From writer Rachel Signer and our friends at Collectively:
France has long been known as a mecca of quality food, and eating well as a hallmark of French culture. You can hardly walk a block in most of central Paris without inhaling the intoxicating aroma of a cheese counter or charcuterie, or admiring a tower of fresh produce from France and all over the world.
But there's one thing you won't find in Paris: food co-ops.
Co-ops did once exist in Paris; they came into fashion after the Paris Commune of 1871, but later were overcome by the emergence of supermarkets. Now, a radical political vibe in Paris' more marginal neighborhoods may have set the stage for a return to co-ops. It's no secret that the social fabric of France has changed dramatically with waves of immigration. Meanwhile, the cost of living in Paris has remained very high.
Documentary filmmaker Tom Boothe is working on opening Paris' first contemporary food co-op. Originally from the U.S., Boothe now lives on the city's northern Right Bank, in the 19th arrondissement, a neighborhood that is home to many immigrants from France's former colonies in West and North Africa, and a mostly working-class population.
Boothe checked out the Park Slope Food Co-op during a trip to visit friends in Brooklyn several years ago, and it inspired him. The Park Slope Co-op, founded in 1973, has around 16,000 members who pay a joiner's fee of $100, and then work one shift per month in exchange for being able to shop at some of the lowest prices you can possibly find.
"I lived in Manhattan for a few years, but I had never heard of the Co-op," Boothe told Collectively, speculating that the Co-op has gained popularity because food has taken on a newly significant role in American culture.
The co-op, scheduled to open in August 2015 in the 18th arrondissement (right beside the 19th), will be called La Louve, which translates to "female wolf," implying self-protection against rising costs and industrialized food. Its opening hinges upon a successful fundraising effort that depends on future members forking over 100 Euros, as well as various French banks signing on as investors.
From the get-go, Boothe has set out to make his Paris co-op an echo of that previous, ideologically-motivated era. To create a support base for La Louve, a core group of 30 activists have been going to neighborhood events like rummage sales, passing out flyers, talking to people. "Right now we have a lot of activists. It will be even more diverse once we've opened our doors. We will have a 10 Euro reduced rate for people who have low-income," said Boothe (the Park Slope Co-op has a similar option).
La Louve aims to deal not only with a contemporary desire for healthy, organic, local food. It will also take a stab at addressing urban inequality and division between the haves and the have-nots. That's why La Louve's home in the 18th arrondissement is significant. Were it located in, say, the Marais—a trendy, centrally-located neighborhood full of expensive boutiques and museums—it might not carry the same weight.
In planning the co-op's opening, Boothe has been receiving extensive, on-going support from the Park Slope Co-op's core staff, including its founder, Joe Holtz. Boothe has taken a unique approach with his project, but he cites Park Slope as his mentor in many ways. "It's a debate at the co-op whether they should just open up a second store because they have so many members," Boothe explained. "So far, people have said no. Instead what they do is they help other co-ops."
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Photo credit: Palmyre Roigt