Food Coops: The Not-So-Happy Marriage of Organic Produce and Politics

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


In Brooklyn, the Park Slope Coop voted 1005 to 653 not to move forward on a controversial proposal to ban products from Israel Tuesday night.

The coop currently only carries a few items from the country, such as couscous, vegan marshmallows and organic paprika. Any approval of a ban would have been mostly symbolic.

The boycott attempt is part of an international lobbying effort against Israel, intended to pressure the country to withdraw from the Palestinian territories. Members will decide on Tuesday whether to proceed with coop-wide referendum on the proposal, and not on the boycott itself.

The 16,000 owner-member organization was divided about whether the charged foreign policy issue was welcome in the aisles of their beloved food-mecca. But it's not the only food coop to face this question.

“This is a really hard thing, but hard is not a reason not to do something,” said Jayne Kaszynski with the Olympia Food Coop in Washington State.

The board of Olympia's Food Coop approved a similar ban on products from Israel a year and a half ago.

Similar to the Park Slope Food Coop, Kaszynski said her coop is also a value-based organization. “What makes us different is that we look into deep issues around food.”

Olympia’s two stores also refrain from stocking products from China because of the country’s human rights polices.

But overall these types of boycotts may have limited foreign policy impact.

“I’m not sure they care,” said Amy Bentley, associate professor of Food Studies at New York University.  “It’s more of an internal feeling of ethics — some hope for a statement. Others care more for internal purity,” she said.

But Kaszynski noted her coop’s ban against Israeli products did cause an uproar, with Olympia's Food Coop being sued five members. She admits people still talk about the ban and disagree. The coop organized an event last year on anti-Semitism and Islam-phobia to delve further into the discussion around the boycott.  She said they’ll definitely be watching how the vote goes in Brooklyn.

“It's really interesting to us to see what's going to happen and to see how they are going to work with this tension between some of the feelings in their community and some of the values that they're based on,” she said.

NYU’s Bentley said the charged issue may come as a surprise to some, but for the most part, people join coops because they’re already thinking about food in a political way.

“People are seeking to opt out of the regular corporate stream…food is embedded in more than just nourishment,  including politics, ethnicity, gender and class,” Bentley said.


More in:

Comments [8]

bocheball from NYC

At first I was very opposed to opening up a vote for a boycott of Israeli products. Why only them? Then I learned that the coop had successfully instituted bans in the past, S.African products for instance. This countered the argument of why was Israel being singled out for political reasons and perceived anti-semitism. If, in fact, the issue to ban any country's products for political reason is in play then Israel's treatment of Palestinians should be opened up for discussion.
However, the door is now open to examine products from every country and their world policies. For many members this is not the purpose of a food coop, and the result can hold individual companies responsible for the actions of their govts,. which they may not agree with. Many countries might boycott, justifiably, the US, due to our destruction of Iraq.

Mar. 28 2012 12:37 PM

Isn't this the same co-op that banned products from Colorado? So these guys can pass a regulation banning products from an American state with no controversy but banning products from an international entity with a decades long history of violating international law is an issue? The Coloradan-American community should sue them.

Mar. 28 2012 11:33 AM
Herb from NYC

illfg. Name calling happens when you have nothing to say and /or do not know the facts. The 2nd best place for Palestinians to live is Israel, better then any Moslem country. They are outlawed in may Moslems countries. Where they live they have legislated slaughters of Palestinians. By the way the original Palestinians were Jews. The famed 'Jerusalem Post' was the 'Palestinians Post' until 1948.

Mar. 28 2012 11:25 AM
john from office

As a conservative and a supporter of Israel, I am happy to see this debate. It shows the failure of progressive politics, everyone has an issue and demands attention. No meat, no leather, pro choice, pro life, yes on christmas, no on christmas, etc. After a while you get nothing done and there is no progress. This is the same problem with the OWS "movement" and their general assemblies where every one has a voice which results in no voice, because of the chaos. GET A LEADER

Mar. 28 2012 10:14 AM
Daniel NP from Boston

Only in the USA, especially NY area, it is a Taboo to express any criticism towards Israel's ways. Anyone who does is immediately labeled an Anti Semite! Well, I am not an Anti Semite, as many millions, however, the treatment of Palestinians, the intervention into the countries neighbors affairs and the dependence on American aid HAS to stop! Palestinians are like fish in barrels, easy to shoot into. There is so much creativity, culture and heart in Israel, why can't it be expressed to the other Semites in the region? A country run on religious reasons can never be a just, equal and progressive Society. It is a shame when we have to engage in types of embargoes - since words have failed time after time- that only end up affecting the common Israeli, and not the one's who stubbornly are the upkeepers of a status that is not sustainable.

Mar. 28 2012 09:58 AM

Herb from NYC, nice ignorant remark. i guess israel can do no wrong?

Mar. 28 2012 09:58 AM
clive betters

they're not getting my $ nor do i buy sabra humus

Mar. 28 2012 09:09 AM
Herb from NYC

Great idea!! Start with boycotting Computers, cell phones, countless medical & technical advances etc. All "Made in Israel." Then with the $ you save you can by Moslem products, like suicide belts, camel dung and..... I think that is it.

Mar. 28 2012 09:01 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.



Supported by