For many of us fortunate enough to be able to purchase our food from a grocery store, rarely do we give ourselves the opportunity to inquire into the companies selling us the food. Who owns the grocery stores we shop at? What influence do these often national or multinational chains exert on the production, processing and distribution of food?
How do these retailers contribute to the health and well-being of the communities they operate in and to what extent do they add or extract from the local economy? These are just some of the big questions probed in Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants by Nelson journalist Jon Steinman, published by New Society Publishers.
Steinman will launch Grocery Story in Nelson on April 7 at The Front Room, 600-901 Front St.
“There is this fascinating interest among people of all walks of life to inquire more deeply into the food we feed ourselves and our families,” says Steinman. “This new era of food literacy is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and yet one of the most influential forces shaping the food supply has surprisingly evaded attention — the grocery store — the epicenter of our food gathering ritual.”
Steinman is the producer and host of the internationally syndicated radio show and podcast Deconstructing Dinner (2006 to 2010) and of Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing our Food System, a television and web series currently streaming online. He has served as a director and board president of the Kootenay Co-op.
The democratic economy Lappé speaks of are consumer-owned grocery stores — food cooperatives (or co-ops). This unique business model has been used widely to provide goods and services for well over 100 years as an alternative to private ownership, says Steinman.
When the model is applied to food retail, consumer co-ops offer grocery store customers the opportunity to co-own the store they shop at.
“For just a $50 to $200 investment,” Steinman says, “you could be the proud co-owner of your grocery store. No longer interested in co-owning the store? Your money is returned to you.
“It’s really quite remarkable — almost revolutionary,” he says. “The cooperative model is democratizing the economy, and best of all, it’s a well-established alternative already operating in communities of all sizes across the continent.”
There are over 230 independent consumer food co-ops with over 300 stores among them. Another 100 co-ops are in various stages of development.
To launch the book, Steinman is touring across the U.S. and Canada throughout 2019 with visits planned for upwards of 140 food co-ops from coast to coast. The tour runs from April through December with dates posted at grocerystory.coop.