On the virtues of vegetarian co-ops

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A brand-building expert down in Austin named John Moore has belatedly discovered my conversation with former college roommates John Mackey of Whole Foods and Kip Tindell of the Container Store and informed readers of his well-trafficked blog that they’re not allowed to go on vacation until they read it.

His timing is a little off–hasn’t everybody already gone on vacation? I do appreciate the gesture, though, in part because it caused me to go back and read through the transcript with fresh eyes. It is really long. But there is some cool stuff in it. One passage that made me laugh, from Mackey:

I dropped out of college for the last time in 1977. I moved into this — I moved into this vegetarian co-op. I wasn’t a vegetarian at the time. The honest truth was I really thought I’d meet some interesting women living in a vegetarian co-op and I did. It was mostly women living there, and they were really cool.

… I didn’t know anything about food at that time, but I became a food buyer. You might say my food consciousness got awakened then. I learned how to cook, began reading books on food. I began to understand about nutrition. It never had occurred to me that what you ate could affect how you felt. It could affect your health. It seems obvious now, but at age 23 or 22 or whatever I was, it wasn’t obvious at all.

And then I went to work for a natural foods store called the Good Food Company. It had about five little stores here in Austin, and I worked there for six months. It was the first time I’d ever worked in a retail store, and I really liked it. I remember coming home one day from work, talking to my girlfriend, and I said, “You know, this retail food store stuff is not that hard. You order stuff from this catalog. It comes in the back door. You stick it on the shelves. You’re nice to people. People come back in to buy stuff, and you flourish.” I thought, you know, that was within my realm of competence.