|Photo from seward.coop/about|
One of the advantages of the co-op is they act as a curator for my food choices. They have a list of principles they support: local, organic, sustainable, fair-trade, non-GMO, co-operatively produced, etc. This saves me some of the work of selecting products I can believe in. Another advantage is that I have a voice through my membership and voting to impact decisions at the co-op. Frequently I can meet the producers of my food, at CSA fair days, during sample demonstrations, at farm to table dinners. That connection makes me feel good about my food choices.
Because the co-op is very close to my house I go there pretty often, my whole family does. I know most of the long time employees by name, and they know me. They are a part of my community and they keep an eye out for me and my family. A lot of them know about my food sensitivities and will steer me towards good food choices. My mom and I were actually among the founding members of the co-op, I remember cutting and packaging cheese as our volunteer job when I was a little kid. Shopping at the co-op has been a part of my entire life, and I love that connection and sense of belonging.
Even my dog get's involved, though I wish she wouldn't. We must walk there so often there is a strong scent trail from our house to the co-op. My dog has followed us there several times, and discovered that the automatic doors will in fact open for her. Thank heavens there is a customer service person right by the door to stop her. I am embarrassed to admit how often someone from the co-op has brought our dog home to us.
I am making it work, shopping at the co-op without going broke. I do this mostly by focusing on ingredients and avoiding processed foods. Beans, rice, root vegetables, grass fed and pastured meats, dairy products, and lots of fruits and vegetables form the basis of our diet. We focus on local and seasonal choices when we can, and that brings the price down too. And because we plan ahead we aren't wasting our food or throwing anything away.
Beyond that, I feel that conventional food is much more expensive in the long run, it just looks cheaper to the shopper. I can't feel good about the way conventional agriculture damages the soil, poisons the water, creates super weeds and super bugs, damages the health of farm workers, is cruel to animals, encourages unfair trade practices in the developing world. I am bothered that millionaire mega-farms receive subsidies to over produce commodity crops, suppressing prices for small farmers world wide. Those costs will be paid by all of us. But I can make a better world for myself, and my community by using my food dollars ethically. It may cost a bit more in the short term, but that is our charity, our donation to the world at large.
Please consider shopping cooperatively. There is a list of all the food co-ops in Minnesota at cooperativesociety. Here is a nation-wide list of cooperative groceries at Cooperative Grocers.
Full disclosure: my husband is a board member of Seward Co-op.