334: Food Co-ops in America by Anne Meis Knupfer

by Gerard


334.6816640973: Knupfer, Anne Meis. Food Co-Ops in America: Communities, Consumption, and Economic Democracy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013. 264 pp. ISBN 978-0-8014-5114-0.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 300: Social Sciences
  • 330: Economics
  • 334: Cooperatives
  • 334.6: Producers’ cooperatives
  • 334.68: By industry
  • 334.681: Producers’ cooperatives in industries other than extractive, manufacturing, or construction
  • +664: Food technology
  • +0973: United States

A food co-operative is a grocery store that is owned collectively by its members. They pool together their resources in an attempt to ensure that their food can be bought and sold for a reasonable price to the public at large while at the same time securing profits for its owners. Even though it seems like food co-ops are a relatively new phenomenon, they have been around in American culture for quite a long time. Anne Meis Knupfer, in Food Co-ops in America, traces the American food co-operative association from its roots in the 1830s to the present day.

This book is organized rather self-evidently. There is a quick history of the early years of American co-operatives. Early co-operatives began as loose associations of local workers pooling together their resources in order to help each member out. These co-operatives tended to be established along ethnic lines or professions. It is interesting to note that before communism became so negatively defined during the McCarthy years, cooperatives gained widespread support among the public in the early 1900s. They were even using food labels years before the FDA stepped in.

Knupfer then focuses attention on individual co-operatives or areas of co-operatives to show how they shaped the political, social, and nutritional landscape of their cities. Because co-operatives were inherently a forum where each member was entitled to their own voice and vote, members of co-operatives were naturally more inclined to involve themselves in local and national politics.

While food co-ops are markedly different from CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) groups, they fall under the same general principle. Grouped resources help to decrease the burden faced by any one member of the group (this principle also works for insurance companies, but no matter). Knupfer’s discussion of American food co-operatives is by no means lively but is still interesting nonetheless. Her history provides insight into their past organization and how the both the politics of the past and the food culture of the present will shape our food-buying structures of the future.