My Co-Op Flop

 April 2014

Confession – I’m intimidated whenever I go to the natural food co-op here in Sacramento.  Don’t get me wrong – I love it and shop there often, but it still makes me a little bit nervous every time I do.

Why?  Because whenever I’m at the co-op I always feel like an interloper.  There are lots of words to describe me – some good, some not so good – but bohemian isn’t one of them.  I wouldn’t say I’m super high maintenance, but I’m much more comfortable in stilettos than I am in Birkenstocks, and I spend a fair amount of time waxing, shaving, and plucking instead of opting to go au-natural.  I guess I’m just not evolved enough to embrace armpit beards quite yet.

I could probably blend in at a suburban Whole Foods, since whenever I go, it seems to be largely well-heeled cougar types. But really, put me in a Costco, and  I am in my element.  Blame it on Darwin.  I have three teenagers who can  lay waste to my pantry quicker than a swarm of locusts – I simply adapted accordingly.  I know that a 2 pound bag of coffee beans at Costco will cost me roughly half the price as it would cost me in a froo froo grocery store.   I also know that when you have a family of 5 or more, buying staples like diapers, soap, milk, and bread anyplace other than Costco is like eating food from your hotel minibar when you’re completely sober, and who in their right mind would ever do that?

As usual, my trepidation begins before I even enter the store.  It starts in the parking lot.  Parking spots at the co-op are extremely hard to find – the lot is really small and the street parking around the building is almost always already taken.  I’m sure that the lot is purposely small to encourage customers to reduce their carbon footprint by walking or riding their bikes, but that’s not always practical when you’re lugging several bags of groceries.   Fortunately I do drive a Prius – like half the shoppers here – but since I don’t have a coexist sticker on the back bumper, it only goes so far in maintaining my cover.

When I get inside, I am immediately drawn to the deli case…who knew how many variations on Quinoa you could have?  They also have a juice/smoothie bar, and an organic salad bar.  No congealed potato salad drowning in mayo here.  I also check out their class schedule where you can take classes like “Composting 101” and “Raising Chickens In Your Backyard.”  It’s easy to get distracted by all this, but I force myself to continue on to the produce department.

Unlike  traditional grocery stores, the co-op only carries organic produce, and partners with local growers to ensure that they are fresh and seasonal.  They have some of the best produce around, but it is also quite expensive.  This is usually where I start realizing my environmental integrity only exists on a sliding scale.  If I have to pay $3.99 a pound for apples at the co-op, I start to ask myself, how bad could it really be to ingest a few pesticides…couldn’t that help strengthen my immune system, or some shit like that?  They also have vegetables that I have no idea what I would do with once I got them people actually eat kohlrabi or cherimoyas?  Or do they just keep them in their fridge to show off?

The back of the store, like most grocery store layouts, is for dairy and meat.  However, at the co-op, when I go to the meat section, I invariably feel like I’m going to the X rated section at the back of the video store. I think they should have a curtain of plastic hanging beads around the meat case, so at least you have some privacy and can avoid feeling judged while you’re picking out your slab of meat.  Sure it may be grass fed, but if you cross paths with a militant vegan, you might be in trouble.

From there, I turn down an aisle that has an amazing array of  gluten free products. Isn’t gluten intolerance a first world problem? I remember it was relatively rare 10 years ago, and now everyone seems to suffer from it.  I wonder if people who have actual Celiac disease get sick of all the “gluten intolerant” people trying to horn in on the sympathy that exists for their disease, simply because eating a piece of wheat bread might make them gassy.  Cheese makes me gassy, but I eat it anyway and somehow manage to bravely soldier on.

I stop to take a look at  the cereals and a woman approaches me looking distressed.  She is holding a bottle of maple syrup in her hand.
“Excuse me – do you happen to know the difference between Grade A maple syrup and Grade B?” she asked.
“Yes,” I respond.  “Grade A is more expensive.”
Apparently she wasn’t confident enough in my expertise on the matter, since she immediately went in search of a grocery clerk.

Next was the bulk food section, which takes up the entire eastern wall of the store.  I was standing in front of the bin labeled millet, trying to figure out if it was food for birds, or for people.  Grey haired  ponytail guy saw my perplexed look and said “Cook it up with some coconut oil.  I eat it almost every day and my colon still looks like a twenty year old’s!” I was going to jokingly ask if he had pictures to prove it, but I was afraid he might actually pull one out of his wallet, so I scooped some into a bag, thanked him, and quickly moved on.

Beyond bulk foods is  a very large wellness section filled with every kind of herbal and  vitamin supplement you can think of.  Personally, I  take a daily multivitamin and might take some echinacea or vitamin C every once in awhile as an insurance policy, but not because I’m convinced it will do me much good – I’m just hedging my bets since it only costs me a few dollars a month.  However, you could easily spend hundreds of dollars a year on supplements.  I decided I could have several de-stressing spa days for that price, and it would probably be as good for my long-term health and a hell of a lot more fun than choking down a handful of horse pills every day.   I can’t even tell you what most of them are for…Cat’s Claw, St Johns’ Wort, Billberry…my guess is wizardry – since they sound like something Harry Potter might use to cast spells.

I head toward the checkout, exhausted from trying to appear like I know my way around a Monsanto GMO protest.  I kid – but honestly, everything I’ve ever  purchased at the co-op is great and the people couldn’t be nicer.  I just need to learn to walk that fine line between conscientious consumer and hot-house flower.

The cashier begins to ring me up.  “Did you bring your own bags today?” she asks with a smile.  DAMN.  Ashamed, I regretfully shake my head no…no, I’m the loser who doesn’t care enough about our planet to inconvenience myself in even the smallest of ways. Carrying my unnecessarily new paper bags,  I take my wasteful ass back out to the parking lot, vowing to do better next time.

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