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mardi 31 août 2010

Day 4: Discovering biocoop

So far, my most favorite discovery since cutting all ties to Carrefour has been biocoop which is literally five minutes away from my home, which makes me feel like the figurative village idiot. I can't believe I have lived in this neighborhood for over a year and never set foot in this wonderland of organic and fairly traded food stuffs and other products.

Biocoop seems to have a wider selection than its chain store competitor, Naturalia, and carries many of the same products- often sold at a lower price. A (totally random) sampling of a few products sold at both locations showed that while some prices were essentially identical (Simpsons Organic Pasta: 2,10€ at both, Lima Blue Tortilla chips 2,21€ at Naturalia and 2,20€ at biocoop) there were some significant price discrepencies on certain products (Danival Organic Tomato Sauce with Tofu: 2,90€ at Naturalia and 2,79€ at biocoop).

Biocoop also offers an extensive selection of bulk dry goods- so instead of paying upwards of 4€ on granola at Naturalia, you can choose your amount and take home enough for a few organic yogurt (of which there is quite a selection at the coop) pilafs for around one euro.

The store also has a large selection of organic wines and beer,
which is much more priced than at Naturalia. You can pick and choose microbrews that hover around 1,80€ a bottle- just be sure not to pick up a non-alcoholic brew by mistake, they are deceptively mixed in with the adult beverages. Our personal favorite is the "Vin des Faucheurs" which is sold for 5,50€ a bottle. This absolutely delightful red is sold to support the faucheurs- activists that cut scythe genitically modified crops (OGM in French)- with the proceeds going to paying these scofflaw farmers fines and legal fees. The bottle explains that, "No insurance can cover the environmental and public health risks linked to OGMs, simply because these risks are incalcuable and irresversible". It is a pleasure to support the civil disobedience of those engaged in the fight against food facism- and the wine is really, really good!

My first visit to biocoop was memorable, I was like a kid in a candy shop and completely mesmerized by my surroundings. As I approached the check-out line I overheard a man, most likely the owner, passionately describing his negotiations with a farmer in Brittany- surely the next member of the coop family- and I hoped to see more radis noir and other products from the fertile Northern territory to be on the shelves soon. I was then checked out with a smile by what I assume to be the other owner of the coop. I then ran home with my goodies and have been enjoying the spoils ever since!

There are biocoops all over France (and Monaco, too!) So go to thier site to find one near you. Here's the info on my Local biocoop:

153, rue Legendre
75017 Paris
01 42 26 10 30

m° Guy Moquet
Bus: 54 & 74 Legendre

Hours of Operation: Monday: 15h30-20h
Tuesday-Saturday: 10h-20h

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samedi 28 août 2010

Day 1: Saying "No" to Carrefour

The return from Summer holidays is never easy. Being thrown back into work and daily life and the mundane rituals contained within is a difficult transition to make, only complicated when the place you're coming returning to has lost some if its luster compared to the place you are coming from.

This was the case when I arrived in Paris a week ago, after spending a month with friends and family on the best coast, the West coast, the Sunny side of the U.S.A. After visiting with old college friends living in current college towns, my 18th arrondissement Parisian neighborhood seemed shockingly old, not just architecturally, but also population wise. Given it's history as a “worker's” neighborhood and its low rents and proximity to the unsavory Pigalle/Clichy neighborhood, my homecoming felt more like checking into a shared geriatric/drunk tank ward at the local hospital.

This aversion was further aggravated when I went to Carrefour, the mega marché next door, to do some shopping. Here I found myself dragging my feet in line with a mass of miserable zombies plodding along and dodging slow-moving traffic and unsupervised carts. I grabbed some kitty litter and a tube of toothpaste, then begrudgingly made my way over to the vegetable aisle.

Greeted by the recorded bird chirps that the establishment so kindly offers in an attempt to enhance your shopping experience, I was dismayed to find myself staring at a scene that almost rivaled the expressions of sorrow on my fellow shoppers faces; bins and bins of vegetables that seemed to have lost all will to live. Unripe and shipped from around the world in who knows what kind of conditions, I searched among the piles for something local and seasonal (not too much to ask in August).

Picking up an eggplant, a legume which is rarely a let-down in France, was a heartbreaking experience. Oddly heavy and hard as a rock, this poor product of nature didn't seem to have been given a chance to live up to fulfill its extraordinary potential. I surreptitiously slipped it into my basket, vowing to at least salvage one thing from this awful environment.

I thought about my experience in the States, where I talked to avowed “locavores” who were committed to buying and eating locally. These friends in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle were pumped when a local butcher, coffee brewer, or bakery opened in the neighborhood. They shopped at the farmer's market and at co-ops, and they thought about “20 minute neighborhoods” where you could find everything from food to a doctor's office within a 20 minute walk from your home.

What was interesting to me was that their passion and vision of an ideal world was so similar to what we take for granted in France. Six floors down from my apartment I have three vegetable markets, two fromageries, two fishmongers, three butchers, and a really great bakery. And yes, a doctor that I can visit whenever I want. So what was I do in the fluorescent-lit torture chamber that is Carrefour?

I started unloading my basket at the “10 Items or Less” aisle and couldn't help but overhear an altercation taking place in the auto-check out aisle next to me. An angry customer yelled at a disgruntled worker over something stupid. More underpaid, overworked, unhappy Carrefour employees came to their colleagues side as I turned up the volume on my headphones and my fellow shoppers sunk deeper into the depression of their shopping experience. “Get us out of here” seemed to be the general mantra going through our collective consciousness. In that moment, I resolved never to return. “It doesn't have to be like this” I told myself, as I bagged up my purchases and bid the cashier good day for the very last time.

This is not a call to arms against just Carrefour. For some, Carrefour may be Monoprix or Franprix or any Grand Magasin that makes you feel queasy. Across the Atlantic your Carrefour may be a Safeway, an Albertson's, a QFC. Whatever it is and wherever you are- you can do better and you deserve better. I, for one, am extracting this unsettling abuse of food and their consumers from my life in hopes of discovering new outlets for food as well as food for thought- things that are not at Carrefour.

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