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Should Food Co-ops Be a Cafeteria?

Touch the Soil News #466

One of the biggest problems the food chain faces is food waste. One of the biggest challenges grocery stores face is the spoilage of fresh produce before it is sold. Add to this that American’s love to eat out and maybe there is something to think about here.

A recent Gallup poll showed that consumers voted restaurants the top business sector ahead of the computer industry. All other business sectors came in less and the Federal Government came in last. The National Restaurant Association’s research shows that nine out of 10 consumers say they enjoy going to restaurants and two in five say restaurants are essential parts of their lifestyles.

So, it should be no surprise that America’s 1 million restaurants, employing 14 million people have become an essential part of our everyday lives. The restaurants represent the nation’s second largest private employer, employing almost 10 percent of the workforce.

According to the USDA, in 2015, Americans spent $771 billion for food at home and $741 billion for food away from home (eating out).

So, the food waste of millions of households – who face the same problems as the grocery stores – food spoiling before it can be consumed – might think of another approach.

Grocery stores that do not have food–service capabilities – to prepare and consume food before is spoils, are taking big losses. This raises the question: Should food cooperatives be primarily engaged in some form of food service – like a public cafeteria – first with grocery sales as a secondary objective?

A 1908 postcard of a popular cafeteria in Philadelphia. Cafeterias are known to be places of social interaction and community/workplace cohesion.

A “cafeteria” food cooperative could issue meal tickets for payment to folks growing fresh produce for the cooperative and/or being prep cooks and dining-room attendants. It could be the ultimate local food enterprise as members provide “sweat” labor and equity to lower the cost of meals and increase the local sourcing of food from members.

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