Letters to the editor, March 2015

This article was originally published in March 2015

Raw-milk cheese

I shop at the West Seattle store and was looking for some grated or shredded Parmesan or similar cheese. There didn’t seem to be any that was not made of raw milk. I am not at all comfortable with buying raw-milk products. Do you have some way of knowing that these products are safe? People do get sickened by this product so I’d really like to know why you are convinced that it is safe to consume. Are you moving away from pasteurized cheese?

I’ve been a co-op member since the 1970s and I’ve always trusted that you bring in only good products. This one I’m nervous about.

— Harriet Husbands

PCC replies: PCC does sell Parmesan cheeses that are pasteurized, such as Organic Valley and Organic Creamery.

Regarding the safety of raw-milk cheeses, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration law, in effect since just after World War II, stipulates that cheese made from raw-milk must be aged for at least 60 days at 35º F or above before it can be released on the market. The reason behind this law is that dangerous bacteria, such as listeria, cannot survive in the environment past 60 days.

The process of renneting, salting and curing the cheese kills pathogenic bacteria. In cheese, good bacteria form a protective shield against potentially dangerous contaminants. This means cheese made from pasteurized milk actually may be less safe than that made from raw milk. The good bacteria in raw-milk cheese protect the cheese from potential dangerous pathogens.

Some cheese lovers prefer cheese made from raw milk over a pasteurized version for the complexity of flavors provided. But everyone will agree that cheese made from milk that is clean (pasteurized or unpasteurized) is the most important factor of all. Read more.

Gluten-free in the deli?

In “Healthy foods on the go” in the January issue of PCC’s Taste magazine, you “happily” claim that “the PCC deli offers something for everyone.” In reality, you offer nothing for those with celiac disease, estimated to affect almost 1 percent of the population. For those who must maintain a strict gluten-free diet, this is not happy at all.

A lot of people are surprised to learn that celiacs cannot eat at most restaurants, even those providing a gluten-free menu. Very few kitchens have procedures in place to prevent the cross-contamination of gluten (inadvertently transferring gluten from one surface to another) and a disappointing number of restaurants are not even aware this is a problem. A celiac on the go has very few dining options.

So perhaps PCC could help improve the situation? You’ve led the way on many food safety issues – why not find a way to safely serve celiacs and those with severe food allergies? Then everyone can eat on the go.
Meanwhile, we are grateful for PCC’s commitment to stocking gluten—free products in other areas of the store, making it easier for celiacs to eat well at home.

— the Hooper family

Robots in the milking parlor

According to your article, “Robots in the milking parlor” (December), robotic machines are an “advancement” as the cow chooses when she comes to be milked. Why does a cow need milking so many times a day to mimic the way she would nurse her calf?

It’s because it would be natural for her to have her own calf to give her milk to instead! The PCC article did not cover what happens when the days-old calf is taken away from the cow to give us the milk. It didn’t cover the grief of their separation and where the calf goes. If a male, most likely it becomes veal. If a female, she is allowed to spend a few more precious days with her mother for bonding until she also is turned into a milking cow for her shortened life. Dairy cows are culled at an early age no matter how humane the farm. The famer says of the robot milking machine, “She can kick at this machine all she wants and it doesn’t bother me a bit” — how sad and insensitive a comment.

— Eileen Weintraub, Founding Director, Help Animals India

Writer Ariana Taylor-Stanley replies: Your criticisms of dairy farming are true; they’re all part of the process of raising dairy animals. But it’s important to note that organic dairy cows live quite a bit longer than conventional cows. According to “A Dairy Farm’s Footprint,” a report by The Organic Center, lactating cows on organic dairy farms live 1.5 to two years longer. They reportedly milk through four to eight lactations — the cycle of pregnancy followed by birth and milk production, lasting about 12 to 14 months. Conventional cows live through fewer than two.

The farmers interviewed for the article say the robots are helping the cows produce milk even longer.
Regarding your comment about kicking, cows kick sometimes, to get rid of flies or for other reasons, and now that Laura isn’t standing behind them to milk, they don’t kick her.

Temperatures for cooking oils

I was reading your brochure on cooking oils and while I appreciate the information, I feel a very important piece of information is missing: What temperatures correlate to low, medium and high heat?

Also, is there any range that is generic among the settings on electric stove tops? You probably know they just give a dial setting of low, medium and high. It’s interesting that stove manufacturers can’t or won’t take the time to put the temperature range.

— Victor

PCC replies: We based the cooking oils temp chart on 350° F as a “medium” temperature. Previously we included temperature ranges in the brochure but because most stoves don’t include that information, we dropped them.

Low, medium and high are what people see on their stoves and, therefore, how we present this information in the brochure. If you ever notice your oil has turned brown over heat, or is smoking, toss it out, wipe your pan clean, and start again at a lower temp (or use a more heat-tolerant oil).Oxidized oils are not healthy to consume. They also taste terrible.

We’re offering a class on cooking oils this spring. Register starting March 3 at PccCooks.com.

Whole vs. ground flax

I use whole flax in my bread-baking (four loaves a week made of 60 percent whole wheat, milling my own wheat berries from Blue Bird in Winthrop). Would the flax yield greater benefit if I used ground flaxseed?
My wife and I and family have been eating sensibly for years, 50+ years with PCC, starting when there was the only one store (on 20th & Ravenna). (Yes, I am old!)

— Paul Thomas, Woodinville

PCC nutrition educator Nick Rose replies: Yes, the body is able to absorb more nutritional benefits from ground flax than whole flax seed. The human digestive system is unable to break down the seeds completely to release all the nutrients, including omega-3s. Theoretically, if you chewed the seeds thoroughly you could break down the seeds, but it’s unlikely you’ll chew each bite of bread 50 times. Since you’re milling your own wheat berries, try grinding your own flaxseed before using in your bread recipe. This can be done in a standard coffee grinder or spice grinder.

You also can purchase ground flax seed. We sell ground flax, usually found in the refrigerated section in our stores. Just be sure to refrigerate any flax to prolong shelf life, since ground seeds go rancid much quicker than whole seeds.

Nut allergies

In December I bought some hazelnuts from the View Ridge store. They were non-organic but the only ones you had. I have a sensitivity to some types of nuts and only eat cashews, pecans and hazelnuts.

I noticed these hazelnuts were shaped differently, sort of almond-shaped instead of round. I had a slight reaction to these hazelnuts and I was wondering if they were the new hazelnuts out of Oregon State University (the new blight-resistant variety), or if they are perhaps a cross between hazelnuts and almonds?

— Christine Sannella

PCC replies: We contacted Shawn Mehlenbacher from the OSU Hazelnut Breeding and Genetics program. He says hazelnuts and almonds are not related, so it’s not possible to cross the two genera.

Since many nuts and the legume peanut have the same seed storage protein, it’s possible for people to develop an allergy to multiple nut crops. In the case of hazelnut, the reaction may be to the pellicle (skin on the kernel) and the bitter phenolic compounds it contains. If this is the case, consumption of blanched hazelnuts (skins removed) do not produce an adverse effect.

All the recent hazelnut cultivar releases from OSU have round (or roundish) nuts. The kernels you describe are likely an older cultivar, such as Ennis or DuChilly.

Vegan vitamin D

The February issue of PCC Taste magazine says that vitamin D’s only veggie source is mushrooms. As a lacto/ovo vegetarian, do PCC vitamin D supplements come from killing fish?

— Phil Mahoney

PCC nutrition educator Nick Rose replies: The majority of vitamin D supplements are derived from lanolin (wool oil) and many are derived from fish oil. Both of these are labeled “D3” on supplement labels.

We do carry many vegan vitamin D supplements at PCC. Many of these are mushroom-derived and usually are labeled “ergocalciferol,” which is the mushroom form of vitamin D. It’s also sometimes labeled “D2.”

Some supplement companies now are producing vegan D3 by extracting the vitamin from a lichen source. D3 often is considered to be more bio-available than vitamin D2, but a few studies have found that high doses of D2 may be just as effective as D3 in raising blood vitamin D levels.

If a multivitamin is labeled vegetarian, the vitamin D most likely is from lanolin. Vegans should look for supplements labeled vegan (or D2) to ensure they’re not derived from animal byproducts.

Also in this issue

PCC Board of Trustees report, March 2015

Notice of annual membership meeting, Celebrating a new era of operational leadership, Board hires a new CEO, and more

News bites, March 2015

Soil-derived antibiotic without resistance?; Fast food, poor academics?; An avocado a day; and more

Healthy soil, healthful food

Modern industrial agriculture practices have been impacting our once-rich belowground ecosystem since the early 20th century and we're just beginning to understand how it's affecting our health.