After my article on our local food co-op efforts went up a few days ago, I received an email asking me why buying food from such a store was more “responsible” than buying organic food from a large chain. I might not have used the term responsible, and I would prefer to see people buying healthy food from a big chain instead of health damaging food from a local corner grocer. Having said that, here are a few reasons I would buy from a locally owned co-op or market rather than a big chain store.
First, let me say that I do not decry the fact that organic food is now available from places like Costco, Fred Meyer, or even Wal-Mart. I may choose to shop as little as possible at stores like Wal-Mart, but it is not because I think they should not be selling organic food. Admittedly, I sometimes feel strangely conflicted on the issue, but I guess having organic food available in as many places as possible is a good trend. I will try out my new polling software again and thank you for answering this question yourself at the bottom of this post.
Although there are many other benefits, here are two things that a local food co-op provides that a big chain does not. First, the food co-op can buy locally produced products, thereby keeping some of our money in our own community. Please read about the corn in this article for an almost comic example of what a large grocery chain called “local”.
Second the local store can make individual buying decisions, often based on the suggestions of their customers. Try suggesting to Wal-Mart or Costco that they should change the source of their organic peanut butter because it is made by a company owned by a huge food conglomerate that does not exactly represent the image of what would be called a producer of healthy food. As monster corporations see profits in the organic and health food industry, more small independent producers of ethical food are being brought under the large corporate labels.
The ownership of “small” organic suppliers is probably something for another article, but I’ll list just a few examples here. Did you know that the organic seed company “Seeds of Change” is wholly owned by the M&M Mars Corporation? Or that Kraft owns Boca Foods and Back to Nature? That General Mills owns Cascadia Farms and Muir Glen? Or that Cargill, discussed here , has its corporate tentacles in more health food companies than you can count? These examples do not necessarily mean that the subsidiary companies are not still true to their original mission, but it might be a concerning trend. There are many other examples of these disparate corporate relationships in the organic and health food industry. One place you can see some of these relationships represented in a graphical PDF file is here.
The increasing demand for food that is organic, hormone free, cruelty free, and ethical in general is a welcome trend. However, because I have seen the occasional dismaying performance of large corporations when it comes to truth in advertising, truth in production and ingredients, and oversight of production facilities, I am a bit concerned. Even though this concern may be somewhat misplaced and unrealistic in our global economy, the closer to home my sources of food are, the more comfortable I feel. In a local co-op, if the people stocking the store feel as committed to healthy, ethical food as I do, I believe they will research their buying decisions and buy with the concerns of their customers in mind. And I will certainly feel better eating food that has traveled that particular road to my table.