Suggestion Book: I Try, You Try, We All Try To Stock the Right Stuff

Norman Weiss, Weavers Way Purchasing Manager

Greetings and thanks for writing. As usual, suggestions and responses may have been edited for brevity, clarity and/or comedy. In addition, no idea, concept, issue, remark, phrase, description of event, word or word string should be taken seriously. This also applies to the previous sentence.

Nothing is simple or clear-cut in this business. Nestlé, the company people like to hate (due to decades of putting profit over people’s health), is buying Sweet Earth, a fairly healthy burrito line we already sell. Lest you think Nestlé has awakened to caring about people’s health, their press release makes it sound like it’s more of the same. Nestlé considers Sweet Earth products “on trend” (read “where future profit lies”). They are basically jumping on the bandwagon of plant-based food products, a category that has experienced double-digit growth that is expected to continue a few more years.

Many Co-op members have raised objections to our stocking Nestlé products. In the late ’70s or or early ’80s, they voted to launch a boycott. More recently, when members voiced concerns about San Pellegrino sodas and other Nestlé brands we stock, our staff and Board and members discussed it at meetings and we publicized it some, but no other action was taken. 

The idea of Weavers Way having a product philosophy and/or product-selection criteria — and what they should be — surfaces at times like this. If you look at our website, we do have a product philosophy statement, and product philosophy is alluded to in our Ends. Some co-ops and businesses have very defined criteria, including a list of banned products and producers. Weavers Way has never gone this route, preferring a more flexible, if somewhat split-personality approach.

My current thinking is that it’s unlikely there will ever be an unassailable, fireproof product philosophy that covers all situations. However, there are discernable degrees of good and bad when it comes to products. Good products encourage health, bad products damage health. (Defining “health” broadly, that’s another story, but it includes global health, community health, environmental health, personal health, spiritual health.)

Weavers Way, modern food co-ops, the natural-foods industry, the government —we all display internal contradictions when it comes to health. We promote health, yet regularly act in ways that are damaging to health. There is a major disconnect, like the Founding Fathers who owned slaves — they say one thing and act in a way that’s opposite. This is confusing to Co-op (and co-op) members, damaging to the organization and industry, and, if you believe in karmic-type forces, actually most damaging to the people who perform the action.

Many food products, while being associated with positive cultural experiences, contain ingredients that are the result of other people’s suffering. Consumption of these products causes suffering somewhere sometime. It’s part of the problem with consumption in America — there is no awareness of the consequences of consumption. Buying chocolate produced with child slavery increases the likelihood that child slavery will continue. Same for conventional bananas and conventional coffee, feedlot meat, solvent-extracted oils, some seafood and so on and so on. The consumer is, in effect, paying someone else to exploit and abuse a person or animal. It doesn’t bother us because most people don’t think about what went into creating the product or how it got to them. We’ve created a culture of enjoyable eating experiences that, because of ignorance, includes products created as a result of suffering. 

It is in one’s own best interest (health) to choose not to participate in such damaging, unhealthy behavior. It may be that the fact that lots of people don’t understand this adds to the reasons why a co-op should take a stand. As Sandra Folzer, longtime Weavers Way Environment Committee member, recently wrote to me about Nestlé: “Because shoppers expect the products sold at Weavers Way to have met high standards of labor and environmental justice.”

Our namesake Rochdale weavers founded their co-op because they were being treated unfairly. They wanted unadulterated food at a fair price. It was unavailable because it was more profitable for the owners of the businesses that supplied the food to sell them junk. The owners didn’t care if their increased profitability caused someone else to suffer. It is this same principle of fairness that co-ops should base their actions on. Not just messaging, which is cheap, but action, which, when it comes to product selection, should include a reasonable effort to determine what went into creating the product and getting it to the consumer, and choosing products that encourage other people’s health and happiness rather than reducing it. 

Ideally, there should not be room on our shelves for products that hurt others. But without knowing the full story of each and every ingredient of each and every product, it is impossible to judge the healthfulness of an item. Given that we sell over 16,000 items, many with multiple ingredients, many of which are proprietary and / or untraceable, this is an impossible task. All we can do is discuss and strive for an acceptable approximation of our stated values. We are part of a toxic food system. This is why dealing directly with high-ethics producers is our best option. 

However, to this we must add the conundrum that high-ethics producers often end up with products priced out of the range of many people. So we’re left trying to find the right balance of ethics, business and culture, and this is itself an unhealthy position to be in.

But unfortunately, we (as in the big “we” — co-ops, Americans consumers, etc.) let this happen. Maybe someday we’ll make intelligent food choices.

suggestions and responses:

s: “My roommates and I (there are five of us) all use Wyman’s Mixed Berries (triple berry blend — blackberry, raz, blue). We would love the 3-pound bag. As a house we use at least six to eight of the 3-pound  bags a month. We are trying to do all our shopping here and become free of Whole Foods. Also, is it possible to order the almond / coconut milk unsweetened from Almond Breeze. (It’s sooo yummy! And helps reduce the amount of almonds we are using.”)

r: (Matt MA) Unfortunately, we are very limited on space in our freezer, but if you’re consuming that level of berries you could pre-order a case, which would also save you 10 percent. I’d looove to help you become free of Whole Foods! I would also be happy to order you some Almond Breeze. Reach out to us at

s: “Just tried a product called Goodpops in New York. Three places in Pennsylvania carry it, none nearby. Yummy!”

r: (Matt MA) I will look into them! Meanwhile they are available for preorder; a case contains eight boxes of four each.

s: “Bela sardines (available at Chestnut Hill) are excellent. Could you stock them in Mt. Airy?”

r: (Matt MA) I’ll look into them. Thanks for the suggestion.

s: Whenever I cook food from the Co-op, my house smells like old hippies in a VW bus. My kids thought it was novel for a while, but now they complain. Can something be done about this?

r: (Norman) It’s a form of aromatherapy. Add some patchouli incense to the mix. Peace and love!