Tucked behind Lena Karmel Lodge sits the Food Co-op. When I first visited, I stood in front and tried to pick the right moment to walk in. Standing in front of it is a little foreboding – I’m not nearly hip enough for a trendy café. Yet inside I went, in search of something sweet to tide me over for the classes to come that morning. Behind the tinted windows was a setting I wasn’t expecting. Laughter and general hubbub abounded, but was not deafening. The furniture was bright and colourful. People were catching up, drinking coffee and… in the corner, a grocery section!? Behind the coffee tables and sofas is a comprehensive grocery store which smells like the spice markets from my hometown. Huge barrels of beans, rice, spaghetti, wholesale olive oil, dishwashing liquid, chai tea, cinnamon and chunks of chocolate. An array of goodies and, hold on, bamboo toothbrushes?
The Food Co-op was born out of the ANU Nutrition Society in the days of bell-bottoms and disco. It’s come a long way from handing out free fruit and veg to uni students, but it still upholds the same value of making good food accessible. You have to bring your own containers, but the prices are comparable to a supermarket. The aim is zero waste. Members get discounts in store and on events, and have a say in how things are run, but shopping is open to everyone. Also, if you volunteer for one hour a fortnight you get 15% off everything in store. It provides an alternative place to shop.
Conor and Jono, the Co-managers of the Food Co-op, see a value in the work they do, and hope people looking for good food will seek them out. One of their main goals is to keep the produce as low-cost as possible so students and low income families are able to put good food on the table. To enable this, the Co-op is not for profit and keeps prices as close to wholesale as they can. Lunches have been wildly successful and they hope to make it easier for the average student to benefit from what the Co-op has to offer.
Mitch is the Chef at the Food Co-op responsible for all the delicious lunches people line up to eat. Most important aspect of the Food Co-op? “the people who work there and how caring and community based it is.” I ask for a tip to eating good, yet cheap as a uni student: “Meat is really expensive so cutting down can save a fair bit of money. Cooking for yourself is also way cheaper. Eating out costs way more money and you can get home meals down to around one dollar.”
I caught up with a few volunteers: Peter who has been volunteering as a cook at the Food Co-op every week for over twenty years; Barbara, a new volunteer who was drawn to the Co-op because it is organic, run by volunteers and works on the principle that ‘less is more’; or Jordan, who has been volunteering once a week at the Co-op for almost a year now and likes how volunteering has taught her tips and tricks for her own cooking, and how to reduce food waste.
In the face of the sometimes inhibiting ‘cool vibes’, Jordan stresses that “the Food Co-op is really awesome, come in and try it. It’s honestly not just for hipsters, but a place anyone is welcome.”
Maybe you will be enticed by the idea of warming yourself up, and devouring some Autolyse Sourdough, before plonking yourself down on one of the many seats and catching up on a lecture using the free Wifi. Maybe you will meet up with friends for a bliss ball and a coffee and snuggle into the comfy couches to chat long into the afternoon. Maybe you will BYO container and shopping bag and enjoy wholesale prices on the edge of campus? Or maybe you will want a little more, and walk through the door and say “I want to volunteer” – that will work too. When you pay your $6 for a steaming bowl of deliciousness at the Food Co-op, you are not just getting a feed. In addition, you are becoming a part of a caring community.
Me? I left the Co-op with a banana charlotte crumble and a book full of ideas under my arm. I think I will be going back. If you’re wanting some good food around campus, look no further. Wander down and meet the volunteers at the Food Co-op. You’ll wonder why you didn’t go earlier. I sure did!