By: Doug Hiza, Board Member and Jerry Huddleston, General Manager
When we decided to co-author an article for the Compost on Food Justice (specifically WIC) we had hoped that owners would provide us with feedback. We were not disappointed. So we decided at the December Board Meeting to write a second article to share some of that feedback and to update the ownership as to the progress being made on becoming a WIC certified store.
Most of the feedback was in favor of Just Food Co-op becoming WIC certified.
A local farmer wrote, “For the past few years I’ve felt like the Coop has been a grocery store that sells good food. This type of discussion and action around food justice gives me hope that the Coop will return to what I’ve seen from it in the past, which is to be a transformative force in our community. … I’m someone who thinks that some of the products we currently carry are not healthy and environmentally sustainable and don’t meet the definition of “good food” (an example would be some of the chicken we carry or the rBST free milk). But there is always give and take to achieve different goals. In this case, being able to serve people on WIC far outweighs the downside of carrying a few extra products I don’t like.”
We agree with this owner about the give and take needed in a cooperative grocery store. We can never meet every need of every owner and some people will be disappointed by what is not included in our product mix. We need to, and will continue to, strive for the best balance that works within our Ends Policy including the considerations around justice for our farmer/producers, our staff, and our present and future owners.
One mom shared the following thoughts:
“If JFC adopts even some of these ideas [WIC and/or assistance for needy families], it would help my family’s bottom line and I hope could show a greater percent of our community that the door is also open to them. My main concern is that we don’t lose the shelf space for the high quality (organic, local) products and producers as well.”
This owner points out a very real concern having to do with shelf space and its relationship to product offerings. As we pointed out in the previous article we are moving forward with expanding the retail space in the store this year with a store remodel. That will provide space for not only a greater variety of products, but also gives us the ability to add products for populations with economic, cultural or ethnic needs that we haven’t been able to serve very well in the past.
And to be fair, some of the feedback showed that a few owners have legitimate concerns.
One owner wrote, “I would like to point out how providing justice for the consumer by offering cheaper food directly supports injustice in the farming and food system. Food is cheap because of advances in technology, but it is also cheap because farm and food processing laborers are severely underpaid. … I am glad to see that Just Food is working towards a more just world. I look forward to working towards justice together. However, the injustices in the global food system run deep and I encourage you all to continue to explore which systems you are supporting.”
This owner rightly reinforces the theme of our previous article on justice. Just Food Co-op was established with the principle of food justice strongly embedded by the founders. As we pointed out in that article we feel we have made significant strides in justly dealing with farmers/producers and staff. The article was meant to address the part of the food chain that we haven’t paid as much attention to—those who are food insecure and are challenged by the cost of good food that all should be entitled to. We hope to be able to address the issue of food justice in that population while not compromising our attention to justice in the others that have been our focus to date.
We want to thank all of the owners who shared their thoughts with us. This is what cooperation is about. Several owners have also poised questions to us in-store that have been concerned with how WIC will be implemented at Just Food Co-op and what changes would have to be made. We will focus the remainder of this article addressing those concerns.
Here is a brief synopsis of product categories we already carry that are WIC eligible and a description of which product categories that must be altered for Just Food Co-op to participate in the WIC program:
Categories already WIC compliant:
- Fruits: Any variety of fresh fruits – whole or cut, including organic are allowed with WIC. Any variety of frozen fruits with no added sugar, including organic options are also allowed. Any canned fruit packaged in water or juice without added sugar, including organic options is allowed.
- Vegetables: All fresh vegetables, whole or cut, including organics are allowed with WIC. Any plain frozen vegetables, canned vegetable, regular or low sodium, are allowed – including organics. Any plain variety of canned tomatoes (whole, crushed, or diced) including organics are allowed with WIC vouchers.
- 100% Juice: Single flavor juices (orange or grapefruit) with 120% or more daily Vitamin C or single flavor juices from concentrate (orange, grapefruit, pineapple, apple, or grape) are allowed.
- Whole grains: Bionature whole wheat pastas (any variety), bulk items including oats, brown rice, dry beans, peas, and lentils (including organics) are all allowed.
- Non-organic peanut butters are allowed.
- Non organic canned beans are allowed.
- Dairy: Schroeder Dairy products, Meyenberg goat milk products, and Brown Cow yogurts are all allowed as long as non-organic. Co-op Basics cheeses would be allowed, as would Phil’s cage-free white eggs.
- Soy products: The following tofu brands are accepted under WIC: Mori-Nu, Nasoya, WestSoy, and Wildwood, including organic varieties. Silk brand and Pacific Natural Foods soy beverages are also allowed.
Categories where we will have to bring in conventional products:
- Non-refrigerated bottled juice: We have identified Welch’s 100% Grape Juice and Original V8 Juice as two options that would not violate our product policies. Welch’s 100% Grape Juice contains nothing but juice. Welch’s is working towards non-GMO certification, and is a subsidiary of the National Grape Cooperative Association comprised of 941 family farms in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Ontario, Canada. V8 Juice (produced by Campbell’s Soup) contains no artificial colors, preservatives, or flavors, yet the “natural flavorings” may contain natural occurring glutamates (MSG). This possible MSG is not added
- Boxed cereals: We have reviewed over sixty cereals, and have identified several as being in compliance with our product quality policies, i9ncluding Grape-Nuts, Cream of Wheat, Quaker Oatmeal, Cheerios, and Cream of Rice. Given our current shelf-space limitations, this means we would have to discontinue 5 cereals to make room for the WIC approved options. This decision will be based on movement reports, and we promise to communicate which cereals will be discontinued so as to find solutions for those members who are affected.
- Bread: Of all the conventional breads we can choose from, only one met our product policy, Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Rye (seeded). Tortillas by La Perla (produced in Minneapolis) are eligible for WIC vouchers.
- Infant Foods: Most Beech Nut brand products would be in compliance with our product policies, including cereals, meats, vegetables, and fruits for infants. Beech Nut is currently working with the non-GMO Project to become non-GMO certified. Beech Nut utilizes glass jars as opposed to plastic tubs. While not certified as organic, Beech Nut’s internal requirements on sourcing fruits and vegetables match the organic standards of the USDA.
- Canned Tuna / Salmon: Chicken of the Sea canned tuna and salmon are both wild caught, and dolphin-safe. Chicken of the Sea is dedicated to becoming GMO-free with the goal of having all of their products GMO-free by July 1, 2017.
So, two bottles of juice, five boxes of cereal, a clean line of baby food, one loaf of bread, two tortillas, one can of tuna, and one can of salmon…and that’s it! Those are all of the product offering changes that Just Food Co-op would have to make in order to become WIC certified and become more accessible to those in our community who need us the most.
Once again, we ask that you help us spread this information and give us your feedback. Now that we have a clear idea as to what Just Food Co-op would have to add to its product mix, does becoming a WIC certified store still appeal to our owners? Let us know!