‘Local Challenge’ to the Co-Op: Remove Fiji H2O

Pittsburgh’s East End Food Co-Op has issued a challenge to Pittsburghers: eat as local as possible for one month, from July 15–August 15. “It’s an honor system-based [challenge]; those wishing to participate will simply sign a large poster at the Co-Op and try their best.” For the purpose of the challenge, they define local as being within 100 miles. To encourage participation and help participants along, the Co-Op is inviting people to enjoy a potluck recipe swap and celebration of local fare every Wednesday during the challenge, starting at 7:00 PM. The first event will be on July 16.

I doubt the Co-Op will be distributing Fiji at these events, but should a local food challenge participant wish to, he or she could quite easily wash down their spinach salad, sauteed kale, local-beef loaf, and berry cobbler with a bottle of Fiji water purchased from the Co-Op’s shelf. In other words, you could wash down a 100-mile meal with a 7600-mile beverage.

I have complained to the Co-Op about the presence of this non-local product on the shelf of our local food co-op, and how the very idea of a substance as basic as water being shipped halfway around the world is in violation of the concepts upon which the co-op is built. I received a reply on the topic in October from Mark D. Perry, the Co-Op’s merchandising manager:

Hi Jesse,

Thanks for your comments about Fiji water. The issues around the source of products and packaging are complex, and they’re compounded by the choices the memebership{sic} makes with their dollars. People like to buy Fiji water, as is evident by our sales. If our customers stop buying the water it would be dropped.

I am aware of the criticisms of water being shipped from Fiji. The fact is that the Coop stocks many products from around the world. Do we stop carrying all these other products as well? We support choice. More people need to be informed about Fiji water. I am not sure what we are going to do about continuing it or discontinuing it, but we are evaluating it.


Mark D. Perry

Mr. Perry’s comment about the complexity of the issues surrounding the water are probably prompted by Fiji’s aggressive actions to temper criticisms of the inanity of packaging something as basic as water and carting it halfway around the world, as Fiji explains on its highly publicized promotional website, Fiji Green.

I say, whatever—any company whose business model is so completely unsustainable has a moral obligation to do at least that much to attempt to counteract the ecological damage of their wastefulness. Truth is, the equations at work here are far more complicated than “emissions - trees = we’re okay”.

For instance, the waters in Fiji have sustained the small islands just fine for longer than we’ve got history. What sort of impact will the sharp increase in water consumption have on the health of the archipelago? Tough to say.

Or, will planting trees to ’scrub’ the air really offset the burning of the fossil fuels required to ship the water to Pittsburgh? They’ll lessen the impact, perhaps, but it’s not like they un-burn the petroleum. One of the biggest ways to conserve is to avoid using resources when possible. I think we all know this. There aren’t many people out there saying, “well, I figured oil prices aren’t going to be dropping anytime soon, so I figured, what the heck–I’ll take the SS model Trailblazer. I’m looking forward to pumping $100 into it every five days.” Instead, we’re walking more places, riding our bikes, carpooling when we can, making the most of public transit, etc. This list should include drinking public water (filtered, perhaps) out of a reusable container that we carry with us so that we don’t find ourselves drinking prepackaged bottled water from anywhere, least of all Fiji.

As far as Mr. Perry’s equation between Fiji water and other products from around the world, show me a banana that grows in Pittsburgh outside of the Phipps Conservatory. Or an orange or some chocolate or some coffee. We’ve always had to trade for these products because they’re not available where we live. But it’s not tough to find local water. Southwest Pennsylvania has one of the most abundant water supplies in the nation, and there’s no reason we should need to import.

I for one have enthusiastically been taking Mr. Perry up on his suggestion not to buy the product, and I hope you will, too. I also hope you will let Mr. Perry know what you think about the Co-Op selling Fiji water by emailing him or calling him [(412) 242-3598].

While you’re at it, participate fully in the Eat Local challenge: not just from July 15-August 15 but as much and as often as possible throughout the year. For more information about the eat local challenge, contact Chris Farber.

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