BEHIND THE STORY | Taking on my local co-op over Eden Foods

I don’t consider myself much of a political or activist person. I’m used to listening more than speaking. I write about what other people are doing to make the world a better place rather than taking initiatives on my own. So lately I’ve found myself in a strange, unfamiliar place taking on a cause. It has to do with my local co-op and their decision to continue to carry Eden Foods, the Hobby Lobby of Soy products. After the Hobby Lobby Supreme court victory, allowing them to be exempted from providing health care for four types of birth control, Eden Foods revived their own case, which would allow them to be exempted from covering any type of birth control whatsoever.

I’ve actually never been involved in reproductive rights causes, beyond posting on Facebook. I’m not personally affected by the Hobby Lobby decision, as I don’t receive health insurance from an employer. Rather, I found myself feeling assaulted on behalf of women everywhere for the outrageous injustice inherent in the Supreme Court’s decision. Basically, the court approved a company’s right to discriminate against its female employees by denying them coverage of a medical need.

Soon after the Hobby Lobby Case, there were articles that came out describing Eden Foods’ similar case, and how they were reviving their case after having lost previously. I was outraged, but not to the point of taking action, perhaps because I don’t consume soy milk or products, in part, ironically, because soy has been shown to reduce fertility.

I’ll give credit to others for pointing the responsibility towards food co-ops. In particular, Dr. Steve Miles’ excellent article in MinnPost two weeks ago outlined just exactly why I felt responsibility to put pressure on Wedge Community Co-Op, where I’m a member-owner.

Dr. Miles makes excellent points as to why the issue is an ethics one, rather than a political one. The stance of Eden Foods, where they would seek to deny a worker benefit to only their women workers, strikes me as an effort to discriminate against their female employees. That’s not a political choice. Discriminating against people is not a political choice, which is why so many states have passed marriage equality, and DOMA has been shut down. I’m not sure why there’s a wave of people in this country that want to put women’s rights back to the 1950s era, but I’m not having it, and I don’t think my local co-op should have it either.

I’m an invested member of The Wedge. I shop there regularly, and my connection with it has actually informed where I live. I like living close so that I can shop several times a week if not more. While I know that a consumer has little power in shaping decisions about the world, it does actually make me feel better to know that most of the food I get at my co-op is has at least some semblance of ethics- food that’s organic, locally grown or fair-trade. It’s why I shop there.

So when I pass by Eden Foods sitting on the aisle, I feel personally offended. I can’t personally take on Eden Foods, but why must I see something so offensive in a place where I’m technically a part owner? It’s horrendous.

I wrote a letter describing my position, which to my surprise garnered a response from the CEO. I met with him and it felt good to have someone with authority at the organization to listen to my point of view. I think I had the idea that I would somehow be able to get him to change his mind, which didn’t happen, but I haven’t given up. I’m planning to speak to the board next week.

I hope to outline my belief that selling Eden Foods is actually violating the Decalaration of Sustainability in the Organic Food Trade, a document put together by the Sustainable Food Trade Association, which Wedge Community Foods signed in 2008. That document states:

“Our companies will endeavor to systematically reduce and eventually eliminate their economic dependence on actions that increase inequity in the way resources are distributed. Companies must implement active approaches that guarantee all workers in our industry access to fair wages, sufficient benefits and quality work conditions.”

To me, the Wedge’s decision to continue to carry Eden foods clearly goes against the sustainability statement. Clearly, Eden Food is practicing inequality by not profiding equal access to benefits for its workers.

It’s all quite surreal, and I feel like I’m experiencing a little bit about our community’s activist and advocate leaders feel like every day. On the one hand, you have to develop a thick skin for inevitably not getting your way the first time around. On the other, I’ve been getting a lot of advice from people- some helpful and some not. I’ve gotten a lot of people telling me how I should be instead focusing on obtaining single payer health care, or that I should go after other various products that are objectionable at the Wedge. But for me, my goals are small. I’m not trying to fix the health care system. I’m not going after a large corporation. I just want my co-op to respect the women that shop in the store.

We are a consumer owned natural foods co-operative in the Whittier neighborhood of south Minneapolis.

2105 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55405
6128713993
Monday - Friday: 9am -10pm <br>Saturday - Sunday: 9am - 9pm

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Sheila Regan's picture
Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.