Quay Figure in the Community

Arthur Leahy has been a key figure in the Quay Coop since 1981, when it was founded. In his youth, Arthur describes himself as a left-wing hippy radical, very politically active in London from his teenage years until his mid-thirties. He was inspired by the Great London Council, a ressource center for meeting and sharing knowledge and inspiration which functioned as a model for many places, including the Quay Coop.
Originally called the Community Coop, Quay Coop was started as a gathering place for political efforts; feminist, gay rights, environmental, etc. The church was very dominating in the 1970’s and 80’s; just the year before the coop opened, anti-abortion laws had actually become part of the constitution. Community began as a simple food coop, initially with about 30-40 people buying wholesale together. Most of the members came from the academic world and were not very practical, so 2 part-time workers, and later 4 came in to help organize, along with a stream of volunteers.
Over time since the beginning of the coop, there have been some changes in eating habits in Cork. The mad-cow issue made meat suddenly a bit suspect, and vegetarian alternatives became more popular. Over the past few decades food industrialization has led to a rise in allergies, especially to dairy products, and people are much more aware of warnings about ingredients.
Much of the focus on things like gluten-free foods is out of proportion though, and Arthur feels that some of it comes from markets targeting the middle class with fear issues, making them a bit neurotic about food. The poor can’t afford to be picky, and the wealthy often choose artisan and gourmet products. But changes in choice of products can also come from changes caused by urban planning, as for example when large discount stores like Tesco replace local shops on the main streets of Cork.
Moving with the times, the coop began baking their own bread and developed food packaging. Munster Whole Foods later became a supplier. For a short period, it also became demi-vegetarian, serving fish and organic chicken in the hopes of attracting a larger clientele. But that only  served to confuse their message and it went back to ovo-lacto vegetarianism again. It expanded with a café, bookshop, used clothes shop, and center for political activity. Some of these have since moved into their own locations, and the coop is now all about food from a political-environmental focus.
There are now about 120 members in the Quay Coop. Along with it’s stores, it holds classes in baking and other aspects of healthy living, which are open to all, including the less educated. There is a core group of about 8 people, and Arthur, although not the boss, is a strong voice in the decision-making. While he doesn’t preach vegetarianism, Arthur does have a strong basic argument that he says is both political and environmental; ”We need to be able to feed the world.”
Our project with dNmark agrees with Arthur that environmentally aware consumption is an important part of being able to feed the world. Our Meat Pledge experiment is a process aimed at helping people be more aware of their relation to meat and to eating food in general, and we’ve already seen that it has an effect on our participants. How would you manage during a 4-week pledge of little or no meat? Write us here at Meaty Matters, and we’ll send you the package to get you going!

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