The rainbow

The first time I went in, it looked like a fairly normal grocery store.

I know this, I thought. This is a grocery store. Grocery stores are a familiar pattern to me. I am comfortable with them. I grok this interaction model. I even had a list. Milk, eggs, fruit, veggies, chicken… Sure, I was a little disoriented, not knowing the layout, but I love exploring a new place, seeing all of the produce laid out so nicely, the beautiful cheese case, and the shocking variety of granola bars.

I worked my way down the list, all the way to the chicken. I looked up. I circled the store a couple more times, and then my jaw dropped. This “grocery store” sells no meat!

At first I was annoyed, for sure. I mean, isn’t it a bit presumptuous to exclude a whole section of the store that other stores reserve their best real estate for? That other stores make special 288-point “M”, “E”, “A, “T” letters to hang above, so they can be seen from the far side of the parking lot? The audacity!

But after a minute of being pissed off and trying to figure out which tofurky sausage might taste the most like chicken, it hit me. The full contrast of Rainbow hit me, and I fell in love with it. In a Matrix moment I was seeing, from the outside, many of the assumptions behind the Average American Grocery Store. Yes, Rainbow is pushing a philosophy, but so is everyone else. I’d just forgotten. And after an adjustment period, I’m smitten. To me, the point being made is that meat is special. Really special. Maybe special enough to not be eaten, but at least special enough to have its own store.

I didn’t get chicken that night—but everything I did get at Rainbow was delicious. Nearly all of it organic, with prices that I’d normally pay back East for non-organic. Each bin was marked with the town (usually in CA) and farm where that produce came from, and exactly how organic it was. Whole Foods will tell you that a peach is organic from California, but Rainbow will say it is biodynamically grown, from Terra Firma Farms in Winters, CA. I wouldn’t put it past them to start listing soil amendments.

Where other stores make their own gross mac & cheese for the hot bar, Rainbow makes their own kim chi and fresh sauerkraut. Where produce is normally the only thing sold in bulk, nearly two-thirds of Rainbow is bulk. Body lotions, shampoos, herbs, spices, olives, black walnuts, dried porcini mushrooms, raw cacao nibs, pastas, every grain under the sun, every dried fruit under the sun. And nearly all of it is organic.

Rainbow is showing us a future of grocery stores, one that I can get excited about. I hope it’s not just some California dream. Pinch me.

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8 Responses to “The rainbow”


  1. 1 asarwate July 17, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    I had a Terra Firma CSA when I lived in Berkeley — it was awesome and I miss it terribly.

  2. 3 Derrick Schneider July 18, 2009 at 12:33 am

    And for all that, I’m always disappointed that Rainbow doesn’t have better produce.

    But the bulk food section rules, and in the context of grocery stores, it’s hard to beat their cheese counter.

  3. 4 foo August 6, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    so you mentioned you had to buy eggs. did you spend 10 minutes at the egg fridge deciding what terrible things you had to do to your egg-laying chickens, and whether an extra 25 cents was worth saving them from being debeaked?

    i love rainbow but it’s always a psychologically harrowing experience to actually know about your food.

    ALSO DID YOU KNOW. your phonebook has coupons for 20% off your rainbow groceries on weds/thurs. one per month. i lived here for 6 years before discovering this.

    • 5 Carl Tashian August 6, 2009 at 7:29 pm

      YES! In fact I just took a photo of that very chart yesterday:

      There’s something BDSM about it, if you ask me. I don’t mean we are having sex with these chickens, but we ARE intimately eating their eggs. So, do we want them Kept In Cages? Or Force Molted?

  4. 7 Chocolatesa March 19, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Force-molted??? Debeaked??? Wow. One day I’m gonna raise my own chickens.


  1. 1 water-based soups « Fat is flavor Trackback on October 8, 2009 at 5:33 pm

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