Editors Note: A few weeks ago, we invited Nation readers to tell us about their most beloved food institutions, so many replies poured in that we could only print a small fraction in the magazine. The overflow was just as rich, running from family-owned restaurants to community-owned farms–from a taquería in California to dumpsters across America. Here is just a taste.
Out here we have a treasure in the person of Brian Rohter, the guiding light behind New Seasons markets. New Seasons is one of the only places in Portland at which I can shop knowing that the folks who work there are treated well and actually care about what they are serving to the public. They have locally-grown produce and meat from Oregon producers who guarantee the treatment of animals and the quality of the meat (no hormones, range fed). They also take seriously their commitment to their workers and their consumers by refusing to stock items from companies that misrepresent their products (they have pulled items for misrepresenting nutritional information, for instance). There are classes offered in nutrition for seniors, new parents, people with blood sugar and adrenal problems, and it’s all for free. The result is that these stores are community assets that greatly improve the quality of life.
Web of Life in Westlake, Ohio has an incredible vegan deli. It is family-run, they take great care in their product line and their customer service is superb!
My family loves the family-owned Wegmans grocery chain. The Wegmans regularly visit to meet the employees and customers and pitch in and do the work. It’s not some Safeway operation, where the board makes 100 times or more than the new employees, but more in line with that prescription from Plato’s Republic, that the richest should earn no more than four times the poorest.
Laguna Beach, Calif.
Ah, the all-American supermarket dumpster: our greatest symbol of plenty. Feelings of nostalgia well up whenever I overhear youths bragging about their latest haul. Genuine recyclers, dumpster-divers are rewarded with a cornucopia that is all the more enjoyable because of its illicit origins.
My favorite food institution might be El Coqui, a lush community garden named for Puerto Rico’s beloved tree frog. Once a littered vacant lot, El Coqui is now an oasis where residents tend raised beds of vegetables, have picnics, marvel at the butterflies and build community.