Letters to the editor, August 2016

This article was originally published in August 2016

Recycling vs. composting

Thanks so much for the recent article, “Plastics & packaging” (July). Lots of great info! However, there was no mention of the little white pads that usually are in the meat trays — the ones that soak up any fluids from meat or seafood.

Are those trash, recycle or compost? If they are compostable, I assume they do not need to be rinsed out and, if they recycle, I assume they do need to be rinsed out. Please verify.

— Carol Wagener

PCC replies: These soaker pads should go in the garbage. We stated incorrectly that Draper Valley’s white foam chicken trays are recyclable. We’ve since learned they are Styrofoam and must be disposed of as garbage.

Regarding “Plastics & packaging,” I really appreciate PCC’s commitment to finding the best packaging options for use in the stores. I wanted to point out one issue: I’m fairly certain the Draper Valley trays are not recyclable in Seattle. Can you clarify?

— Katie Kennedy

PCC replies: You are correct and we’re sorry for the mistake. See here.

Sound Consumer archives

I just looked at your website for the first time. I am so happy to find the Sound Consumer here for all to read.

Is there anywhere I can find archived copies of your previous Sound Consumer content? It is the most up-to-date, well-researched and informative information I have found. Thank you.

— Name withheld upon request

PCC replies: You can find the archives of the Sound Consumer back to 2001 on our website.

Organic is key to help feed the world

Re: “Organic is key to help feed the world” (June): An old cliché runs, “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” If you plan to build a little cabin in the woods along the lines of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, you probably don’t need that much more than some wood, a hammer and some nails.

Few of us live in self-contained cabins in the woods. All of us, approximately 7.2 billion human beings, make up a complex ecosystem. Feeding people well is the core of PCC’s mission and you do well to focus on your mission as profoundly, intelligently and skillfully as you do. At some point, focusing too narrowly on a core issue runs the risk of ignoring the “elephant in the room.” Yes. Organic farming can feed the world far better than the seductive destructiveness of industrial farming.

No matter how well we spread the gospel of organic farming, at some point we cannot keep expanding human population without hitting a very unpleasant ceiling. No, I don’t want you to turn the Sound Consumer into a propaganda sheet for Zero Population Growth or Planned Parenthood or the like. I have no magic solution. I simply want to point out the dangers of “tunnel vision” thinking in regard to the estimable goal of feeding the world.

— Stephen Kahn, Langley, Whidbey Island

Pesticides in organics

I read a post by Josh Bloom, “Enjoy your organic produce, and its toxic pesticides,” on the American Council on Science and Health blog.

It says organics are “one big, fat lie. The dirty little secret that the huge organic food industry doesn’t want you to know is that certified organic produce is not grown with no pesticides, just different ones. One of them is called rotenone, which owes its place on the list of approved chemicals for organic farming because it just happens to be a naturally occurring chemical rather than a manmade one.”

Can you shed light on this?

— L.H.

PCC replies: From time to time posts such as Bloom’s try to make an exposé out of the transparent fact that organic farmers use naturally occurring pesticides. These posts suggest — erroneously — that naturally occurring pesticides are as bad as the vast array of highly toxic synthetic pesticides.

Furthermore, Bloom is wrong and out of date about rotenone. There are no rotenone products approved for use in organic production. They were at one time, but rotenone hasn’t been allowed for years.

Conventional agriculture relies on routine use of synthetic chemicals because it’s cheaper than practicing disease prevention. Organic farmers are required to use ecological pest controls, including crop rotation, nutrient management and mechanical weeding before using any sprays, and only then as a tool of last resort. All the organic farmers we know rarely use any sprays. Growers first must demonstrate to their organic certifying agency that they have exhausted every other means at their disposal.

In addition to being produced without the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, organic foods cannot be produced with artificial fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetic engineering or irradiation.

Toothpaste choices

I used to buy Tom’s toothpaste, but now that PCC has discontinued the toothpastes with sodium laurel sulfate, the only Tom’s toothpastes left don’t have fluoride, which I do want.

What toothpastes do you suggest?

— E.S.

PCC replies: Toothpastes with fluoride include Kiss My Face Triple Action Anticavity Natural Toothpaste, Jason Powersmile Anticavity Toothpaste Fluoride Gel, and Spry Cinnamon Toothpaste with Fluoride.

You’re right that the concerns about fluoride have to do with ingesting fluoride routinely, as from fluoridated water. Using fluoride as a topical rinse or in toothpaste doesn’t raise the same concerns because they aren’t meant to be swallowed!

Kraut brine

I read Nick Rose’s article, “Probiotics: get cultured!” (May) and was surprised to learn that Firefly Kitchens’ brine is equally as effective as its delicious kraut. Does this mean if I make my own kraut (per Firefly’s book), that I should not throw out the brine, rather I should imbibe it because it’s as beneficial as the kraut itself?

Does it matter how “old” the brine is to achieve potency? The brine overflows the jar during the fermenting process, especially in the first days of fermenting. Should I toss that or drink it?

— Leslie

PCC replies: What you’re referring to would not be considered “brine” yet, as it’s not fully fermented. So it won’t provide the same health benefits (probiotics, electrolytes and nutrients) as the finished krauts.

Firefly and other kraut brands are selling fully fermented brines, with the same probiotic bacteria and electrolyte minerals found in the krauts. Some but not all of the vitamins, antioxidants and other nutrients found in cabbage and other vegetables are released into the brine during fermentation, so a fully fermented brine contains some traces of these nutrients.

We’re still learning about the probiotic content of fermented foods. More food brands are starting to list the specific strains of bacteria added to foods, such as yogurt and kombucha, but there isn’t much research on the probiotic content of naturally fermented foods, such as sauerkraut produced without any added bacteria.

Supplement absorption

I have been taking the PCC Cal-Mag Citrate Complex. Today, I tested it by letting it sit in 99° vinegar. It never dissolved, which I understand means that likely it can’t be absorbed by my body. Do you have any evidence to the contrary?

— Carolyn C.

PCC nutrition educator Marilyn Walls replies: Our stomachs don’t contain vinegar, so a vinegar test isn’t the best way to test a supplement. Standard procedure for PCC vitamins involves testing incoming raw materials and finished products, and testing each batch for disintegration time. PCC’s vitamin supplier, Vitamer, provided results showing that in a test matching stomach conditions, the batch of calcium you bought breaks down in 7 minutes and 53 seconds.

Whether you’re absorbing your calcium supplements really is an individual issue. My favorite professor at Bastyr always said our G.I. tracts are more individual than our fingerprints, meaning there are few generic answers when it comes to digestion and absorption.

Not everyone utilizes calcium in the same manner and this can depend on more than just the supplement’s efficiency dissolving. Other factors may include bone resorption, other minerals competing with calcium, medications or age (which lowers stomach acid) and maybe even the health of your microbiome (the good bacteria that live in the gut). A bone density test would be the best way to find out if you’re absorbing your calcium supplements. We recommend consulting your physician.

Kava safe?

You sell the Yogi brand of kava tea and I do feel it’s more relaxing than just a typical decaf herbal tea, but I see different information online as to whether kava could cause health problems.

Is there research that PCC relies on to believe it is safe to sell and use?

— Jay

PCC replies: Be aware this Yogi tea does have a warning label, which states: “Ask a healthcare professional before use if you have or have had liver problems, frequently use alcoholic beverages, or are taking any medication. Stop use and see a doctor if you develop symptoms that may signal liver problems (e.g., unexplained fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting, dark urine, pale stools, yellow eyes or skin). Not for use by persons under 18 years of age or by pregnant or breastfeeding women. Not for use with alcoholic beverages. Excessive use with products that cause drowsiness may impair your ability to operate a vehicle or heavy equipment.”

That warning is required by the FDA, since a couple studies found potential harm from consuming kava supplements. These studies have not been replicated and some believe they were not valid for a number of reasons. For example, one study that found damage to the liver was conducted in a group of alcoholic men and likely is not representative of the general population. The World Health Organization published a report in 2007 that found the potential liver toxicity associated with kava actually may have resulted from poor-quality formulations using the wrong parts of the kava plant (rather than the root only), or from relying on toxic solvents for extraction.

We sell kava products because they’re believed to support relaxation, but we suggest you follow the advice on the package label to discuss with your healthcare professional if you have concerns.

Sunscreen amount

Thank you for your article on sunscreen and coral reefs (July). It contains a statement I have seen elsewhere and that I find difficult to interpret: “The advised amount [of sunscreen] is 1 ounce.” My question is: one ounce for what volume of exposed skin? The quantity needed to protect a 250-pound adult male in a Speedo would be very different from what’s needed for a toddler, and that would be different from what’s needed for a 100-pound woman in shorts and t-shirt.

I generally wear sun-protective clothing over my entire body except my face, so I use sunscreen only on my face and neck. How do I calibrate this 1-ounce guideline to be sure I’m using enough but not overusing?

— Ann Kruse

PCC replies: That advice came from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which was referencing the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD): “Studies have shown that people typically apply only one-fourth to two-thirds of the amount required to achieve the product’s SPF rating. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying one ounce — about a palm-full — evenly to all exposed skin.”

But you make a good point about how variable the amount of exposed skin could be. We interpret the EWG/AAD recommendation to mean a palm-full is for full-body coverage, and reduce proportionately from there if only doing face, arms, etc.

Also in this issue

State GE labeling laws revoked?

Thank you to all PCC members who tried to help stop a bad bill that would revoke four state laws to label genetically engineered (GE) foods and any future attempts by other states for mandatory, on-package GE labeling. At press time, the bill from the U.S. Senate was expected to pass the House and be signed by the president.

Hot days, cool melons

PCC sources organic melons from two Washington farms that provide us with variety: black-rind watermelons, honeydew, cantaloupe, Piel de Sapo, Magenta and Snow Leopard, to name a few. Get them while they last!

Clean cosmetics

Facial skin needs extra care, so we might think cosmetics would be especially gentle. Makeup, however, is one of the worst offenders when it comes to ingredients. Choose natural makeup and men's skin care products for the same reason you choose organic food.