Why Do You Spend $8 on a C-Store Kombucha?

A reflection on the Forward Food Summit on gentrification

This past Saturday, a group of about 20 students and I drove to Denver for the fifth annual Forward Food Summit, hosted by the food rescue organizations of Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver, and Longmont. This year, the summit focused on food and gentrification, exploring the relationship between displacement and food access, what types of foods are marketed to specific populations, and what gentrification means for business owners. While U.S. News and World Report ranked Colorado Springs as the second best place to live in the country, at the summit, three Springs residents gave accounts of the fact that in certain areas of East Colorado Springs, one must walk across 10 lanes of traffic in order to get to the nearest grocery store, while a few miles up the road, a King Soopers has billboards advertising fresh produce to a wealthier zip code.

Cartoon by Cate Johnson

Trendy foods and the latest health fads are not going to advertise their product to low-income—typically minority—families when they could offer a higher price tag to wealthy, white grocery stores. I fall victim to this as well, spending something around $6 on a tiny serving of chicken salad at Mountain Mama’s Natural Foods because I assume it’s going to be both healthier and better. Our association with what food is “better” is directly related to its image of a higher quality and its association with a “healthy” culture, which both translate into the issues of gentrification in our food systems.

At Colorado College, Tiger Bucks function the same way, inflating the price—and therefore the perceived value—of “whiter” foods. The issue here is not with the fact that Bon Appétit unjustly raises the price of snacks and drinks well beyond a small fee for convenience. The issue I take in relation to the discussion on food justice and gentrification is how disproportionately they inflate certain prices over others.

The other day, I bought a Gatorade from Local Goods, the C-Store, because I was closer to Mathias Hall than 7-Eleven, and that was pretty much it. For a little over $2—as any red Gatorade drinker would know—this is a reasonable price to be expected anywhere. This price range, for some of Bon Appétit’s products, is sadly not the norm. I am particularly talking about the tiny brown-glass bottle that is Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha. Its first ingredient is labeled as “Colorado snowmelt” rather than just water (because there’s a difference). Rowdy Mermaid sports a robust price tag around $8 at Colorado Coffee and elsewhere around campus. I bought five at Whole Foods the other day for $1.25 each. Granted, making kombucha is a process that takes time, no matter how large-scale of an operation. There is no reason, however, that Rowdy Mermaid should cost more than any other drink on Bon Appetit’s shelves, let alone $8 on its own.

If, in our capitalist society, cost is supposed to indicate a higher value, then something like this fermented beverage is now a luxury item over anything else in the refrigerator. Therefore, if Bon Appétit is making its profit off the markup of kombucha—rather than red Gatorades—it only expands the idea that one should want to spend more on items associated with “progressive” white culture.

Our campus pays for inflated Rowdy Mermaid kombucha, WOW Baking Co. cookies, and Lärabar snacks, proving that while—via our currency of Tiger Bucks—we believe that said “white,” “hippie” products are worth our money.

Bon Appétit acknowledges the gentrification of certain foods and inflates the prices accordingly. We sensationalize products like kombucha as being worth more than a Preserve pizza, proving that we are socialized into the mindset that brings a high-priced, organic grocery store into an area that can no longer afford it. What we must do is understand why we believe the things we do about food quality, and what we believe is actually worth more than the next thing on the shelf. With the smallest bit of awareness, we can critically identify how we evaluate products, and whether their intended audiences determine their quality and healthiness.

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