Ask your grandmother to read off what’s in most of the products you consume. Chances are, she can’t pronounce half of the ingredients — and neither can you. Now two generations removed from eating real food, Americans are less likely to cook at home and more likely to rely on convenience foods.

But the tide is turning. Terms like ‘genetically modified organism,’ ‘high fructose corn syrup’ and ‘certified organic’ have begun to enter our decision making, if not our diet. A push to eat healthy is a very real consideration like never before.

And then there’s the push to buy local and shop local. Homegrown mom and pops, on average, return four times more money to a local economy than any national chain.

If you were to think of the single business in Jackson that fits the bill, meeting all of these criteria, all under one roof, there’s one option: Rainbow Co-Op, Mississippi’s largest full-service organic natural foods grocery. Member owned and operated since 1980, Rainbow is an integral part of Jackson, dedicated to the support of healthy individuals, a thriving local community and a sustainable planet.

“We have been here for 34 years, the last 12-14 in Fondren,” said Shelby Parsons, Rainbow’s Community Builder. “In that time, we’ve been able to do a lot of reaching out, teaching people how to eat right and how to read labels and what they can do to eat well on a budget. When they’re armed with those tools, they’re able to make judgment on what’s the best consumer deal…what’s the best nutritional value…what can I do for my family that’s best.”

Parsons explained that it’s not a new notion that Rainbow supports. Eating healthy changes lives. “We see people who come in here very sick and modify their diet and you see a huge difference. It’s better than any diet or exercise regimen.”

In Jackson, the acceptance of that lifestyle is showing up in the numbers. Parsons told that Rainbow is busier than they have ever been. With over 6,000 active co-op members, kale and tofu have entered the lexicon of Southerners who have been known to prefer their beans with ham hocks and their cornbread with extra butter. “Our taste buds are not set in stone,” she said. “As you wean yourself off sugar and processed foods, a peach will taste better than any ice cream sundae you’ve had in the past. You physically change when you come off of these ‘drugs.’”

It’s no secret that there’s a new kid in town who also supports the healthy eating mission. Parsons applauds the meaning behind Austin-based Whole Foods opening in Mississippi’s capital city. “It shows that Jackson has gotten to a point where healthy eating can be made mainstream,” she said. “That’s pretty amazing when you think about Mississippi being the most obese state in nation and the most food insecure. The fact that we now have a store that provides healthy options that’s large and an international corporation is a big step in terms of what Mississippi has done. (Whole Foods) is saying, ‘You guys are ready for us.’”

For those new to the healthy eating world, Parsons believes now is the time they’ll get their palette whet and open their eyes to larger issues. “When I go out in the community, people say, ‘I’ve heard about you,’ but they don’t know what’s inside. I believe we’ll start to see new people here.”

Whole Foods has already had a huge impact on Rainbow – in the form of motivation. Parsons explained, “It’s inspired us and kind of lit the fire under us to do a little more. We now have even more of a purpose to keep going because we see there is more interest than there used to be. We are more than just the four or five families that started us in 1980. We’re thousands and thousands now who want better food. It’s a really big deal.”

Rainbow is saying thanks February 8-14 with their ‘Local Love Fest,’ where memberships are half off and members save 10% throughout the entire store (excluding beer and sale items.) Stockholders get 20% off. Four major lines of supplements are 25-35% off all month.

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