How (and why!) to Shop the Co-op—Getting the Best Value For Your Food Dollars

By Robin Seydel

My mother always said, “you get what you pay for.” Passing decades have seen an erosion of that understanding and a fascination with all things “cheap.” Not only “cheap” food, but cheap oil, cheap clothes, cheap everything. The resulting economic (rural decline and outsourcing of jobs), environmental (pollution from particulate to pesticidal ) and public health problems (cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease) are making the true cost of “cheap” ever so clear. Despite societal attitudes and slick corporate marketing that in many cases would have us believe the opposite, it’s clear that Mom was and is still right.

Paying True Costs

There are a couple of basic concepts that need careful consideration. The first is paying the true cost of an item. That so called “cheap” food, over the last decade, actually cost us all nearly $200 billion (yes that’s billion with a “B”) in taxpayer handouts, in what many call “corporate welfare”, because most of it goes to subsidize the largest of the nation’s industrial agriculture factory farms. And basically, all we get for that large amount of money is corn, soy, sugar, and hormone-laden feedlot beef. These are the basic building blocks of all that “cheap” food we buy, and we think we’re getting a bargain. But are we really?

You can fill your belly on “cheap”, fast, highly processed food, but you can’t fool your body. Full of binders, fillers, fats, processed genetically engineered soy, canola and corn (corn syrup) , preservatives, artificial flavors, colors and aromas, etc., you might feel immediately gratified, but because that food is devoid of most of the nutrition you need, the empty, sugar-laden calories you have ingested will soon have you wanting to eat again, and sooner rather than later. Embedded in this syndrome is the link to our pandemic obesity, diabetes, and other public health concerns as well as the inherent economic burdens. The true costs of these and other health and environmental issues, both to individuals and the larger society, far outweigh the costs of eating good, whole food.

Changing Our Thinking

Especially with local products, but with a good deal of the food you find at the Co-op, you are paying the true cost of producing that food. It’s not subsidized with corporate welfare, it doesn’t put more GMOs, pesticides and herbicides into the environment, and it doesn’t travel the average of 1,500 to 3,000 food miles (both of which help reduce fossil fuel use) to name but a few of the things it doesn’t do. What it does do is provide good, fresh food, support local and rural economies, keep family farmers farming, bring a level of integrity to food production that goes beyond bottom line economics, provide stewardship of lands and resources as well as maintain green belt areas in and near our urban centers.

And what’s more (herein lies another important consideration)—if you shop the Co-op wisely, you can feed yourself and your family fresh, local, and in many cases, organically grown food at about the same price as that “cheap” stuff. The only major difference being you’ll have to take the time to cook it at home.

Here are several ways to get the most value for your food dollars as you shop your Co-op!

  • Plan ahead—bring a shopping list
  • Buy in season foods
  • Avoid processed foods—ounce for ounce they are more expensive and provide the least nutritional value
  • Buy in Bulk to cook from scratch—packaging adds both cost and waste. Grains, beans, cereals, fruit and nuts are all cheaper when bought in bulk. Click here for more information on buying bulk.
  • Buy staples and case lots in larger quantities when on sale—special orders get another 10% discount.
  • Become a Co-op Member-Owner! Then you can buy from the promotional items on Owner Deals flyers, stock up during Member Appreciation Discount Events, and use the coupons in the quarterly Co-op Advantage Coupon Book.

Shop wisely at the Co-op to get more value for your food dollar!