Johnny and I went up to Jackson, Mississippi on Tuesday and stopped in at Rainbow Natural Grocery Cooperative for lunch. What a breath of fresh air from the usual trip to Whole Foods! It reminded me somewhat of the All Natural Foods & Deli that I adored on Magazine St. years ago...before Whole Foods moved across the street. I remember feeling so sorry for the owners of All Natural because, well, they were totally screwed. And I felt guilty, of course I have to admit, because I knew how excited I was about the arrival of bigger, cheaper Whole Foods myself.
But this place in Jackson was a beautiful illustration of what Whole Foods cannot give us. I'm not sure I can really put it in words, but I'll try. First, it was clearly a local joint. It FELT local. It felt REAL. It felt like it was owned by the people that shopped in it (and it is, since it's a co-op). It felt individual. I was REALLY impressed at the vegan fare. Rainbow has an organic, vegetarian lunch cafe that was closed by the time we arrived at the store, but no matter -- there were a ton of fresh lunch options sold in the store. What was awesome was that, as far as I could tell, they were ALL VEGAN!!!!! Lasagna, enchiladas, four or five different wraps, baked tofu, red beans & rice, baked beans, soup, bread, carrot cake, a bunch of other desserts -- ALL VEGAN!!!
There was a lot more than what is pictured above, btw.
This totally drove my excitement over the upcoming New Orleans Food Co-op through the roof! It was great to see what a collectively-owned store could be like. How many of you have been involved in a co-op before? My last experience was when I lived in Lake Charles, but it was a far cry from what the NOLA Co-op project promises. No, the co-op in Lake Charles was the kind you have in a town where there are only a handful of people who don't want to eat crap all the time...
All of the members had to pitch in to keep it running. We would get to order in bulk from a catalog once a month. A couple of people would meet the delivery truck along its route, put all of the food (including dry, refrigerated, and frozen) in their cars, and drive the food to a member's church for drop-off. Then a couple of us would sort through the food, divvying it up according to printed orders. (Each member had her own page with her order on it.) This generally took a couple of hours. I usually participated in the sorting, and made friends with an awesome fellow sorter named Stacia. Then everyone would drop by to pick up their order. I don't remember how payment worked. Naturally, there was always something going wrong, usually involving products that didn't arrive or that arrived without our ordering them. So back to my excitement about the NOLA co-op...having an actual STOREFRONT!!?!? Where individual members don't have to worry about every little aspect of the transaction? A store that will morph according to OUR tastes and preferences? I can't wait!