The More Things Change the More Food Co-ops Stay Mockable

One of the most amusing (and enlightening) reads of the day may be senior Reuters Opinion editor Chadwick Matlin's live tweets of Tuesday night's monthly members meeting of the Park Slope Food Co-op.

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One of the most amusing (and enlightening) reads of the day may be senior Reuters Opinion editor Chadwick Matlin's live tweets of Tuesday night's monthly members meeting of the Park Slope Food Co-op. Carrie Frye compiled them in a post for The Awl that must be appreciated for its own simple beauty. But should we mock? The Park Slope Food Co-op has been dealing with some very tricky and important issues lately: Opposing factions are debating whether or not foods from Israel should be banned (the big vote -- well, actually, the vote as to whether to take a vote -- on that issue is scheduled for the end of March, and is expected to generate such an audience that the auditorium of a school in nearby Fort Greene has been rented to accommodate everyone).

The temptation to mock is irresistible. We love to laugh at the Park Slope Food Co-op as the ne plus ultra of overwrought political correctness and smug social consciousness. We need that in our disgruntled, cynical lives. Thank goodness for the food co-ops for supplying laughs to the masses who shop at the Associated, a gift those co-ops have been giving us since...forever?

Practically. We dug in a bit and found this delicious fair-trade morsel from the New York Times in 1988: "Berkeley Journal; Who'll Sell Tofu Puffs After Co-ops Are Gone?" which bemoans the sad day of the death knell for the Consumer's Cooperative of Berkeley, which sometime after its founding in 1936 and its end at the tail end of the Reagan years, was the largest cooperative of its kind in North America, with over 100,000 members. An excerpt from that piece in the Times:

For 51 years, it was as if a loving relative was telling them to eat a good breakfast instead of that sugar-coated cereal, did not let them have hot dogs full of nitrites and made sure their grapes and lettuce were picked by the United Farm Workers' union.

Even if they did not visit as often as they should have, it still gave many people in this bastion of environmental activism a nice warm feeling to know that the co-op supermarkets would always be here looking out for them, forgiving them even if they slipped and bought a non-biodegradable detergent.

You guys: Co-ops are like this. Whether it's Brooklyn or Berkeley, Israeli boycotts or porpoise rights:

At times it was a bit schizophrenic, however, as products were offered for sale under signs shouting the message, ''Don't buy this.'' One recent example was a sign discouraging customers to buy light meat tuna because porpoises are killed in the fishermen's nets. It was above cans of the co-op's own label of light meat tuna.

In the 1980's, while Berkeley became one of the most influential and obsessed centers of new American cuisine, many people felt the co-op acted as though everyone still lived in a commune and bought brown rice in 50-pound sacks. The co-ops continued to stock six kinds of sprouts and a nasty looking substance called ''tofu puffs,'' but not raddichio.

Aw. But we can find the same exact story even further back in the archives. Here's a New York Times dispatch about the Berkeley Co-op's bitter board election of 1967, pitting the forces led by board president Gordon Little, "controller of the States Steamship Company," against Robert Treuhaft, a civil rights lawyer and husband of writer Jessica Mitford. "The co-op is a part of the intellectual, liberal, cause-oriented outlook of middle- and upper-class Berkeley." (Are bells ringing?) Here was Little's position on matters further afield from the eight supermarkets operated by the Co-op at the time:

I don't think that as a co-op we ought to be involved in arguing about the war in Vietnam. I don't think that organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee ought to be dabbling in our organization, trying to turn it to their purposes.

Another board member Margedant Hayakawa noted, "once we had members telling us to boycott Polish hams." But perhaps the best part of this little news brief is the letter from her husband, semanticist S.I. Hayakawa on the subject:

And like any Park Slope Co-op member bristling at today's blogosphere, Treuhaft bristled at the suggestion his passion was misplaced: "As in any democratic institution, there should be the opportunity to raise questions without running the risk of being labeled a 'D.Z.'"

Park Slope Co-op, take note! We non-members wouldn't know what to do without you, or your Tofu Puffs. May they be from Israel or wherever you finally decide.

Image via Shutterstock by Kzenon.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.