My local food co-op, Wheatsville Food Co-op, recently opened a new location near my office and this has made lunchtime so much more enjoyable. Austin is full of healthy and delicious vegan food, but food co-ops are special and make me happier than any big box health food chain store ever could. Food co-ops are in many communities around the country and if you haven’t yet checked out your local co-op, you really should!
Here’s how food co-ops work:
They are community-owned, with community members paying a membership fee to join. Joining actually makes you part owner! The membership fee can be off-putting to some people at first, but you don’t have to join to shop there, unlike many big-box stores that require memberships. Paying your membership fee allows you to vote in co-op elections, so you have a say in how your co-op is operated! Some of the other sweet deals you can get as a co-op member include owner appreciation days where owners get a discount on their purchases, owner deals throughout the week on a variety of items, a share of the co-op profits during very profitable years, and eligibility to join the local credit union (credit unions could constitute another post in and of themselves because they’re awesome too!). So joining a co-op certainly has its perks and I chose to join my local co-op as soon as I moved here. Since my budget was tight after making a cross-country move, they let me pay it out in installments and I still got all the benefits of being a member right away!
They’re good for the community and for the environment.
Food co-ops, being community owned and operated, are strongly focused on local and organic food. Local food cuts down on waste and expenses and supports local agriculture. Organic food contains fewer chemicals and hormones than factory-farmed or –grown foods. Overall, local organic foods are a big punch in the face of the factory farming industry, which is great for vegans and omnivores alike! Regardless of whether one chooses to eat animal products, everyone can agree that they would like to eat healthier, more local, and more organic.
On a smaller scale, food co-ops support their local communities by allowing them to become more empowered in their food choices. For example, the statement of purpose of my local co-op says that their purpose is to create a self-reliant, self-empowering community of people that will grow and promote a transformation of society toward cooperation, justice, and non-exploitation. Whether you’re vegan or not, this is an amazing goal!
They are a vegan paradise.
Food co-ops do have local and organic meats and animal products as well as baked goods which contain them. But even Whole Foods can’t compete with co-ops with regard to their vegan baked goods. My local food co-op has vegan donuts, cakes, cookies, and candies by the bushel—all made in-house, by local businesses, or by environmentally-conscious companies! I have to say that it was a little dangerous for me to become a member of my co-op upon discovering their vegan pumpkin whoopie pies. But, aside from sweets, co-ops have an abundance of healthy vegan meal options, some of which include salads, soups, and hot foods on a self-serve bar as well as at the deli-counter. My personal favorite, though, is the popcorn tofu, which is great in a po’ boy sandwich! And to top it off, you know that when you buy these delicious foods you’re supporting a local business.
They are full of the friendliest people you will ever meet.
Food co-ops are portals to alternate universes where people are incredibly happy and love grocery shopping—even on chaotic Sunday afternoons. I have never stepped into a food co-op and not felt like I was instantly transported to a magical place full of new best friends. Though I don’t know any of the staff members personally, checkers are often chatty and want to know what I’m up to for the weekend. Stockers dance in the aisles. Fellow shoppers say “excuse me” and smile. After shopping at Wal-Mart on the weekend, this place feels like paradise.
Hopefully you’re been persuaded to at least pay a visit to your local co-op now, but remember that membership has lots of perks too! If you’re interested in finding a co-op location near you, check out the co-op directory.
Also by Samantha: Why Michael Dorn is a Vegan Role Model
Healthy Eating: 5 Essential Nutrients for Vegans
Photo: Wheatsville Co-op