Food Coop director Tom Boothe : « You can do something to take control »

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INTERVIEW – While his documentary Food Coop is released on November 2 in theaters, director Tom Boothe, also co-founder of La Louve collaborative supermarket in Paris, was in Grenoble on October 24th for a preview screening and debate. The event organized by L’éléfàn non-profit organization – the first collaborative supermarket in Grenoble – gathered nearly 280 people at Le Club movie theater. Meeting.





De gauche à droite : Brian Horihan et Tom Boothe, fondateurs de la coopérative alimentaire La Louve à Paris. DR

From left to right : Brian Horihan and Tom Boothe, foun­ders of La Louve col­la­bo­ra­tive super­mar­ket in Paris. ARR

From Indiana in America, Tom Boothe stu­died film­ma­king in uni­ver­sity. He dis­co­ve­red Park Slope Food Coop in New York while visi­ting : “I had some friends that are mem­bers there.”


Back in Paris where he lives, he deci­ded with his fel­low friend Brian Horihan, also living in Paris, to create La Louve col­la­bo­ra­tive super­mar­ket, based on the same pat­tern as Park Slope. “We don’t make a lot of money and we like to eat well. There wasn’t any­thing in Paris that works for us like that. So we deci­ded to try to make that super­mar­ket here”, he explains.






What is the concept of the Park Slope Food Coop ?


This is what we call in English a mem­ber-wor­ker coop. It is a coope­ra­tive, that means it is not for pro­fit. It is also a coope­ra­tive struc­ture where the people who shop at the super­mar­ket are the owners and lite­rally the sha­re­hol­ders, they buy shares in the coop. But then the thing that’s kind ori­gi­nal about it, that kind of struc­ture has exis­ted for a long time in Europe, in the United States.


Le supermarché collaboratif la Louve à Paris. DR

La Louve col­la­bo­ra­tive super­mar­ket in Paris. ARR

They also ask all of the people there to work basi­cally three hours a month to do the cash regis­ter, to do sto­cking, to do clea­ning… for a couple of rea­sons. One, because it makes it feel for people like it’s really “their” super­mar­ket.




If they just contri­bute money, it’s quite abs­tract but there, it’s up to them to make sure that the floors are clean, that the cash regis­ters are wor­king, then they really feel like owners. Kind of second side effect of that : it lowers the price. They still have some paid employees, about eighty at the Park Slope Foop Coop in Brooklyn, but it repre­sents about 20 % of the staff. The rest of the work is done by the mem­bers.


Le supermarché collaboratif la Louve à Paris. DR

La Louve col­la­bo­ra­tive super­mar­ket in Paris. ARR

There, a lot of people say it is the best single place where you can buy, in terms of qua­lity, food in New York City, and the prices are half price. It is 50 % less expen­sive, 20 %, it depends on the pro­duct.


In the film that I just made, we made a study with a typi­cal family you can find at the super­mar­ket. The dad is an ele­men­tary school tea­cher and the mum works for an asso­cia­tion, they have one kid. They saved 250 dol­lars a month by buying the exact same pro­ducts at that coop as to buying them in ano­ther super­mar­ket. So it is a pretty attrac­tive model.



Your documentary highlights the advantages of this system : recreating social links, pooling volunteers” skills to make the structure work … Should we expect the same thing about La Louve in Paris ?


Our work is pretty good already on that plan, we found that out because we are doing one thing that the Park Slope never did which is we are ope­ning a really big super­mar­ket all at once.


Tom Boothe, co-fondateur de la Louve à Paris. DR

Tom Boothe, co-foun­der of La Louve in Paris. ARR

They star­ted lit­tle, they got lit­tle big­ger, a lit­tle bit big­ger. We star­ted with a 1,500 square meters super­mar­ket. Constructing that is a huge job and so we had to call all kinds of people for their skills.


We have elec­tri­cians, plum­bers, lawyers, fire­men… Every time we have asked for a skill, we got it.





In your opinion, why is Park Slope Food Coop that successful ?


We are in a weird situa­tion his­to­ri­cally spea­king because since the begin­ning of civi­li­za­tion, the mar­ket place is the social cen­ter of social life, of culture […] that doesn’t exist any­more. Nobody would think about spen­ding the whole day just for the fun of it at a super­mar­ket because they are hor­rible places.


Affiche du documentaire Food Coop. DR

Food Coop docu­men­tary pos­ter. ARR

When you take out cer­tain things, the fact that where I buy my food belongs to some­body else for whom making money is the main goal, not making sure that I eat well or that my health is good. Also when you take out the huge amount of mar­ke­ting that we are used to, the­re’s always the mar­ke­ting in the packa­ging of the pro­duct which is in the store, the hor­rible lit­tle announces of women sin­ging, the adds…


You take that stuff out and all of a sud­den people dis­co­ver they would like to spend time in that space. […] When I tal­ked to hun­dreds of people at the Park Slope Food Coop, 99 % of them love their coop. Few others are indif­ferent.


You ask them why. Knowing that the prices and the food are so incre­di­bly good, almost all of them say it is the “ambiance”. It is a plea­sure to go there, to talk with people who are not neces­sa­rily your best friends but you get to know people, people get near each othe and get mar­ried. For a lot of people in New York that super­mar­ket in the cen­ter of their life.



How do French people feel about this model ?


It’s ama­zing in France how qui­ckly [it deve­lops]. We don’t com­mu­ni­cate, we have never encou­ra­ged ano­ther group in a city to start up a new super­mar­ket, we don’t have time. And every three weeks, some­body contacts us because they hear about us and they want to try to do this model them­selves.


Tom Boothe, réalisateur de Food Coop. © Alexandra Moullec

Tom Boothe, Food Coop direc­tor. © Alexandra Moullec

In America the­re’s only one of them and it works really really well, the others are lit­tle ones trying to start and they’re having a hard time.


But I think the fact that num­ber one French people are really atta­ched to food and eating, that means this could be really strong here.



And the second thing is people don’t like some­times the Park Slope Food Coop because they consi­der it a “socia­list” super­mar­ket, which is, was a very bad word in America, that’s also chan­ging. In France, that’s not a pro­blem.



Why ?


I think defi­ni­tely people are hun­gry for some­thing else. There almost nothing in the world that’s going right and this is some­thing that you can do.


Le supermarché collaboratif la Louve à Paris. DR

La Louve col­la­bo­ra­tive super­mar­ket in Paris. ARR

Which is great is that it is not just a consu­mer [beha­vior] it’s not just “I try to buy the right pro­ducts”, here you can do some­thing with a lit­tle more effort, you can do some­thing to really, asbo­lu­tely take control that aspect of your life. And the thing that I see espe­cially with young people in their thir­ties and twen­ties, it gets them in a really posi­tive sense, a sense of power like “We are doing it really well and it’s not that hard actually”. I think it’s a really impor­tant thing and it gives people some hope, of that small part of their lives at least.



Interviewed by Alexandra Moullec



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