Student cooperatives are taking food sourcing into their own hands. Victoria Walvis and Dora Clouttick members of York People & Planet explain how they did it.
A consumer society prides itself on choice but when it comes to your food many so-called ‘choices’ have already been made for you. As you peruse the daunting array of products at the supermarket, all flaunting their unique desirability, you may not realise that the selection which makes it to the shelves is the result of a hold load of decision you had no say. Right down the line from the chosen suppliers, to how much of the farmers produce makes the cut (and how much is wasted), to the preferred transport companies, even as far back as the seed stock and species cultivated. You may consider yourself spoilt for choice but in many ways, you just get what your given.
If you care about the world, you probably want to buy Fairtrade and organic produce so that no-one suffers for your gain. But on a student budget it’s way too expensive. And reducing waste is impossible when supermarkets wrap everything in pointless sheets of plastic. As the pressure on oil increases, what about the amount of energy used in food transportation and fertilisers is another thing to worry about. But for some inexplicable reason you can only find apples from New Zealand and wine from California in your local supermarket. And who knows how much oil has been used in the production of fertilisers to feed a field of huge (and often tasteless) vegetables? Basically, supermarkets are a nightmare for people who care about where their food comes from.
So what’s the alternative?
Whats the answer? Cut out the middle-man. All over people are taking matters into their own hands. Grouping together and ordering food collectively at wholesale prices and feeding themselves cheaply on ethical produce.
At York University, we have founded our own food cooperative called ‘Scoop’ with an emphasis on sustainable, ethical, local and cheap food. Cooperatives are not just a duty driven enterprise, they’re also a way to get together to share ideals and knowledge, bond with others on a level that supermarkets could never offer.
As a society, we have become seriously detached from our food. Everyone laments that fact that city kids think milk comes from a bottle and bread from a packet. But before you raise an eyebrow, ask yourself: have you any idea what ingredients you need to make pizza? Would you recognise those ingredients when they were growing and know how to harvest and process them in order to create the desired delicious result? Or even just to make them edible?
You might say that in our fast-food world these are things that we don’t need to know any more. But at York we reckon it benefit everyone to get a bit closer to our food.
Food cooperatives exist all over the globe in all shapes and sizes, from large companies to local community groups. You might have heard of Suma, a wholesaler of vegetarian, organic and Fairtrade foods but there are loads of little operations too. They can be found in churches, school halls, or even in your neighbour’s living room. In short, they can be anywhere there is a group of enthusiastic, like-minded individuals and a space to store food.
Ditching your local supermarket in favour of a food cooperative is a great step in helping to tackling climate change, introducing an aspect of community into our consumption and having a greater appreciation for what you eat.
While it might take a while to adjust to a new routine (wholesale orders can take a little more planning that just nipping to the shops!) but we found that we actually have more freedom than when shopping consisted of sprinting round the aisles and enduing supermarket queues.
A positive future for food must be based on an acceptance of greater responsibility for what we eat, and establishing food cooperatives are a brilliant way to take back control of the food chain!
To find out more about the York student cooperative contact: email@example.com
Start your own coop: http://sustainweb.org/foodcoopstoolkit/