8.19.2009

"Whole Fools"? Maybe.

So, I shot my mouth off on this blog. Not unlike real life, where if something pisses me off, I'll say and do something about it. As I've matured I've become better at acting instead of reacting, but can still get caught up in drama now & then. Thus my recent rant about CEO Mackey's post in the Wall Street Journal, where he proposed (old, tired & busted) free market solutions to health care issues, based on (old, tired & busted) classist assumptions.

This morning, I read another person's take on the Whole Foods outrage. Wish I had bookmarked the article, but in essence, the writer was of the opinion that all the anger from "the liberals" was because the original organic movement was spurred on by lefties, and so lefties have felt a false sense of ownership in Whole Foods; thus, the feelings of betrayal.

As a lefty, I think the writer had a darn good point there.

When I really think about Whole Foods, they do indeed have an amazing array of organic products, good benefits for their employees, and perform wonderful charity work. But then again:

1. No unions allowed. All those nifty benefits can be taken away on a whim, and there's no recourse for the employees but to "like it or lump it."

2. Whole Foods talks up "buy local" (at least here in Austin), but what they've mostly done is buy out local organic markets and re-brand. They then purchase from farmers & producers who can provide in bulk. Being a nationwide chain will put one in that position - you want to offer a standard product that will be easy to warehouse & track. However, I believe this buying in bulk is contributing to the erosion of organic controls by corporate farms wanting to get in on the profits.

3. In Whole Food's effort to make a good profit and become a one-stop shop, they're offering more & more non-organic goods (some with shifty "natural" claims) to provide a wider variety, but at premium prices.

I was in the process of weaning myself off of Whole Foods anyways when the WSJ op-ed hit the media, so the outrage gave my goal a huge burst of momentum. After reading the above writer's take on the issue, however, I decided to think through once more my reasons to no longer shop at Whole Foods. Ultimately, my reasons for continuing to shop elsewhere are:

1. I want to support small, local farms. It doesn't have to be 100% organic; sustainable growing methods will be just fine. It's my belief that I can trust a local farmer a bit more than a larger/corporate grower because not only is the local farmer working to build trust and good customers, I can also question the farmer directly, and even see the farm if they'll let me. More of my dollars stay in the local community, and recirculate into more local produce grown. [Yes, I am in a privileged position to be able to buy at farmers markets & have access to local goods, but the momentum for wide-spread change has to start somewhere.]

2. I want to support local & humanely raised cattle, chickens and pigs. Pretty much the same reasons as #1 above. Bonus if the animals are free-ranging, grass fed, or pasture-raised. Costs are high, but not much (if at all) higher than Whole Foods.

3. I want to cut down my shopping expenses. Whole Foods is an insanely good marketer of their wares, and it is a tremendous challenge to go in there with my list, and ONLY come out with the things I planned to buy. With cash in hand at the farmer's markets, or through my local co-op - and MUCH less distraction - I can get what I need and more easily keep my budget intact.

Where it's going to be challenging, sans Whole Foods: shopping for gluten-free* baked goods. WF has done a great job in producing their own high-quality, tasty gluten-free products. Then again, with WF charging eight dollars for a six-pack of gluten-free buns, there's even more economic incentive to get off my backside and learn how to bake properly. It's another one of those skills I've been meaning to learn anyway, and the cost savings here will be well worth the time and effort.

When all is said and done, I'd much rather have a positive mindset applied to a task at hand than a negative one. So I'm oddly grateful to Mackey and the above-mentioned writer for helping me rethink & affirm my resolve to no longer shop at Whole Foods. Thanks, dudes!

P.S. to visiting family & friends: don't worry, we'll still take you to the Austin flagship Whole Foods if you wish to go. :-)

P.P.S. : Mackey can still kiss my shiny white hiney.

*I'm intolerant to the gluten in wheat, and possibly barley and rye as well.

7 comments:

  1. Interesting topic. While I support the CEO's opinion that Obama's plan is not a good one (don't get me wrong, I am totally for health care reform, but we can do better), I completely agree that we should be supporting smaller businesses, local businesses, and avoiding the corporation mentality. While I certainly shop at large stores, I try as much as possible to support the small shop. I think a lot of people are thinking that way these days. It's a good change.

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  2. Thanks for chiming in, Erica, and welcome to the blog!

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  3. I really enjoyed this post! On those occasions I have to shop at Whole Foods, I always leave ticked off over something. Like the fact they are selling bell peppers from Holland in July. Or that most of their cut flowers are from Colombia!! Makes me want to throw a fit right there in the store.

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  4. What's interesting is that it took the CEO himself to grandstand his opinions in the WSJ for people to learn about his views and react accordingly.

    Shame on all of us for not discovering this on our own.

    Very good post Deborah. Very informative.

    Good to see you back amongst the living.

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  5. Thanks again D. for pointing out that Whole Foods in spite of some of its progressive policies is still just another big corporation (even Wal-Mart has organic food on the shelves). My food priorities are:
    1. Grow and store as much of our own food as possible
    2. Share/barter with friends and neighbors for items we cannot grow
    3. Buy at farmers markets
    4. Shop at the local Coops
    5. Buy from chain groceries

    Though we are not strict about this, it is our aim and often convenience wins out over principle *L*

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  6. Good post. My venom for WF was cemented when the Reston store offered valet parking. Hmm... how can we make our store MORE elitist? What can we do to attract MORE pretentious yuppies? I know!! Alternate aisles with food, art galleries, and brokerage kiosks?

    We completely wrote them off when their cashier attempted to initiate a conversation with my wife in Spanish - AFTER addressing me in English. (Um... she doesn't speak Spanish!) I spoke to the manager about this, who was unsympathetic. His approach was that his cashiers are "trained" to address the customers in their native tongue. Oh, really? First, shouldn't they attempt English first? - Isn't that the predominant language in this country? Second, based on WHAT? - what the individual LOOKS like? Good luck w/ that in the DC Metro area!! Third, all those multi-lingual cashiers must be why the prices are so high! Bonehead. (Now go fetch me my car.)

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  7. @Sara, @S_Vandemore: thanks for the personal observations and comments. Yeah, the way out-of-season produce always left me feeling a bit squicked. And Snow - too true, I've been cutting WF alot of slack for far too long.

    @The Eggman: Spouse and I are no purists; we also go to Costco for things like bulk greens for the geese & chickens ("spoiled? what?"), dog treats, salt for the water conditioner, and whatever organic bulk foodstuffs they sell, which is increasing every month.:-)

    @valowflyby: "here's your car, sir..." ;-)

    Mom sent me an email: "how's the air up there on your high horse?" *lol*!

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