Foods Co  »

So it’s come to this: I’m tired, friends; tired of fighting the good fight against NIMBYs and ninnies; tired of feeling like it’s become Valencia Street vs. The Rest of the Mission; tired of having to defend a misogynist and Starbucks because my neighbors are insane. Is it class warfare? Not in this economy, I would think. What does this have to do with vegan living? Oh ho! Let me put on some coffee and tell you all about it.

Once upon a December 2007, Joel and I ventured into Foods Co (1800 Folsom at 14th), searching for fortified cereal. For reasons unknown, Rainbow Grocery only carries unfortified cereal, as if all non-animal-eaters have the same iron needs. Wrong-o! My companion has iron stores a-plenty, while I am a point (there’s a scale) away from anemic. Yet we eat nearly identical diets, and I take a iron-ful multivitamin, so what’s the difference? I’m just no good at absorption, is what it is. So to Foods Co we went for torso-sized packages of iron-rich wheat products.

Our total purchases included two half-gallon cartons of Florida’s Natural-brand orange juice for $6, and the biggest box of Kix I have ever seen. The cereal aisle was packed with fancy-pants name-brand boxed cereals, like Cap’n Crunch (iron content: 25 percent RDA) and Tricks (iron content: 20 percent RDA); off-brand cereals in bags instead of boxes; and finally what I really wanted, the Kroger (Foods Co’s parent company) brand of cereals in massive bags that give you twice the volume for half the price of a box of something General Mills.

Those shelves were mostly empty though, save some generic cheerios, generic rice krispies, and a mostly eaten chicken drumstick.

Take a moment.

It’s horrible that good grocery stores like Rainbow can be prohibitively expensive to people in lower tax brackets, and they’re left to buy non-perishables in disorienting big-food mausoleums, among hordes of drunks and weirdos and constant arrests in the parking lot. Then we all get to laugh about it and feel special for all the awesome deals we get, like, the hell with Safeway, I’m shopping at FOODS CO! And aren’t we so clever with our slumming and penny-pinching?

Now, I didn’t ever have to go back here; the chicken bone was disgusting, and I have the time, money and energy to buy my fortified cereal at other places. What really bothers me is that people who need to shop at Foods Co. have to put up with the filth and chaos mentioned in other reviews. Rainbow, less than a block away, is such a magical paradise of cleanliness, nice products, helpful friendly staff, (mostly) non-aggressive shoppers—what’s the difference? It can’t only be the huge meat department. Is it the hours? Foods Co is open every day from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., while Rainbow’s hours are just 9 to 9.

No, friends, it is the prices. The prices are low, and the quantities are high. Foods Co is a standard grocery store—produce, meat, dairy, canned foods, dry goods, frozen items, household supplies, cleaners of various sorts—with other stuff mixed in, like paper products, batteries, and Vitamin Water in bulk, for example. If your income is below $40k, and you’re supporting a family with children (read: locusts) and old people (read: medications!), you obviously need to get the most food for your grocery budget.

Rainbow has a bad reputation for being, as I said, prohibitively expensive, but the bulk items are affordable, especially staples like flour, oats, rice, and beans. The produce is mostly organic, I believe all the dairy products at least come from small, not-as-abusive-as-they-could-be farms, and the bulk tofu, also, is cheap and delicious. But you all knew that already, right? How affordable bulk tofu can be, and how easy it is to make a variety of meals out of it? Sadly, that is not well known outside of vegetarian society, and even within it there are plenty of us who still believe that a cruelty-free diet has to cost more than an omnivorous one. Counterpoint: vegan burritos cost less than a carne asada con queso y crema. Milk prices are kept artifically low, a system which cannot last forever. Eventually there won’t be any more room for all those cows and pigs and chickens being kept for an omnivore’s meals, what with all the people making more people, whose need for space takes precedence over everything else.

The last time I went to Foods Co was 28 Jan. 2009; I bought three half-gallon cartons of Silk-brand soymilk plus Omega-3 DHA ($3.99/each), two half-gallon cartons of Florida’s Natural orange juice ($2.98/each), two boxes of Wheaties, and two boxes of Apple Jacks: total bill was a little over $32. I keep going to Foods Co because the price for the soymilk I drink is close to $1 cheaper than anywhere else, including Rainbow, and sometimes Rainbow doesn’t have it when I want it, whereas Foods Co shoppers never seem to want it as much as Rainbow shoppers do. Do not mistake this tone for sardonic; I understand why.

Another luxury of mine is having the time to go to both Rainbow and Foods Co (they are nearly kitty-corner to each other on Folsom and 14th Streets) and make the most of my budget at both places. Not everyone has the privilege to do this—time is money, right, and some of us work two jobs, or weird hours, or can only spend so much time shopping because babysitters are too expensive and bringing children along to the market is basically a nightmare, especially during the 4-to-7 p.m. shopping rush hour. Terrible.

But friends, Foods Co is not (only) a nightmare. Nor is it a place to be mocked because you and your $10 beers are “above” it, and only shop there because you looooooove Cinnamon Toast Crunch (brand-name is vegan, off-brands are not) or Life Cereal or so you can buy cheap-ass garbage bags and giggle at the people ahead of you buying 10 packages of ground turkey and a gallon of whole milk, exclusively. If you are shopping at Foods Co, then you are as good as everyone else as Foods Co: it is a class-leveler. If prices really didn’t matter to you, you wouldn’t shop there in the first place. I can buy enriched cereal much closer to home, but Foods Co has higher variety and lower prices, and I need the savings.

There’s no shame in needing to save money. There’s nothing wrong with Rainbow stocking its shelves with exclusively organic, unenriched cereals. There’s nothing wrong with going to a national chain store settled in the Mission to buy products you need at an affordable price. Foods Co employs our neighbors, just like Rainbow. Foods Co has an educational website that addresses concerns of its vegan and vegetarian customers, just like Rainbow. Of course I am not advocating shopping at Foods Co to the exclusion of Rainbow—a vegetarian co-op grocery with all kinds of vegan specialty items vs. a national discount grocery chain? please—but Foods Co clearly has a place here, not only for The Poors, The Uneducateds, The Basically Carnivorous (of every economic stratum: do you even know what a vegetable is?), but for we vegans as well. Plus imagine if the vegan items start selling better—maybe they’ll start stocking more of them, too. And when a discount grocery store stocks more inexpensive vegan foods, then that exposes more people to veganism, and who knows what that might lead to?

Hope, like an unopened bag of “Fruity O’s” [sic], springs eternal.

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