Everyone Welcome? Examining Race and Food Co-ops

Cooperatives are an international movement, yet as we looked around the U.S. food co-op sector, most of the people we saw were white. We asked ourselves a simple and powerful question:  Why?

We decided that this was something we wanted to investigate. Why are food co-ops—which are guided by cooperative values such as equity and equality—so white? It’s a question that has been a long time coming. Many of our new wave food cooperatives have reached 40-year anniversaries. In business for more than a generation, why don’t these co-ops reflect greater diversity on their boards or within their membership?

We wondered: Is it because some of them are in racially segregated population areas? Is it because food co-ops aren’t valued by certain groups of people? Is it because of the products sold? Or is it because there is something preventing the participation of everyone who might benefit from food co-ops?

As a writing team of women, white and black, who are deeply influenced by both history and contemporary storytelling, we believed the answers to our questions could come from people who had experienced food co-ops at different points in time. We wanted to inquire of our elders and contemporaries, people of different racial backgrounds, who have made contributions to our movement.

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