Video abstract – 'Food Co-ops and the Paradox of Exclusivity'

Forthcoming in Antipode 47(3) in 2015, and available online now, Andrew Zitcer’s ‘Food Co-ops and the Paradox of Exclusivity‘ is a great contribution to the journal’s growing stock of papers on cooperatives, ethical consumption, alternative food movements, and diverse economies.*

Consumer food cooperatives constitute a vital part of the alternative food movement in the United States, alongside farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture, and community gardens, among other initiatives. Like these efforts, food co-ops seek to counter the dominance of industrial agriculture and the decimation of local economies. Yet food co-ops wrestle with a “paradox of exclusivity”, whereby some practices and people are inadvertently left out in order to create conditions for a strong identification among others with particular ways of being and doing. ‘Food Co-ops and the Paradox of Exclusivity‘ explores the paradox of exclusivity through an in-depth study of two food co-ops in Philadelphia, PA. Exclusivity manifests itself in what the co-ops sell, their business practices, and how they market themselves to potential members. Overcoming the paradox of exclusivity requires efforts towards affordability, accessibility, and reflective practice in order for co-ops to realize their transformative social and economic potential.

Here we’re pleased to present a video abstract in which Andrew discusses his paper with Esteban Kelly, a Philadelphia-based educator, community organiser, and radical geographer with the Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance (AORTA).

Andrew and Esteban talk through community economies, food justice, the politics of difference, and the challenges of not just developing small businesses but creating/transforming social and economic relationships. On some level, members clearly need to identify with co-ops – there’s a need to foster some degree of affiliation and sense of shared identity. But inclusion for some can mean exclusion for others. High prices, a lack of diverse food offerings, and unfamiliar store customs can be real problems. They’re not insurmountable, though, and heightened awareness of the complexity of host communities, a willingness to change in response to what is learned, and a renewed commitment to cooperative principles such as education, democracy, and concern for community can be vital for working through the paradox of exclusivity.

Andrew Zitcer teaches in Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. His research has appeared in Urban Geography and Social and Cultural Geography, among other places, and he has been part of the Philadelphia arts and culture community since helping to found the Rotunda–a community-gathering place fuelled by the belief that art is a catalyst for social change and that the arts can lead to the formation of meaningful partnerships between the University of Pennsylvania and surrounding neighbourhoods–in the late 1990s.

*For further reading, see The Elusive Inclusive: Black Food Geographies and Racialized Food Spaces by Margaret Marietta Ramírez;

Champions of the Movement or Fair-weather Heroes? Individualization and the (A)politics of Local Food by Julianne Busa and Rebekah Garder;

Disparity Despite Diversity: Social Injustice in New York City’s Urban Agriculture System by Kristin Reynolds;

Doing Justice to Bodies? Reflections on Food Justice, Race, and Biology by Julie Guthman;

Knowing “Good Food”: Immigrant Knowledge and the Racial Politics of Farmworker Food Insecurity by Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern;

Urban Community Gardens as Spaces of Citizenship by Rina Ghose and Margaret Pettygrove;

Foodscapes and the Geographies of Poverty: Sustenance, Strategy, and Politics in an Urban Neighborhood by Christiana Miewald and Eugene McCann; and

Ten Square Miles Surrounded By Reality? Materialising Alternative Economies Using Local Currencies by Peter North.


  1. Chantel B.

    Reblogged this on Food Justice in the Coastal Empire and commented:
    Recently, I came across a very interesting video abstract from the Antipode Foundation on the paradox of exclusivity that tends to surround food cooperatives. In order for a food co-op to be successful, there must be a palpable sense of cohesion to govern the individuals participating in it. The inclusive nature of the co-op inherently excludes some members of the co-op’s local populace, hence the paradox. I thought the subject is so relevant here since its important to understand the underlying sociology at work in our efforts to instill equitable and sustainable food systems. Researcher Andrew Zitcer attributes the paradox to three main conditions: the expensive and culturally specific nature of co-op foods, the inclusive/exclusive marketing language co-ops use, and the unconventional business practices of co-ops. He invites educator and co-op board member Esteban Kelly to wrestle with what it means for a co-op to operate in a democratic, multiracial society with a historical legacy of segregation

  2. Chantel B.

    I also reblogged: Your video abstract provides thought-provoking content that is so pertinent to my local food co-op and the entire food justice movement in Savannah. As a black woman with an interest in the efficiency or lack thereof within my own food system, I attend a lot of farmers’ markets and local events related to food justice. The racial divide is shocking. It doesn’t make sense that the very population that food justice efforts seek to assist — low income households facing food insecurity — are so underrepresented at these kinds of happenings. The video abstract examined the underlying factors that contributes to this polarization of the community. It was very interesting and informative.