Shame on Pollan
It was just another cold spring morning hinting of rain when, over a cup of coffee and the daily perusal of Grist on her iPhone, Aunt Ruth blew a gasket. Got pissed. Blood pressure on spike, snorting coffee through her nose (out, not in). Why? Two words: Michael Pollan.
Auntie knows he’s the foodie equivalent of St. Erstwhile, but when any saint blithely overlooks the labors of a dedicated few—labors that have made a real difference in the long run of things—well, Aunt Ruth is guaranteed to see red, not green. S’up?
In the June 10 New York Review of Books, which comes out in May—maybe because New York fancies itself in front of things—Pollan gives a review of the food movement without once mentioning the notion of a food co-op. Omnivore this, bub: Aunt Ruth may be spoiled, living in a region with not one but two successful food co-ops, but no matter: Facts are facts. Nail them, you didn’t.
For nearly 40 years, the modern movement of food co-ops has been slugging it out, preaching organic produce, natural/unprocessed food, consumer education, recycling, no animal cruelty—you name it. This was long before Whole Foods came into being—the leadership of W.F. came from co-ops—and, most importantly, represents the hard work of sustaining institutions in hundreds of communities, institutions that employed people, gave organic farmers an outlet when there was none and gave the discerning shopper, then considered odd for not wanting to eat carcinogens, a place where good food was readily available. That’s hard work, kids—sustaining institutions in the face of marginalization, corporate capitalism and a do-it-yourself, we-own-it ethic that demands more than the average corporado storefront.
While the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op and the Davis Food Co-op are exemplary—vibrant, stable, even-growing—the co-op movement operates more than 145 storefronts in 32 states, with a combined sales of nearly $1.2 billion. That’s not nothing. As with anything alternative—witness the newspaper in your hands—co-ops do it their way, mixing natural foods, the politics of inclusion and sustainability. It ain’t easy—and they’ve been doing it for decades. Pollan overlooks this entirely.
Auntie Ruth saw Pollan lecture at UC Davis years ago and had the opportunity to tell him about local co-ops. He acknowledged them, but Auntie always suspected he didn’t get it. Now she knows for sure. God bless food co-ops, damn it. And shame, shame, shame on Michael Pollan.