Letters to the editor, August 2014

This article was originally published in August 2014

Global warming and agriculture

Reading reports in the New Scientist, an English magazine that covers scientific publications, I learned that: 1) Organic agriculture can feed the world (reports by scientific arms of the U.K. and the United States), and 2) Organic agriculture can reduce our total carbon dioxide (CO2) footprint by at least 20 percent.

The second point should be of great interest to any organization concerned with climate stability/change. Much of the large CO2 footprint comes from the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia. Unfortunately the information about agriculture in newspapers does not cover these points. Even The New York Times seems to believe that corporate agriculture is necessary to keep up with population growth.

We read about pesticides/herbicides as if the issue is finding the right one, although the real issue is avoiding their use and thereby preserving beneficial insects and soil bacteria.

I find it puzzling that the environmental good guys seem to be ignorant of the benefits of organic agriculture or unwilling to press the point. The frequent objection to organic agriculture — that it requires more labor — seems rather lame now that we are living in a world of replacement of labor by computers and robotics. There is nothing wrong with working on a well-staffed farm in my mind. I do not see the depopulation of rural areas as good, nor is the conversion of mixed-product farms to monoculture a benefit. Quite the contrary.

— Yadviga Halsey, Ph.D., retired biochemist

Thank you for your article, “Extreme weather is impacting food prices” (June). We vegetarians talk about health and humane reasons for eating a plant-based diet. When climate change started being an issue we were eager to inform people of the impact that animal agriculture makes on our planet.

The United Nations reported many years ago that animal agriculture leads to more global warming than all the cars on the earth. And this does not even include the methane disaster waiting to happen.
Having shopped at “health food” stores since the ’70s, when I moved to Seattle and visited PCC for the first time in the early ’90s I was shocked to see meat sold. Central Co-op, previously called Madison Market, did not even carry meat at that time.

So what happened to our vision of a diet that did not harm others and helped our planet? Because of the voices of Atkins and now the Paleo movement, have these imperatives lessened? We hope that going toward a world with 9 billion people the sane choice will be to eat as low on the food chain as we can. “Diet for a Small Planet” (1971) was the first book to note that the environmental impact of meat production was wasteful and a contributor to global food scarcity. Let us get back to that wisdom and remember next time we have food choices to make.

— Eileen Weintraub, Founder/Director, Help Animals India (helpanimalsindia.org)

PCC replies: Many at PCC share this history and vegetarian perspective. Yet sound research also shows sustainable animal agriculture can be part of the solution to global warming. See these articles from Sound Consumer, “Harvesting Sunlight: Grass, Cows and Climate Change” and “Beefing up the Palouse.”

Eating low on the food chain does not necessarily mean it’s not contributing to climate change. Growing soy for soy milk, soy cheese, and soy meat analogs for vegan foods has entailed clearing swaths of the South American rainforest, and much if not most soy is imported from China. The palm plantations that produce non-dairy, shelf-stable fats for processed foods have had the same effect. There’s a price for all food choices. It’s how food is grown that really matters. Farming organically, however, has been demonstrated to be the most climate-friendly (see http://rodaleinstitute.org/regenerative-organic-agriculture-and-climate-change/).

We Americans also have caused larger methane problems than cattle, especially from fossil fuel use and landfills. Our use of coal, natural gas, oil and petroleum products combined with packed landfills produces more than three times the methane emissions as ruminants in this country.

Healthy sunscreen

Re: “Surprising facts about Sunscreen” (July), I just bought a fresh tube of Badger sunscreen from PCC this morning. I’m super allergic to all chemical sunscreens and am dependent completely on titanium dioxide- or zinc oxide-based. The nanoparticles description was the most surprising to me — 10 to 15 years ago, I would be the woman with the pasty white skin and face at BBQs and other events because I never could get the titanium dioxide rubbed in well enough.

I noticed just in the last two to three summers that sunscreens were not leaving the telltale white paste on my skin … and I was panicking that the sunscreens wouldn’t work or they had a hidden chemical that was reducing the white. Relax, Jen: it’s the nanoparticles! Thank you for always being so well-stocked, PCC!

— Jen Gonyer-Donohue, via Facebook

PCC replies: Most zinc oxide- and titanium dioxide-based sunscreens contain nano particles 1/20 the width of a human hair. These help reduce or eliminate the chalky white tint that these minerals once left on the skin. Based on the available information, Environmental Working Group gives a favorable rating to mineral sunscreens and claims nanoparticles don’t penetrate the skin.

Sugar in recipes

I received my newsletter, reviewed the recipes with the nutritional data, and lo and behold the sugar content was included. I and the rest of PCC’s diabetics thank you very much for including this. Your recipes are great and it now makes it much easier to select some to try. You accomplished my request in such short time! I had written only one month ago and the information showed up in the next issue. Thank you so much.

— Bernard Winer

Corn syrup in baked goods

Why do the PCC chocolate chip brownies contain corn syrup? Even though it’s non-GMO, it’s still corn syrup, which is really bad for us.

— Name withheld

PCC nutrition educator Nick Rose replies: The brownies contain corn syrup because it contributes to the chewy, fudgy texture. Sugar is the primary sweetener but a little bit of corn syrup keeps the brownie soft.

Shoppers often use the terms corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) interchangeably, but they are different ingredients, with a different nutritional composition. When consumed in excess, high-fructose sweeteners (including HFCS and agave) cause our liver to work overtime, and our blood lipids to go in a negative direction.

In 2007 PCC stopped carrying products made with HFCS for a variety of reasons. Researchers were linking HFCS consumption to obesity, fatty liver disease and more problems, plus HFCS is made from GE corn. PCC allows products made with non-genetically engineered corn syrup, but we continue to ban products containing HFCS.

Meat packaging

I love shopping at PCC and also thoroughly enjoy reading the Sound Consumer each month — I learn so much!

The one thing I wish PCC would change is the way the meat and fish are packaged and sold. Is there a reason PCC doesn’t have a nice butcher counter where customers can have a piece of fish or a specific amount of meat weighed out and wrapped up in paper? This would eliminate the need for all that plastic wrap and styrofoam (albeit compostable, it is still extra waste), and it would make it easier for me to buy amounts that I actually need. Maybe it also would allow PCC to sell fresh shellfish!

— Becky Buck Douville

PCC replies: The reason we don’t have full-service meat counters is to keep retail prices down. Labor costs for a service case are very high. When we had a service case, it didn’t always provide the convenience shoppers desired. If you prefer to have your meat packaged in butcher wrap instead of plastic, you certainly may call ahead with your order and tell the staff member who’s working in the meat department what you’d like. They’ll be happy to do it for you.

Eden Foods

I took a look at your website to see what kind of response you had to the Supreme Court ruling that family-owned businesses do not have to offer their employees contraceptive coverage that conflicts with the owners’ religious beliefs, and Eden Foods’ part in this debate. I see you already have gotten some letters about this, and have responded that “PCC endeavors to stick to food and environment issues for public position statements. We are, however, forwarding customer comments to Eden’s CEO.”

I am writing to comment that, while I understand that you cannot take on every issue that arises, this is not adequate in this case. I am asking for a stronger response.

— Sandra Faucett

PCC replies: We understand the concern. We know the issue with Eden is one of many issues important to members and customers. We serve a very diverse customer base and we’ve heard from both sides.

While we personally may disagree with Eden Foods’ view on this issue, Eden also has advocated for decades the highest organic standards, brought BPA-free packaging to the U.S. market, and is one of the last independent organic food brands.

Ultimately, PCC believes it best serves our communities by focusing on providing healthy foods, without taking a stance on the politics of some issues. There are many food companies and farmers who provide no health care coverage at all to employees. We will continue to try to do the best we can in a complex world.

However, we absolutely encourage you to vote on this (and other issues) with your shopping dollars by supporting brands you like and believe in, and avoiding those you don’t. When products don’t sell well, they disappear from store shelves. We do offer alternatives to most Eden Foods beans, soy milk, snacks and tomatoes.

Non-GE choices

I am studying to be a holistic nutritionist coach and the things I am learning about GE foods are horrifying. I really appreciate the fact that PCC has many of its products listed as non-GE, which makes it a pleasure to shop at PCC.

— Joann Nozarro O’Toole, via Facebook

Also in this issue

The unexpected consequences of antibiotics

The damage antibiotics could do to our microbiome — the trillions of microbes living in our gut — is just being discovered. Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, asthma and obesity are just a few of the increasing chronic health problems linked to antibiotics.

Your co-op community, August 2014

Kids Obstacle Challenge, Bicycle Sundays, Summer Splash, and more

Organic food superior

A major study published in the prestigious British Journal of Nutrition claims conclusive evidence that organic crops — and foods — are nutritionally superior to conventional crops and foods.