Letters to the editor
This article was originally published in February 2019
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Thank you for all the delicious vegan recipes in the November/December newspaper. This Thanksgiving my family and I went a little pie-crazy and made both the Savory Mushroom Pie with Sweet Potato Topping and the Pumpkin-Coconut Pie from that edition.
The dishes were quite fun and easy to make alongside my traditional vegan stuffed pumpkin and the end result was a picture-perfect, indulgent Thanksgiving meal. The mushroom pie even got a grudging nod of approval from my diehard meat-lover father!
I loved coming home for the holiday and seeing these ideas in the Sound Consumer. Thanks again!
Palm oil concerns
I purchased a Nutiva product last week, the Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil with “non-dairy buttery flavor,” and although I read the ingredients and didn’t find palm oil listed, I had a sneaking suspicion that there was palm oil. This was confirmed by a reply from Nutiva’s PR people in an email.
As someone who has also purchased Earth Balance vegan butter, I am concerned about the veracity of Earth Balance’s claims to sustainability and the legitimacy of sustainability certifications for palm oil in general.
A recent New York Times special report on palm oil cultivation notes that palm oil has “unleashed a catastrophe” due to its direct complicity in the destruction of the rainforests, the methane and carbon bombs being released from the cleared forests contributing to global climate warming and change, the extinction of the orangutan and countless other species by the minute, and the violation and genocide being acted out toward indigenous tribes. Other reports have highlighted human rights abuses, such as child slave labor. With the continued felling of tropical rainforests and threats of extinction for many species of animals, I question whether there is such a thing as sustainable palm oil for a mass consumer market.
I have read about the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification but still have grave concerns given that others have noted many members of RSPO regularly flout the rules by selling non-RSPO palm oil. What good are agreements if signatories don’t keep them? Will Palm Done Right be any different? Does RSPO really mean anything in light of the realities of the macroeconomy that is driven first and foremost by money, not ethics and sustainability?
— Jordan Van Voast
PCC replies: Thank you for these thoughtful, well-researched questions. We agree with your concerns and are glad to know shoppers like you are paying attention to certifications not backed by law (unlike organic standards).
PCC identified palm oil as an issue of high concern in 2016 and since then we have educated ourselves internally ensuring the palm oils we sell in grocery, at least, are certified by RSPO. We also became a retail supporter of Palm Done Right in 2018 and shifted all the palm oil used in our baking and deli to certified Palm Done Right oil.
We believe Palm Done Right certification is credible and certain. It requires fair labor certification, organic certification, Non-GMO Project Verification, and RSPO certification. It also absolutely prohibits any product from clear-cut or burned land, from virgin or second-growth rainforests, or anything produced with human trafficking or slavery.
We understand RSPO certification aims to improve the supply chain and that there are loopholes. We’re aware it allows some palm grown on clear-cut, deforested and drained peat bogs to be blended with oils grown sustainably. Some RSPO-certified growers may be trying to scale up, with part of their operations already certified and other parts in the process. Other RSPO members — such as processors or manufacturers using palm oil in their products — rely on “mass balance” sourcing, where they buy the amount of RSPO-certified volume of palm oil they need, even though it might not physically be in their products. This could be by choice because it’s cheaper than other sourcing systems or, again, they may be in a scaling-up process.
Addressing palm oil is a priority for us. We aim to establish our own palm oil standards by 2020. We value your smart insights. It helps encourage this important work.
Many environmentally conscious PCC customers that I have communicated with have expressed the desire to buy your deli foods without using plastic containers. What are the options?
One person suggested you could serve deli products onto a PCC plastic plate (the type used as service ware at the Green Lake and Fremont stores). The customer could pay using just the barcode sticker and transfer the food to their own container to take home.
Another option is for customers to ask for the food to be put in a cardboard or paper food box, which they then could compost at home. Can they ask for the food in a compostable plastic cup like those used for smoothies? Or can they give a deli staff member a container from home (the way we can give the barista our own mug for an espresso drink)?
Are there other options we have not thought of? Would you consider signage or a comment in the Sound Consumer to address people’s environmental concerns about plastic from the PCC deli?
— Rebecca Drieling
PCC replies: Thank you for being so thoughtful about reducing waste when purchasing deli foods. The question about the difference in using your own coffee cup versus your own deli food container is a good one. Our food safety manager has worked collaboratively with the Health Department on this issue. For coffee it works differently than the deli. In that case we either make the drink in one of our pitchers, which then gets washed and sanitized, or we can handle the customer’s coffee cup and wash utensils afterwards.
In the deli, however, we are not able to fill customer’s own containers because of the potential for cross-contact between your dish, the serving spoons, and the food. You may let the deli counter staff know that you have your own container and they can serve and weigh your food on a piece of waxed paper. We do this fairly often since it has been many years since we’ve been allowed to fill containers brought from home.
As for reducing plastic packaging overall, you may be interested to see our new packaging initiative. We’ve been making good progress on our goal to remove all petroleum-based plastics from our delis. We now offer compostable to-go boxes at our deli counters and are testing compostable bioplastic containers at our stores. These tests will help us evaluate durability and composting guidance.
Nitrates, nitrites and cured meats
I understand from the head salumiere and founder of a salumi company that he uses a purified nitrate to ensure they use the least amount of nitrates.
He said celery powder is unregulated and can have more nitrates than traditional methods. Are you able to speak to that?
PCC replies: Thank you for this question about use of nitrates and celery powder in cured meats. Research shows nitrites can form nitrosamines, molecules shown to cause cancer in lab animals, and that nitrates change to nitrite in the body. The USDA regulates the amount of artificial nitrate/nitrite additives that can be used, to minimize nitrosamine formation.
Celery powder is a source of naturally occurring nitrates and is not regulated like artificial additives. It also is used as a curing agent in meat, although packaging claims say “No nitrates or nitrites added.” Celery powder meets organic standards and using it reportedly results in fewer nitrites than from artificial nitrates or nitrites.
I am writing to express my dismay in not finding certain products on PCC shelves that I have been purchasing at PCC for years. Every time I inquired about a missing product I was told, “They were not big sellers, so they were discontinued. We need to be profitable.” It is difficult for me to refrain from framing this reply as corporate profits taking preference over customer satisfaction and consideration, and feeling disappointed and frustrated.
The final blow was the elimination of the fresh juice bar at my local Issaquah PCC. Over the years we, the customers, have spoken up adamantly for keeping the juice bar. The store originally was opened with its juice bar, much to my elation. When PCC curtailed custom juices for a set menu, we spoke up and the custom juices were again offered.
I want to continue supporting PCC. Let’s work together on this, instead of using the corporate model of top down, profit-driven decision making.
— Lemoine Radford
PCC replies: Thank you for asking about our product mix. We apologize that some of your favorite items no longer are available at PCC. We constantly are evaluating the items we offer. Over time we may discontinue some items to make way for new ones. We’re sorry you were given the impression that our discontinued items are based solely on monetary gains.
We look at it differently — the monetary gains are the result of having products that customers appreciate and return to buy again. It can be a tough call sometimes, especially when a product has a unique benefit. In addition, some items may be discontinued due to our high quality standards.
The decision to close the Issaquah juice bar was a business decision based on low sales and the fact it was the only juice bar in our co-op. New juice bars are not in our plans for any additional stores. Instead, we launched our PCC cold-pressed juices, based on Issaquah juice bar recipes, offered to the entire co-op.