THE ENTERPRIZE ZONE
Walking into the newly-opened Northwest Side grocery store, patrons find rows of glass canisters stocked with loose organic rice, beans, teas and dried fruits from apricots.

Sacks of flour, sugar, oats and salt sit in wooden bins. A spread of organically-grown produce from local farms stacks the shelves. There are few packaged items here; everything in this Wicker Park shop is “B.Y.O.C.” – bring your own container.

That’s the concept of Real Naked Food, 1909 W. Division, which opened last month on Earth Day, April 22. There, patrons can shop an assortment of un-packaged items by bringing in their own reusable containers and grocery bags – patrons who do get a 25 cent savings.

Store owner Lauren Yucan calls it “pre-cycling,” a practice of eliminating items that generates waste. When people buy groceries, she explained, they buy packaged items, like pasta and cereal, then take those items out of the package and put them into other containers.

I’m thinking, why would you go through all that when you could just bring that container in,” Yucan said.

The idea is to help reduce people’s carbon footprint and post-consumer waste from what Yucan calls “unnecessary packaging” found in big box grocery stores. Some packaging is needed, but Yucan insists that most end up in landfills where it sits for years.

Before you even have to recycle, cut the middle man out and just eliminate that step,” she said.

The 2,000-square foot store offers a deli area with a juice and a smoothie bar, a wheat grass counter, along with a selection of vegan and gluten-free foods. Yucan modeled the store after a similar one she read about operating in London. She opened the shop in Bucktown because it had that quaint European market feel with the vintage storefronts, and residents were already into the whole green movement.

“A lot of people aren’t familiar with this whole un-packaged thing. They think it is unsanitary,” Yucan said. “I wanted the neighborhood to really support this un-packaged idea.”

In keeping with an eco-friendly design, the store’s shelving, fixtures, cabinets, and juice bar are made from reclaimed wood from building demolition. The store features hardwood floors and exposed brick – not a usual amenity found in traditional corner grocery stores.

Products such as pasta and bread are from local venders. Fruits and vegetables come from Growing Power, a Milwaukee-based organic farm, and Goodness Greeness, based in Englewood on the city’s South Side.

Using locally-grown produce, Yucan explains, cuts down on emissions from trucking food across the country. The store also recycles bulk packaging – cardboard and plastics – that food items come in.”

“Even our aprons are made by a local lady,” Yucan said. “We just try to keep things as eco-friendly as possible.”

While Yucan embraces the green movement, she doesn’t describe herself as an environmentalist. Her effort at going green is all about doing her part to reduce waste.

I feel like if everybody took on that kind of mentality and did a little bit; taking baby steps that would make a huge difference,” she said. “You don’t have to save the entire universe.”

Yucan’s path to opening her store was an unlikely one. A nurse by trade, she wanted to find an alternative to vaccinating her 2½ year-old son. Instead, she discovered a correlation between poor health and the industrialized food industry. In her profession, she saw more patients who were not obese but still had diet-related illnesses such as hypertension, high-plaque levels and diabetes

It really started to click with me that it was not the high choleric intake or the high fat foods,” said Yucan, who changed her family’s diet. “It was the chemicals, the additives and preservatives in foods that are causing detrimental health effects.”

Wanting to do something, creating an organic store, to her, was the answer. She hopes to expand the concept, especially to areas known as food deserts. But Yucan insists eating healthy starts with education.

Read your ingredients,” she said. “If we can’t flip these packages over and understand what the ingredients are, that’s a huge clue to put it down If we start there, we would do a lot of good in making healthier choices.”

The Enterprize Zone is a regular feature in Austin Weekly News.

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