More Change is Coming…

  | Food For Thought, GM Report

Things are changing in the Co-op! As I reported last month, we are making some changes here and there to plan for the Café reopening, which we are targeting for mid- to late-June. We are operating under the assumption that the governor is moving towards a full reopening of restaurants by July 4, so we are hurtling towards that goal. Some changes you may have already seen include modifying the Customer Service desk to include all aspects of service, including Shareholder Services. We’re still working out some of the finer details, but soon, Annie and Ruth will be located part-time in the Customer Service booth, and part-time off the floor to attend to administrative work and social media content. Meanwhile, the Shareholder Services booth will be removed, and we will install the Café register there. This will allow us to do several things: open up the area at the bottom of the spiral staircase to better accommodate traffic in all directions, and we will be moving around amenities for the Café for easier access. For instance, the recycling and trash receptacle will be accessible across from the stairs, easier to reach from both the Café and the Front End. We will be installing a “bar” in front of the patio windows for single seating, to allow for more flexible use of the space. And more! We hope you enjoy the results of our labors, and please be patient with us as we move through this transition.

Speaking of change, on a much larger level, I recently attended (virtually) the Spring Meeting of our national cooperative, the National Co-op Grocers. Unsurprisingly, nearly all co-ops across the country are engaged in some kind of diversity, equity, and inclusion work—a sure sign that a corner, albeit a very small one, has been turned on having this work prioritized in businesses everywhere. And, admittedly, it’s about time. We ourselves have embarked on a full-on, organization-wide cultural assessment and training, with a goal to permanently embed a lens of equity and inclusion in everything that we do, a process that will take several years to fully implement.

It was affirming to hear all of the ways that cooperatives are working on this issue. We also heard a presentation by the folks at the Sanford World Food Policy Institute at Duke University on the ways in which white supremacy narratives permeate our food system, creating barriers to food access. Some of these narratives have been enthusiastically espoused by co-ops, including ours, over the years. This journey of understanding continues to surprise and humble, and we have much to do.

Whiteness permeates the food system in the ways “it articulates white ideals of health and nutrition, offers whitened dreams of farming and gardening that erase the past and present of race in agriculture, mobilizes funding to direct programming toward non-white beneficiaries, and create(s) inviting spaces for white people,” Rachel Slocum stated in the article, “Anti-Racist Practice and the Work of Community Food Organizations,” in 2006.

The wave of ‘70s-era co-ops, to which our Co-op belongs, is overwhelmingly white. Our movement, at least in most communities, has very much internalized many problematic narratives. Individualized choices, such as assuming that some folks simply need to be educated in healthy food choices, enables us to ignore all of the systemic situations that have baked in the choices that food-insecure families face. Our attention on these individual choices has blinded us to the “inherently unequal distribution of power, ownership, and decision-making in food policy and programming,” as the World Food Policy Institute states.

As with most areas of our “unlearning,” in the realization of our complicity to further these unequal and unwelcoming situations, the effect is potentially startling. But what great things we can do once we begin to figure this out, in supporting our non-white customers and owners more effectively, and in making our spaces more welcoming!  If you are interested in this journey, I invite you to read the Research Brief from the Sanford World Food Policy Institute online entitled, “Identifying and Countering White Supremacy Culture in Food Systems.” There are many resources for further reading and listening.

See you in the aisles!


By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager