Letters to the editor, July 2017

This article was originally published in July 2017

Mediterranean Diet

The writer of “More accolades for the Mediterranean Diet” (May) raved about the great diet but did not detail any ingredient in this diet except olive oil. We all know this diet also includes pasta as a staple, which I don’t think is all bad. Was he trying to avoid mentioning this?

He should discuss all the staples of this diet, not just olive oil, which was really all the article was about.

I always enjoy Sound Consumer and the careful research you do on so many things.

— Connie

PCC replies: Most people agree the foundational foods of the Mediterranean Diet are olive oil, vegetables and fruits, fish and seafood, and red wine. There can be a wide range in consumption of other foods, such as beans, grains, dairy, eggs and meat. We mentioned a few of these but we didn’t list more because “there are inconsistencies among methods used for evaluating and defining the MedDiet,” according to “Definition of the Mediterranean Diet: A Literature Review” (learn more here). Oldways offers a good summary of all the staples at oldwayspt.org.

But you’re right that we didn’t detail a full list of foods and focused instead on research showing the benefits attributed to a diet that generally is high-fat and plant-based.

It’s challenging to summarize Mediterranean Diet foods for several reasons. First, the “traditional” Mediterranean Diet is hard to find in today’s globalized economy. For example, many of today’s studies allow avocados to be consumed, although they’re not traditional in the region.

Second, the Mediterranean region includes 16 countries. Over the years, researchers have redefined the Mediterranean Diet based on their own notions of what foods are healthy. They then find examples in the region that support their notions rather than define the diet based on the actual diets consumed in the region.

Third, there’s the question of whether it’s the diet itself — or the lifestyle — that creates the health benefits. The region is known for a deep appreciation for food and communal meals.

Unusual cuts of meat

As much as I appreciate the emphasis placed on organic, 100-percent grass-fed meats, I have been extremely frustrated over the last year by the lack of availability of certain animal parts. These would include tripe, tendons and oxtails.

Our ancestors ate from tip to tail and there were important and complex health benefits to this practice. Concentrating solely on muscle meat is misguided, as well as unhealthy. Losing availability to this valuable offal was a step backward, and I’d like to see this change as soon as possible and, once again, become a priority for those in charge of making our meat purchasing decisions.

— Vicki

PCC replies: You’ll be glad to know we actually do carry offal. We carry hearts, liver, tongue and oxtails (both non-GMO and organic). As for organic honeycomb tripe, kidney, tendon and beef cheeks, we don’t stock them every day so you just need to call ahead to place a special order.

We just started working with a new small, organic meat producer and rolling out these less in-demand parts was part of the second phase of the rollout. That may be why you didn’t see the cuts you wanted when you visited. Thank you for your interest — we love shoppers who appreciate unusual cuts because we order organic beef by the whole body! Eating tip-to-tail is more sustainable.

PCC sets bar for non-GMO and organic meat

Re: “PCC sets the bar for non-GMO and organic meat” (May), congratulations, PCC! Excellent work that shows appreciation for the environment and human and animal health. I trust that your deli and meat purchases also consider the welfare of livestock and the harvesting style when building relationships with vendors.

I am a little concerned, however, that small ranchers and farmers such as Deck Family Farm or Lonely Lane Farms will not be able to meet these standards and so will be shut out of your market. Can you address this concern?

Again, thanks for conscientiously moving markets forward.

— PNWeekender, via Facebook

PCC replies: Family farms, such as Deck Family Farm and Lonely Lane Farms, have an opportunity to join other small producers that make up Umpqua Valley Lamb, Carlton Farm, and Draper Valley Farms, which all provide meat to PCC. These brands are made up of small farms that are marketed under one umbrella.

Often small farms can’t produce enough on their own to meet the demand of all PCC stores but in collaboration with other small ranchers they could contribute to the fresh meats you see on our shelves. Deck Family Farm is certified organic, so it already meets our standards.

Many small farmers belong to farming groups and organizations, such as the American Grassfed Association, that allow access to markets such as PCC. PCC buyers also are a great resource for small farmers. They’re constantly communicating with farmers about how to sell to retail markets.

Fukushima radiation

This comment is about the “Fukushima radiation update” News Bite (May). The item states, in reference to cesium (134Cs), that “the levels detected [in salmon] are far too small to make anyone sick: they’re 1,000 times less than … a dental X-ray.” I don’t know what detailed calculations (if any) underlie this statement but it is a common and sometimes deliberate mistake when calculating effects on biological organisms to directly compare environmental emissions from radioactive isotopes to medical X-rays.

If you sat even a few inches away from the contaminated salmon or put some aluminum foil around it, the radiation dose would be quite harmless, but this is not necessarily true if you ate the salmon. Cesium behaves like potassium in the body and can be taken up and incorporated into cell structures, where it emits beta radiation in close proximity to the DNA of surrounding cells for months or even years. The same can be said for other isotopes: It is fairly established that a few micrograms of plutonium 239 are pretty benign sitting a foot away from you but, if you happen to inhale them, you will be at high risk of contracting lung cancer.

Any detectable radiation in food above the background level, especially from isotopes of iodine, cesium and strontium, should be a concern, and trying to minimize it with a statement about an equivalent X-ray dose may be misleading and unscientific.

I am also not sure why the Woods Hole researchers did not detect 137Cs as well as 134Cs. The 137Cs isotope is more commonly found in spent nuclear fuel and specifically in contamination from Fukushima. In fact, 137Cs has a longer half-life (30 years versus 2 years) and it would be expected to be predominant. I think they deserve some questioning!

— Claude Ginsburg

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution replies: Yes, internal and external exposure have different effects. The “1000 times lower” statement was about external exposure swimming in the ocean on the West Coast with radio cesium, versus X-rays.

The Linear No Threshold (LNT) models do suggest an impact of “any detectable radiation.” At the same time, the health impacts are proportional to the dose/radiation levels with a LNT model. So it’s fair to say that health impacts would be much higher closer to the source and soon after the accident in 2011.

For the ocean and seafood we consume, levels of radioactive forms of Cs were millions of times higher in March/April 2011 near Fukushima. Based upon measurements in the ocean (our own) and fish (Canadian scientists), radio contaminant levels are extremely low in the waters and fish off the West Coast (millions of times lower than peak in Japan), hence the comments about expecting health effects to be not detectable.

We do detect 137Cs in every water sample. You find 137Cs in every ocean — left over from nuclear weapons tests. The same holds for fish. If you have sensitive enough methods, you would find 137Cs in all fish. Only some have 134Cs as well, and that’s what the article was talking about.

See OurRadioactiveOcean.org for those ocean radiocesium data, more on radioactivity in general, and links to many articles and public resources on ocean radioactivity.

Cost of gluten-free

I cannot help but notice that people with gluten sensitivity are being taken advantage of by excessively higher prices of gluten-free products!

I understand paying more for organic ingredients but the majority of gluten-free products are not even organic, and I truly fail to see how many of the average ingredients, like rice or potato flour (and similar), are really that much more expensive. I do not blame PCC but I do feel greatly taken advantage of by the manufacturers of such products, when the gluten-containing products from the same maker are on average $2-3 less expensive.

— Ute P.

PCC replies: Thank you for sharing frustration about the cost of gluten-free foods. A number of us here at PCC follow gluten-free diets and we empathize!

It’s true these items tend to be more expensive. We suspect this is an issue of “economy of scale.” Wheat has a huge market presence, whereas potato and almond flour do not. Also, some gluten-free foods may be made on a smaller scale, and the facilities where they’re made require exceptional cleaning and sanitation to ensure the “gluten-free” claim. These factors add cost.

Also in this issue

PCC challenges "healthy" label claims

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration accepted comments on what the definition of “healthy” should be for food labels. Here’s how PCC weighed in.

PCC engages on policy proposals

PCC has engaged on several recent policy proposals affecting ethically sourced, organic foods.

Staff picks

Summer fruit is in full swing! Come pick up local, organic Lapin and Rainier cherries, sugar snap peas, and early peaches, pluots and cherry tomatoes from California. PCC staff is raving about an organic lemon curd, two types of sunscreen, California olive oil and more!