New York Food CoOp
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A writer finds community—And a Chevrolet Silverado—At her local food coop

By Stephanie Georgopulos

 

As a result of Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc on New York City’s public transportation system this past fall, I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I bought groceries from my local supermarket.

If you’re like most people, you’re probably wondering where else one would acquire groceries. I was in the same boat until last year, when I joined a food coop. Food coops are like supermarkets that place value on teamwork, community and most of all, delicious and affordable food (the latter is what sold me). One defining characteristic of any coop is that they’re member-owned, which means it’s the members—not paid employees—who contribute most to operating the store on a daily basis. In sum, I went from strolling down the aisles of my convenient neighborhood supermarket to commuting to the coop, where I’d spend three hours a month hauling boxes, pricing meats and stocking shelves.

My duties at the coop are as varied as those at my day job, a desk gig that involves lots of sitting in front of a computer screen and moving 3% of my body for ten hours. Kidding: They couldn't be more disparate from one another. At my regular job, I go days (sometimes weeks) without burning so much as 20 calories throughout the workday. But at the coop, the sweating and panting is endless. Zumba has nothing on this work out. A typical shift involves unloading the coop-owned Silverado after it’s made its way back from one of the many Upstate New York farms that provide our produce and meat; then sending half of the order downstairs to the fridges and freezers while the other half gets stocked on the shelves. Then we reload the truck bed with excess produce for the local soup kitchen down the street, a partnership that ensures none of our food goes to waste and community members don’t go hungry.

It’s a lot of work for someone who's chained to a computer 24-7, but the manual labor is a welcome reprieve from my routine. With it comes something that’s hard to find in most workplaces and even harder to find at your average supermarket: community. During shifts, we swap recipes and talk about our lives while accomplishing something that's meaningful to all of us. Whether we’re driving to the soup kitchen or stacking boxes of cereal in the basement, there's always a conversation to be had and a story to be shared.

Too often, the Bright Lights, Big City idea of New York takes away from what matters most to a majority of us: community. Family. It’s easy to forget that these things can even exist within city limits. I’m lucky to be reminded weekly that not only can these bonds exist outside of small towns; they flourish here. The people who belong to my new community have the same appreciation for that bond as I do. We shop the aisles knowing that the people stocking shelves chose to be here, free of charge. The same goes for the people who check us out, the people out front unloading our Silverado, and the people checking our receipts as we walk out the front door and head back to our lives. We have community here. Last time I checked, you can’t pick that up from your local supermarket.

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Stephanie Georgopulos is an editor at Thought Catalog. Her work has been featured on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Awl, Gizmodo, The Next Web, Refinery 29 and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @omgstephlol. Email her at stephanie@thoughtcatalog.com.