There are moments in my life where I feel like I’m living in a film. The trees shine greener. Light flickers and casts friendly shadows. It’s cinematic, as if somewhat set up this scene — just for me, us. These moments hit me when I find a simple solitude. Sometimes it’s just a great song. By reducing my possessions, selling my car, buying a bike, and focusing on what’s important, I’ve begun to feel it more often. But there’s one piece that lags behind: my diet and eating habits.
The weakest point for the longest time has been eating out. Generally, it’s expensive, unhealthy, and wasteful. Not a great combination, but a great treat every now and then. Unfortunately, I struggle to make it occasional.
This is all despite watching countless documentaries (i.e., Fed Up, Food Inc, Super Size Me, A Place At The Table) about problems with industrial farming, agriculture, and the various health consequences of our fast eating habits. While I’ve never really had weight problems, my body definitely feels worse depending on what I eat. And more than that, I want to find a frugal way to shop that’s healthy for me, the environment, and the employees of said company.
That inspired me to turn to my local food cooperative (co-op). Co-ops are totally different from most of our capitalistic system. Most of the time, businesses exist to make the owners and shareholders exorbitant amounts of money. But co-ops exist — most of the time — to support the “members” and “consumers” instead. This shift of interests is reflected in pricing, staffing, and profits. As you might imagine, co-ops grew out of the 60s/70s and have a social bent.
Co-ops are present at many credit unions, where members are the shareholders, and even the popular outdoor/adventure company, REI. Sometimes, they pay special dividends at the end of the year to their members, too!
A little over two years ago I moved to Iowa City, Iowa for graduate school. I was in a bit of a food desert. The closest place was a little, local grocery store called New Pioneer. I didn’t understand it, and every time I went shopping there I paid a 5% surcharge on every purchase because I wasn’t a member. When I asked about membership, they told me it cost $60. Spending that amount of money from my budget — not even on food — was troubling. I was hesitant to drop $60 on a piece of paper that called me a member, and wondered why this was any different from Costco (where you have an annual membership due).
For starters, New Pioneer is a cooperative grocery store, where I receive a dividend check every year they make profits. I get to support a group of people that have more respect for their employees. As for my health, the foods are generally without artificial colors, flavoring, and creepy ingredients that are part of our massive industrial agricultural complex.
Since I sold my car, every time I bike over to the co-op I’m saving gas money and being easier on the environment – it’s a breeze. I load up my backpack with groceries, which are simple, healthy, and natural. Take a peek inside and you’ll find salads, fruits, eggs, pasta, coffee, and rice. They’re ingredients that suit me, my stomach, and are friendly to the world.
With my backpack full, riding home by bike is invigorating. I’ve minimized my impact. But then I think about my budget: can it handle shopping for organic and/or natural foods?
Well, that’s the exciting part about minimalism and my budget! I’m now saving $300 more per month by not having a car, and the food — simple as it is — doesn’t actually cost much at all. That’s what I call a win-win.
Have you thought about joining a food co-op or shopping at a local farmers’ market?