Banned! Food Co-op no longer bottled up

The Brooklyn Paper

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Water, water everywhere — but there’s no longer a drop of the bottled variety at the Park Slope Food Co-op.

That’s because the environeurotics at everyone’s favorite liberal grocery store, with its 13,000 members, have made good on their threat to stop selling bottled water.

The last bottle of the pernicious beverage was sold last week — the final step in a two-year debate that began with my seminal column, “H-2-Woe! Slope mom wants you to stop drinking bottled water” (Aug. 12, 2006).

Given the gravitas of this historic moment and my place within it, I, of course, was part of those final watery sales. (Full disclosure: I was only there because I was on work alert — as always — and was doing a makeup shift on May 3. Fuller disclosure: That makeup shift was on a Saturday night. Fullest disclosure: I am a loser.)

Just four nights earlier, nearly 200 members of the Co-op voted overwhelmingly — only one lone hand went up in protest — to stop selling bottled water at the store, which is on Union Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues (and, in other words, within walking distance of at least 42,645 places selling bottled water).

The arguments against bottled water are well known: 30 million bottles — which are made from petroleum, by the way — end up in landfills every day, environmental experts say. In the course of just one year, the petroleum in those bottles could fuel 100,000 cars (though, frankly, that sounds like the lesser of these two evils).

New York City tap water, by comparison, flows down from the Catskill “mountains” with just gravity.

Of course, it’s easy for the Co-op to get on its fully biodegradable soapbox. The store sold only about $800 worth of bottled water every week (a true drop in the bucket). Plus, the Co-op’s membership is so large right now that inconveniencing customers is not much of a concern.

“When I started in the 1970s, people used to quit all the time because we didn’t have everything,” said Joe Holtz, the store’s general coordinator (don’t call him a “manager”! That word is so, how you say?, hierarchical).

“But now we can do this because we no longer have to worry where our next member is coming from.”

I confronted Holtz on the key issue: hydro-hypocrisy. After all, when the Co-op started selling beef a few years ago, meat lovers defended the move because only the Co-op could be trusted to sell meat from humanely slaughtered, respectfully harvested, grass-fed, happy cows. So by extension, couldn’t the Co-op find an environmentally sound water?

Holtz swatted me away like a common fly. The issue is not only about the environment, but about a commitment to a larger good (like public schools).

If people keep buying so much bottled water, fewer people will be left to fight for the quality of municipal water. That quality will, inevitably, decline, forcing more people to switch to bottled water — which will become more expensive as the demand for it increases. Under that scenario, the poorest members of our society will be the only ones left drinking the swill that comes out of the taps of the future.

You might argue, “But where does it end?” And the good news is that at the Park Slope Food Co-op, it never does. Emboldened by the bottled water ban, they — and when I say “they,” I mean “we” — are now considering a full ban on plastic bags.

Mark my words: This one will pass. After all, a study by the Co-op’s “exit and entry advisory group” (yes, there is an exit and entry advisory group) revealed that only 26.7 percent of customers leave the store with a plastic bag.

“The ban will pass,” Holtz said. “Maybe not 180–1, but it will pass.”

Gersh Kunztman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at [email protected]

The next Park Slope Food Co-op general meeting is May 27 at the Garfield Temple (274 Garfield Pl., at Eighth Avenue in Park Slope), 7 pm. Call (718) 622-0560 for info.

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