Urban Comfort at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative

When I moved to San Francisco in the early 2000′s from San Jose, it was to be close to culinary school. It didn’t hurt that San Francisco was one of my favorite places to visit already, but I never thought about living there. So you can understand the culture shock that happened when we moved into our tiny, narrow flat in the South of Market area. It was a bit rough and still a bit industrial rather than neighborhoody. We didn’t have a guaranteed parking area and there were more homeless people and crack pipes than I cared to have near my home. It was definitely not the suburbs anymore! I figured that I just needed to get settled and ‘nest’ and for me, grocery shopping was just the ticket.

Rainbow Grocery's Spice Department

We drove around and eventually discovered Rainbow Grocery on 13th and Folsom, right under the freeway. While it was indeed a grocery store in the broad sense, like all things in the City, it was just a bit different. The business’ full name is Rainbow Grocery Cooperative. This means that the folks who work there also share ownership of the store. Rainbow Grocery is also distinct in that it doesn’t sell any items that are derived from animals- so obviously, they don’t have a meat department and they don’t sell cans of tuna and they don’t have items with gelatin either(hint- horse hooves go into gelatin!) and even their healthcare products are monitored to make sure they don’t contain animal bi-products. The produce and the bulk foods area certainly made up for the lack of canned tuna. A few months into the weekly groceries and we were hooked. My husband and I discovered that we didn’t need to eat animal products with every single meal! We became ‘accidental vegetarians’ while living in the City and it was just fine for us. I feel really good about shopping at Rainbow from an ecological perspective because I know the products they sell are wholesome and come from good, ethical  and mostly local sources. This was all the more important when we had a baby and soon it became time to make baby food. I loved and still love the bounty of the produce department and still feel a strange euphoria when I wheel my shopping cart around the olive counter and head into the produce department.

Rainbow Grocery's produce department

Oil Dispensers

The Bulk department

The herbs and spices area is quite extensive- not only whole spices and herbs but also teas and medicinal herbs can be had. I love that I can get the exact number of cardamom pods I need for a recipe and not get stuck with excess that can go to waste before it can be used again. The bulk foods area and the produce are popular places- so many different flours and sugars and salts. Alternative sweeteners and nutritional yeasts are also here. The egg case in Dairy has a chart (see below) that let’s consumers know how the chickens were treated (free-range? force-molted? vegetarian diets? see the chart!) Now that we haved moved to Oakland, we have found grocery stores in our neighborhood but the pull of Rainbow Grocery draws me there. I make the trek at least once a month and stock up on spices and flours and drool over the cheese counter, help myself to a sample and peruse the chocolate aisle. There IS comfort to be found in the urban landscape after all.

Rainbow Grocery Cooperative is located on 1745 Folsom Street in San Francisco.

check out the labeling on the cheeses!

the egg chart at Rainbow

Leave a reply