UFCW Authorizes Strike: How to Eat Well Without Crossing the Picket Lines

The employees in the United Food and Commercial Workers locals across Southern California have voted to authorize a strike. While they're not off the job quite yet, they've voted to reject the latest proposal submitted by Albertsons, Vons and Ralphs. Sound familiar?

The contract negotiated after the last strike in 2003-2004 expired in March and this time the issue is healthcare (pay and pensions were negotiated and agreed upon). If the supermarkets don't give in, the soonest the workers would walk off the job is three days after an immediate strike vote. A better offer seems unlikely; Vons stores have signs up advertising jobs for scabs people with selective vision who can't see t-shirted striking workers.

The same options that existed in 2003 exist now; if you don't want to cross picket lines to shop, you can still eat as well or even better, and more cheaply, by shopping elsewhere. Here are five options for you after the food you stock up on between now and Thursday runs out.

1. The Latino Way

The ceviche bar at a Northgate market
The ceviche bar at a Northgate market

Orange County is awash in large, clean, well-stocked supermarkets catering to specific demographics. While they may cater to specific ethnicities, it's perfectly possible to do a regular supermarket run and it will probably be cheaper. Nearly every city has at least one Mexican or Latino market. While Northgate Market and El Super are the best-known chains, Anaheim and Santa Ana's El Metate markets are my favorite; South County folks can head to one of the Tula Markets in Lake Forest or El Nopal in San Juan Capistrano.

2. The Asian Way

There are 99 Ranch markets (Taiwanese) in Irvine, Anaheim and Fountain Valley and huge Korean markets such as H-Mart and Han Nam Chain in Irvine, Garden Grove, Stanton, Anaheim and Buena Park--a bonus of shopping at Korean markets is that meat, especially beef, is high quality and far cheaper than even Stater Bros. Central County can shop at Mitsuwa, Ebisu or Marukai (though Marukai has a small membership fee) Japanese markets, or Vietnamese markets such as Thuan Phat or ABC in Little Saigon.
3. The European Way

UFCW Authorizes Strike: How to Eat Well Without Crossing the Picket Lines
Dave Lieberman

While supermarket use is on the rise in Europe, many Europeans still shop the traditional way: butcher shops for meat, bakeries for bread, open-air markets for produce. While it takes more time, the quality is extremely high and it's perfectly possible to feed a family very well on $100 a week, including meat, at the farmers market.

There are farmers markets every day except Monday in Orange County; see the list here. (Note that the new Tuesday farmers market, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., at Anaheim's Ponderosa Park is missing from this list.) Some of the larger farmers markets, especially on weekends, sell beef, chicken and seafood. Otherwise, there are butchers such as the Meat House, Gem Meats in Fullerton or the Beef Palace in Huntington Beach.

Bakeries abound throughout the county, from the Bread Gallery in San Clemente all the way up to Baker's Best Bread in Yorba Linda. For other supermarket items such as cleaning products or laundry supplies, head for a drugstore such as CVS or Walgreens.

4. The Wholesome Choice Way

The great sangak (baked-to-order flatbread) at Wholesome Choice
The great sangak (baked-to-order flatbread) at Wholesome Choice

This gets its own entry because the two Wholesome Choice grocery stores in Orange County, in Anaheim Hills and in Irvine, are the best-kept (from non-Persians) secret in OC grocery shopping. Bread baked to order, cheap produce far better than the mummified crap in the Big Three stores, a huge liquor selection, meat of surprisingly high quality that often has fire-sale loss-leader pricing, and all the usual canned and frozen goods (and more). Just expect longer lines, and go with patience in the parking lot.

5. The American Way

There, but for the four items above this in the list, go you.
There, but for the four items above this in the list, go you.

If you absolutely can't live without your American-style supermarket chains, head for stores unaffected by the strike. Plan extra time, though--you are not the first one to think of Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Fresh and Easy or Sprouts. Costco will be an economy-sized fustercluck with lines all the way back to the cheaply made jeans. You'll get what you want and, in many cases, the brands you want, but you're going to wait in long lines, particularly in some of the pockets of Orange County where the first four options are thin.

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