Thursday, August 5, 2010

A food culture revolution in the grocery store

A key idea for People's Community Market is that it will be much more than just a grocery store and retailer of food products. While PCM will be a reliable and trusted fresh food retailer that does an outstanding job at offering great products that the community truly desires, selling food will not be all that PCM will do and be about. There is much more potential for grocery stores to play a meaningful role in communities, including helping to preserve and reactivate cultural traditions and relationships to food. One way that PCM intends to demonstrate that potential is by helping to ignite a dynamic cultural food renaissance in West Oakland. 

West Oakland has a rich and vast array of cultures, social networks and food traditions that reach back at least several generations. Many of those cultures and traditions were brought to West Oakland by people who relocated from places such as the Southern States, Latin America and Asia. But over the last couple of generations many of the food traditions have begun to slip away as residents depend on an industrial food system and corporate supermarket industry that are largely void of these traditional cultures. Yet, as we interact with and hear from the community, it's clear that there is a strong desire among many residents to be more connected with their food cultures and traditions.

This desire presents an opportunity for a grocery store to play a role in rebuilding the community's cultural fabric and relationship to food. PCM is planning all kinds of creative and unconventional ways to stimulate and provoke conversation and awareness about West Oakland's food cultures. From offering culturally-oriented food products to hosting workshops/classes/speakers about food cultures to using performance art and other forms of creative expression to explore the rich landscape of ideas and issues pertaining to food in the community, PCM will respond to and support the community's desires for a meaningful and interesting relationship to food that connects to cultural traditions, histories and values. And all of this will be done right in the grocery store itself so that customers can, if desired, conveniently attend a class or performance or other activity while on their shopping trip.

One of our criticisms of many supermarkets is that they often feel like giant, sterile warehouses void of any real culture, creativity or heart. But it doesn't have to be this way. If the people managing and running a store allow themselves to be more creative and to think outside of the box, the possibilities are endless. Stores can become community and cultural centers. They can become hubs of community activity and interaction. They can help invigorate excitement about the role of food in people's lives. Stores can help facilitate more meaningful interactions between eaters, their food and the people who helped to grow and provide that food. And they can become centers of inspiration for re-imagining the way our communities are developed, feed themselves and co-exist with the world around them.

A food culture revolution is happening in this country. Even in food desert communities many residents want more than just access to good food. PCM is planning to become a model for how that food revolution can be given life inside of a grocery store by providing as much space for and attention to culture, tradition, history and relationships as to the food products that are on the store's shelves.

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