Food Co-Ops: Good Food and Good Prices

Food co-ops, a "New Wave" of grocery outlets, can give you more control over what you eat and how much it costs you.

| September/October 1979

STATEMENT I. Food co-ops are consumer-owned businesses run by people who band together to buy food.

STATEMENT II. There are lots of 'em.

You've just read the only two food co-op generalizations that are indisputably true. There are, indeed, a great number—over 3,000 in the U.S.—of groups who have organized to procure their own food. Beyond that, though, the "movement" is as diversified as are the various types of food. Folks may form "vittle fellowships" to obtain groceries inexpensively (co-op members often save from 15 to 50% on food items!); to secure healthful, wholistically grown eats; to practice participatory democracy as a first step in taking political control of their own lives;. to share and experience cooperation; or for some combination of such goals. Food co-ops can be as small as the four-family Morgan City Buying Club in Louisiana and as large as California's 96,000-member Consumer Co-op of Berkeley. And "chow coalitions" may be called anything from Organized Hunger (in Oregon) and People's Intergalactic (in North Carolina) to just plain Co-op (in lots of places).

The reason for this diversity is simply that food co-ops are consumer owned. Their guiding purpose is Food for People, Not for Profit. And that motto also describes the basic advantage of participating in a food co-op: The members themselves create, shape, and regulate their organization.

As a result of this membership control, each individual co-op becomes its own unique food-buying institution. Take a look at some thriving "larder lodges" from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma, and you'll get a sense of what you yourself can create. You'll also see why co-ops have become such a booming people's movement.

Sevananda Natural Foods Market

Housed in an "improving urban area" (that is, a former slum) of Atlanta, Sevananda is perhaps the largest food co-op in the southeastern United States. The store provides over 4,000 weekly shoppers with an amazing array of victuals. A long walk-in cooler displays 85 kinds of produce. Other sections of the store offer a seemingly unlimited array of grains, nuts, oils, juices, vitamins, and cheeses (even a grind-your-own peanut butter machine). One special corner contains a collection of over 100 jarred herbs and smells like the distilled essence of 1,000 flower shops.

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