Letters to the editor, March 2014

This article was originally published in March 2014

Essential oils

I found the article about healthy shampoo (February 2014) very interesting and informative. I would, however, like to share that I am one of many people who find fragrances — including essential oils — to be injurious to my health. It has been estimated that as much as 40 percent of the public is sensitive to fragrances in general (see noharm.org and search for keyword “fragrances”).

Our culture seems to think essential oils are somehow assumed to be healthy. To clarify, the term “essential” when used in a body or medical construct means something that the body must have in order to be healthy. Therefore, “essential oils” is a complete marketing misnomer. They are far from “essential” and in fact make some people like me physically sick.

Additionally, there are some essential oils that have caused grave harm. Sage, camphor and thujone cause central nervous system damage in animal studies done by National Institutes of Health. See nih.gov.

I avoid essential oils completely and find that section of PCC to be difficult even to walk by. When I saw the list of recommended shampoos it looked like many of them seem likely to have essential oils in them. So, I write this letter to caution users to be careful and to know that to some others they are sickening even to walk by.
— Pat Davis

PCC replies: To clarify, “Essential oil” does not refer to the health and body impacts of the oil. Rather, an oil is “essential” in the sense that it carries a distinctive scent, or essence, of the plant. Essential oils do not form a distinctive category for any medical, pharmacological or culinary purpose. Essential oils are not essential for health.

Different methods of extraction may be a concern, such as extractions with hexane. But PCC does not allow oil extracted with hexane in our health and body care products.

The NIH animal study you cite was about rats injected with doses of essential oils. We always advise shoppers not to ingest essential oils.

We have fragrance-free options of shampoos, conditioners, lotions, soaps, cleaning products, laundry detergent and all other categories where fragrances are common. PCC staff is sensitive to the issue and someone always can go down an aisle that may be a problem to retrieve what you need.

Eating invasive species

I read the letter to the editor in the February Sound Consumer about invasive species and wanted to let you know that the PCC cheese departments offer Olli Salami, which has one salami featuring wild boar. It is delicious.

The vendor says it sources the boar from Texas among other places and told us about how destructive they are.
— Diana Lovitt, cheese specialist Greenlake PCC

Organic trustworthy?

What’s PCC’s take on this blog post, USDA organic labels no longer trustworthy?.
-Ryan Sample, via Facebook

PCC replies: The blog talks about a new rule issued by the National Organic Program that says synthetic additives no longer will be reviewed by the entire 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Instead of requiring a two-thirds vote to approve synthetic additives, they’re allowed unless two-thirds of the NOSB votes to prohibit them. In other words, the process for reviewing synthetic additives has been turned upside down.

We submitted comments opposing the change last fall.

We’re not happy with the new rule, but it’s overreacting to say we can’t trust the label. Organic is the only label with the statutory weight of law from an act of Congress, and punishments for violators. No other label guarantees a food was produced without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, carcinogenic fumigants, sewage sludge, genetically engineered organisms, toxic solvents, irradiation, non-therapeutic antibiotics and artificial hormones.

Salt in PCC deli

I am a member and sometimes a shopper. I became disenchanted a few years ago when I realized there were no foods available in the deli without added salt.

Today I read the Sound Consumer article, Salt, how much is too much? (February 2014), which discourages worrying about sodium in our diets. But the article also reports some people may need a low-sodium diet such as those with hypertension, the elderly and those with kidney disease. So that would seem like quite a few people — in fact a growing number since the population is getting older.

I find it incredible PCC can concentrate on foods for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free people but ignore a growing segment of the population who would benefit from less sodium in their diets. I believe that salt can be substituted by using other spices, encouraging creativity.
— Nancy Simsons

PCC replies: Yes there is a growing group of shoppers who must restrict their intake of salt and we agree spices often substitute well. We have more than 50 items in our delis that contain less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.

You can find those items in the nutrition database on our website.

We hope to have a searchable database for low-sodium foods in the future, but this is still a ways out.

Cooking oils

I recently listened to a nutrition podcast regarding the correct kind of oil to use for different types of cooking. I found out that sesame oil is one of the better oils for high-heat cooking but is high in omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-6 causes inflammation and omega-3 reduces inflammation. What oil is the best to use for high-heat cooking if you want fewer omega-6 fatty acids?
— Lorie

PCC Nutrition Educator Nick Rose replies: If you want to cook with oils lower in omega-6 fatty acids, choose oils high in monounsaturated fats and low in polyunsaturated fats. You can find this information on nutrition facts labels of culinary oils. Monounsaturated and omega-3 fats are heart-healthy and help manage chronic inflammation. They generally are good for cooking because they are less susceptible to oxidation during cooking.

Here are a few suggestions for high-heat oils that are high in monounsaturates: avocado oil (smoke point 510° F), almond oil (smoke point 495° F), hi-oleic safflower (smoke point 460° F) and hi-oleic sunflower (smoke point 460° F).

Be aware most conventional safflower and sunflower oils are high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fats but all the sunflower and safflower oils at PCC are bred to be high in monounsaturates, not polys.


While I never have had any problems with gluten intolerance, it seems to be an area of growing concern. Doing a bit of research on the web, it appears that many people with problems digesting gluten have no trouble eating wheat products in Europe.

I’m wondering if PCC carries any European flours or wheat, or if you know whether locally available, organically grown wheat would have the same qualities (particularly in terms of genetic manipulation of the amount of gluten present) as European wheat.
— Ronald

PCC replies: Modern wheat does have a higher gluten content than its ancient relatives, such as einkorn, farro and spelt. We have heard that some gluten-sensitive people have an easier time digesting ancient grains. PCC sells einkorn flour, pasta and cookies from einkorn grain grown in Italy. We also carry Washington-grown farro from Bluebird Farms, which also is lower in gluten than regular wheat. Wheat grown locally and organically is not different in terms of gluten content, which depends mostly on the seed itself.

For more information about gluten content in modern wheat, see What’s wrong with wheat? (Sound Consumer, September 2013).

Palm oil

I applaud PCC for being the first U.S. grocer to sell chocolate from ethically sourced cocoa, but you haven’t gone far enough if you continue to allow palm oil products in your stores, including chocolates sourced from ethical cocoa, since many of the same issues that you claim to “prevent” by your chocolate policy continue to occur when these chocolatiers use palm oil products.

Rainforests are burned to the ground so palm trees can be planted for their oil products. Many endangered species, including orangutans, live in these rainforests and it’s estimated that orangutans could become extinct in our lifetimes if the rainforests continue to be burned down at their present rate for palm oil plantations. Additionally, the impact that this practice has on quickening climate change is considerable.

As a member of the co-op, I’d like to encourage PCC to review its environmental policies and ban companies from your shelves that make products containing palm oil products unless these companies commit to using only traceable palm oil that is free of deforestation, expansion on carbon-rich peat lands and human rights violations. In other words, conflict-free palm oil.

You’ve already taken a first step by only selling chocolates from companies that use ethically sourced cocoa. Now it is time to take the next step as it relates to palm oil products and take the same stand. Thank you.
— Chris Gossard

PCC replies: Please see the article, Sustainable palm oil?. PCC doesn’t have a palm oil policy but we notice when vendors present products with sustainably sourced palm oil. Some say their palm oil sources meet the standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

We understand RSPO is criticized for loopholes that still allow clear-cutting of rainforests, so we give preference to companies that exceed RSPO standards, such as Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Spectrum Naturals, Nutiva, Justin’s Nut Butter and Earth Balance, which source directly from farmers in South America. Deforestation from palm oil plantations has been a big problem in Indonesia and Malaysia.

A segregated supply chain for sustainable palm oil has yet to be established and since it’s a bulk commodity, palm oil from both certified and uncertified sources often is mixed during the journey from grower to consumer. The vast number of suppliers creates difficulty tracking the origin of each batch, making it difficult to set and implement a sustainability standard for palm oil products.

Also in this issue

Organics in Farm Bill

When President Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill into law, he said in his speech the bill supports organic, which "makes my wife very happy!" In fact, the final farm bill includes all of the Organic Trade Association's "asks."

Sustainable palm oil?

You can find palm oil and its derivatives in thousands of products, from pastry to chocolate, detergent and biofuel. Palm oil production is under attack for clear-cutting rainforests and causing other environmental and social problems. There are signs, however, the U.S. food industry is poised to shift to sourcing mostly sustainable palm oil.

Favorite crackers at PCC

At PCC we carry crackers to suit every taste, diet and budget. Whether you're looking for something simple and hearty to serve along a steaming bowl of soup or something artisan to fill out a fancy cheese plate, we've got you covered.