Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Welcome to the Park Slope Food Coop

I have a very important partner in my cooking adventures: the Park Slope Food Coop. I get nearly all of my groceries at the Coop and I’m there all the time since I can’t seem to plan our meals more than two days in advance (we live just two blocks away from it). It has a kind of hold on our lives – well, it’s not just a grocery store for us. It’s a lifestyle.

Founded in 1973, the PSFC is the oldest food coop in the country. Though it now has some 10,000 members it’s managed to hold onto some of the revolutionary spirit of its roots. To be a member you must work a 2 ¾-hour shift once every four weeks. Only members can shop at the Coop. And if you miss your shift without contacting your squad leader you can get stuck with two make-up shifts.

Coop members also face crowding (especially during the weekend) and lines, lines, lines. First there is the line to check out your groceries. Then there is a separate line to pay for your groceries. And after that you must have you receipts stamped (to make sure you’re not shoplifting anything), though the line for this is usually very short if there’s a line at all.

Fine, so it's kind of a hassle. The benefits? Cheap. Wonderful. Food. Everything is just 21% above wholesale. We have organic and minimally-treated produce, locally grown whenever possible.

We have grass-fed beef ($4.99/pound for ground) and bison, pork, free-range chicken ($6-8 for a whole bird), duck, rabbit, even wild boar from Canada ($7/pound and forage-fed). Seriously, don’t you pay more for conventionally-raised meat at most New York grocery stores?

A thoughtful cheese selection, including “cheeses of the week” – domestic and foreign.

Bins and bins of bulk foods including, finally, Israeli couscous, spices, dried fruit, and nuts. Don't you love all the hand-written signs? The beer selection is small but wonderful.

Every morning we get deliveries of fresh bialys, bagels, bread from Amy’s Bread and other great city bakeries, muffins and cookies. And we have a very satisfying collection of chocolate bars.

On top of all that, we have childcare. Yes, you can drop off your child in room full of toys where he’ll be happier anyway and then return downstairs to contemplate heads of cauliflower free from little grabbing hands, mad dashes out the door, and demands for popsicles. (Well, usually. Sometimes Jasper asks to shop with me instead of playing with the kids upstairs. Sigh.) Germs abound but I'm still grateful for the option.

There are a few downsides. Not everyone loves their Coop shift and many people think the shift lasts too long and comes too often. The worst shift?

Stocking vitamins. How are you supposed to know that CoQ10 is a brain booster? Hell, you need a brain booster just to figure it all out.

Second worst Coop shift is childcare Thursdays at 1:00, my shift. Who are all these toddlers and why aren’t they napping? It’s 1:00! Go home and go to sleep – this used to be the “quiet” shift!

The Coop is frequently painted as a bastion of self-righteous, socialist, vegan, food freaks who whine if they come within 20 feet of palm kearnel oil. There are a few of those. But all in all I find most Coop members to be nice, regular sorts who happen to care an awful lot about their food. We chat about kids while waiting on line. We chat about what to do with tomatillos. We recommend the satsumo tangerines. I like Coop members.

Here’s the part where I should say something along the lines of “and that’s really what I love most about the Coop: the people.” But that’s not true. I'm there for the food.

Monday's Meatloaf

2 shallots, chopped
2 small apples, chopped
1 cup bread crumbs
1 pound ground beef
1/4 cup buttermilk
2-3 tablespoons leftover soup (roasted bell pepper) or ketchup
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1-2 tablespoons thyme
2 beaten eggs
1 tablespoon salt
A few cranks of the pepper mill

Combine ingredients until just mixed. Pour into bread pan. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. We had ours with mashed russet and sweet potatoes and a salad.


Co said...

Hmm... Lo would disagree with you about the worst co-op shift. It's cashier, she'd say.

It's been a while since she did it, so it may be better now, but...

Only doing one shift every 4 weeks, it's often hard for cashiers to know how to deal with special circumstances that don't come up often, and people are nasty when you need to think a beat or look up how to deal with a situation. It's very easy to make a mistake or two during a shift. I'm not talking about mistakes like over- or undercharging. That seems serious, right? No, I'm talking about mistakes like punching in x code instead of y code. Then, you have 3 DIFFERENT PEOPLE AT THE COOP calling to tell you you screwed up. I was at Lo's when she got her 3 messages on her answering machine berating her for the same exact mistake. It was reminiscent of the movie Office Space.

Lo also had issues with missing a shift, making it up, and then getting suspended anyway. It was hard for the bureaucracy to recognize who had made up their shifts, years ago at least.

Lo quit the co-op because... "My job as a middle school teacher is stressful enough. I don't need to be stressed out by my groceries."

I'm glad you're having good experiences. Maybe it's not as bad as it used to be when Lo quit. I sometimes think we should join again.

And what happened to your job slicing cheese? I thought you liked that shift.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see the orange mashed potatoes have fully engrained themselves in your life. :)

Adriana Velez said...

CO, the cashiers do have a reputation for being particularly, how shall I put it, intense. But you do point out a big problem with the Coop -- it's gotten so big and there are so many people running the ship it can be a bureaucratic mess. Every time I hear we're losing members to Fairway I'm actually glad because I think we're at full capacity -- imho.

I loved my cheese packaging shift but I lost it when I went on maternity leave. When I came back I wanted a childcare shift so I could bring Jasper with me -- he wouldn't stay there without me until he was almost 2!

JA, it's orange potatoes every time!

Lindsey said...

I'm so jealous of the Co-op. I have to see if there's anything like that up by me. It all sounds wonderful. I would put up with any shift for the luxury of shopping there.

Swizzies said...

If you're not regularly partaking of the Amy's Bread sourdough/dark chocolate bread goodness direct from heaven, well, you're just forsaking your right to be located near Amy's Bread. I'm just sayin.

I guess it probably seems more frequent and taxing if you're actually doing it, I was thinking 2.75 hours every four weeks seemed extremely reasonable. That said, you couldn't get me to do the childcare shift with a gun. I'd be in Fairway posthaste.

I think it's good to care about and know where your food comes from.

(Do I sound cranky today?)

(Did you get the package I sent you?)

Anonymous said...

Omigosh I can't believe I forgot to mention the Amy's Bread thing. The chocolate sourdough twists gave me a reason to get up every morning when I lived on 9th Avenue. A pain au chocolat, no matter how authentic, is a poor substitute.

Adriana Velez said...

What's this about sourdough/dark chocolate bread? We don't get that at the Coop (snif snif). Now I have to go all the way to Hell's Kitchen.

Anonymous said...

They're just plain sourdough bread dough, with Valrhona chocolate twisted in. I think they make them by rolling out the dough, spreading on the chocolate, folding it over, then cutting into strips and twisting. Divine. I'd be tempted to make them at home if I thought I could even come close to replicating the effect.

Cherie said...

A - you are very lucky to have the Coop.

If you happened to read it, the author of the cover story of the NYTiems magazine ("Unhappy Food") recommended that we avoid supermarkets. Well, YES! if you have an alternative.

I HATE going to the supermarket; I boycotted it for most of the past three years, and then found our food budget couldn't take it. Luckily, we still have the Italian grocery for produce.

But you are really really lucky not only in the food offerings of the Coop, but also because of what you avoid: all the marketing of fake "food" and the depressing advertiements and infuriating jerking-you-around game of pricing that is the hallmark of (shall we name names?) Stop and Shop or Shaws (the two we have in CT).

liz said...

what a great idea- a tour of one of your fav places.

love the depth of your posts- although they were always good before too, I can just sense your pleasure with the time you wanted to take thinking and writing about things. I can read the difference.