Coop Conundrum

In my few years living in the San Francisco Bay area, it was easy for me to support local, small organic farmers. I lived by the Lake Merrit Farmer’s Market and worked by the Civic Center market. On rare occasions, we ordered organic produce from local farms using a delivery service with returnable, reusable bins. Upon my return to New York City a few years ago, it became slightly more difficult to get the veggies and fruits I cherished. And while I knew of the wonderful greenmarkets in the city, the neighborhood I lived in was far from them. It was passed the registration point for most CSAs, and my hectic erratic city lifestyle, made me hesitate that commitment. Nothing could be sadder than wasting food. Alternatives included high priced natural food stores in affluent neighborhoods. FreshDirect finally started delivering to East Harlem and offered organic and local options, but I was shocked by the number of boxes, and packaging materials the food came in, and questioned the ecofriendliness of trucking around the city.

But those FreshDirect cardboard boxes did come in handy during my move to Brooklyn. And while in Brooklyn, I eagerly joined the Park Slope Food Coop (member owned since 1973). In exchange for 2 hours and 45 minutes of work every four weeks, I was able to access affordable, healthy, organic and local goods. Shopping and working at the coop however, can be a hassle at times and requires a fair amount of patience. Today, for example, I spent almost 2 hours grocery shopping. But some improvements have been made. The coop is now accepting debit card payments which is speeding up checkout and bypassing the need to go to a cashier. (The coop has a 3 part exit plan, checkout, cashier, door check).

Many Brooklynites can offer both raves and complaints about shopping and working in this institution. I personally am struggling with an ethical dilemma. I normally cashier, but sometimes I work checkout where I get wierded out by scanning meat items. Besides the gross out factor, I am reminded that I am a co-owner of this store and that we buy and sell dead animals.

It wasn’t always that way. It wasn’t ever fully vegetarian either, as they carried canned animal products, but animal flesh products were slowly introduced throughout the years. In the 80s, members voted to sell chickens, but it wasn’t until the 90s with the new storefront that they were able to enact this request. There was a heated debate several years ago about whether to carry beef, in which the beefeaters won and the cows lost. Most of the body parts at the coop carry some sort of euphemistic label, but I wonder if members question what this really means and understand the realities of these short lives packaged in the freezers.

A couple of years ago, the cover story of the The Linewaiters Gazette, the coop newsletter, featured a sketch of a cow divided up into seven parts, for the seven days of the week, and revealed that at that time, the coop sold about a cow a week. I’m not sure the weekly tally for the other mammals, birds and fishes.

Meat sales seem to be thriving at the coop, but I wonder what it would take to get it off the shelves, so we could save at least one cow per week.

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~ by sangamithra on November 13, 2007.

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