Only the Privileged Enjoy Spending More

Rarely have I seen a more blatant illustration of privilege than the recent response to Janis Risch’s letter on pricing. Having a choice of whether to spend more on your food is a right enjoyed only by the well-off. The median family income in Philadelphia is $34,000. Because it is a small store, the Co-op cannot access the low wholesale prices of large corporations. But each time we choose to carry a more expensive product rather than a cheaper alternative, we make the Co-op even less accessible to the large majority of our neighbors. This is true even if the choice is based on moral principles or the desire to offer products considered healthier. 

I find it offensive that the “we” the Co-op seems to see as its members are exclusively those who have the wealth to spend more on their grocery bill by choice. I am also offended that this situation is not being seen as what it is: a case of competing values in which the community’s desire to be economically inclusive is at odds with its desire to honor certain values. Even if Co-op leadership feels this is a majority opinion or expresses the “true spirit” of the Co-op, this decision comes with loss as well as gain. 

As a long-time member, I have recently found that previously affordable products have been replaced by ones I can no longer buy. When I have expressed this to Co-op staff, the response has been a lecture on the morality of my shopping basket. This attitude of moral superiority, in print and in person, needs to be set aside if we are going to have meaningful conversations about how we balance our competing values to create a Co-op that is welcoming to all.

— Amy Verstappen