Cheap Food


Originally posted 8/24/05:
I've been bitching to all who'll listen about the high price of food in New York. This isn't so much a comment on the restaurants as it is on grocery stores. Everything costs more than it should, even the discount grocery stores charge about what Safeway would charge for non-sale food. Although it's not universal, for some reason; I really enjoy soy milk/rice milk/etc., but, being, as I am, very cheap, I had a tough time justifying it in Berkeley because Soy Milk is more expensive by the ounce than skim milk. Here, however, regular milk is notably more expensive, while the various milk-likes are about the same price as elsewhere. This means that, if you buy the low-end soy milk, like WestSoy, it's actually cheaper to buy soy milk here than real milk. Which is why there are several boxes of soy milk in my fridge right now, but no regular milk.

But I digress: In Berkeley I got spoiled by Berkeley Bowl. For my first two years there I avoided it because I thought it was a bowling alley (I know others who thought the same; it really is an unfortunate choice of name). For the next year I avoided it because the crowds there are deadly and evil. Then I discovered that it is probably the best supermarket ever, barring the unpleasant experience of actually shopping there when it's crowded. The produce is fresh and delicious, in addition to being cheaper than anywhere else, they sell bulk grains, which are a fantastic way to eat well cheaply, and in general they offer a great selection at a low price. Now I can't understand why people shop at Safeway (Bad food at a low price) or Andronico's or Whole Foods (Good food at a high price). Of course, then I remember that I spent three years shopping there.

Here supermarkets are small and cramped and have no selection, the produce is meally and overpriced, and nobody's even heard of Quinoa. I'm lead to understand that what I'm looking for in order to get a Berkeley Bowl-like experience is a Food Co-Op. There's one on the Lower East Side and two in Brooklyn, all neccessitating subway rides there and back, and they all require you to be an actual member of the co-op, paying dues and working shifts. Nonetheless, I would submit that it's worth it. Hopefully I'll be able to get down to one or two of them this weekend and check them out.


Ooh! Ooh! Do you know why Berkeley Bowl has that name?

I originally thought it had something to do with a bowl of fruit, which seemed a little silly and not worth the confusion about whether it's a bowling alley. The actual answer is that it was a bowling alley, or rather, the space in which the store opened (which I think is not the current location on Oregon St.) had previously been a bowling alley called Berkeley Bowl.

I've also heard it called the Berkeley Brawl, on account of the hazards to life and limb during busy hours.

Ah, busy hours. I think the reason I stayed away so long is because I always went just as a flock of people descended on the place. This was compounded by my living far enough away that, once I got there and found a crowd, it was hard to just say "Screw it" and go home.

Yet it's still the best supermarket I've ever been to. The food co-ops here want big membership fees and "initial investments." The Park Slope Food Co-Op wants $25 to join plus a $100 Investment, which, from what I can tell, functions like a security deposit. Then they want you to work there 3 hours a week to be able to shop there. Plus it looks like you have to make the commitment before you even get a chance to go inside and look at the merchandise and the prices. I'm going down this weekend to take a look, but for now it looks like I'm left to buy fancy $6/Lb boxes of Quinoa from the local Andronico's-equivalent.

Eugh. You need a good friend in the mail-order bulk foods business!

The idea of investing in a food co-op without getting to go in and see what you're investing in sounds, well, ridiculous. It's a bit like joining a secret society. "Well, what do you actually secretly do?" "Sorry, we can't tell you until you join. It's secret."

What do you (not so secretly, I assume) do with quinoa? I've heard tasty and nutritious things about it but never tried it on account of not really knowing how. But I do know that it was one of the first plant species to be domesticated in South America, along with the llama which was one of the first animal species. A TA in an anthropology class told me that, and his slides on the subject were titled, respectively:

Llamas: they're great!
Quinoa: it's great! You can feed it to your llamas!

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on August 24, 2005 10:21 PM.

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