Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Day the Coops Died

It is actually really easy to pinpoint exactly when countercultural food coops in the United States died. They died and rose again remade, in the process, into a mainstream corporate image the day they ceased being member only coops and became "consumer coops" open to anyone who wanted to shop in them. They died the day they traded in their countercultural outsiderness for mainstream corporate success.

When countercultural member coops made their faustian bargain with the corporate world they made several choices that inevitably drew and continues to draw them them more and more into the corporate world. They adopted the corporate language of growth and proceeded to hire more and more business school graduates and former or ex-employees of for profit corporate grocery stores to guide them toward the radiant future of financial success. As coops grew bigger, added more items, and built new stores, they became more and more tied to corporate entities like the for profit banks they had to borrow money from in order to grow bigger and bigger. As consumer coops became more and more dependent on non-members for financial success they compromised to assuage non-member wants and "needs". They brought more and more goods into the store like sugar, meat, cereal, potato chips, tortilla chips, that would have never been allowed in member only coops given their questionable health benefits. As coops became more and more like the supermarkets countercultural member coops once decried, they increasingly became prisoners to the wants and "needs" of bargain hunters than to the loyal members who once were at the heart of the countercultural coop, members who wanted to build alternative forms of social and cultural organisation. As a result of all of this it is today hard to tell the difference between consumer coops and for profit corporate stores like Kroger, Whole Foods, or CVS.

Death by corporatisation for some "coops" has been mercifully swift. For others it has been long, drawn out, and painful death. For still others death has been someplace in between. Regardless of how quickly death has come to all of these once upon a time member only coops, all of them have sung the same tune: bye bye once upon a time cooperative pie...they drove their alternative vision into derision making the countercultural river dry...and good old corporate boys were drinking whiskey and rye...singing praises to the corporate sky...

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