Fair Food Fight brings on the Challenge

The General Manager of Eastside Food Co-op, an amazing woman, sent forward these links to the board of directors, to which I got elected back in October. Wow. Talk about a new path in life, new things to think about, new ideas (for me, anyway) to develop. And I am thoroughly enamored with this position in much the same way I was when I started graduate school. Combine this with Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle showing up in my life, and suddenly I feel like I've got a whole new passion and perspective on food. Instead of going to the health club at this hour, I feel like recording my own thoughts and responses to these two articles. Don't worry, I'll get on that treadmill at little later today.

Here are the links:
The first is from Bob St. Peter writing an article that showed up in Grassroots Economic Organizing -- Co-opted: The Fall of the Natural Foods Cooperative and What We Can Do About It.

The second is from El Dragon over at Fair Food Fight with a response to St. Peter -- Grocery Co-ops: Dead or Ready to Future Shock You?

St. Peter's article takes a jarring approach to describing the activity within grocery co-ops today. He rightly points out that co-ops are stocking up on organic fast foods and expanding to make these inventories larger and filled with more variety. There is discussion about what brands appear in the inner aisles of co-ops that are owned by large corporations and suggestions for how to radicalize the co-op mission and their members in this millennium when corporations have co-opted smaller businesses. Amongst his list of nine suggestions that co-ops can consider are the following: diversifying by building key local infrastructure, start thinking like producers, working with local farms rather than national distributors, and changing the focus to being a local buying club rather than a grocery store.

El Dragon makes a response based on a reality I see here in Minnesota. The most important of these is that the consumers need the co-ops as grocery outlets. He also adds that perhaps there should be some intent put into "blowing up the store" which means enlarging the outer aisles, the bulk bins, the fresh meats and produce areas.

It was great to read these because both articles contained many good points. There seemed to be a bit of divide in terms of mission. Is the Co-op a grocery store or place for radical democracy? I believe there needs to be a balance of both. And that this balance is crucial for gaining and maintaining some mainstream appeal.

One the turn offs for me in the early years of my awareness for food supply alternatives was my own crowd of college-graduate idealists. I could not afford the strict adherence to buy from co-ops because living with a diabetic, I could not afford to buy juices only from particular places. Being part of the mainstream America, I despised their judgements and always felt a little guilty because of this when I shopped anywhere whether it be large conventional grocery store or smaller co-op. Imagine my genuine shock when I discovered through these articles that Knudsen's is owned by J.M. Smucker. Jeez Louise! I thought the cost of paying $4.79 for a can of frozen lemonade concentrate was justified because I was supporting a small, organic business. But, really it's owned by a large corporation. Was I duped or what? Now I buy lemons and squeeze my own lemonade. For real, no pun intended. And, I can control what sugar I use and the amount.

Another personal issue that was raised directly relates to those products found in the inner aisles. In my crowd there were quite a few vegetarians and some vegans. For the life of me, I did not understand why they were still eating the same sorts of food except in vegetarian or vegan versions of them. Vegan mac and cheese. Vegetarian non-bacon-bits. Etc. Granted my mother raised me on a different diet, a Gujarati diet that was mainly vegetarian but still filled with eggs and chicken, and a steak or two, here and there. But, I cannot and do not cook like her. But, my point is, I mainly shop the outer aisles of the Co-op, the produce sections, the meats and dairy. These are ingredients I begin with. But, definitely I broken from any sort of typical Gujarati or American diet to find ones that are suitable for this household.

I just realized I'm confusing myself here a little bit. I'm getting caught in my own angst about the judgements inflicted on me by my peers for considering the right choices for my family and my budget, which at times, does require I venture into a larger conventional grocery store.

However, I am thoroughly intrigued by El Dragon and St. Peter's suggestions for getting more imaginative. Bulk up and expand those bulk bins. These are the ways to eat healthy on a restrictive budget. Buy more fresh meats from smaller businesses. I supplement my meat purchases by shopping at Ready Meats that has more of a variety of cheaper cuts. And, I can buy just the amount I need and still stay within my budget. It keeps me from being tempted to buy from the huge sales at larger grocery stores.

On a side note, do you know anyone that is leery of the dirt that can be found on vegetables? My mother-in-law doesn't make salads because the lettuce at the grocery store has dirt on it. My sister, while living in Queens, would not buy from outdoor vendors because she thought the packaged up produce in grocery stores was so much cleaner. I'm dumbfounded by all this. Do these people not realize that vegetable are grown in dirt? Do they not realize that this dirt is easily washed away?

I am astonished about these sorts of opinions. Maybe I'm not part of the mainstream. Maybe that's why I feel so removed from those around me. I am very grateful about our decision to have children later in life. Now, I am equipped to make better decisions than when I was younger about how to raise my daughter and to eat healthy, and oh yes, where to shop.

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