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
  • The position of the Wedge co-op that the Ed Foods debate is political and the Wedge does not take political stands is weird and incoherent. --What is fair trade coffee or chocolate if not a human rights (political) stand on the use of labor? --What is the preference for organic (i.e., ecologically sustainable farming) if not political? --What is the idea of paying their own workers a living wage instead of the market wage if not political? Wedge's tunnel vision is nothing more than old-fashioned sexism. A boycott is not the issue. Wedge buys fair-trade coffee to the exclusion of Folgers as an alternative choice of vendors. There are alternative vendors for every organic product that Eden Foods sells. Muir Foods, Silk, Organic Valley collectively sell virtually the entire line of products that Eden Foods sells. It is time for men who speak for the co-ops to stop drawing silly lines that are nothing more than a cover for the Eden Foods CEO who equates medicinal hormones with Jack Daniels. Let it go Wedge, you are so last century. Steve Miles - by Steve Miles on Sun, 08/17/2014 - 10:02pm
  • Great article- keep on fighting! - by Mary Turck on Mon, 08/18/2014 - 9:16am
  • Just because “The Co-op does not engage in consumer boycotts...” does not mean they cannot take an item off of the shelves. This is a request of several owner members to no longer carry a product. How many requests can they have received to CONTINUE carrying this product? The Co-op cannot have this two ways. I requested that they take the Eden Products off of the shelves and I was told they cannot do that. But. Does anyone remember the mysterious disappearance of the frozen breaded eggplant not long ago? The Co-op decided on its own to stop carrying the product and when they received request and complaint after request and complaint, they brought it back. So how can they take requests to CARRY a product but ignore requests to NOT CARRY a product? The Co-op has become too much about the business and too little about the co-op concept. I have heard several stories about not so nice employee treatment and have noticed a focus on money, not people. But where else can you shop? Co-ops are the only game in town for this sort of thing. After 40 years it is time they found their way back to their origins. They may make a little less money and they may have one less renovation or restaurant but they will once again become relevant. We still believe in the original concept which is why we are still members. We just need to bring it back. - by Saralyn Romanishan on Mon, 08/18/2014 - 7:41am
  • Go ahead, sister Sheila! Thank you for your principles and for standing on them to defend us all. - by Mimi Jennings on Mon, 08/18/2014 - 1:11pm
  • As Massachusetts U.S. House Representative Tip O'Neil famously said "Politics is local." You did what is very important - connecting with your local hands-on organization serving a most vital human need - food. And a CEO such as Eden is a sham to the network that supposedly serves people's interest. Shame on Eden! - by Bob Roscoe on Sun, 08/17/2014 - 10:11pm
  • Even a compromise such as a letter from the CEO to Eden saying he is experiencing pressure about their foods would help. Every little bit helps...also quote to the CEO of the co-op what the Eden CEO said about why he wasn't interested in the subject of birth control "first of all, it's because I'm a man". - by Craig S. Issod on Sun, 08/17/2014 - 9:25pm
  • Good story, which is per usual for Ms. Regan. I think there is a widespread problem of coops having lost their ethical moorings. This seems a very obvious example. Eden Foods seems to make their case, or their CEO's case, here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2014/07/22/eden-foods-to-grocers-stick-with-us-despite-birth-control-attack/ . Interesting that they seem to imply (?) that contraceptives are "lifestyle drugs." - by Alan Muller on Mon, 08/18/2014 - 11:25am
  • Keep up the good fight, Sheila! - by Holly Harrison on Mon, 08/18/2014 - 11:52am
  • Thank you, Sheila. For co-ops to frame this as a "boycott" seems disingenuous to me. Yes, consumers can vote with our dollars. But our "choices" are informed by management and co-op board policies. Without conceeding to the Wedges' position, the good news is that consumer advocacy sometimes works - even with privately owned businesses. The huge community outcry influenced the Blue Plate restaurant chain's owners to reverse their policy of skirting the intent of our state's minimum wage law by deducting credit card fees from minimum wage wait staff's wages. The restaurant chain's owners' statement is instructive for co-ops vis-a-vis the Eden Prairie-Hobby Lobby issue: We've reflected and decided to try a different approach that will give ur communities a clear indicator of who we are as a business." Thanks to everybody who called out the Blue Plate decision. I'm an owner member of the food co-op where I shop and I'm forwarding Sheila's article and Steven Mile's comments to our board. - by Nancy Johnson on Thu, 08/21/2014 - 10:35am
  • I can understand the Wedge CEO's decision if they are contractually obligated to buy the Eden Foods products, but Ms. Regan, et al., are certainly right. The Wedge should cancel future orders and request Eden take back what is on the shelves. No coop should deal with companies that discriminate against anyone. - by Bill Kahn on Mon, 08/18/2014 - 12:40pm

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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.