Monday, July 12, 2010

Disappointment at the Co-op

Being unemployed leaves me lots of time to accomplish things.  In my case "accomplish things" means "buy yummy food," which explains why this is my third post in about a week about making grocery purchases.  Today's trip was very different than most though, and not in the good way.  I hopped on my bike, invigorated by the thought of a bike ride culminating in the support of a local non-profit vegetarian co-op and the acquisition of some delicious vegan foods.  The veg co-op is a bit expensive so I kept my list short (tortillas and soyrizo) and expected to be in and out.

I couldn't find the soyrizo.  The only person working was engaged in conversation with a customer so I looked around for a bit while I waited, loaded myself up on some additional treats, and was just scanning the rows of food when I saw it: cod liver oil.

It's got to be a mistake, I thought.  It can't be fish oil.  I was grasping at straws, hoping that it was some oversight or that cod liver was actually some sort of weird, fishy-smelling plant.  And then I spotted a sign advertising fish oils.  No mistake.  A second glance at the jar told me that the fish oil also contains gelatin and was formulated especially for the co-op.  My heart sank and I became impatient for the employee (or volunteer) to end his conversation so that I could share my concerns.  (It turns out that plopping your purchases on the counter is an effective way to get attention.)

First I asked, Isn't the co-op supposed to be vegetarian?  At his affirmation I asked, Well why do they sell cod liver oil?  Apparently there is some unresolved conflict between policy and practice: the official policy is that everything, from cheese to detergent, be vegetarian, but some customers insist that they need this supplement and that request has been granted.  I was told that there are others who are upset about it and it could still go either way and I should definitely voice my concerns.  I also learned that they have other products (all capsules, I believe) that contain gelatin.  Not everything is what it seems.

Here's my problem with his assertion that there is a true conflict over this issue: the specific product I picked up (there were other fish oils as well) was a store brand.  I didn't even know that this store had its own line of products but it clearly stated on the packaging that it was made for the co-op.  Do you know what that says?  Commitment.  You don't go through the trouble of developing your own product and packaging it unless  you are committed to it.  It is clear to me that the co-op is committed to its decision to provide animal products to its members and customers, despite claiming to be vegetarian.

This comes as a real blow to me.  I've only been shopping there for about a year, but I've really come to trust the co-op.  It's one of the very few vegetarian establishments around here and, as a vegetarian with nearly all omnivorous friends, it's one of the few places outside of my own kitchen that I really feel comfortable as a vegetarian.  I am fully committed to my choice to be a vegetarian (with heavy vegan leanings) but it's nice to have support.  Up until today, just being in the co-op made me feel that I was not alone.  I was even considering membership and working there as a volunteer; I had mostly decided not to, at least for now because of the associated costs, but the decision is final for me.  I now feel like I need to question the values of this establishment that I once admired.

I have posted a message on the co-op's forum asking about this decision and if there's anything that can be done to reverse it.  For now, I guess that all I can do is wait.

Questions:

  • Is it hypocritical of the co-op to claim itself as vegetarian and sell fish oil and products that contain gelatin?
  • Should this affect my decision to shop there in the future?
  • Is it worse to shop at a conventional grocery store that sells murdered animals but is everything that it claims to be or at a "vegetarian" co-op that violates its own principles?

3 comments:

  1. I think it's hypocritical; it's like kids these days that go around saying that they're vegetarians, but they can eat chicken. If you're going to base your store on a certain principle, then break it but still say it's okay, well that's not okay haha.
    If I were you, I wouldn't support the store; I say "support the store" rather than "shop at the store" because by shopping at a conventional grocery store, you're not supporting the 'murdered animals' aspect because you're not purchasing those products.

    Since this store sells fish oil, were they selling Shark Cartilage, too??? I wrote a term paper all about that industry a couple of semesters ago; I should e-mail it to you sometime :)

    P.S. Twitter was a good choice

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  2. It is odd that a self-proclaimed vegetarian establishment would carry anything with gelatin in it. Fish, I can understand, since there are people out there who don't equate fish with meat.

    How hard would it be to track down who was involved and/or when the decision to carry these products was made?

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  3. Ouch! That's a tricky one! I understand your outrage completely. Unfortunately ethics seem to come last, and after business success, especially in our struggling economic climate. At least he didn't claim it was vegetarian, I hate the assertion "i'm vegetarian but i eat fish". Uh, no.

    I would probably still shop there though, in support of the vegetarian component of the business... x

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