Letters to editor
Sound Consumer | July 2007
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Local? Organic? How to choose?
I'd like to commend you for your cover story in June (Local? Organic? What's a consumer to do?). I sometimes wonder which is best but go with the view that organic food is more pure and as nature intended and I strive to feed my family organic food even if it does cost more.
I'm originally from England and when I moved here I couldn't understand why the milk here did not taste like milk. How could milk taste so different in America? It did not make any sense. Then I started buying organic milk and noticed such a huge difference in flavor. The milk tasted as it should and as I remembered it tasting. Wow! What a difference and how scary to think that I truly could taste the chemicals and pesticides in the other milk.
I recently went to a talk by a local doctor who was encouraging the audience to switch to organic produce where they could. His view was, yes, it is more expensive but not as expensive as his future medical bills could be from absorbing all those chemicals and the damage they do to our bodies.
Organic food is an investment not only in the future of our planet but on a more immediate level — our individual future health.
— Jo (last name withheld on request)
Local or organic? The answer is simple: both! Buying local, organic produce is the best option.
Instead of berating Time magazine for concluding that local production is more important than organic production, we should congratulate it for focusing attention on the problems of shipping food halfway around the globe. The debate of local vs. organic is as fruitless as the question: "Do you prefer your food to be laced with pesticides, or do you prefer your food's transport to cause great environmental harm?" Most of us would answer "Neither."
I'm glad that PCC and the region's farmers' markets offer many locally grown and locally produced organic groceries. We're lucky that we don't have to make a choice between local and organic.
— Jan Heine, Seattle
I received word through the grapevine that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is once again seeking to add non-organic ingredients to the National Organic Program list (hops, fish oil, lemon grass, etc). The comment period, I was told, was only seven days long and ended May 22.
I looked on the USDA Web site and couldn't find anything there on this current proposal, which made me wonder. Sometimes I get forwarded alarmist stuff that turns out to be not quite correct, and I guess this is partly the case here. (The organization that sent it often is guilty of misrepresentation.) This is why I treasure PCC's attention to these matters on my behalf. I know that you will separate the (organic) wheat from the chaff.
— Alison Colwell
Editor replies: This question applies to products labeled "Organic," where 95 percent of the ingredients are organic, excluding water and salt by weight. ANY non-organic ingredient could be used in the remaining 5 percent — but only if an organic version was not available and only until June 9, a deadline set by the courts. The comment period was for the new rule, effective after June 9.
The proposed rule would dramatically reduce what's allowed from now on. The so-called "National List" of minor, non-organic ingredients has included cornstarch, kelp, pectin, water-extracted gums and unbleached lecithin. Thirty-eight additional ingredients have been scrutinized and recommended by the National Organic Standards Board; the proposed new rule would allow them, too. I admit that one gives me pause — sausage casings. But none can be used unless organic versions aren't available.
In the May Sound Consumer, Emmy Hager asked for guidance on whether buying rainforest berries or local is more supportive of a sustainable food system. The editor correctly pointed out that these types of questions delve into complex issues. As an example, eating rice from Thailand was reported to be more sustainable than eating rice from California because of the energy required to irrigate California rice.
Paradoxes are indications that one has reached the limits of one's belief system. Change the belief system and the former paradoxes can become two sides of the same coin. In this example, if we stopped eating rice in the Pacific Northwest and instead ate quinoa or some other grain that grows more locally, then perhaps the energy equation — even with some irrigation — would favor the local grain. If it was grown in the Palouse (eastern Washington, north central Idaho, and northeastern Oregon), it might not need any irrigation.
— Jim Wells, Oregon Wild Edibles
Raw mushrooms/plastic containers
I love to eat raw white mushrooms — the big ones, not the buttons — and I wonder if eating them raw is toxic? (see Letters, May Sound Consumer) I eat three to five raw white mushrooms a day.
I also bring my food to work every day in Tupperware or Rubbermaid pliable plastic containers. Are these toxic? Sometimes I nuke them for two minutes. Are they safe without nuking? Would glass be better?
— Vibha Thompson, Seattle
Re: raw mushrooms, Jim Wells, Oregon Wild Edibles, replies: My guess is that you're referring to jumbo-sized White Agaricus. "Button" is just a marketing term to describe closed-cap mushrooms. White Agaricus is the "white button." Brown Agaricus is Crimini/Portabella. Crimini is the "button" stage of Portabella. The're all the same species with only flavor and color variations. And, yes, they all contain a carcinogenic toxin, which is destroyed by lots of heat — a reason why Agaricus mushrooms should be cooked. The most healthful properties in mushrooms are very heat stable and more readily available when cooked.
Re: nuking plastic containers, the editor replies: All plastics leach to varying degrees, but the plasticizers leach into food more when subjected to heat, no matter the source. Some PCC stores stock glass containers for leftovers and individual servings, but see Crate & Barrel online for reasonably priced glass containers.
I've been a member of PCC only since the beginning of this year but it seems that in just about every issue of Sound Consumer readers complain about shoppers using new grocery bags instead of bringing their own bags. Recently one of the readers remarked on how some people view grocery store bags as free garbage bags. I admit to being one of those people who use them as garbage bags.
Would it really be better for the environment if I started buying garbage bags (which come with extra packaging) instead of reusing grocery store bags? My guess, and it's only a guess, is no. At least PCC's plastic bags are oxodegradable while Hefty makes no such claims to my knowledge. I wouldn't mind if stores started charging for bags, but we're still contributing to landfills with our plastic garbage bags. So I'm probably just going to keep reusing.
— Nataly Hawthorn, Redmond
Editor: The best option for garbage bags is a product we sell called BioBags, which are non-GMO and 100-percent compostable and degradable. We're pursuing two alternatives to the oxodegradable bags given to shoppers, which are labelled recyclable but Allied Waste has just informed us they cannot be recycled in our area. The most eco-friendly solution is to reduce waste, choose products without packaging or in recyclable or compostable packaging, and use cloth bags for taking home your groceries.
I also support charging something reasonable, say a quarter, for every paper or plastic bag given out. It certainly would motivate me to remember to bring in my cloth bags.
We make decisions to pay more for organic, locally raised or humanely raised food. What's wrong with changing people's behavior by doing the same for their final shopping behavior, such as what kind of bag that they use and its impact on the environment?
— Keith Gormezano
Editor: PCC hasn't ruled out charging for bags but we're also looking at our options. We're planning an educational campaign while merchandisers explore the choices.
We understand PCC is looking at alternatives to the polystyrene (Styrofoam) meat tray currently used in the meat department. What date do you foresee a complete phase out of polystyrene in all PCC locations?
We also would like to urge PCC to follow Ikea's lead and start charging for bags and particularly to stop sourcing paper bags from Weyerhauser Corp. There are alternative paper products made from "Tree Free" paper, which probably would cost more than regular paper, but then that's one reason you could justify charging for bags!
— David and Deborah Luxem, Seattle
Editor replies: We wish we could say exactly when the polystyrene trays will disappear. We are pursuing several potential alternatives. Meanwhile, none of the tree-free paper products are available as grocery bags; apparently they can't support the weight.
Testing for Johne's
I want to thank Judith Eve Lipton, MD, for educating us about the USDA having no requirement to test cattle for Johne's Disease. Unlike the so-called "mad cow disease," Johne's hasn't been publicized. Dr. Lipton revealed that secret to us. After reading her letter (Sound Consumer, April 2007), I won't trust the USDA.
I also want to thank you for surveying the dairies that provide PCC and have varying standards for testing cattle for Johne's disease.
I've had incurable metastatic breast cancer for more than six years, with the past six months in a brutal IV chemotherapy treatment. Likely I'm alive because I've tried to avoid ingesting poisons. But I've found increasing numbers of PCC-sold products with chemicals added.
What I found out about those chemicals would shock your socks off from here to the last universe on a distant horizon. I recorded data from labels of randomly picked items. I'll eventually investigate all and would like to write about them.
— Tracy Karon Wright, Seattle
Editor replies: You're right that our food safety regulators don't provide all that consumers want to know or should know. Dr. Lipton's work on Crohn's Disease and a potential link to Johne's Disease has been discussed at national conferences, and we hope that testing for Johne's will become standard.
On chemical additives, please let me know which ones you're finding that raise concern. Meanwhile, visit minor ingredients and processing agents, found on our Web site under Our product standards.