In my May feature article, "Fats and Fiction,"I referred to canola oil as a bad choice for cooking, due to its "unhealthy fat composition," as well as its high likelihood of being rancid by the time it gets to the shelves at the grocery store. It's true that most canola oil ends up with some trans fats (which should be avoided entirely, if possible), produced in the course of industrial processing methods (and, to a lesser extent, by expeller-pressing). It's also true that conventional canola is very often processed with the highly toxic chemical hexane, and that vegetable and seed oils generally lack the stability to keep them fresh for very long.
What I didn't know was that, at the time I was working on the article, the Co-op was starting to carry a new product: Farm Fresh's organic, cold-pressed, chemical-free, non-GMO canola oil. Farm Fresh's methods make for an oil without trans fats, with a good (high) monounsaturated-to-polyunsaturated fat ratio, and with a high omega-3 content. In addition, it's produced here in Wisconsin! Unlike most canola, grown over vast acreages via methods that take a heavy toll on the land, Locoil, LLC, emphasizes sustainable agricultural practices—and, since their product only gets shipped from Marshall, it arrives fresh, without sitting around in a warehouse and being subjected to multiple shifts in temperature. It's exciting to know we have a new, local oil for cooking (especially for higher-heat applications) that adds a lot to the resilience and diversity of our regional foodshed. I'll be buying some today to use in a stir-fry tonight! -Andy Gricevich, Newsletter Writer
VEGAN CHEESE CONTEST
Q: Wanted to suggest that there be a vegan cheese contest every year. It’s so nice to try before you buy and I’m sure the demand would be there. Thanks.
A: We don't currently have enough vegan cheese options to create much of a bracket, and definitely not enough local vegan cheese options. I certainly the support the idea of "trying before you buy" and we've passed along your suggestion to the stores to do some passive sampling of vegan cheeses so that you can try different options. Thanks for your suggestion and I apologize for not responding sooner! -Brendon Smith, Communications Director
Q: Plastic pollution is a worldwide crisis and I would love to see more of an effort to reduce plastic at the coop. You are already far above other grocery stores and I love the addition of paper bulk bags, but big steps have to be taken to stop this global disaster. A lot of plastic "alternatives" aren't sustainable and it would be great to see bigger changes, such as not providing plastic produce bags or deli containers at all, forcing shoppers to think ahead and bring their own reusable bags or use the paper options. Cheese wrapped in waxed papers, eliminating the plastic sleeves on your vitamin jars, not offering produce pre-wrapped in plastic, putting the discount produce in paper bags, etc. What is convenient for us is often harmful to the environment and a push against plastic will help make consumers more aware and proactive! Thank you for being conscious leaders in good food and healthy living!
A: Thanks for the ideas and for your interest in the challenges of plastic reduction at the Co-op. I was reviewing my list of comments to respond to from last fiscal year, and I’m so sorry this one was still waiting. We agree with the sentiment that reducing the reliance on plastic and plastic alternatives is our social and ecological responsibility. You may have noticed over the last year that we have been searching for and sometimes successfully sourcing products with alternative packaging, most recently, strawberries packaged in cardboard and home compostable produce bags. Reducing plastic reliance is very important, but also not always straightforward when we are looking at providing a wide variety of products that meet a wide variety of needs and price points, meeting food and safety regulations, balancing the reduction of food waste and spoilage with the desired reduction of plastic use, and looking at which tactics reduce the carbon footprint overall. There are many ways to go about addressing these issues, but some of them are in conflict with one another which requires us to weigh the options carefully, and occasionally compromise in some areas to benefit others. Some of the ideas you have shared are great, and they are definitely on our radar for consideration. We appreciate the feedback, and I hope my tardy reply does not deter you from sharing more in the future. Take care. -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Carbon footprint labeling
Q: I am a 10th grader at Madison West High School. I am completing a project on climate change and informing people how their daily lives impact CO2 emissions. Through my research I have found out how a person’s diet can individually impact carbon emissions. I think people are very open to change to help the earth. But when it comes to changing their diet, they don’t know how. I am wondering why there are not labels in the grocery store showing the carbon footprint of food products. A recent study in the journal Science found that similar products in the grocery store can have very different carbon footprints. For example a bar of chocolate can have the same climate impacts as driving 30 miles in your car. Compared to another bar of chocolate that has little to no limit impact. Without labeling a shopper will have no idea which item is better for the earth. My idea is to start labeling food items with their carbon footprint. You can start with your local organic farmers and retailers. I think this would also help these local places because people in Madison would definitely be interested in buying a product with a smaller carbon footprint.
A: Thanks for writing to us and for your interest in the carbon footprint of the foods we eat and the foods the Co-op sells. We definitely believe in your interest in providing more information and transparency for customers, but there are barriers to retailers themselves doing the labeling. The largest barriers are reliable information from the supplier, space for the tags, and labor. We carry literally thousands of products on our shelves and source them from over 200 suppliers. For us to include information about carbon footprint, we would need to find a way to present that information concisely, still have room for the price and unit information on the shelf, and find a way to get that information from our suppliers in a uniform way so it's easy for the customer to understand. Suppliers are not required to provide this kind of detail to their customers, nor are they required to keep it up to date, and so for us, maintaining the information accurately would take a lot of time that we unfortunately cannot afford. We occasionally get requests for labels like these and others related to diet or growing practices, and to us the best efforts are spent encouraging the suppliers themselves to put that information on their labels. That way, the information is first-hand from the supplier instead of second-hand from us, and ensures the customer is receiving the most accurate information. The most success we've seen with this has been the standards put in place for organic and GMO labeling (and those are not perfect, but they're steps).
One label you might find helpful when it comes to carbon footprint at the Co-op is our local shelf tags. All of our local products receive a purple tag. Our local definition is for products from Wisconsin or from within 150 miles of our state capitol. These tags at least give you an idea of how far products may have traveled. Some other labels that are available to suppliers to include on their products include the Non-GMO Project, various Fair Trade certifications, the USDA Organic certification, and others. Looking for products with third-party certifications on their packaging can also give you clues regarding the carbon footprint.
I hope your project was a success! I have forwarded your comment and my reply to our General Manager Anya Firszt. Thanks again for sharing your idea, and for your interest in where food comes from and how it is produced. You're absolutely right, there's lots of people in the area who are very interested in this issue. Enjoy your summer! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Paper bag usage
Q: I have seen several letters over the past few months criticizing people who use paper bags for their groceries. I am not sure why there seems to be a group of people intent on demonizing paper bag usage. I for one live in an apartment complex where I have to walk quite a distance to deposit my recyclables into a large metal container that serves the entire complex. I am 4’11” and use a cane for stability. I would not be able to place my recyclables into a plastic container and reach up to tip the container into the recycling bin which is nearly as tall as I am (think large commercial dumpster). I do need paper grocery bags in order to deposit my recyclables into the bin. Per the company contracting our waste disposal, I would also have the option to place my recyclables into a clear plastic bag, but that seems to me worse for the environment than using paper bags. When I have built up a paper bag supply for my recycling then yes, I do bring reusable bags to the grocery store. But I would ask your readers to please stop vilifying shoppers who use paper bags. There may be a very specific reason for using paper bags. I would ask everyone to please stop the vitriol and start trying to see things from other people’s perspectives. Let’s all try to get along.
A: Thanks so much for writing in and for sharing your experience with us. You're right, there's no one-size-fits-all answer here, and many times, people have their own reasons for choosing to take a bag. That is one of the reasons why we do not charge for taking a bag; sometimes it's still the best option for certain needs. We appreciate your perspective, and that you also reuse bags sometimes, when you have enough paper ones to do your recycling at home. Have a great evening! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Hot reuben sandwiches
Q: Just ate a hot reuben sandwich a friend picked up for me at Willy Street on Williamson Street. I was very surprised at how much HEAT was in it, but attributed it to black pepper and white pepper. Lo! On reading the paragraph of ingredients I find it had Willy Street chipotle mayonnaise; along with chipotles two more times on the "recipe." Why such a NON-traditional ingredient in a traditionally GERMAN sandwich? I'm allergic to peppers of that sort, and now am going to fall asleep from being forced to take a BIG dose of an antihistamine to prevent the reaction going systemic in my body. I really don't understand the fixation culture has with foods that burn their mouths, but feel more and more that there should be some warnings when you've put peppers of the capsicum variety into foods, especially when that's not what's expected. Like menus are restaurants indicating which items are HOT HOT HOT. I was really excited to get a real reuben with corned beef instead of tofu, and instead, I sorta got BURNT.
A: Sorry you had issues with our sandwich. To be honest, I don't know why we use the chipotle mayo on this particular sandwich. We have been selling it this way for 10+ years and it has been a good seller. As a manager, it's hard for me to justify changing one of our best selling sandwiches.
There is a silver lining though! We are more than happy to make this with regular mayo, just ask one of our awesome deli clerks. Also, I will work with our category manager to get a label on the sandwich that calls it out as spicy, just like we do our Deli salads. Thanks for the suggestion.
Since you had such a bad reaction to the sandwich, I'd like to offer you a refund so that you can try one of our reubens without the chipotle mayo, or spend it elsewhere in the store as you see fit. I'll have a $10 gift card waiting for you at the Customer Service desk at our east side store.
Please feel free to reach out if you have any additional comments or concerns. Cheers, Dustin Skelley, Deli Manager-East
Q: Hello, I often purchase bakery from the co-op and it is quite reliable. Today however I tried a monkey muffin and it was more like eating sawdust than a baked good. The chocolate chips and frosting were the saving features that made it remotely palatable. Because it's Monday, I don't know if the bakery is old, or if it's a recipe issue, but I can't imagine anyone would find this item satisfying.
A: I am a cook and supervisor at the Co-op's Production Kitchen, where we make many of the Deli and Bakery offerings that you find in the retail stores. I received your comment regarding the Monkey Muffin some time ago, and to be honest, at that time I wouldn't have had much of an answer apart from agreeing with you! Fortunately, in the time since, I am happy to report that our bakery has updated their made-without-gluten recipes, and the quality of these items has risen dramatically. You see, up until recently, the bakery had been using a gluten-free flour blend that imparted a flavor that we did not like in addition to being quite finicky and inconsistent for large-production baking. After much experimentation and test batching, we have broken up with the funky faux flour! I hope you have had an opportunity to give the Monkey Muffin another try, and the other made-without-gluten products we have on offer as well. If not, I recommend it, and would love to hear your thoughts either way. Thanks for being a Co-op Owner and for offering your feedback! -Mike Tomaloff, Kitchen Supervisor
Bring your own bags
Q: Since stores have started charging me $0.10 for each bag I bring to the store I have found myself less inclined to donate additional dollars at check out. I find this forced donation strategy heavy handed. Making people give money is just not a good idea.
A: Thanks for checking in about this. Please rest assured you are not being charged an additional 10¢ when you shop at the Co-op, we do not force anyone to make any donations. The Co-op Contribution listed on your receipt is what Willy Street Co-op saves for the Double Dollars Fund each time you reuse a bag for your shopping. The Co-op itself contributes 10¢ to the Fund for each reusable bag a customer uses when they shop. You save us money when we use less paper bags, and we send that money to Community Action Coalition to support Double Dollars at participating farmers' markets and the Co-op. Double Dollars provides vouchers for fresh foods, fruits and vegetables to those shopping with Wisconsin FoodShare (SNAP) to stretch their limited shopping budgets further. We track your bag reuse and our contribution on customer receipts due to requests to see that we are counting people's reused bags to support the program, and with a limited number of characters available on the receipt to describe what the line item is, I can see why this could be confusing for some customers. We have been working with our Logistics and IT departments to make the receipts clearer, though I'm not 100% certain there is a great solution at this time.
Please let me know if I may assist you further. Also, thank you so much for reusing bags! We appreciate your support for the community, the environment, and for your feedback. Have a great afternoon. -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director