My husband and I recently joined the Park Slope Food Co-op. The food co-op is a grocery store that is run almost exclusively by its members. We have lived in the area for 4 1/2 years, and during that time we have probably walked passed the co-op about 500 times, but only recently did we actually decide to bite the bullet and become members. When you become a member you make a nominal financial contribution to the co-op, and you agree to work a 3 hour shift every four weeks. The payoff is that you get amazing organic produce at really affordable prices, and reasonable, if not exceedingly affordable prices on nearly everything else.
It is a funny place in that most of the people who belong there are very earthy-crunchy-vegan-hipster types, and my husband and I really are not. In fact, the first time my husband shopped there his exact words were “I am definitely not cool enough to be shopping at the co-op”. You would think that given this membership profile, the place would be oozing a certain zen quality – a laid back atmosphere where you feel like you are getting your food shopping and meditating done at the same time. On the contrary, every time I step foot in the food co-op I feel my blood pressure start to rise, and I leave way more stressed out than I was when I entered. Why, you ask? Well, the reason is that the co-op has approximately 15,000 members who shop in a space that is about 2,000 square feet. I have yet to enter the store without feeling like I am standing boobs to back (or in my current pregnant state, belly to back) with everyone in there.
Try shopping with a toddler in your cart, and you can up that stress level by 100%. I love that my son knows the names of his fruits and vegetables, but I would prefer if he didn’t feel the need to grab said produce while my back is turned, only for me to turn around to find him holding up his conquest, yelling, “Mommy, tomatoes!!” And of course he then promptly drops them on the floor, leaving me to bend over and pick them up. Now I am butt to… (well…I guess it depends on their height) with my co-op shopping neighbor, and that is never not embarrassing when you’re 8 months pregnant and your ass is the size of the state that furnished the co-op with those tomatoes.
The shopping experience is made even more stressful when you are nearly through the store, in the aisle where you think the apple sauce would be, and it is nowhere to be found. ‘Surely they must have applesauce’, you think. This store is in the heart of Park Slope, after all – home to more babies per capita than should be legally allowed. I finally ask someone working there, and he says “Applesauce? Oh yeah, it’s in the produce aisle”. Oh right, because that makes sense. Just because it’s made of apples, people, doesn’t mean it should be found next to them! Shouldn’t it be with all the other canned/glass goods? And why are the big bags of veggie bootie 10 aisles away from the little bags of veggie bootie? That I will never understand. Don’t they know that that is the only form of vegetables my son will eat, and I need it readily accessible?? So I lug my shopping cart (with my son in it) all the way across the store, through the crowds (because I can’t leave my shopping cart there – I’m pretty sure that would be child endangerment), while my son is now yelling “Mommy, applesauce? Applesauce? Applesauce!!!!” I finally find the applesauce and traverse the store once more, only to wait on a line that is about 25 people deep. Now the next thirty minutes of my life will be spent on line, trying to keep my child from pulling lightbulbs off the shelves and eating not-yet-paid-for bananas out of our cart.
I have a love-hate relationship with the co-op, and I am learning to make it a little easier on myself. This morning I went at 9 am, a weekday, by myself, and it was better, but still a zoo. You will no longer catch me anywhere near that place on a weekend afternoon with my son, unless of course you want to see a pregnant lady going postal on her fellow co-op members. Instead I will just go at the “slow” times, and will save my meditation for after my shopping trips. God knows I will need it.