Teach Us, Trader Joe: Demanding Socially Responsible Food

Read the full story in The Atlantic.

The latter half of the 20th century witnessed a change in the concept of food: American consumers have come to expect a great deal more from their food system — from nutrition and taste to the water in which it once swam. Orange roughy, for instance, is currently an endangered species and also on the Greenpeace Red List for seafood to avoid consuming due to overfishing. Until recently, though, one could buy it for a modest price in any Trader Joe’s grocery store.

In 2010, after taking heat from Greenpeace, Trader Joe’s pledged to sell only seafood products that had been harvested using sustainable practices by December 2012. Since then, it has been on a steady mission to eradicate all non-sustainable products from its shelves, including genetically modified items. This, combined with its boutique-like items and Hawaiian shirt-clad staff, make it one of the most innovative grocery stores around. It offers exceptional products at an affordable rate. That said, though “green-friendly,” its efforts fall short of being categorically “green.”

Factoring in that Trader Joe’s is wildly more affordable when compared to luxury grocery stores such as Whole Foods or Andronico’s, the balance strikes a chord with a new generation of shoppers that expects a lot out of their grocers. But what, exactly — besides environmental activism — contributed to this shift in message? And what do Trader Joe’s recent efforts reveal about the future of food access and consumption in this country?

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