Letters to the editor, September 2016

This article was originally published in September 2016

Plastics and packaging

Re: “Plastics and packaging” (July), my household discovered a small outfit called “Styro Recycle” a few years ago, where you can recycle Styrofoam trays.

It’s located at 23418 68th Ave. S., Kent, Wash. Phone: 253-838-9555. Your customers need to collect their recyclable styrofoam and associated foam products at home and drop them off themselves. This is the way to recycle trays, etc.

— Greg L.

Aseptic package lining

For shoppers trying to avoid BPA, they often look for soups, beans etc., packaged in cartons instead of cans. But what are those cartons lined with?

— Mary Kirman

PCC replies: Smart question! Aseptic cartons do not contain BPA. Most are lined with several layers of materials, including paper, aluminum and polyethylene, a type of plastic. Aluminum may be one interior layer, used to protect the food from air and light, eliminating the need for preservatives or refrigeration. FYI, the aluminum never comes in contact with the food.

“Meal shakes”

I would like to have the opinion of a nutritionist or dietician about the “meal shakes.” I have researched Glucerna and Ensure. I find disqualifiers for each. Is there a better one? We like the convenience of buying them in a large quantity.

My present need: To gain weight and keep sugar content down.

— L.B.

PCC Nutrition Educator Marilyn Walls replies: PCC does not carry either of the shakes you mentioned because they have plenty of ingredients not allowed at PCC.

We do sell Orgain. Its nutritional composition is identical to Ensure but the ingredients are much cleaner.

I liked what I saw in Orgain and bought a case for a very ill friend. But because the added sugar amount on the label is not separated from the sugars inherent in the milk and fruit, it’s hard to know how much cane juice and rice syrup are added.

Also, while it doesn’t have the convenience of a container you can pull from the refrigerator, making your own smoothie is a wonderful way to add calories and nutrients without added sugar. The Health & Body Care Departments at PCC have protein powders you can add to your own blender mix of fruits, nut butters, milk or milk alternatives, yogurt or kefir, and coconut or other oils. That way you can be sure you get what you need. Meanwhile, talk to someone in a PCC grocery department to order Orgain by the case.

Non-organic products

I love you guys but I’m concerned you’re corporatizing. I’m seeing more and more non-organic produce and it’s slowly beginning to feel like Whole Foods.

The other week I went to look for organic chicken thighs at Columbia City PCC and there was only non-organic. Please don’t corporatize and support any Monsanto GMO foods.

— Angela Mata, via Facebook

PCC replies: We absolutely are not expanding non-organic produce at PCC. Non-organic produce in our stores is rare and then it’s only because of price or availability. For example, we sell non-organic (and organic) Brussels sprouts around the holidays because of the big price difference. But in general, our produce departments are roughly 95-percent organic year round; it’s slightly higher in the summer and slightly lower in the winter.

All our chicken is either organic or Non-GMO Project Verified. We get fresh chicken deliveries 4 days a week but organic sometimes sells out faster than non-organic. We apologize for being out of stock of organic the day you visited. Next time you visit, ask meat staff if you can’t find what you’re looking for and they’ll be happy to help.

Benecol margarine

A few years ago there was a margarine product called Benecol on the market that contained plant sterols and supposedly helped to reduce cholesterol. I don’t see it on the shelves anywhere these days. Do you know if a similar product still is available?

Thanks for your help!

— Connie

PCC replies: Benecol is a brand of “clinically proven cholesterol-lowering products” that contain plant sterols and stanols, unique fats that effectively lower blood cholesterol levels. We don’t carry products such as Benecol because they contain artificial flavors and preservatives, synthetic nutrients and partially hydrogenated oils.

You can find those cholesterol-lowering plant sterols (and stanols) naturally in plant foods, such as nuts, seeds, whole grains and cooking oils. Pumpkin seeds also are an excellent source. Plant sterols block cholesterol from being absorbed in our digestive tract and also reduce our LDL (“bad cholesterol”) levels. You can find plant sterols in some dietary supplements marketed for heart health.

These plant sterols are so effective in lowering blood cholesterol levels that they’re fortified into processed foods (such as Benecol) specifically so the food can be marketed as heart-healthy. The sterols in Benecol and many other processed foods actually are derived from wood pulp, rather than nuts or seeds. We’re disappointed that a product such as Benecol is allowed to make “heart health” claims since it contains trans fatty acids — the most harmful type of fat, contributing to heart disease more than any other nutrient.

Animal fat oils

I see that PCC is carrying Epic animal cooking oils. What is the smoke point of these oils?

— name withheld upon request

PCC nutrition educator Nick Rose replies: Solid fats, such as lard and duck fat, have fairly high smoke points and are popular choices for deep frying and other medium-high (370-390° F) cooking applications. According to the manufacturer (Epic), the smoke point for pork lard is 370° F, duck fat is 375° F, and beef tallow is 385° F.

Of the three oils, beef tallow has the highest percentage of fat from saturated fatty acids and the highest smoke point.

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and very stable. They resist oxidation, so they often can tolerate higher temperatures. Heating oils past their smoke point creates harmful oxidized fats, which can contribute to heart disease and cancer. See our online cooking oil guide for more guidance about culinary oils.

Aid for farmers

In a recent letter to the editor reply, you said you were unaware of a program where people could donate directly to farmers. I wanted to let you know that the Neighborhood Farmers Markets does have an emergency relief program for farmers called the Good Farmer Fund, see http://seattlefarmersmarkets.org.

This program is funded through private donations and our annual fundraiser, An Incredible Feast. This past year we dispersed a record $45,189 to Washington state farmers. Since the inception of this program (2008), we have granted more than $110,000 in relief funds. The funds granted mitigate situations, such as crop loss due to fire, flood, drought and other natural or unforeseen disasters.

As I’m sure you’re aware, 2015 was a tough year with the extreme wildfires and flooding in a large part of our region. A majority of the farmers who have received funds are organic farmers committed to sustainable practices, and these funds help them recover from these difficult situations. In 2015, the Neighborhood Farmers Markets supported 105 farmers, 8 fishers, 2 foragers, 42 processors and 9,307 acres of land.

The PCC in Columbia City has sponsored the Columbia City Farmers Market for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, and the two of us have been creating a budding community partnership that promotes healthy, local eating in this wonderful neighborhood. I thought you would like to know about our program and help us spread the word as many are unaware of where they can donate directly to help our local farmers.

— Anna Sparks, Neighborhood Farmers Markets

Artificial hair dye

“New standards for PCC Health & Body Care (May) says, “hair colors are excepted from the list of prohibited ingredients. PCC hair color brands are a safer choice for consumers than those at conventional stores. At this time there are no permanent hair colors with non-synthetic ingredients.”

The obvious question is: Why is PCC selling synthetic hair dye? Hair coloring is certainly not required for sustenance or physical well-being. The only reason I can imagine for its presence in stores is what it adds to the bottom line at PCC. But the profit motive is not what those of us who have joined PCC expect to be the primary motivator for what makes it onto the shelves.

Numerous studies have shown potential links between hair dyes and cancer. Sound Consumer says the hair dye sold at PCC is “safer” than those sold at conventional stores. But it does not, and cannot, say “safe” because the colorants contain nasty chemicals.

If people want to dye their hair, please let them do so by purchasing the necessary poisons somewhere other than at a “natural” grocer.

The beauty of PCC is the consistency of its message: It practices what it preaches. The co-op has spent enormous energy bringing this point of view to its stores and into the wider community. Carrying such a blatant exception such as hair color goes directly against these efforts.

Why shouldn’t PCC lobby the hair color industry to make safe, not safer hair colorants? Until safe alternatives are available, synthetic hair coloring products should be prohibited from PCC.

— name withheld upon request

PCC replies: You raise a very important point. Our Quality Standards Committee has talked about this before and we will talk about it some more this month. PCC merchandisers are working actively with suppliers and manufacturers to encourage development of better alternatives, even as they search for cleaner products. Hair dyes are a work in progress. We’ll keep searching for better alternatives while offering the safest products available. Selling them is not just about sales; it’s also about having happy customers and hair color is very important to many of them. They’ll use hair color no matter what, so we offer the safest products for them that we can find.

Sugar in the bakery

One of the things I’ve admired about PCC is its high product standards. I know you strive to support the health and well-being of your customers as well as the planet (people, animals, environment). Over the years I’ve watched PCC make change after change in support of this. There is one area, however, that has been very disappointing to me: your baked goods. I’ve always enjoyed them but rarely buy anymore because I find them unnecessarily sweet. I know you’re already aware of the health impacts of too much sugar.

I looked up the amount of sugar in your chocolate chip cookie on your website and was horrified to find 21 grams listed! I asked a PCC employee why, in these times when PCC is helping us make healthier choices, do you use such large amounts of sugar in baked goods? I was told PCC tried reducing sugar in baked goods and they didn’t sell well so PCC stopped offering them.

I understand the need to find a balance between maintaining sales and keeping sufficient product health standards — but I think PCC needs to create a better balance with the sugar issue. Why can’t there be at least some options for reduced-sugar baked goods instead of none at all?

Yes, people are used to high-sugar treats and those are the baked goods that sell well. But shouldn’t PCC be a leader in promoting better health choices? How about helping people begin to get used to the taste of less sugar by providing some reduced sugar options? You’ve done this with other products: You’re no longer allowing the foaming agent, SLS, in your toothpastes — even though you’re aware this might reduce sales. Why can’t you do this with something equally, if not more important, as sugar?

— Linda Joy

PCC replies: Thank you for your thoughtful comments. We also agree there’s room to provide more choices with reduced sugar content. It’s true that as less sugar is consumed, the more acute our sensors for sweetness become. We recognize the new Dietary Guidelines call for reducing sugar intake and we are taking it seriously. At press time, our Quality Standards Committee was meeting to discuss this with a goal to add some reduced-sugar recipes. In the meantime, try our Lemon Shortbread cookie with just 11 grams sugar.

Also in this issue

The real cost of food

Consumers don't pay the true price of food at grocery stores and restaurants — the social, economic and health costs often aren't factored into the prices we see on receipts. But some companies — including many brands sold at PCC — are demonstrating that meeting global demands for food, making a profit and doing so sustainably are not mutually exclusive.

Local malts for local beer

Hops have been the top emphasis for many local craft brewers. But hoppiness is not the only route to microbrew happiness, and a Skagit Valley company that is malting local barley, helped by university plant breeders, willing farmers and adventurous brewers, is poised to trigger a major change in our beer palate.

Your co-op community, September 2016

Food bank packaging parties, Blood drive, 2016 Washington Artisan Cheesemakers Festival, and more