Today is a day for wild celebration as Heidi and I have officially taken a leave of absence from the Park Slope Food Coop. Ostensibly because we don’t have time with our busy parenting schedules; actually because we can’t face working there. As members of the coop you are required to work for 2 and a half hours a month. We haven’t worked at all for the past 6 months as we were given a year’s maternity leave to share. Now we can’t face going back.

There are good thing (sic) about the coop and bad things.

The good things: quality food at low prices (20% above wholesale).

The bad things: the work, the busybodies, the queues, the chaos, the untrained staff, the weird smell, the claustrophobic atmosphere, the pettiness, the stock shortages, the conversations, signing in, trying to push the shopping cart, the queues again (you queue a second time to pay), being unable to find things, the cretinous messages over the loudspeakers, being overcharged and the queues once more (you queue a third time to get your receipt stamped before you’re allowed to leave).

My final visit was a delight; I went around 4PM this afternoon, apparently the worst time of the week. There were no carts, the queue snaked up and down 3 entire isles. I had to queue just to get in, then wrestle my way on to the food. I started working through the shopping list Heidi had given me, being bashed about every time I tried to move. I couldn’t buy anything for myself as I could hardly lift the basket as it was. To move 3 feet from the pears to the apples I had to circumnavigate the entire store 5 times just to get past some doozies who were fastened to the floor by a force stronger than gravity. When I got to the apples I had to examine each and every one as they were ‘minimally treated,’ or in English, rotten to the core. The bananas were greener than peas, I picked up protein powder instead of vitamin C (it was in the wrong box), I had to club a shopper to death in order to reach the baby massage oil and my grassy green organic milk leaked all down my freshly laundered trousers. After these multiple ordeals I took the express queue and waited for no less than 40 minutes.

If you are one of those naïve people (younger than 25) who think communism is a good idea in principle, you need to spend 30 minutes in the food Coop. See how petty, bitter and mean people become when they are working for the collective. Everyone is paranoid that everyone else is shirking on their responsibilities, not working hard enough or disobeying a rule they themselves obey. I’ve been told off more times than I can count for such minor offences as leaving the queue for a moment to grab something I forgot, having 16 items in my basket instead of 15 when on line in the xpress queue, reaching over somebody’s head, not having my membership card out and ready the second it was requested and on and on… By the time you are done in there you want to shatter glass with a hysterical screaming fit.

Working there was even worse; you’d always get one hideous person on your shift. Someone whose every word would bring you closer to a spasm of homicidal/suicidal rage. They’d always be into Italian hip-hop, Maori chanting, crocheting or some other random absurdity that affirmed their status as the dullard of the universe. Either that or they’d be a busybody, a person in love with the coop. The equivalent to an informer in communist Russia, the kind of person who would have you killed with a sly word in the right ear.

No, I won’t miss the food coop. Give me regular supermarkets any day, overpriced poor quality food, rude, sassy staff members with no brains and major attitude problems, garish plebazines at the check out, fluorescent drinks, Styrofoam bread, and more choices of wiener dogs than there are members at that damned coop. Bliss.

23 thoughts on “Freedom

  1. I had to laugh after reading your posting. Having visited over the years food coops from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Santa Monica, California, I am always struck by that horrid and initmitable vibe of self-righteousness that compels me to ponder the merits of a good surplus flame thrower. I have found myself at times going increasingly “rustic” when the gray faced and consescending cashier stares unapprovingly into my basket. They hate the meat, the dairy, and sometimes ask if I still eat it as if it wasn’t evident or as if dairy was outlawed since the mullet tax of 1986.

    I wonder, too, with all their protestations of health why they people who work in coops and healthfood stores never look healthy. I wonder why their skin looks dry and their faces assume the pallor of a corpse who stayed above ground two days beyond his wake time. While as a group they are generally harmless because, after all, they are only working in a food coop, their harsh judgements and limited thinking they are in general judgmental bastards with limited viewpoints and staggeringly narrow exposure to most people and things, with the exception of the activities you list above.

    I am fortunate. Living in California, I am surrounded by Whole Foods stores, while not inexpensive, view me as one more anonymous middle aged hip booster, buying his food for the next couple of days. It is a pleasant transition.

  2. Whole Foods here in NY is one chaotic mess and I’ll never go back in. Although never been interested in PkSL Coop or any food coop — I can see that certain personalities would never fit in- such as someone wanting special treatment because I have busy life – and am sure whatever I’m doing is more important than yours.

  3. Have you tried Urban Organics? Their produce is really fresh and you can customize your order. They deliver right to your door. The only drawback is their trucks are not refridgerated so you have to be careful when ordering perishables.

  4. Dude, I used to live in Park Slope and belong to the coop and I think you’re overstating the case. I mean, I agree that the whole two-lines-one-to-check-out-and-one-to-pay is really stupid and wastes a lot of time. And yeah, they do run out of stuff (but c’mon, the explanations over the PA are hilarious–they never just don’t have stuff, they always have an explanation. Like the time they ran out of goat’s milk and the woman making the announcement excitedly explained that it was new-baby-goat season and their suppliers were all short because the new mammas had to feed the baby goats? That was funny.)

    But long lines? I defy you to go to any supermarket at a busy time and NOT stand in nightmarishly long lines. And dude, if you’ve got a co-worker you can’t deal with for 2 1/2 hours once a month, then just don’t deal with them! Ignore the maori singing lady, put on your ipod and a coat and go stack the dairy case. And I used to jump out of line all the time to get something I’d forgotten, and people were cool with that (maybe they gave me the stink-eye and I didn’t notice, but I’d have certainly noticed a lecture, which I never got and I never saw anybody else get. Maybe I wasn’t a member long enough, I dunno.). I mean, every workplace has its losers and annoying cretins–you just ignore them.

    And also, there are cool things, like knowing where the stuff is downstairs, so if you can’t find something upstairs, you can tell the guy exactly where it should be stored (or you can just go see if it’s there yourself). Personally, I like paying 20% less and knowing that the coop can still afford to pay the people who work there full-time a respectable wage–it’s like paying Wal-Mart prices and keeping my soul. And the produce was great. Oh, the cashews! The cashews were incredible.

  5. I cast another nay vote for the coop. I live in the Slope but would rather pay higher prices than deal with the bureaucracy and crowds. It’s a great idea but the place has obviously outgrown its location. My schedule requires that I shop on weekends and I am afraid there’s no discount significant enough for me to sacrifice my sanity.

  6. Paranoia is in the mind of the paranoid. I’ve heard plenty of criticisms of the co-op, and I think most of it boils down to oversensitivity. Of course the lines are long, of course some of the worst self-righteous hippies are members, of course the whole utopian enterprise is fragile. What did you expect?? If you want customer service, shop somewhere where the competitive market demands it. If you want wide open spaces to contemplate your kumquat, pay twice as much at the gourmet store not 50 feet away. And if you’re too sensitive to ignore some righteous busybody (who, as a member, has only as much authority as you do), why bother engaging in moral enterprises where such people are bound to congregate? You mentioned the great prices and food, but not the added value of knowing that your food wasn’t farmed by underpaid migrants, didn’t scorch the environment on its way to you and isn’t forming the basis for trade-based global poverty. If that’s not worth waiting in line for, then fine, don’t wait in line – or else please, quit complaining.

  7. Name-calling is always fun. On review, the tone does sound like a 9 when I meant a 6. But do you disagree with anything in particular I said?

  8. It’s a shame half (liberal estimate) the population of such a great city are arseholes! If the passion was directed into not being so self-righteous. They should give a bag of organic, fairtrade good-humour with every purchase at the co-op. Your neighbours are in need!

  9. OMG, I just have two things to say.

    1. When I worked at the coop I was a very smiley cashier. A woman that I was checking out told me that I was the friendliest cashier that she had ever had at the coop. I felt so proud. Yet things could change so quickly there. The next woman in line slapped me ten times because I kept grabbing her rutabega before her flax seeds and her carrots before her amarynth flour. Thus cat fight ensued!

    2. A friend of mine, not knowing who you are, just emailed me your coop story! How weird is that!

  10. Very weird, and a bit scary.

    I fear if this carries on I’ll burn my bridges with the coop forever. One of those commies’ll probably ring us up and ban us for life. I already miss the garlic stuffed olives and the Red Hot Blue corn chips.

    What have I done?

  11. Good lord, Simon, what have you done? This is why I don’t have a blog. You should see the quibbling in some poetry blogs. Take care of your brain!

  12. I’m sorry you’ve had such a negative experience at the Park Slope Coop. I’ve been a resident of the Slope for about 23 years and resisted membership until about 7 years age; mainly due to complaints very much along the lines of those you’ve voiced in this article.
    My experience of the coop does not coincide with yours. Although I see instances of petty BS there (both when I’m working and when shopping), I can’t think of any place, other than a nice campsite in, say, the Rockies, where you’re not going to run into that kind of stuff. I like the Park Slope Coop. I think that, for the most part, it’s well run and the people are easy to get along with. Glad I joined. The produce and prices (in general) are great.

  13. Frankly, I’d be brain-dead to NOT be a member of the PSFC. Not an adherent to the idealism in food coops? Fine. Let’s talk MONEY. I save, conservatively, over $2,000 a year on my expenses thanks to the lower prices. Work shifts are what provides those savings so consider it to be PAID WORK. What a concept. If I divide my annual savings by the 33 annual hours of required work then I earn $167 per work shift! Who, reading this, makes that kind of cash?? Simon’s characterization of the PSFC as a Communist strong-hold adds an amusement tone to his writing but is pure hokum. The typical experience most members have there is positive and most people there are just average, decent people. No Gestapo…really.

  14. I agree with everything you say Fred. Like I said the good thing about the place is that you save a load of cash. Most people are nice yes, that is why I said it was “you’d always get ONE hideous person.”

  15. Simon, welcome to the world of the living. I don’t think you’re an asshole for not being willing to trade away your freedom, individuality, and sanity for a 20% discount on your food.

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