Local foodies in Austin have always had it a little easier than likeminded folks in other cities – for at least as long as Whole Foods has called the city home. But however “local” Whole Foods may be, its corporate product packaging has failed to sit well with certain Austinites.
In response, the Lane brothers (Joseph, Patrick, and Christian, along with Christopher Pepe) turned their dream of living more sustainably into the first “package-free, zero-waste grocery store” in the United States: in.gredients.
Located in the Cherrywood neighborhood in East Austin, in.gredients secured its last $15,000 of funding through IndieGoGo’s crowdsourcing platform during the summer of 2011. The location opened in August 2012.
Now just over a year old, I suspect that most Austinites invested in adjusting their grocery habits have visited the 1,300 square foot space at 2610 Manor Road, in order to buy unbagged produce and bulk goods. While the eggs, meat, and dairy products are packaged for our health, in.gredients has done more than deliver on its promise of “revolutionizing grocery shopping as we know it.” It has created a community hub for anyone who enjoys the occasional happy hour beer and company at sunny picnic tables.
Don’t Forget Your (Metaphorical) Container
To the team at in.gredients, community connections are an integral, well, ingredient for nurturing a low-waste relationship with our food. Reducing waste isn’t just about remembering to bring your mason jars (please do – containers are only available at a premium). It’s also about remembering that everything, from tomatoes to brownies to music, requires less fuel when it comes from our neighbors.
But as much as waste can be measured in pounds and dollars, in.gredients has never been about the numbers game alone. Sure, the Brothers Lane have a background in business and sell groceries at a price that proves prohibitive for many Austin residents, but they also seem to care about the health of their community as much as the bottom line.
Unlike supermarkets, the structure of in.gredients seems antithetical to encouraging impulse buys. Also unlike supermarkets, the front porch of in.gredients will greet you with rocking chairs and a peripheral view of their garden.
The company’s IndieGoGo campaign promised cooking, gardening and homebrewing classes, in addition to community garden nights.
Over the past few months alone, they’ve hosted regular yoga classes, live music, kids’ culinary workshops, and a “wine & dine community cooking class.” A book club has welcomed more than ten active readers, which is far more than any book club I’ve attended. Attendance at special events reveals far less than the usual crowd enjoying happy hour outside while children enjoy the playground.
The Food, The Atmosphere
Though in.gredients displays an impressive investment in their community, they are still a grocery store. If you didn’t know what you were walking into, you may feel intimidated, the obvious question being: where do I put my legumes? The initiated will be prepared. Those who are prone to having the “hipster” label thrown at them will likely feel at home, with the reclaimed wood countertops and too-tight quarters. The store always seems smaller than I expect it to be, and has that co-op smell of dirt and croissants, faint with coffee.
The food itself is as variable in quality as the yield from any organic farm. You can scan the QR code on any bin to discover the origins of your food, most of which is local, sourced from farmers with whom this grocer has developed relationships. This often means better-tasting tomatoes, but can also mean experimental melons gone slightly rotten. Some of the cheese isn’t nearly as well-crafted as varieties I can find at Whole Foods for a fraction of the price.
Cost aside, it feels good to support producers who are learning a craft when the dominant food production model scoffs at artisans. Participating in a grocery revolution means revolutionizing our behaviors and expectations as well – changing our own containers, our own framework for thinking about food.
Emma Goldman is frequently (mis)quoted as having said a number of variations of “If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming.” In.gredients is like this: customer service and quality are variable, but revolutionary at heart. And there’s certainly dancing.
Have you visited in.gredients? What are your thoughts?
Sean Lords spent three years teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. Since returning to the U.S., he advises and offers insight for those considering tesol certification in Austin, all while raising a family and working on his Master of Education.
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