Letters to the editor, January 2012

This article was originally published in January 2012

Farmer demos

Recently, we were able to spend a week doing demos of our Bosc pears, Cameo apples and Fuji apples at many of the PCC stores. It’s a visit that has become an annual event for us and one that we always look forward to.

We would like to thank the PCC staff for helping to make the demos happen again this year. We continue to appreciate and admire the way that the co-op’s produce buyer, Joe Hardiman, and the store produce managers support and maintain relationships with small farmers.

As we see it, PCC is one of the few places that actually “walks its talk” in regards to genuine concern about where food comes from and how it gets to you. Since it is a co-op, we think that PCC’s philosophy really reflects how you, the consumers, want to relate to your food and the people who produce it.

Doing the demos is so important to us as farmers. They give us a way actually to meet many of you who enjoy our fruit, perhaps introduce you to fruit you haven’t tried yet, and swap stories/answer questions about ripening, fruit varieties, insects, growing organically, and farming in general. That’s part of what keeps a farmer going, knowing that his/her product is appreciated! It also gives you the opportunity to meet some of the people who grow your food.    

So, thank YOU all as well, for the chance to share a part of your lives and nurture the farmer/consumer connection once again. We look forward to seeing you next year!
— George and Apple Otte, River Valley Organics, Tonasket, Wash.

Early days of PCC

I want to thank Leanne Skooglund Hofford for her article: Remembering the early days of PCC. I, too, have been remembering with fondness John Affolter delivering milk and eggs among other food items to our door on Seattle’s Capitol Hill in the early 1950s. I was only 12 or 13 at the time but my mother, Irene Hull, was a member of that food buying co-op.

Though I now live on Whidbey Island and getting into town has become a traffic hassle, PCC became then and remains nearly 60 years later “the hand that feeds.” Thank you John and all who followed in creating, growing and sustaining such a fine community service over the years. Peace and blessings,
— Pushkara Sally Ashford

“Natural” labels

It is good to see PCC highlighting use of the word “natural” as meaningless marketing-speak in the food and grocery industries (What does ‘Natural’ mean?,” October 2011). For me, “natural” typically means “avoid,” as I assume the product bearing such a label is probably anything but.

So it is with bemusement that I recognize PCC’s own long-time use of the phrase “Natural Markets” as part of its brand. Of course, I recognize that an entire rebranding is a complex and expensive undertaking and probably not the best use of the co-op’s resources.

Perhaps, though, a better effort can be made at a micro/product marketing level. For example, I recently was surprised to see a sticker on PCC muffins, an in-house bakery product, declaring “Naturally sweetened.” Really?

My point is that the term “natural” causes broad confusion in the marketplace, so it would be better for PCC to avoid it whenever possible. Part of the PCC mission is to educate; using confusing terminology doesn’t help. Why not just call it PCC Markets? Why not sticker the baked goods with specifics of what sweetener is used?

I encourage PCC to walk its talk, especially at a time when Safeway fills our mailbox with flyers for “Safeway Natural Market: something different, something healthy.” Accurately informing consumers (including potential customers) of the true difference you offer is an important discussion to continue.
— Dave Rosencrans, Seattle

Editor replies: The October article explained that PCC’s business name was developed in 1999, when “natural” was a common reference for what we sold. When U.S. Department of Agriculture organic standards were implemented several years later, that’s when the confusion between organic and “natural” began. Our marketing and merchandising departments are stripping out use of “natural” on labels and stickers affixed by PCC, such as “Naturally sweetened” on the muffins, with more specific label information, such as “Juice sweetened.” Thank you, Dave, for keeping us on our toes!

Organic seaweed

I noticed PCC sells both organic and non-organic nori (seaweed). Since the ocean isn’t certifiably “organic,” how can the nori be organic?
— name withheld

Editor replies: It’s true that compared to land plants, we have little control over the fluid conditions of a marine environment. We do, however, have choices about how, when, where and how much we harvest sea vegetables, and how they’re processed and stored. Organic certifications established by the certifying agents OCIA and Ecocert for sea vegetables take all these factors into consideration. PCC carries organic Sound Sea Vegetables, certified by OCIA and Ecocert.

OCIA, for instance, stipulates that sea vegetable beds must not be located near any source of radioactive, chemical or bacteriological contamination, such as a nuclear facility, sewage or industrial discharge area, or a major harbor or thoroughfare. If a product is suspected of heavy metal or herbicide contamination, the certifier may order testing. Special care is taken to ensure the health of the seaweed beds and to maintain the integrity of the seaweed from the time it leaves the ocean until it’s packaged. For more, see ocia.org/GetCertifiedNow/Producer/WildPlants.aspx.

GE salmon

I was disappointed to read that gentically engineered (GE) salmon are very close to commercial approval. If the final approval is granted how can I be sure the salmon I purchase is not GE? Is wild-caught salmon a sustainable alternative?

I signed the GE labeling petition that your website links to and I hope other readers do, too. I usually rely on organic certification to ensure foods are not GE but since there’s no certification for seafood, a labeling law is ever more important.
— Jill Eikenhorst

Editor replies: GE salmon is not allowed to be sold anywhere — not yet at least — but PCC advocates wild-caught salmon for many reasons and we don’t sell any farmed salmon. Alaskan wild salmon is a “best choice” for sustainability, while farmed salmon is on the “avoid” list, according to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

Dense living conditions in coastal salmon farms cause and spread disease, requiring antibiotics in farmed fish feed. Steroids, pesticides, chemical dips, vaccinations and added coloring also are used routinely by salmon farms. Farmed salmon is shown to contain 16 times more PCB contaminants than wild salmon and only one-fourth the amount of vitamin D.

Non-native (Atlantic) salmon stocking fish farms also have escaped, competing with stressed wild stocks for food and interbreeding, weakening genetics. Salmon farms also pollute marine waters with chemical waste.

Sprouting sweet potatoes

I recently bought from one of your competitors an organic sweet potato to sprout. After two weeks and no sign of life, I surmised that although it was labeled organic, perhaps it underwent irradiation.

Yesterday I bought three organic sweet potatoes from PCC for sprouting purposes. But today I read that many distributors and stores use a sprout inhibitor on potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams. Now I’m wondering if the sweet potatoes I just bought have been treated in some way that will prevent them from sprouting. Please enlighten me? Thanks.
­— Melany Herrera 

Produce merchandiser Joe Hardiman replies: Organic sweet potatoes and yams are not treated with an anti-sprouting agent. Non-organic sweet potatoes and yams may be treated with spray inhibitors, dyes and/or waxes.

My guess to why the sweet potatoes you bought didn’t sprout is that the “new crop” came in recently, so the ones you purchased are very fresh and storing well. You may have better luck sprouting them in the spring when they’ve been in storage and start wanting to grow.
You may be able to force sprouting at this time of year by using a cutting/soaking method. Here’s a link to that process: www.diynetwork.com/how-to/how-to-plant-and-grow-sweet-potatoes/.

Autolyzed yeast extract

I’ve heard the ingredient autolyzed yeast extract essentially is a form of monosodium glutamate (MSG). PCC prohibits MSG. What’s your position on autolyzed yeast extract?
— name withheld

Nutrition educator Nick Rose replies: Both MSG and autolyzed yeast extract are used as flavor enhancers, and both contain the amino acid glutamate. Glutamate is one of 20 amino acids found widely in all foods at varying levels. Glutamate only seems to cause reactions in people when it is isolated and in high concentrations.

MSG is 100 percent glutamate that has been isolated and then bound to sodium to make a salt that can be added to foods.

Autolyzed yeast extract contains a mix of free amino acids (including glutamate) but since it’s not 100 percent glutamate it does not cause reactions in most people who are sensitive to MSG, other than a few who are extremely sensitive. These individuals should limit intake of any type of flavor enhancers listed as “natural flavor.”

Helpful staff

I would just like to thank PCC incredibly for the help I received on a recent visit to the Greenlake store. I’ve always been a huge fan — my friends and I regularly spend weekend afternoons buying lunch at the deli and I remember loving the miniature carts when I was little.

A few weeks ago I was put on a gluten-free, dairy-free diet by my doctor because of a suspected sensitivity, but given little guidance as to what I could still eat. So there I was, wandering around PCC trying to find something to bring home for dinner since I knew whatever my mom had planned would have multiple things I couldn’t eat.

I must have looked confused because an employee came up to me and basically became my personal shopper for the day! He made me toast with some gluten-free vegan bread, showed me how to identify gluten-free products by the orange shelf tags, and told me which items were best-sellers so I’d know what to buy.

I’ve always felt welcomed at PCC but this service just went above and beyond. Thank you so much!
— Kelsey Josund

Editor replies: The PCC employee who helped you was Ryan Walker, who always goes above and beyond to provide great service. Thank you, Ryan!

Also in this issue

Your co-op community, January 2012

Burke Museum presents "Hungry Planet", Blood drives, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Sweater Drive, and more

PCC Board of Trustees report, January 2012

Board meeting report, Next board meeting, 2012 board slate, and more

Soil & Sea: reports from our producers

Reports about Texas Rio Star grapefruit, organic bunched greens, organic apple acreage, Washington's apple harvest and winegrape acres, the beef supply and the Dungeness crab fishery.