Letters to the editor, April 2015

This article was originally published in April 2015

Benefits of organics

I am a long-time member of PCC and I just had a conversation about the dangers of food grown with pesticides, fungicides and insecticides. It seems many people are under the impression that organic food is just too expensive. If a person wanted to eat organically and thought it was too expensive, would it save money if they chose to eat a plant-based diet?

Well, here is something to think about: I am an in-home care provider and I make decisions that have an effect on my employers who are in their nineties and struggling with multiple health problems. These problems are quite serious. Last year I began purchasing 99 percent organic for them. There were immediate improvements. This year I decided they might be better off if they were on an organic, plant-based diet. There have been immediate positive results.

Now for the kicker: I have been able to cut their food budget by half.

— Kate Wren

PCC replies: Organic often is criticized for being too expensive, so it’s great to hear your story! We’ve long maintained that it’s possible to eat organic, sustainable food on a budget. See “How to shop at PCC on a budget“.

BPA and its alternatives

I’ve been buying Natural Value coconut milk because of its bisphenol A (BPA)-free label. However, a recent story in The New York Times on a study looking at BPA leaching into food products mentioned that companies not using BPA sometimes substitute chemical coatings as bad or worse, such as BPS. I’d not heard this before but now I’m wondering why it never occurred to me to ask such a logical question as “What are you using instead?”

Eden Foods had a satisfactory explanation on its website about its alternative to BPA linings, Eden also responded within a day to my email query about it.

I haven’t received a response about Natural Value coconut milk, however. I’m wondering if PCC has any information on what it, and other companies making similar claims, are using instead of BPA.

I know chemical companies are notoriously unforthcoming about such matters but, hopefully, the producers PCC deals with are aware of the composition of the containers they’re using. Thanks for any info.

— Jane D. Saxton

PCC replies: To answer whether BPA has been replaced in some products by another chemical, yes. BPS, for instance, is a common BPA-substitute and appears to have similar estrogenic properties. Scientists have affirmed that many “BPA-free” products still emit estrogenic properties.

Natural Value says its can lining doesn’t intentionally contain BPA. Its can lining is made of aluminized polyester and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) organosol. The Native Forest brand also sells coconut milk in BPA-free containers.

Brands at PCC that don’t intentionally use BPA are Amy’s Kitchen, Nature’s One/Baby’s Only, Hatch Chile Company, Muir Glen, Sweet Creek, Wild Planet and Zevia.

Sugar in the deli

Thank you for the terrific article, “Added sugars: Learn to subtract from your diet” (October). Please heed the author’s advice and learn to subtract added sugars from your deli.

Too many of your deli salads contain the very added sugars that the article recommends eliminating entirely: evaporated cane juice, rice syrup, and fruit juice concentrate. There is absolutely no reason to include these items in your salads.

I avoid packaged foods because, as the article points out, it’s near impossible to find any without added sugar. I think I always assumed your deli items would be healthy, but upon reading the ingredients (and thank you for providing this information), I am disappointed to learn many of them contain added sugar. Thank you.

— Amy Gulick

PCC nutrition educator Nick Rose replies: Based on customer demand, PCC deli cooks very recently reduced or eliminated added sugar in many deli salads, and some recipes now use fruit juice or honey rather than cane sugar. Many dishes have no added sugars at all.

Keep in mind sugar often is added to marinades and salad dressings to enhance other flavors and the final dish sometimes actually does not contain much sugar. As the article stated, guidelines “allow” up to 25 grams per day of added sugars without contributing to major health concerns. Also, although sugar is added to our Thai Steak Salad, a serving provides only 4 grams total sugar — the combination of added sugar (cane sugar) and the lime juice (natural sugar).

Plastic in the deli

I’ve been a PCC shopper since moving to Seattle six years ago. During this time I’ve watched some great city and state-wide policies enacted that reflect PCC’s values about reducing environmental impact and improving health. It seems that perhaps PCC puts some policies into place and then the city or state adopts these — what a great influence this co-op has on our lives.

I’m writing regarding plastics in the deli and urging you to reduce the amount of waste produced by encouraging customers to use the paper boxes for deli items. Many people still don’t know that plastics are not only an environmental toxin but also toxic and linked to many cancers in animals, including humans.

So, while buying delicious, organic deli items is great for our health, putting these in plastic containers and then ultimately some of these going into a landfill will not help anyone or anything. I cringe when I witness caring customers and deli employees filling seemingly endless plastic containers with food when those same items could go in a compostable paper box. Can deli clerks begin offering paper before plastic? Then perhaps the city, state, country and even world may catch on and always opt for compostables.

— Rachel Newman

PCC replies: The plastic problem troubles us deeply and is a monumental challenge for the entire food industry. We wish we had an easy solution, but we don’t yet.

The King County health department has told us that deli staff may not reuse containers that shoppers bring from home because the process may be unsanitary. The reason is that containers brought in from the outside may be dirty and pose a risk of contaminating foods in the deli case when they’re refilled.

The clamshell boxes we think you’re referencing are compostable and can be used for deli salads, although they may leak.

Shoppers also can bring their own containers and ask the delis to spoon deli salads onto a paper, then slide the food into a shopper’s container after it’s weighed. We realize this really isn’t an efficient solution but it’s the best we can do now. We hope to meet with the health department to see if we might come up with a solution to reduce packaging waste.

B-12 in nutritional yeast

Is the nutritional yeast in your bulk department fortified with vitamin B-12?

— Jonathan Heller

PCC Nutrition Educator Nick Rose replies: We have two sizes of nutritional yeast flakes in the bulk department and both do contain vitamin B-12. Sorry this wasn’t evident on the labels before; we’ve now updated our bulk bin labels, as well as our online Bulk Food Database, so it’s easy to see. See the full list of ingredients.

This is very important information to include because nutritional yeast is a food many vegans and vegetarians rely on to provide the essential nutrient B-12. Please note that nutritional yeast itself does not contain any B-12 because yeast cannot produce this nutrient, only bacteria. Nutritional yeast very often is fortified with vitamin B-12, making this a “food source” of B-12.

Rice syrup in Vegenaise

A few months ago there was great concern about arsenic in rice products: rice syrup, rice milk, etc.

In the new mayonnaise used in the deli (soy-free Vegenaise), rice syrup is an ingredient. Is that a good idea?

— Fred

PCC replies: Follow Your Heart sent samples of its Vegenaise to an independent laboratory for heavy metal testing. The results showed it contains 0.007 parts per million (ppm) of arsenic from brown rice syrup. There currently are no Food and Drug Administration limits for arsenic in foods, although 0.007 is far below levels known to damage health. The World Health Organization established a Provisional Maximum Tolerable Daily Intake guideline of 2.1 ppm per day. The arsenic in Vegenaise is less than 1 percent of that.

The reason arsenic levels in Vegenaise are so low is that the company buys only brown rice syrup from California or Thailand. Research shows that brown rice grown in California, Thailand and India generally contains lower levels of arsenic than brown rice grown in the south and central United States. Read the article, “Arsenic in the food supply: questions and answers“.

Vegenaise has brown rice syrup as an ingredient but does not list sugars in the nutrition facts panel. Why might that be?

— Justine

PCC nutrition educator Nick Rose replies: The reason the nutrition facts panel doesn’t list sugars is that the serving size is so small and the product is primarily oil and water. A serving is 1 tablespoon (14 grams), and there are 9g of fat (from the oil), which means the first ingredient makes up 65 percent of the product’s weight. The second ingredient is water, and brown rice syrup is third. So only a very small amount of brown rice syrup is being used, mainly to balance the flavor. If the serving was 2 tablespoons, then we might see a full gram of sugar in the nutrition facts panel.

Also in this issue

News bites, April 2015

Avoiding dietary pesticides, One food safety agency?, Child slavery liability, and more

Understanding umami

"Delicious taste" is the translation of the Japanese word umami — the fifth taste sensation first identified in Japan and more recently in the United States. Fermentation and aging transforms the flavors of foods such as miso, soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, and aged and cured meats, in part by freeing the amino acid glutamate to produce umami.

Your co-op community, April 2015

Community grant winner, The PCC TasteMobile, Kindiependent Rock Series, and more