Thursday, March 6, 2014
The Food Coop
LUCY BURDETTE: You've all met our Jungle Red friend Pat Kennedy before. She garnered a lot of press for her post on Bad Boyfriends. A couple of weeks ago we were chatting online and the subject of food coops came up. I remembered carving up giant blocks of cheese in a member's garage after the delivery. Pat remembered--well I'll let her tell it!
PAT KENNEDY: Food Co-ops. Remember them? Back in the 1970s, a food co-op suggested more than just a whiff of “hippie-dippy” oddity. Except perhaps the Milton Food Co-op, founded and run by a group of solidly middle-aged suburbanites. I don’t think that any of the women wore a head-bandana, or love beads, or fringed vests. And not one of the guys had a scraggly beard grown down to tickle his navel.
Our co-op members worked together to bring in wonderful produce from the Chelsea Markets in Boston, “whole foods” in bulk like rice, beans, dried fruits and more (all before there was a Whole Foods food chain). We had cheese and spices and fish too! I like to think that the food co-op movement kick-started the foodie culture in this country.Food co-ops were gentle rebellions against what was available at that time in local grocery stores. “We should be eating fresher, ‘healthier’ foods – and have more options.” At least that’s what our leaders told me.
As a young mom – and one from the Midwest at that – I had had a very vanilla relationship with the world of food up to that point. Until I moved to New England, I had never eaten squash, nor any kind of cheese other than Velveeta, the Parmesan-shake-powder put out by Kraft, and possibly Cheeze Whiz (can’t remember when it was first marketed). Don’t even ask about seafood. But I did have a sense of culinary adventure, trying out a Julia Child recipe every week from her early TV shows, buying exotic spices for those recipes (tarragon!) and was eager to taste and experience new foods.
Imagine my surprise at Swiss chard – big fat, black-green bunches of it. “What do you do with this?” And hunks of Emmenthaler cheese! I was even amazed at the different types of potatoes, and more surprised at all those squash varieties.
Now “food co-op” engenders a time and place that has vanished. I suppose that people who are interested in food co-op-ing now belong to a CSA and get their produce directly from the growers. Today, I could only find two food co-ops in the Boston area where I live (Jamaica Plain and Cambridge, naturally). Here’s a link to a directory of food co-ops across the country.
But still I wonder if there are still young folks who never enjoyed an acorn squash baked with butter and brown sugar, or had shreds of kale floating in a soup, or had a luscious crust of melted Gruyere over Julia Child’s Potato and Sausage Casserole.
So dear Reds and other friends, did you ever belong to a food co-op? And when did you give up the toasted Velveeta cheese sandwich (on Wonder Bread, of course) for a grilled cheddar and Granny Smith apple on whole grain bread?
Patricia Kennedy is a marketing consultant for healthcare organizations. She lives in Boston with her husband Joe, both wonderful and adventurous cooks. For more information on Pat, www.PKCBoston.com.