The Park Slope Food Co-op has more than 16,000 members and not a lot of square footage. The state of the co-op depended on the crowd, which depended on the day of the week and the time of the day. Some days it was busy. Some days it was chaotic. Some days it was like the pulsing mosh pit of a rock concert. My work schedule allowed me to grocery shop on the off hours, though, so I could avoid the crush of after work or weekend shopping crowds and visit at 2 pm, joined only by neighborhood moms and their croissant-nibbling toddlers. On one particular day I remember how flush with food the whole place seemed and how empty of other people. Maybe there was a free concert in the park (with a real mosh pit?) or maybe everyone was at the beach? Whatever it was, the place was so unusually empty that it felt like an altar or a tomb. It felt untouched, quiet, ripe. This feeling is hard to find in New York City, where after a long day of work and a long commute on the subway most everything feels touched and loud and stale. At least that’s how it felt to me after a busy shift at the coffee shop or after eight hours selling jewelry at my retail job. Visiting the co-op was my way of relaxing. It was soothing because I could actually afford the nice cheese, the olives, the beer. I would carry home big bags of food and nibble my own croissant as I moseyed along the streets of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, then into Crown Heights.
I remembered that quiet trip to the co-op really clearly this week for some reason, perhaps because it was so different from this time of year, and perhaps because changing seasons seem to stir up fond food memories and nostalgia. It was late summer and there were stone fruits piled into little jewel colored mountains, spared from rainbowed avalances by the walls of bulging cardboard boxes. There were mushrooms and sprouts, flats of wheatgrass, various greens, beets, carrots, celery, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, waxy, alien-looking tropical fruits. Entire walls of varied color and texture.
What I most clearly remember from that day was the basil. It was ever present in the co-op, stored inside a banker box sized bin that was sometimes full, sometimes empty. Sometimes when I lifted the lid and fished around inside for a bundle all that I recovered was some sand and a few limp leaves. This particular day I found myself lifting the squeaky lid of the bin and inhaling a cloud of strong sweet basil. The fistful I pulled out was huge. I could feel the life in the leaves and the grit of the sand.
As I stood in the empty aisle, fragrant basil in hand, I suddenly felt like I was holding a ribbon wrapped bunch of flowers. Sure, the flowers were basil and the ribbon was a rubber band, but in my minds eye - in this murky, shifting place of the mind that is memory---this is where I fell for food. Where, I guess you could say, I caught the bouquet.