Food Buying Clubs: A Case-by-Case Revolution
Make a political statement--and cut your grocery bill
For many of us who came of age politically in the ’60s and ’70s, the grocery list crumpled up in the front pocket of our jeans was as close to a revolutionary manifesto as we had. The goat milk, onions, and bulgar we packed in our canvas bags had to be bought in bulk from local, organic, communal farmers or we were doing ourselves, and the revolution, a mighty disservice. Food is still political 30 years later, of course, but these days a heightened sense of culinary righteousness comes with a pretty hefty price tag.
The hundreds of consumer-owned food cooperatives that sprouted back then have morphed into a fabulously successful industry serving millions of—dare I say it?—bourgeois yuppies like me. But the high price of good food often leaves even yuppies looking for cheaper alternatives, one of which is the good old-fashioned neighborhood buying club.
The United States has more than 4,000 food buying clubs, according to a 1995 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, and the idea seems to be gaining new supporters. "We get daily requests from individuals wanting assistance in starting a new group," says Nick Masullo, general manager of Ozark Cooperative Warehouse in Fayetteville, Arkansas, one of the nation’s half dozen cooperatively owned food warehouses. "People are concerned about the quality of their food and care about such issues as genetic engineering and food irradiation." Blooming Prairie Natural Foods in Iowa City, which serves Midwest buying clubs, and Northeast Cooperatives in Chelsea, Massachusetts, both report a 10 to 20 percent growth in buying club sales each year, according to Dave Gutknecht, editor of Cooperative Grocer.
And as Jeff Guntzel and Soyun Kim explain in the Chicago-based cultural/political zine Punk Planet
(Sept./Oct. 2000), addressing concerns about food through a buying club, though it’s not as simple as driving to the supermarket and filling up your cart, is not as difficult as it may seem. The regional warehouse provides a catalog with price lists for members’ monthly orders, which are phoned, faxed, or e-mailed to the wholesaler. A designated club member (or members) picks up the order from the distribution site, pays with a single check, and delivers the goods to a central place where the rest of the club can grab their grub.