employee with special needs. A friendly, efficient young man helped us bag our groceries.

We already are great fans of PCC but seeing evidence of inclusive hiring only makes us feel more strongly about shopping at your stores. Keep it up. People with various disabilities have a tremendous amount to offer employers.
— Julia Mitzel, Seattle

Human Resources Director Nancy Taylor replies: Thank you! I’m happy to say that we’ve worked with different agencies for more than 20 years to employ staff with special needs in various capacities throughout the organization.

Produce from Mexico

As a 20+ year member of the co-op, I am feeling really concerned about the amount of PCC produce that is currently coming from Mexico. I have nothing against Mexico, I just don’t want my produce coming from that locale. PCC needs to stop advertising that it supports local farmers, when so much of your produce is coming from Mexico. I know that it is possible to find it in California, just like you used to. 

If it’s a matter of cost, well, I would like to say that I’ve already made it a priority to pay for high quality, organic food. It’s why we have made the choice to shop at PCC for all of these years. Now, I feel like it’s not any different from shopping at a regular grocer. What will it take for PCC to stop selling so much Mexican produce and go back to your Californian suppliers?
— name withheld

Produce Merchandiser Joe Hardiman replies: Cool weather crops, including kale, chard, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, beets and broccoli are available from California in the winter and are grown largely by the same people that grew them for us 10 years ago. But most of the hot weather crops — tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, celery and green beans — tend to be Mexican-grown from mid-December to mid-March because California does not have enough sustained, hot weather in the winter to grow them. 

One other consideration: our produce signage often says “California or Mexico” as the origin, instead of one or the other. When California produce isn’t available, or there’s a chance it will run short, we fill with Mexican produce and keep our signs accurate by listing both, to comply with country of origin labeling laws.

You’re always welcome to ask one of the produce people about produce with dual origin signage. They should be able to tell you where fruits and vegetables come from.

More organic potato chips?

I have a complaint to make about the potato chips in PCC stores. Most of them are non-organic and potatoes are one of the crops that use the most petrochemical treatments. I have a hard time understanding how they can be there. It unnerves me every time I walk past them. I look forward to your comments.
— Conrad Fiederer

Editor replies: We’ve noticed that organic potato chips sometimes are scarce, too, but Kettle Chips explains why. A Kettle spokesperson said there’s no known way to “keep” organic potatoes in storage for more than a short time without internal browning. Potato flesh darkens pretty quickly in storage and Kettle says consumers complain about dark-colored potato chips.

So Kettle fries chips only when the potatoes are fresh and in season. The finished chips are then frozen to supply retailers until the next harvest, starting every year in July. Supplies of organic chips may run short as the new harvest approaches. Many brands apparently don’t think it’s worth committing to organic potato chips for these reasons. Kettle’s organic potato chip, by the way, is the only organic potato chip we know of that uses organic oil for frying the potatoes.

Organic nuts

I am interested to know if there are any differences between organic and nonorganic nuts, including almond, walnut, cashew, hazelnut, pistachio, peanut, etc. If so, what are they? Are the differences categorized as a group or individually?

For example, we have been reading about fruits and vegetables that the nonorganic ones are not equally polluted by pesticides — some are safer or cleaner than others. As a result, some nonorganic fruits/vegetables are still acceptable when their organic counterparts might become cost prohibitive for the consumers. Are nuts in similar situations too?

I would appreciate some info to guide our discretion when choosing nuts. Thank you.
—Wei-ping Wood, Seattle

Editor replies: The Environmental Working Group website (ewg.org) lists nuts and seeds (including peanuts and nut butters) among the top seven foods that should be purchased organic in order to avoid pesticide residues. It says pesticides and fungicides are rampant in the production of these foods and many varieties are bleached after harvest.

EWG’s advisory is based on data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program. The PDP last tested almonds in 2008 but has not tested any other nuts since. There’s a lack of pesticide residue data on nuts, unlike fresh produce. See http://1.usa.gov/dlu3yr (PDF).

Diabetic shopping?

I’m a PCC employee working in the grocery deptartment in our Redmond store. Over the last year and half I have been concerned about diabetic-friendly products. I lost a close friend at 39 years old to complications from diabetes and since then two of my nieces have been diagnosed with this disease.

The main reason I’m writing is that I took my niece shopping last week to show her the array of products that are diabetic friendly. Although she was quite excited about the variety of our products, she had a hard time finding them. Like I said, I was shopping with her and I am very familiar with our store. We still took a couple of hours to look around at nutritional values. She commented that “it would have taken her hours longer to find products if I hadn’t been with her.”

I am very happy and proud to work for PCC and of the different options we carry for consumers. I think our orange tag gluten-free program is amazing and so helpful for customers. I think we should consider a similar program for diabetic-friendly products.
— Peter Herrera, Seattle

Editor replies: There’s no uniform guidance from health professionals on what various diabetics ought to consume. Our nutrition educators are, however, discussing ways to offer a Walk, Talk and Taste store tour for diabetics. Also, visit the Healthnotes portion of our website for information on Managing Diabetes with Diet.

Phytic acid and whole grains

Could you do a piece on phytic acid and whole grains? I’ve been dealing with slowly progressing tooth decay for almost two decades. It does not correlate with quality of dental hygiene. After much research, my current theory is my dental problems are being caused by a phosphorus deficiency brought on by excessive consumption of phytic acid in unfermented whole wheat.

I would love some guidance as to how to properly prepare whole grains in a way that allows me to metabolize phosphorus and keep my teeth! Thanks!
— K.W.

Dr. Tom Ballard R.N., N.D., replies: Phytic acid (inositol hexakisphosphate, or phytate) is a constituent of grains, beans and nuts. Wheat, which has a high amount of phytic acid, only has three percent. Phytic acid is not digestible in humans. The concern is that it chelates zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium, reducing their absorption. This usually is not a problem unless a person has a high-grain diet with little or no other sources of minerals, or has a digestive problem that interferes with mineral absorption.

On the positive side, phytic acid actually can be a source of phosphorus under the influence of healthy digestive bacteria. Phytic acid is an antioxidant and believed to play a role in reducing colon cancer and repairing damaged DNA. Its mechanisms of action are not well understood. Soaking, cooking and sprouting remove a portion of the phytic acid from grains, nuts and beans.

Bottled water

I’m flummoxed by the bottled water discussion. I’ve been buying bottled water at PCC for years and want to continue to do so. Seattle water tastes and smells awful, and I believe my family has been healthier using the bottled water, and that it is better and safer than purifying units. I rarely buy juices, carbonated beverages, or anything else.

Why is it that it’s become politically correct to criticize buying water but no one suggests just quit drinking bottled beverages? I think we need to ask everyone, from manufacturers to consumers, to be aware of their choices and their effect on everyone. Find creative ways to use our resources and be responsible. Please don’t take away my choice of safe, good-tasting, healthy water.
— Robyn M. Fritz

Director of Sustainability Diana Crane replies: Customer concerns about the environmental impact of single-use, throw-away plastic-bottled water led to a member petition asking PCC to eliminate single-use plastic bottled water. A management task force then considered the arguments for and against various bottled waters and decided to eliminate single-serve sizes of plain water in plastic bottles. We still offer larger, one-liter plus sizes of non-carbonated and flavored waters bottled in plastic. We support consumer choice.

Also in this issue

PCC Board of Trustees report, June 2011

Annual member meeting recap, Election results, Board meetings

Foraging in our own backyard

Students from the Edible Campus Project at the University of Washington are identifying and mapping edible plants on the UW campus. They’ve divided the campus into quadrants and plan to have a foraging guide available to the public.

News bites, June 2011

Organic growth, Washington organics decline, Food sovereignty, and more