If you asked a friend to bring you a week’s worth of groceries, would you be surprised at their choices? Would the contents of your shopping bag raise your mother’s eyebrows? Are you sure? Do you ever wonder what your fellow Co-op members take home each week? We thought it might be fun—and maybe enlightening—to see what was in a few shopping bags during the first half of December.

When I started talking with shoppers, I was immediately reminded of the preference for organic food that many of us share. Customers were quick to volunteer that they were buying organics because of their concerns for personal and planetary health. Many people also spoke of their commitment to locally produced, seasonal food and felt that supporting local growers was more important than having an “imported” variety of groceries in their cart. There was also a strong belief in the value of small farms and the environmental importance of reducing the number of miles food travels.

Thanks to everyone who took a minute to talk with me. While several people seemed a bit shy to discuss their purchases, rest assured that I was at least as shy about “snooping”! In the interest of fairness, I’ll share my shopping list first.

My shopping list

My bag is usually canvas and the contents are pretty predictable to my family. I try to buy seasonal, local produce as much as possible, but retraining our taste buds and habits is an ongoing challenge. We have had a CSA membership for several years, garden a bit, and also shop our small town farmers’ market in the summer for eggs and veggies, so my freezer provides goodies all year, and I try not to buy many convenience foods. If you were to sneak a peek in my bag you would be likely to find:

• Fair Trade bananas
• A five-pound bag of sweet Tipi Produce carrots every week
• Local potatoes—white and sweet
• A pound or so of mushrooms
• Assorted vegetables, usually including kale, broccoli, and spinach, local when
• A package or two of bagels from Bagels Forever
• Jerusalem whole-wheat pita bread
• Matthew’s whole-wheat English muffins
• Bountiful Bean tofu
• Organic Valley products, including orange juice, milk, butter and soymilk
• Eggs from New Century or Yuppie Hill farms
• Seven Stars Farm yogurt
• Just Coffee or Equal Exchange coffee beans
• Freshly ground peanut butter (crunchy, of course!)
• Bulk supplies including oats, rice, nuts, flour, pasta, beans, and flax seeds
• Willy-packed prunes and raisins
• Cheese—we like Cedar Grove for everyday, especially the Monterey Jack and
• Rudi’s Cinnamon Raisin bread for a treat
• Equal Exchange Very Dark chocolate is a pantry staple for me!

Additionally, we occasionally purchase chicken, fish, Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese, cereal, condiments and pet food. I am trying to overcome a weakness for tortilla chips, but they are still a treat sometimes. We shop Wellness Wednesday for supplements and body care products, and I do pay attention to other specials and coupons when they fit my needs.

Christine’s bag

Christine is a savvy shopper when it comes to maximizing her food budget—stocking up on basics when they are on sale is an important part of her strategy and she netted almost $30 in savings on a recent receipt. Her family is primarily vegetarian and plants a large variety of garden vegetables each year, further reducing their grocery bill during the growing season. They support local producers and are committed to buying organics as much as possible for environmental and health reasons. Christine does not buy many sweet treats. Her two young children were very happy to claim a Clasen’s sourdough baguette as a treat during a recent Co-op visit, though Equal Exchange chocolate can also often be found in her bag. Christine’s husband said he is most likely to try something new if he is shopping alone—and also more likely to buy a treat or two when on his own! One of their recent shopping carts included:

• ESP promotional items including bananas, Organic Valley butter, basmati rice and
  Cedar Grove mild white cheddar cheese
• Grapefruit and navel oranges
• Pink Lady apples
• Tipi Carrots
• Crimini mushrooms
• Local red cabbage
• Celery and yellow onions
• Green Mountain Gringo salsa
• Peace Cereal (vanilla almond flavor)
• Reed’s Cherry Ginger Brew for a Christmas gift
• Three different bulk herbal teas
• Cascadian Farms frozen peas
• Bulk walnuts and peanuts
• The aforementioned baguette, sesame Bagels Forever and flour tortillas

Jim’s bag

Jim’s face has become a familiar one in my years at the Co-op. He lives in Middleton and shops here once or twice each week. He buys mostly produce, but also beans, rice and granola from the Bulk aisle. Jim says he “buys organic as much as is feasible” to take better care of his body by consuming fewer pesticides and antibiotics. “I’m worth it and I deserve it,” he told me. Jim’s shopping bag is often a box and the day we talked he was filling it with:

• Braeburn apples, his favorite
• Tipi carrots
• Rio Star grapefruit, a seasonal favorite
• Swiss chard—something new that Jim thought would end up in a bean soup,
   maybe with a little chicken

Radhika’s bag

Radhika and her two children are also familiar faces in the Co-op. They usually shop once a week. The kids told me their favorite treats are ice cream sandwiches and Oatscream from the Juice Bar. They buy most of their vegetables at the Farmers’ Market in season. Radhika chooses organics for the health of the soil and environment as well as the health of her children. She likes to try new things that are on special or things she learns about in the Reader. She was picking up some basics after a vacation recently and her cart included:

• Assorted fruits and vegetables
• Organic milk
• AkMak whole-wheat crackers
• Whole-wheat couscous from the Bulk aisle
• Julie’s Organic Ice Cream Sandwiches

Echnaton’s bag

Echnaton was trying a loaf of sprouted grain bread for something new the day we talked. He chose it because it looked interesting. He shops weekly for himself and always includes a bar of dark chocolate. He buys organics because of his concerns about pesticides. In his cart I spied:

• Beets
• Carrots
• Squash
• Kale, to be steamed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil
• Dried beans
• Flax seeds
• Sprouted bread from Alvarado Street Bakery
• A bar of dark chocolate

Dan’s bag

Willy’s own Prepared Foods Manager Dan Moore was shopping in mid-December for ingredients for his contribution to the staff holiday meal as well as a few items on his wife’s list. He says he always takes home a treat or two—favorites include the Endangered Species Sea Turtle bar (dark chocolate with blueberries), and cheese—”whatever’s new, but also always Camembert with Potter’s crackers.” Dan told me they also make it a rule to buy fresh flowers each week. Goodies on Dan’s list included:

• Onions, celery and miso for the vegan gravy and stuffing for a staff meal
• Oranges, satsumas, and clementines
• Red leaf lettuce
• Bananas—”always fair trade”
• Wisconsin Organics milk in glass bottles
• Maple and flax oatmeal
• Nature’s Gate moisturizer
• Treats and flowers

Gregg and Kathy’s bag

Gregg and Kathy believe in supporting local farmers and think it’s important for everyone to do whatever they can when it comes to buying local food. They buy organic and free-range products to avoid hormones and antibiotics. They like to shop the Bulk aisle to save money. Gregg is a chef and was buying sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes) to test in a homemade gnocchi recipe. Treats for them include milk chocolate and a variety of bulk teas.
The day we met they were buying:

• Sunchokes
• Greens
• Dried beans
• Bulk pasta
• Ground lamb, for their dogs’ raw diet
• Bulk teas

Stephanie’s bag

Stephanie said she usually shops the Co-op twice a month. As a cancer survivor, she is committed to organics for the sake of her health. She said one must-have on her list that her friends might find unusual is Oregon Chai Latte, something her husband “absolutely loves.” In addition to organics she buys products here that are not carried at other stores. Stephanie’s cart included:

• Organic produce including cauliflower, which her family prefers raw
• Taco fixings
• Art Bars, Stephanie’s favorite chocolate treat
• Starr Ridge crackers, another treat
• Alexia Three Cheese Focaccia bread, something new she was previewing for the
• Oregon Chai Latte

Susan’s bag

Susan shops weekly for herself and husband. Because she copes with multiple chemical sensitivities she is careful to buy organic food and buys almost nothing processed. She said she has a pretty basic list from one week to the next, but sometimes includes frozen entrees as a treat for her daughter who is away at school. When we met in the bulk aisle Susan’s cart contained:

• A wide variety of produce
• A few dozen eggs
• Organic milk
• Freshly ground nut butters
• Poultry
• Bulk grains

Kathy’s bag

Kathy from McFarland was picking up some goodies for a party. She buys organic produce to avoid chemicals and will try new things that catch her eye. In her cart I found:

• Parsnips, for soup
• Avocadoes for guacamole
• Assorted crackers
• Applegate Farms salami
• Green Forest paper products

Gail’s bag

Gail, from Mount Horeb, is a regular at Trillium Co-op there and also shops here a few times a month. She tries new things that look interesting. One of Gail’s favorites is freshly ground peanut butter and she likes to use almond meal in her baking, both to reduce her wheat consumption and for the extra protein and energy boost it gives her when biking or skiing. The day we talked her list included:

• Apples
• Carrots
• Tofu
• Tempeh
• Endangered Species chocolate for a treat

Al and Jenny’s bag

Al and Jenny are the parents of two teens and like to stock up on specials when they come to Madison. They buy meat and produce directly from farmers when they can, belong to a natural foods buying club, and also garden extensively. On a recent visit they purchased:

• Fresh Wisconsin cranberries
• Button and crimini mushrooms
• Stonyfield organic yogurt
• Organic Valley orange juice
• Assorted Barbara’s Bakery cereal
• Spectrum canola oil
• Dagoba dark chocolate
• Kettle Tortilla Chips
• Seventh Generation dishwashing liquid
• Cedar Grove cheeses
• Cabot’s extra-sharp Vermont cheddar cheese

Paul and Sherrie’s bag

Paul and Sherrie shop the Co-op several times each week. Paul eats a raw foods diet and always buys organic because of his concerns about pesticides and carcinogens. Sherrie is a vegan and enjoys a treat from the Deli from time to time. They search out locally grown produce at the Farmers’ Market on a regular basis. Their shopping cart contained:

• A rainbow of produce
• Nuts and seeds for soaking
• Willy-packed shredded coconut, a treat for Paul
• A sampling of the Deli’s hot case specials for Sherrie
• Bulk water

Rebecca’s bag

Rebecca, from Mount Horeb, shops each Wednesday, and it’s a family affair. While she is perusing the aisles, her husband supervises their three children in the play area. Rebecca shops the entire store. She chooses new products based on health and nutrition research. As a nursing mother with young children she buys organics to avoid pesticides. Her children enjoy bulk granola and rice crackers as treats. We met on Wellness Wednesday and Rebecca was just starting to fill her cart with:

• An assortment of products from Health and Wellness
• Cheese
• Tortilla chips

The common thread

Obviously, our stellar Produce department provided a big link between all the customers I met, with the Bulk aisle running close behind. Chocolate was another connection many of us shared, and then our choices start to diverge a bit. One thing is certain—we all appreciate excellent food!