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The following message was delivered on the evening of October 25th, 2018 by Mississippi Market’s General Manager Gail Graham at our Annual Member-Owner Meeting & Celebration.

 

Our appreciation for good food connects us and I’m sure we will be well fed tonight.

Providing access to good food is what we’re all about. Along with providing access to good food, we provide opportunities for people in our diverse communities to be empowered to make choices that will promote health, environmental sustainability and a more just local economy. This is important work, and every week something pops up that reminds me of this and reinforces the value of the work we are doing. This week, three articles I came across stood out.

“Fast food slow death” was the headline summarizing a recent New York Times story recounting how a recent survey from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that fast food, defined broadly in the survey as any item obtained from a fast food restaurant or a pizza joint, is eaten by 37 percent of American adults at some point in time during the day. The most enthusiastic consumers, those between 20 to 39-years-old, eat fast food daily 45 percent of the time. This is of concern because it sets the stage for health issues later in life, and since this is the group that’s having kids, they’re potentially setting them up for a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits. At the co-op, we believe access to good food is integral to good health. At the co-op, we want to provide you with more opportunities and options to make healthy choices easier.

“Salmon being cooked to death by the thousands in rivers that are becoming overheated as the water flow dwindles” was the lead-in to a recent story in the Sacramento Bee newspaper. This is one of the many alarming results of the drought conditions that have plagued western states in recent years. The drought is the result of not only climate change, but also of poor policy choices. Conditions are being exacerbated even now as this administration works to streamline environmental regulations that will allow increased water deliveries to farms and cities in that region, reducing river flows even more. There is a bright spot, however. The article notes that a federal judge in Seattle recently ruled in favor of a suit brought by environmental and fisherman groups that told the EPA to develop a plan to keep water temperatures cool to protect salmon and steel head populations, as both are covered by the endangered species act. At the co-op, we understand the importance of a resilient food system in which products are raised in a sustainable fashion. We know we need to care if we want these foods to be around for us to enjoy in the future. We know we need to care if we plan to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Finally, I came across a blog in which the author pointed out that it is insufficient to only exercise our power as consumers, we must learn to exercise our power as citizens. I am a big fan of promoting the need to make “little choices” because they add up: choosing to use a canvas bag, choosing organic foods, choosing to recycle and compost. But we must not be lulled into thinking that our “little choices” are enough, or that they alone will solve the underlying big problems. It’s the people in power and the choices they are making, the policies they are setting, that have the most impact on our health, our environment, and our economy. At the co-op, advocacy is not a primary purpose. Yet we recognize that to achieve our mission, our co-op must periodically weigh in on issues of importance that impact our food system, our cooperative and our community. Doing so is a demonstration of our commitment to cooperative values.

We recognize three broad areas as critical: improved food access and fair treatment of all people; a healthy environment; and a more equitable and resilient local food system. Through our national group, National Co-op Grocers, which represents 151 co-op stores across the country, we work to advocate for policies that promote strong organic standards, climate change mitigation, food access and food safety, sustainability, and fair treatment of people. These are issues that are important to us as citizens, not just as members of food co-ops. But, we are brought together because we are co-op members.

It is important to recognize that there are many types of co-ops beyond food co-ops, all working for the good of their members and their community. There are other consumer co-ops like REI. There are also credit unions, electrical co-ops, worker-owned co-ops, and producer co-ops, like our wonderful partner, Organic Valley. The cooperative model is not only feasible in the modern economy, it is critical. Cooperatives can help address some of the more serious issues we face from social inequity to economic disenfranchisement. There is a rich history of cooperatives being used by people who come together to meet their needs. Farmers organized into cooperatives to save money on purchasing supplies and processing products. African Americans pioneered the creation of lending circles, stores and insurance groups when the government and main street neglected them. Young people in the 1970’s came together to create buying clubs and storefronts where they could buy unprocessed bulk foods they couldn’t get anywhere else. There’s value to educating ourselves about this history and considering how we can use the co-op business model to re-inform the way businesses work and to solidify bonds across our communities in ways the mainstream economy often fails to address.

We are living in very divisive and troubled times and we face challenges on many fronts. Yet I choose to remain optimistic that our cooperatives can play a role in creating real change, because there is true power in the cooperative model. At Mississippi Market, we offer people in our community a choice, indeed a voice, in creating demand for products and information that promote personal, economic and environmental health and sustainability. We understand that our actions and decisions affect not only our families and our pocket books, they affect the health of our planet and its ability to sustain future generations.

I encourage you to think about the impact that you can have in three ways:

  • First, your impact as a consumer when you support the co-op, when you make those “small choices” that add up.
  • Second, the impact we have jointly when we work together to promote a more just local economy and a more equitable society, not only at our co-op, but at co-ops around the world.
  • And finally, I urge you to consider the impact that we can each have acting as citizens when we work to impact policy.

Thank you for supporting your co-op, for attending your annual meeting, for voting for your board of directors. Now that this election is over, I would encourage you to vote in the next election, the upcoming midterms on November 6th. Do your part to elect people you trust to help establish policies that will guide our joint future.