I worked my usual shift at the Park Slope Food Coop today. I had my usual reluctance when I saw the every-4-week shift looming on the calendar. "Argh, another day practically 'lost,'" I thought. The 3-hour shift, plus shopping time, takes up more than half of the school day; the only time I can usually get things done. Plus, there's the added rush in the morning to get everyone ready for school and me to the place by 8am. But in the end, the trip had more joy than frustration, with some neighborly socializing thrown in. I spoke to people about food, of course, but also about toddlers who, like mine, won't reliably sleep past 6am, and about Fiona Shaw in Happy Days, a phenomenal play at BAM. Usually I overhear or partake in political discussions as well, but I guess it was a "slow" day.
The real bonus is that my refrigerator and shelves are now chock-full with food, including lots of organic fruit and vegetables, healthy snacks, and the makings of at least a week's worth of meals and school lunches. I bought a delicata squash for the first time and hope to make something good of it. My daughter's birthday is coming up, so I bought more than our usual share of treats: brownie mix for birthday snack at school (that happens to be organic), ice cream, and some of her favorite things, like clementines and chocolate.
Having all that good food on hand really does fuel the family dinner. Without it, it's easy to fall into the habit of ordering take-out or dressing up some grocery-store convenience food as dinner. Eating better and cooking better starts with your shopping trip.
My coop seems so rare and unlikely, a bustling non-profit food business with over 10,000 members nestled in an unassuming and impossibly small, old building in Park Slope. But there are food coops all around the country and they take many different shapes. The Park Slope Food Coop requires a work commitment, but that is somewhat unusual. A food coop can help you get good food at better prices, as long as it is frequented enough to keep the produce and groceries fresh. Check out the Coop Directory to see if there is one near you. Local Harvest is another great resource that lists food coops, farmer's markets and family farms that sell directly to consumers. It's not so bad, after all, belonging to a coop!