“Is your whole article going to be another vegetarian manifesto?” she asks. “No Liz, it’s not,” I respond to the ship’s captain, our dear Reader editor. But, now that you mention it, maybe it is time for one... What say you, Owners? Is the mood just right?
I think it seems like an appropriate time to bring this tension again into the forefront. Are meat-eating Owners and vegetarian/vegan Owners pissed off at each other? Are they forever poised at odds? And, if so, what can the Co-op, as an entity, do about this?
So for starters, my name is Dawn and I’m a vegetarian. More than 12 years of my adult life have been spent in avoidance of meat. I have also flirted with vegans, and have had some short-term relationships with veganism myself. My vegetarian and gluten-free lifestyle doesn’t tend to make me the life of your summertime BBQ, but it does make my body feel most comfortable, maybe even invincible.
Before an omnivore (or a vegan) raises their hand and volunteers to arm-wrestle me, I must note this important point: my body is different from yours. In fact, surprise! My ideology is also different. Sure, we have plenty of similarities. For example, Liz the editor eats a hamburger while I drink a bloody mary and we talk about our shared ideas of food workers rights or the problematic notions of binary gender. A different example: I am ordering an “Inner Peace” at the juice bar (and again cringing at the name) while the person next to me sings out their same order with a “~namaste~.” It’s all. . . relative?
I’m taking you down this loaded or winding path to illustrate the complexity of “the Co-op-as-an-entity” taking on various ideologies as inarguable. In my imagination, I think the Co-op has a higher percentage of vegan/vegetarian shoppers than most, if not all, grocery stores in Madison and Middleton. But if I was pressed to guess at how many of our 30,000+ Owners are vegan/vegetarian (or soy-free, allergic to nuts, diabetic, etc), I would have no clue.
Case in point: This year, we changed our meal setup for the Annual Meeting and Party and decided to limit the number of meal tickets. The guesstimation was 2,000 meat, 1,500 vegan/vegetarian, and 500 made-without-gluten/veg. We ran out of the meat tickets days before the others. Although a number of meat-eaters were happy to take one of the veg options, the reverse would never apply.
A Delicate balance
So why bring this tension back to the Reader’s table? For starters, this topic has never been off the table. Many Co-op employees are highly cognizant—in a daily sense—of the ongoing need to serve Owners with various dietary practices. I think workers in the Production Kitchen and both Delis wrestle with this the most since they have to do their best to create delicious food while juggling the needs of all Owners. When I give tours to school groups and swing around to the dairy or meat sections of the store, we talk about the basic things that animals—like humans—need: food, water, shelter, space. I often provoke dialogue with older kids and teenagers around standard food industry practices like beak-burning among chickens, or sourcing rennet (an ingredient in many cheeses) from the stomachs of cows. We talk candidly about these subjects, and I also share information about many of the dairy, meat, and egg farmers that supply our store.
It is a delicate balance to maintain a space where Owners of varying income levels, dietary choices/needs, cultural practices, and ideologies shop. I know I sound a little dreamy when I write this, but really—I think this is kind of the (social change) magic of a cooperative business.
As evidence of this dreaminess in action, the meat (and cheese) quandary was highlighted recently in the Owner remodel vote. An engaged group of vegan Owners took to their ballots to vote no on the remodel, due to the potential expansion of meat and cheese at Willy East. These Owners were voting their conscience, which underscored how their ethical values reflected in this process of cooperative decision-making.
Some of the comments received around this topic critiqued/encouraged us to educate more about vegetarianism and veganism. As I can and will find ways to do more of this, I wonder, is that all that’s possible? If I am encouraged by other Owners to educate more about sustainable meat-eating, I would also find ways to do more of this. Truthfully, I would like to be able to explore this tension in new, creative, and thoughtful ways. In my opinion, many Owners, regardless of their eating choices, have well-developed and often well-informed reasons for making such choices. As a grocery store, it is our job to provide the best possible selection to meet those various needs and desires. So—I pose this question to you, as a reader. What innovative, thoughtful ideas can you contribute to this helping us better balance or resolve this or other dichotomies? What do you want to know more about or think other Owners should know more about? Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.