Letters to the editor, April 2013

This article was originally published in April 2013

Food and water waste

Thank you, PCC, for another great cover story in the February issue of the Sound Consumer (Americans waste 40% of food). Food waste is an important issue, which many people are not aware of. Farms for Life purchases surplus produce from local farmers. This is often produce that otherwise would be tilled under due to high harvesting costs.

Farmers love to donate food. If they have surplus crops in their fields, however, they often cannot afford to pick, clean, package and deliver this produce where it is needed. With money from fundraising efforts, Farms for Life can compensate farmers for their produce, allowing them to harvest the surplus crops rather than waste this food.

Farms for Life, now in our fourth year, is working with five area farmers, collecting more than 1,800 pounds of surplus produce each week during the growing season. The produce then is distributed to 13 recipient agencies. Our goal is to provide high-quality, fresh food to people in transition via various programs, shelters and facilities in King County. In doing this we are part of the solution, preventing both food waste and hunger in our area. Visit farms4life.org.

Together we make a difference.
— Ronit Gourarie


I found it interesting that we waste so much food: 40 percent is a lot. Seems we should get resourceful.

I recall reading that “garbage” can be made into methane. Garbage automatically creates methane gas. So, why not purposefully create methane gas from our garbage? Why put it in a landfill? Why only compost it? Why not create facilities that only take garbage/food waste that then will create methane gas, and from that facility pump the gas similar to natural gas? It is endlessly available and it can be used in existing pipes and containers. Double fabulous solution.

Perhaps Puget Sound Energy could look into that? It seems like a no-brainer. Do your readers have suggestions for how to bring this idea to fruition?
— Patricia Davis, Admiral neighborhood

Author Joel Preston Smith replies: You bring up some interesting ideas. A collection system for food waste sounds good, but it may be difficult to implement.

Collecting methane from landfills isn’t cheap, or easy. You have to build (and therefore fund) a collection trap, a purification system, a “bottling” system, a monitoring system, and then deal with storage and distribution. This all means more expense and more energy consumption. Not every landfill is large enough, or collects the “right” kind of waste, to tool up for methane collection in a cost-effective manner. For more info on the cost-effectiveness of methane extraction from landfills, download the Environmental Protection Agency’s overview.

It seems a more effective solution is reducing food waste throughout the production and consumption processes. We would learn to accept that slightly yellowed cauliflower tastes the same as lily white cauliflower so it won’t get left to rot in the field. We would not jump to throw something out just because its “best-by” date has passed. We would cook smaller quantities of food so we don’t end up with leftovers that get tossed.

The point is, it’s better to set up a system that minimizes waste, rather than focus primarily on what to do with it once it’s wasted.

Chocolate standards

I’ve been a regular consumer of Dagoba’s unsweetened drinking chocolate. On a recent trip to Whole Foods, I discovered they recently have stopped carrying Dagoba and Scharffen Berger products. Dagoba products appear to be produced responsibly; Dagoba carries the Rainforest Alliance seal.

However, Dagoba and Scharffen Berger are subsidiaries of The Hershey Company, which has demonstrated a lack of commitment to eliminating child labor from production of their other products. It seems that Hershey is not actually interested in eliminating child labor, but rather in creating marketable products. The Rainforest Alliance approval is likely nothing more than a marketing strategy for Hershey and I don’t think it should be rewarded for creating one product line it might be able to sell in ethically minded stores.

I now am aware of PCC’s letter to The Hershey Company Board of Directors, dated April 26, 2012, which states PCC’s “strong concerns about carrying any Hershey products, including your Dagoba and Scharffen Berger lines.” Given what amounts to a previous warning by PCC to The Hershey Company, and the current decision by Whole Foods to drop these products, would it not make sense for PCC to also drop these products at this time?
— Joshua Laff

PCC replies: You’ll be glad to know we’ve been discussing our chocolate standards at PCC for many months and queried all our chocolate vendors about their fair labor practices. We asked all our chocolate vendors to comply with a new standard: PCC will sell chocolate candy and confections only from vendors that provide assurance that child slave labor is prohibited and follow International Labor Organization (ILO) Fundamental Conventions. We’re discontinuing products from vendors that don’t sign the affidavits.

This means Scharffen Berger will be discontinued, as The Hershey Company makes no claims about the cocoa used in Scharffen Berger chocolate. But Dagoba’s certification by the Rainforest Alliance ensures child labor is prohibited and covers a range of worker protection issues identified by the ILO, including the right to organize, the right to a safe, clean working environment, the right to be paid at least the national minimum wage, the right to dignified housing (including potable water), access to medical care for workers and their families, and access to free education for children.

PCC will continue offering chocolate from other companies certified by the Rainforest Alliance, so to be fair we’ll extend the same benefit to Dagoba even though it’s owned by Hershey. See New PCC standard: chocolate must be fair labor, Sound Consumer, April 2013, for more about our new standard.

Fermented foods

I was really pleased to see the article on fermented and cultured foods (March 2013). I thought the article was very well done, with one exception: there were several places where you mentioned fermented foods carried by PCC, but you never mentioned Rejuvenative Foods “Vegi-delite.” This is one of my favorites! I think it deserves some product loyalty at PCC.
— Linda Waterfall

Soaker pads for meat?

We go to your stores all the time and love your products. I have a question for you. Yesterday we bought some packaged salmon. As you know, most of your fish, meat and poultry are packaged with an absorbent polyethylene pad on the bottom to absorb liquid. Well, when we went to cook the salmon, we did not notice the pad was there and it was cooked underneath the salmon for about 20 minutes at 400° F in a toaster oven.

Although the pad was underneath the skin of the salmon and we did not eat it (we did not notice until we were finished eating), we are concerned that something toxic may have happened (unknowingly) or somehow the chemical from the pad mixed with the fish. The pad looks fine and we are fine, but do you know if this is a common mistake and if those pads typically can withstand being cooked with the fish, meat or poultry and everything is still safe? Any information will help. Thank you.
— Paul Cornelison

PCC replies: Our supplier, Bunzl, checked with the manufacturer and learned the pads are made of cellulose. No plastic is used. There are no advisories of eating food accidentally cooked with these pads. The components are approved for food contact by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Bunzl says there are no chemicals or residues that could cause harm if they migrate to food.

Bringing containers from home

I absolutely love PCC. The offerings in bulk and in produce, the local sourcing and organic choices, awesome employees, it can’t be beat!

My household is moving as close as possible toward zero waste and trying as hard as possible to lessen the use of our garbage can. I recently asked a deli employee if I could bring in my own jars for sliced deli meat or other deli items and was told it is not allowed. However, many local butchers, fish market and the cheese shop I frequent have no problem with outside containers, celebrate the use of my own jars, and comment how it helps to keep costs down for them.

I know that my local PCC doesn’t have an open butcher counter, so my options are limited at the meat counter, but it would be great to be able to purchase from the deli without guilt. While the plastic containers offered can be recycled, we want to avoid the use of all plastic items as much as possible.

Is there a specific law in Washington that prevents grocery stores from allowing outside containers?
­— Krystal

Editor replies: Public Health, Seattle and King County prohibit retailers from putting shoppers’ home containers into a deli case to refill with fresh foods. The rationale is that the containers are not sterile and may carry pathogens over the foods displayed. Other retailers simply may not be aware of the prohibition.

One shopper a while back suggested an innovative solution: ask the deli clerk to weigh your selection on a piece of waxed paper, then slide the paper with the food into your container.

Recycling purple bags

I have several of the purple PCC “plastic” shopping bags made from recycled materials. What happens when these bags wear out? Can these bags be recycled again? Are they biodegradable? I hate to think they end up in the landfill. Just curious. Thanks,
— Virginia Southas, Bellevue

PCC Replies: The purple bags are made out of non-woven polypropylene. This is a recyclable, type 5 plastic. It’s not accepted in all areas, but we know it can be recycled in King County. The Illustrated totes are made from 80 percent recycled PET materials and are 100 percent recyclable.

For shoppers of our Edmonds store, Snohomish County recycles only plastics in “jug, tub and bottle form,” regardless of the type of plastic. So the purple bags cannot be recycled in Snohomish County.

Bon Ami cleanser

A couple years ago, when the package changed from a gold foil to a matte yellow and red, Bon Ami was reformulated. The original formulation is still available a few places as Bon Ami 1886 Original Formula (in a red and yellow package). The differences (see bonami.com):

Bon Ami 1886 Original Formula:

  • Ingredients: tallow soap and feldspar.
  • Apparently not biodegradable (probably due to somewhat caustic agents), but requires only about a third the product and effort to remove pot marks from a porcelain sink.
  • Minimally abrasive; safe for glass, mirrors and formica. May scratch coatings on newer windshields.

Bon Ami reformulated:

  • Ingredients: limestone, feldspar, biodegradable cleaning agents (from coconut and corn), soda ash and baking soda.
  • Biodegradable; hypo-allergenic (if that means anything); possibly more effective than the original on some stains, much less on others.
  • More abrasive; not safe for glass or mirrors; and will scratch formica, should you care to notice.

Obviously, vegetarians will want to stick with the current Bon Ami. A chemist’s input would be helpful, but I question any environmental benefit of the newer version, given that two to three times the product is needed and therefore commensurably more sewer waste, packaging and transportation as well. Might PCC offer the 1886 Original Formula as a choice to its shoppers?
— Dan Gunderson

PCC replies: Unfortunately our distributor, UNFI, currently is unable to stock the original Bon Ami, but we hope to have it available in the future.

Also in this issue

New PCC standard: chocolate must be fair labor

From now on, PCC will sell chocolate candy confections and cocoa powders only from vendors that provide assurance that child slave labor is prohibited and follow International Labor Organization (ILO) Fundamental Conventions.

News bites, April 2013

Food company ethics?, Consumers want sustainable seafood, More GMO labeling bills, and more

PCC Board of Trustees report, April 2013

Notice of annual membership meeting, 2013 election, Next Board Meeting