Broke-Ass City: How Foods Co. and Rainbow Grocery exemplify SF culture 

click to enlarge The Foods Co. and Rainbow Grocery are practically next door to each other in SOMA but serve a completely different demographic - MIKE KOOZMIN/SF EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/SF Examiner
  • The Foods Co. and Rainbow Grocery are practically next door to each other in SOMA but serve a completely different demographic
It was 8 or 9 a.m. I was standing on the corner of 14th and Folsom waiting for the light to change when I heard an enthusiastic, “Hey! You look muy guapo!” growled from the hedge of bushes near Foods Co. I turned to find a drunk, homeless man laying in one of the bushes gesticulating at me and smiling. “Why thank you drunk man in a bush,” I said to him, and then crossed when the light changed. Homeless people always give the most sincere compliments because they’ve got nothing to lose.

That little corner on the Mission-SoMa border is funny. In a way, it’s a nearly perfect San Francisco microcosm. On one hand you have Rainbow Grocery, a worker-owned cooperative, organic, vegetarian, grocery where everyone seems to hug for just a few seconds too long. Kitty corner to Rainbow is Foods Co., the discount, budget, off-brand grocery where many of the customers have never been hugged enough.

At Foods Co., instead of a box of Lucky Charms, you can buy a big bag of Unlucky Charms where, instead of having a happy leprechaun as a mascot, they have a disgruntled pirate whose catch phrase is “Arrghh, Don’t Buy Me!” OK, I made that part up.

At Rainbow, there’s a cashier who judges what you buy and makes sneering comments like, “I would NEVER put that in my body.” That part I did not make up.

Rainbow represents the San Francisco that rightfully cares deeply about the food they consume, where it comes from and what environmental impact it had during production. It also represents the San Francisco that can afford to consider these concerns when shopping. Foods Co. represents the San Francisco that, more often than not, can only afford food that comes from factory farms and Big Agriculture. It’s where you pick up a thing of ham that, when you look at packaging, has 17 ingredients other than “ham”, none of which are pronounceable.

Given that I live a few blocks from here, a neighborhood that I lovingly call The Smission, I shop at both of them. As someone who has Rainbow Grocery sentiments but a Foods Co. budget, I’ve come to love both places in their own funny, idiosyncratic ways.

At Foods Co., I’ve seen a woman 86’d at 8:30 a.m. for being bat shit crazy and I’ve also seen a compassionate security guard catch someone stealing and let them leave with only an admonishment because they didn’t want to help send a poor person to jail.

At Rainbow, I’ve met food producers giving samples of products that they grew, harvested, packaged and distributed themselves. And I’ve seen catty hippie customers snicker to each other because the food another customer placed in his cart didn’t meet the hippies’ threshold of responsible consumption.

I’m lucky to live close enough to both these stores that I can do most of my shopping at Foods Co. even though I know how screwed up the practices are of 95 percent of the companies carried there, yet I can also indulge in the magnificent produce and cheeses that Rainbow carries. I mean, hell, I too like hugs that last a little too long.

So what am I trying to say? Not a damn thing really, other than that we live in an incredibly wonderful city where our options are limitless. And also that it’s pretty hilarious that these stores are across the street from each other. Oh yeah, and that drunk homeless guys in bushes give the best compliments.

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in The San Francisco Examiner.
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