All over Toronto, “Urban Fresh” Sobeys have sprung up in the last two years. For those not from Toronto, Sobeys is a large Canadian grocery store chain. The “Urban Fresh” stores are unholy, small ’boutique’ grocery stores aimed squarely at cooking-challenged young urbanites. They present themselves as filled with ‘healthy’ fast food options (there’s lots of prepared food, expensive luxury brands, frequently to the exclusion of regular budget brands, an olive bar, a whole display case of individual cake slices, etc.) but ultimately, they’re the worst of the industrial food compex: limited, expensive, unhealthy and wasteful. Sobeys “Urban Fresh” is where self-respecting, right-thinking people who care about their bodies and our world shouldn’t buy groceries. It’s the sort of place you should only go to when you’re in a pickle.
Almost Perfect is the anti-Sobeys. Located near Sheppard and Keele, it offers brand name food at dramatically reduced prices. The food got there because of damaged packaging, manufacturer closeouts, overstocks or changes of packaging. Almost Perfect is clean, reasonably well presented and looks like a grocery store. Most brands are recognizable, and in 95% of cases, it’s clear why the food is there: cans are dented, outer cardboard packages may be slightly torn (but the inside vacuum packages are perfectly intact), outer wrappers may be missing. Some items are past their manufacturer’s expiry date but have been frozen before that date was reached; the store has a helpful sign that assists with decoding the various “sell by” and “use by” dates on packages, and what they mean here.
It’s the sort of place that does well on the fringes of suburbia, and there’s only one in Toronto proper; the others are in Ajax, Oshawa, Whitby or Peterborough. The typical clientele, I imagine, consists of young penny-pinching families, those living just above the poverty line, and older, retired folks who are on a fixed income, and whose dollars go much further at Almost Perfect.
Unfortunately, Almost Perfect is also the sort of place that hip ecologically conscious urbanites wouldn’t be seen dead in. You don’t see any Zip Cars in the parking lot on Saturday mornings. No urban warriors cycle here to fill their baskets with fabulously cheap foods.
If saying no to industrially produced imported food is one side of the personal activism coin, surely Almost Perfect is the other side. In the same way that we think Second Harvest is a great idea (collecting unused food from fast food outlets and delivering it to social service programs), we should also rally around Almost Perfect. Not primarily because of the savings (though these can be considerable in these recessionary times; we bought about $80-$100 worth of various soy meats, sweet potato chips, loose leaf tea and other veggie-friendly stuff for around $30), but because things shouldn’t be thrown away when they’re slightly damaged or don’t look perfect. And as anyone who’s ever opened a can or frozen package well after its expiry date and found the food inside perfectly fresh can attest, those dates mean very little when things are stored properly.
Buying frozen food at Almost Perfect should be cool in the same way as buying a “pre-loved” pair of recycled jeans at Value Village, or getting a weekly organic produce box directly from a local farm. These may be small things in the greater scheme, but the greater scheme will benefit tremendously from them, as will your savings account.