Originally posted October 12, 2009.
I volunteered to write this story after two other contributors (who are co-op members) to our community blog started out to write stories about the OB People’s Food Co-op during the past year and were so frustrated by the experience that they’ve given up rather than risk alienating themselves from an organization whose ideals they shared and whose role in the larger scope of things they valued. As one would-be author put it, in an email exchange with the Co-op:
“I am a proponent of the co-op. I honestly feel uncomfortable doing my shopping there this week, like I am going to give my member number and be denied. Is that how every vocal member-owner should feel just for voicing opinions?”
I sensed a certain reluctance in my own dealings with the Co-op. An emailed request for a tour and interview sent on September 9th was answered with the stipulation that they’d like the questions posed during the interview in advance. Eventually, I talked with Board member Jim Bell on September 23rd. Bell knew lots of things about the construction of the building and did give me a great tour of the facility. I just got the feeling that they were leery of dealing with the OB Rag. Why else would I be sent to interview somebody with a very limited knowledge of the day-to-day operations of the organization? Were they hiding something? Has the OB Rag stepped on that many toes around town?
Or was it a fear of any public discussion about the Co-op? It was obvious from reading the email correspondence that previous writers handed over to me that they were very defensive about a few (less than five) comments that had appeared on the blog. As one commenter (with obvious ties to Co-op) put it:
I get why no one would want to be the subject of this journalism- it just opens them up to endless trash talk, much of it uninformed and baseless.
Are we really to believe that because the Co-op started out with a righteous mission, that years later in the middle of a war and a recession, in an economy that marginalizes poor people, and a labor market that does the same, this organization still is true to that mission without any bending or swaying and without any special interest? Or is it the right thing to do to ask them simply: are you? How’s it going? Because isn’t money pretty sexy and alluring and complicated and tangled, even if you’ve got ‘People’s’ in your title? If liberal, foodie, progressive, organic, locavore businesses are not held to the standards of reflexivity they are holding the rest of the world to, then there’s something wrong.
I think a dangerous place a good-hearted-good-politicked-well-educated-well-read-well-fed person can go…is one of self satisfaction. Celebrating olive oil tasting or home made tofu will not redistribute wealth or power.
Is the Co-op ultimately a political retreat dressed up in the language of sustainability, organics and locavorism? While each of these goals is important, it strikes this writer that much of the foodie movement is about the intrinsic value of “me”. Making conscious choices is not a substitute for fighting for social justice. And I’m afraid that, for too many of these folks, it’s really only about tonight’s menu.
While the Co-op’s Newsletter gives lip service to other causes, like opposing nuclear power and supporting laws regarding labeling of genetically modified foods, there’s a fundamental disconnect when it comes to the realization that food chain and environmental issues are part of a bigger picture. With its influence, financial success, co-operative business model and connectivity to over 11,000 members, it just seems to me that there ought to be an issue of two, say, the homeless, where the People’s Co-op could be doing something more.
It functions instead as a lifestyle Prozac that celebrates consumerism, encourages elitism and divorces its devotees from the everyday struggles of working Americans to simply feed their families. Steaming organic veggies will do nothing towards bringing economic and social justice to the hills of Afghanistan or even the homeless of Ocean Beach.
The ruthlessness of modern food production is symptomatic of the brutality of the corporate state we find ourselves living in. While being aware of how we manage the food in our lives and the negative impact that making bad choices in this arena will have on our planet and our health, it can not and should not be divorced from the larger struggles that we face in this world. And, if the Co-op cannot bring itself to connect with this larger world, maybe they ought to change their name.
The OB Rag would like to invite the People’s Co-op to respond to the opinions expressed here: we’ll be glad to give you equal time.