Letters to the editor, August 2015

This article was originally published in August 2015

PCC’s support for organics

Thank you PCC for your support opposing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s action to allow non-organic and synthetic materials in organic production. I am a proud co-op member!

I truly wish other natural markets would support the organic industry as PCC does. You remain the leader and role model for other markets. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

— Mimi and Tim Farley

Online delivery

I was disappointed to hear about PCC’s plans for online shopping and delivery. I believe this service would be counter to PCC’s mission of creating healthy communities, where people get out of their houses to engage in the real world with real people. I would not want to live in a neighborhood where everyone was holed up at home all day, satisfying their every whim with mouse clicks, while armadas of delivery trucks are the only sign of life on the streets. This may be the bleak and isolated world we are headed toward, but an institution like PCC should put values over profit and avoid joining the rush to this dystopia.

While the idea may be to supplement the physical stores for a few time-challenged shoppers, I can see how the service could easily grow over the next decade to where home delivery becomes the only way to get food. Let’s not start down that path.

PCC has done a great job of making their stores engaging, diverse and fun places to shop, mingle and learn. They seem to be doing a good job of getting people out to browse the surprising variety of healthy food options, where the sensory experience of the marketplace can lead to new discoveries. Food is the single most important thing we buy, and it is extremely sad if we can’t even be bothered to go out and shop in the excellent stores PCC provides.

— Greg Slayden

PCC replies: We appreciate your community values and intend to keep providing brick-and-mortar stores that are engaging, diverse and fun places to shop, mingle and learn. Thank you for the compliment! We certainly do not intend a delivery service to replace our stores or the sensory experience. We hope online shopping simply will make it easier for more people to enjoy the foods we offer. We agree food is the most important purchase we make and PCC wants to make the best foods available to more people by extending our reach online. You may think of it as akin to PCC opening another store that’s not in your neighborhood. You won’t use it, but others in the PCC community might!

Excessive packaging

I love PCC. I am so thankful I live in your vicinity. PCC has my back — its staff does all my food vetting for me! It is the work of a conscious organization and I am deeply indebted to your staff for your vigilance in food politics that matter to me.

I am vexed, though, by the trend — at least at Redmond PCC — to offer items with undue amounts of packaging. Last I was there, a multi-shelved carousel was installed at the checkout stand with a multitude of individually portioned chips, nuts and other snacks. I’ve also noticed you are offering the little seaweed snacks that are horribly over-packaged. My questions to you are:

  1. Isn’t that what the PCC bulk section is for?
  2. Shouldn’t PCC concern itself with the outside, as well as the inside, of its offered food?

I understand it’s likely something your customers request and you deliver. But instead of offering more packaging, PCC could advocate for and educate about less packaging. We owe it to our children and the growing islands of plastic in our oceans.

— Sarah Cassidy

PCC replies: For the majority of items in our stores, packaging is a necessity for product protection and consumer safety. But we agree there are instances where less would be better and where a different packaging choice — in type, size and material used — would be better for environmental and economic reasons. We currently are conducting a thorough review of packaging throughout our stores, starting with our own deli and bakery products. We always try to be mindful of excessive packaging but this review — and the availability of improved packaging options — will result in positive and noticeable changes over the next few months.

Fair labor

I just learned about the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) labeling program (equitablefood.org) and wondered if PCC is participating. Costco even is on board for this! If not, what kind of standards for fair labor practices does PCC adhere to (other than for chocolate, which I read about on your website).

I would like to purchase produce preferentially from vendors that treat their workers with respect and dignity and I’m sure other PCC members would like to do the same.

— Claire

PCC replies: Yes, PCC has been in conversations with EFI and met with EFI’s leadership team to discuss how we might encourage suppliers to seek third-party fair labor verification. We know some suppliers are looking into the EFI model.

For our part, PCC is committed to being a positive force in the lives of people who work in our supply chain. We will not tolerate child labor, forced labor, human trafficking, abuse or harassment. We expect employers meet or exceed legal requirements for labor practices, worker health and safety, and housing.

Ingredients in beer and wine

I want to extend the conversation on beer and wine ingredients (“Letters to the editor,” May) and specifically about Guinness. Last year my doctor told me I had elevated blood sugar levels so I began inquiring about the sugar content in various foods and beverages.

As I love Guinness, I emailed the company five times to find out how much maltose dextrose remains in the beer after it has been fermented. The company was very prompt in replying to each email, letting me know that someone would be getting back to me. It has been more than a year and I still haven’t received an answer to my query.

I very much support the PCC policy under consideration that would exclude products from producers unwilling to disclose ingredients. While I think it is up to individual shoppers to decide what they will or will not eat, to make that decision we need to know the ingredients in products.

— Irene Schleicher

PCC replies: We’re sorry to hear about your trouble with a reply from Guinness. We heard from the company that after fermentation, there’s no dextrose (glucose) remaining and virtually no maltose as these are taken up rapidly by yeast and metabolized to alcohol. Maltotriose is taken up more slowly and some may remain. Recent analysis of Guinness shows that < 0.4g/100ml of total sugars remains in the final product and most of this sugar is maltotriose. Please consult your doctor about whether this is acceptable.

As we said in our May issue, beer, wine and cider producers are not legally required to list their ingredients, but most PCC vendors have been forthcoming when we’ve requested this information. This summer, PCC is asking vendors to disclose if they use controversial ingredients, such as non-organic caramel color, carrageenan, titanium dioxide or glycols.

Organic honey and maple syrup

Is there really an “organic” maple syrup and an “organic” honey? How are they kept “organic”?

— S.H.

PCC replies: Organic maple farmers must not use pesticides or chemicals, nor can neighboring farmers. The trees cannot be over-tapped. Paraformaldehyde pellets to keep non-organic taps open have been illegal since the 1980s, but buying organic ensures no formaldehyde in the syrup. The flow of maple sap is traced, making sure no contamination occurs. The syrup-making process is checked for cleanliness, defoaming agents and artificial additives.

Organic honey producers must develop plans describing the location of hives, the organic crops, and wild areas providing bees forage, water sources, and possible sources of nearby contamination that would exclude organic certification (such as proximity to incinerators, sewage treatment facilities, power plants or golf courses). Organic honey must be from colonies and hives that have been under continuous organic management for no less than one year prior to the removal of honey from the hive.

Honey bees forage for miles around and for that reason, there’s no certifiably organic honey from any source in Washington state or any other source in the continental United States that we know.

Iron and calcium

I learned that calcium and iron cancel each other out so they should not be taken as supplements at the same time. I have assumed the same is true for ingredients.

If this is true, is there a “cancelling out” if I use amaranth (iron) or quinoa (iron) in the same salad with chia seeds (calcium)? Or chia seeds (calcium) and spinach (iron)? Or an iron-rich dish followed by or served with a calcium-rich dish? Thanks!

— Inquiring Mind

Nick Rose, M.S. Nutrition, replies: Yes, there’s a slight reduction in the absorption of certain minerals (such as iron and calcium) when they’re consumed together, but this results only in a small fraction of dietary minerals not getting absorbed.

A bigger factor impacting iron absorption is whether it’s from plant foods (non-heme iron) or animal-derived (heme iron). We absorb less than 10 percent of the iron from plant foods, while we absorb closer to 25 percent of the iron from heme-iron (animal) foods. Adding heme iron to a meal or supplement increases the absorption rate of non-heme iron.

Either way, effects of poor absorption may be short-term. The National Institutes of Health says, “studies on human subjects have shown that calcium (Ca) can inhibit iron (Fe) absorption, regardless of whether it is given as Ca salts or in dairy products. This has caused concern as increased Ca intake commonly is recommended for children and women, the same populations that are at risk of Fe deficiency. However, a thorough review of studies on humans where Ca intake was increased substantially for long periods shows no changes in hematological measures or indicators of iron status. Thus, the inhibitory effect may be of short duration and there also may be compensatory mechanisms.”

Also in this issue

Animal welfare: PCC standards

At PCC, we believe the way humans treat farm animals is integral to our own general well-being and the health of our planet. We believe our animal welfare standards are among the strongest in the grocery industry.

Producer spotlights

Read about Twin Springs Farm, Mark LaPierre Farms and Scott Leach Orchards — the local, organic farms that provide PCC with peaches, blueberries, cherries, nectarines and plums all summer.

Your co-op community, August 2015

Food bank packaging work parties, Subaru Kids Obstacle Challenge, Lynne Vea at Farestart Guest Chef Night, and more