The Santa Barbara culinary scene is heavily influenced by trends of eating organic and local food and Isla Vista is no exception. The closest food vendor providing organic and eco-friendly options is the Isla Vista Food Cooperative. Located on Seville Road, the store has been owned by local community members and provided customers with fresh produce and various all-natural groceries for over 40 years.

The Co-op is governed by the idea of conscious consumption and healthy living for the well-being of the community. So although you may find the same items at Whole Foods, possibly for a lower price, purchasing Co-op groceries leaves a positive and direct impact on the community.

“It’s all about conscious consumption, sustainable living and ethical business. So if there’s a food that falls under one of those pillars, it’s found here,” Project We Own It campaign manager Abby Wolff said.

Plenty of the products in the Co-op may not be as familiar as household brands we grew up with. Why would an average college student buy Anne’s Crackers instead of Goldfish, for example? Products at the Co-op are chosen for their natural ingredients, making harmful preservatives and additives less of a worry. Also, they sell items from smaller local distributors, such as Fat Uncle Farms’ almonds, granola, chocolate and ice cream.

Co-op fruit and vegetables are sourced from local farms and only sold when in-season, which means local farmers reap the financial benefits, while the local ecosystem and your own health also take a positive step. And why not try products you’d never see in a regular supermarket?

They also make fresh sandwiches, salads and desserts everyday in their on-site kitchen, as well as their own salad dressings, hummus and salsa.

Melissa Cohen, general manager at the Food Co-op, explained what to look for while buying produce.

“Choosing the most important things to buy organic is really, really important, and that is dairy, and that is any kind of produce that has a high water content. Strawberries, lettuces, things like that — things that grow low to the ground — those things are the most toxic for your body.”

Despite the recent rejection of Prop 37, which supported mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food, the Co-op staff still educates its customers about non-GMO products through their “product guide” and shelf tags.

When you have such a great store within walking distance, why not indulge in all it has to offer? So, at your next stop at the Co-op, look out for popular snacks like goji berries, coconut ice cream, Have’a Corn Chips and homemade hummus to start your way to a healthy lifestyle.

A version of this article appeared on page 11 of February 20th 2013’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by John Clow/Daily Nexus.