Letters to the editor
This article was originally published in May 2021
Letters must be 250 words or less and include a name and hometown. Submission of letter grants automatic approval of publication to PCC, including name and hometown, in print and online. Submission does not guarantee publication. PCC reserves the right to edit content of submissions. Please email letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Compostable Produce bags
I’d like to ask Sound Consumer a question regarding compostable (produce) bags. They are available to shoppers at Trader Joe’s. Can you please explain why PCC hasn’t replaced the plastic bags with compostable ones? Considering PCC’s leadership in all manner of environmental issues, it is strange to see PCC lag behind a national chain.
— Ana Wilson
PCC replies: Thank you for writing and for your interest in compostable bags. PCC is committed to reducing plastic use wherever possible and is actively searching for compostable bags that are sturdy enough to hold produce. When we tested earlier models of compostable produce bags at PCC stores, though, shoppers reported that the bags broke, disintegrated or were otherwise ineffective. New and improved products are now becoming available, and we look forward to testing them and finding a bag that is durable enough for shoppers to use with confidence. PCC also recently added supplies of paper bags to the produce section for shoppers to use for bulk onions and potatoes.
As we found when working toward our goal of making our deli free of petroleum-based plastics by 2022 (it is now more than 80% plastics-free), it takes time to source (and in some cases develop) materials that comply with the requirements of local commercial composting facilities. Some of the products PCC is seeking do not yet exist and must be created (a goal our buying power helps facilitate), some do not yet exist at a satisfactory level of quality, and some cannot yet be sourced in quantities that could supply a co-op our size. We are working on improving all these steps in the supply chain and continuing to add more compostable packaging.
Again, thank you for writing on this critical topic and supporting compostable packaging.
I am concerned about the frequent offers that are available for short periods of time (a few days or a week) that are currently a part of the membership program. There have been many offers I might have made a trip in to take advantage of but have not done so because we are in a pandemic. I can see the upside for the co-op to have people coming into stores often, as they are likely to pick up a few additional things each trip. That’s just not how I’m shopping during the pandemic, and it’s not how health experts are recommending that community members shop. If I were an employee I would also not feel my health is being prioritized when you are incentivizing multiple shopping trips into stores. I think these frequent offers would be OK in normal times, but during the current crisis I suggest scrapping it altogether or loading the deals onto member cards for use on their next trip (whenever that might be).
— Stefanie, Seattle
PCC replies: Thank you for your comments on the cadence of our promotions and thank you for being a member. Our intention for these 2021 offers was to allow at least seven days for members to shop and redeem them. However, a handful of unforeseen supply issues led us to shorten the time frame on some offers, and we then added more options to provide opportunities for members who missed the original promotion. We also know that few members will be interested in every offer and try to provide a variety in order to accommodate different tastes.
The issue you present about social distancing is important, though, and we have shared this feedback with others within PCC who work on these offers. Thank you for being conscientious about social distancing when you shop.
Contaminants in baby food
Were you aware of an investigation showing heavy metals in some brands PCC sells, for baby food? Can you investigate and find out how affected our children were? Can you publish this in Sound Consumer?
— Andrew Lingbloom
I’ve lived in Seattle for the past six years, and I’ve shopped regularly at PCC since I first arrived. My family and I love your store, and we feel grateful to be able to shop at a community market like yours.
Unfortunately, though, I’m disappointed and surprised by a recent decision you made regarding some of your baby food products. On Friday, I placed a grocery order (via Instacart) and bought several Happy Baby Organics products that were on sale. I have an 8-month-old daughter, and I was happy to take advantage of some savings.
The next morning, I saw that Happy Baby Organics was all over the news for products containing high levels of heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury. This information hit news circuits late Thursday and early Friday, which is when your products went on sale.
I shop at PCC because I put trust in the quality of food I’m receiving. The fact that these potentially hazardous baby food products remained on your shelves, and were promoted by sale prices, is really shocking. Not only would I like to receive a refund for these products, but I would also like to hear back from someone about the rationale behind the decision to incentivize buying these products amid such glaring health concerns. I hope that, once I’ve communicated with someone, I feel secure in shopping at your store again.
— Anonymous, Seattle
PCC replies: Thank you for reaching out to us with your concerns on the recent report from the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy regarding heavy metal contamination in baby food products. PCC will be phasing out some of the products we carry and providing new options in response to the report. (See policy report here for more details.)
We take these issues seriously and are highly troubled by the findings of the subcommittee, especially regarding the lack of cooperation from certain brands and willingness to sell products testing higher than internal company standards. That said, unfortunately, the fact that many baby foods (particularly rice-based products) contained high levels of heavy metals is not a surprising finding. This report adds to a substantial body of independent studies conducted by consumer advocacy organizations over the last decade that have highlighted this issue and called on the federal government to set stricter limits and requirements for testing in foods, especially those consumed by children. This recent report is another signal that reform is needed for the baby food industry regarding safety regulations and setting meaningful protective standards for foods.
PCC supports the recommendations from the subcommittee and we are hopeful that this report, being one from the federal government, will instigate more concrete legislative and regulatory action to address these issues. While this is a challenging topic for manufacturers and retailers to address without clearer government safety requirements and standards, it is one that PCC has been actively monitoring and taking steps to address in our supply chain. For example, in 2017 and 2018 we surveyed our baby food producers concern on testing protocol concerning lead and in 2019 brought on a new baby food vendor, Serenity Kids, because of its commitments to testing and improving industry standards.
The timing of the promotion was an unfortunate coincidence and we are happy to refund you for your purchase.
Again, thank you for writing and for your attention to food safety.
Food security article
It’s important that you pointed out the very big need for more food security in Washington (Nutrition Access Report). I do have a concern about the statement that 2.2 million families cannot put three meals a day on the table. There are fewer than 3 million households in Washington, so that number seems quite large. I wonder if the numbers got scrambled.
— Richard Johnson
PCC replies: Thank you for reading the Sound Consumer and for recognizing the need for more food security in our state! The article should have referenced 1.6 million individuals in Washington state. We appreciate you catching the error; it has now been corrected online.
I am writing in response to the recent Sound Consumer article on plant-based “burgers” (pccmarkets.com/r/5833). The attempt to capture the meat-eating market through faux meat products that mimic meat’s flavor and texture is doomed to failure—because meat eaters crave something more subtle that comes with meat.
Religious and spiritual perspectives may seem irrelevant to modern nutritional concerns—especially if they assert that many, if not most, need animal foods and meat. Yet such perspectives have considered diet and health for millennia and have much to say. An example is the Biblical tradition. The Genesis 1 vegan command for humans (and animals!) and then the dispensation in Genesis 9 to eat meat is a riddle worth pondering. No less so, the subsequent Jewish distinction between animals allowed and disallowed for consumption. That allowable animals are vegetarian has suggested to some that the distinction’s purpose is hygienic. And yet Rabbinical interpretations speak of subtle forces coming with meat and the importance of avoiding the worst kind that come through predator carnivores.
A synthesis of religious and spiritual nutritional thought regarding animal foods highlights the important distinction between need and desire. The ideal is to do without—and some can—but most cannot because of that subtle something that is intuitively craved. Nevertheless, curbing excessive desire is important, too, because of adverse effects.
Asserting a human need for meat is a sobering but not fatalistic assessment of human nature. The traditions say that the need will be overcome through human moral development—something, however, that is more difficult and complex than mimicking the taste and texture of meat.
— James Morgante
(author of “The Yogi Diet, Spirituality and the Question of Vegetarianism”)
PCC replies: Thank you for reading Sound Consumer and for raising another dimension to consider in this complex topic. We appreciate the added context as we continue to explore the issues related to plant-based foods.