Letters to the editor, October 2011

This article was originally published in October 2011

Sensitivities and allergies beyond wheat

Thank you for the comprehensive article on food allergies by Tom Ballard (Grains: Sensitivities beyond wheat, August 2011). He neglected to mention a critical tool for discovering food allergies: analysis of a stool sample by a laboratory capable of measuring antibodies to common allergens. These tests reveal primary allergies, such as gluten, and also secondary allergies masked by the primary allergy.

One such laboratory is Enterolab in Texas. In my case, testing from this laboratory was covered by my insurance and I was able to determine foods I was allergic to that never would have been discovered through an elimination diet.

Knowing our allergens helps us, as consumers, to request that food processors use cleaner practices and identify safer ingredients in processed foods.

As an example, because the United States lacks a formal ruling on gluten-free labeling, some foods that are presumed or labeled gluten-free actually contain “harmful” levels of gluten (levels that cause symptoms in those with celiac disease). The Food and Drug Administration was directed to release a rule on labeling by 2008 but has not done so.

This is a huge economic and right-to-health issue, and with (estimated) one in every 134 people allergic to gluten (most undiagnosed), it is poised to become critical.
— Tess McMillan


In your August issue, Dr. Tom Ballard, R.N., N.D. makes the case that food allergies or sensitivities to things such as wheat or rice (both grasses) may be a result of humans’ digestive systems evolving far earlier than the time we commonly are known to have cultivated these grains. New scientific processes, such as analyzing carbon isotope ratios in the enamel of teeth, are forcing many to rethink our conclusions about our ancestors.

The latest research shows that among Paranthropus boisei (known as “Nutcracker Man”), who lived from 2.3 to 1.2 million years ago in East Africa, grasses were almost the entire diet (Cerling, Uno, Mbua, et. al., 2011). Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, have shown that a related species, Paranthropus robustus, had a much more diverse diet than previously thought (eating more grains, nuts and berries).

Additionally, it is now known that even Neanderthal (with whom we share genetic material) was not the meat eater we once thought he/she was (more seeds, legumes, barley). Dr. Thure Cerling of the University of Utah, the lead researcher on “Nutcracker Man,” says it best: “It stands to reason that other conclusions about other species also will require revision. P. boisei greatly extends the range of potential diets for early human lineages.”

Perhaps our digestive systems are more suited to consuming grains (whole grains that is), nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit than some of us would believe.
— J. Jason Graff, M.Ed.

Co-op standards

I am writing from a small co-op in Tennessee (the only one!). In developing our quality standards for publication, we referenced PCC’s extensively, including that our eggs are from hens fed only 100-percent vegetarian feed. They fit our existing, unwritten criteria very well, so we thank you for providing such a strong model.

All of a sudden, we’re receiving arguments from a few local farmers that hens are not vegetarian and questioning our criteria.

Of course, we have never been concerned with the natural behavior of hens in a pasture eating insects. Most non-vegetarian feeds we are aware of, that are not organic, contain artificial preservatives as well.

Do you happen to have background or source material that led PCC to include this criteria? It makes sense to us but we are having trouble backing it up in a succinct and convincing way. Thank you!
— Jacqueline Arthur, General Manager, Three Rivers Market (Knoxville’s community food co-op), Knoxville, Tenn.

Editor replies: The 100-percent vegetarian feed claim evolved out of concerns over mad cow disease and the practice of recycling rendered meat products into chicken feed, which still is allowed by USDA for poultry. The vegetarian claim confirmed to shoppers that there’s no possibility of any BSE prions in the feed.

It’s absolutely true that chicken are NOT a vegetarian species. Grubs, worms, slugs, insects and just anything that moves is their natural source of methionine, a necessary nutrient. Commercial operations usually provide it as a supplement in the feed since most commercial hens don’t have pasture to forage upon.

Meanwhile, Edmonds and Redmond PCCs are the first stores to carry authentically pastured organic eggs from very small-scale, local organic farmers. We’re working hard to match up more emerging farmers with more of our neighborhood stores.

Hothouse produce

Is it necessary to look for organic hothouse produce such as tomatoes, English cucumbers, mushrooms, etc. since they are not grown outside? Does the industry not use pesticides for these items?
— Ron Youmans, Seattle

Produce merchandiser Joe Hardiman replies: If the hothouse produce is conventional, the growers use conventional applications on it, similar to if the crop was grown in a field. Organic hothouse produce is held to the same strict standards as organic field produce. So yes, it’s important to look for organic when buying hothouse fruits and vegetables.

Seventh Generation, Teach for America

I’ve been a PCC member and shopper for 25 years and always have appreciated PCC for its quality products and its social conscience. I have a concern about Seventh Generation and its partnership with a controversial organization known as Teach For America (TFA).

The largest teacher association in the country, the National Education Association, passed a resolution against TFA. The resolution was brought to the national assembly by our local Seattle Education Association (SEA), of which I’m a member. SEA has taken a public position against having TFA in Seattle schools.

Despite this, TFA will be placing its uncredentialed teachers in Seattle public schools for the first time this fall. This is an extremely controversial action. Concerns about TFA will play a part in the upcoming school board elections this November.

I plan to not purchase Seventh Generation products if I know that part of the proceeds will find their way to TFA. I request that PCC stock an alternative to Seventh Generation. I would prefer not to have my co-op sell products that support organizations such as TFA. At the very least, please post information about TFA and the Seventh Generation partnership at stores so shoppers may make informed choices.
— Kathy Ablott

Editor replies: Thank you for bringing us up to date. We did not know the Seattle Education Association is publicly opposed to having TFA in Seattle schools. Regarding products, we have an alternative to every Seventh Generation product, except diapers.

Seventh Generation replies: We believe that there is no more important issue facing our country than the need to dramatically strengthen our educational system and give every child the absolute best possible start in life. Only by providing kids with the tools and knowledge they require to succeed can we hope to build a more equitable and sustainable world.

Our partnership with Teach For America is dedicated to furthering this essential goal, and its mission to provide one additional source of great teachers for schools in low-income communities is one we’re eager to support. While we’ve been made aware this work has occasionally been the subject of contention, we haven’t seen any evidence of controversy being caused by any actions taken by the organization itself or its corps members in the field. We believe our commitment to help TFA doesn’t conflict with our continued support of professional teachers and their unions. We think we’re all on the same team, so to speak.

That said, we’re extremely grateful that there are people who care enough about this issue to have taken the time to express their concern. This passionate dedication to what’s right is something that the world needs much more of, and we’re glad that they think enough of Seventh Generation to apply it to us, too. It’s only through efforts like theirs that we can be the company we want to be. We appreciate that they’ve taken the time to express their concern and keep us on our toes.

Paper towels

I am turning to Sound Consumer to publicize an issue that is important to me.

In the past few years Bastryr University and the University of Washington have put little stickers on their paper towel dispensers that remind consumers that “these come from trees.” These stickers remind consumers to be more mindful when using paper towels, to take a little less perhaps. It has meant big savings in terms of the environment and cost. It is a win-win model. Thank you!
— Eileen Weintraub, Lake Forest Park

Director of sustainability Diana Crane resplies: The paper towel dispensers in the public restrooms at our stores now carry the “These come from trees” labels. Thank you for your eco-friendly suggestion!

Long-time members

In the August Sound Consumer, a PCC member asked how long someone must be a member to claim being a “long-time member.” Here are a couple responses.

“Long-time member” is in the eye, or the pen, of the writer. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
— Janie Pulsifer, Freeland, Member since 1970, when there was just one store on the south side of 65th Street

I, too, have wondered what folks mean by “long-time.” I became a member in 1977 when there was one store in Ravenna and boxing groceries yourself was mandatory at checkout. I’m a 34-year member. And I have always, always appreciated PCC. Thanks for being here!
— Jeanne Kuban, A “fixture” customer at Fremont PCC

Also in this issue

Pump up the pumpkin

The pumpkin is one of the biggest annual farm crops, with 1.5 billion produced each year in the United States. But alas, this abundance is not destined for dinner plates but rather for decoration — making this farmer and pumpkin-eater cringe!

PCC Board of Trustees report, October 2011

Fall Member Meeting: “Every Day is Food Day at PCC”, Board outreach, Board report, and more

2nd Annual Non-GMO Month

October marks the second annual Non-GMO Month, and we’ve got a lot to celebrate! We know many PCC members and shoppers are passionate about avoiding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.