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Shopping at Whole Foods

Why is there so much junk food sold here?

It h?d b??n awhile, m??b? ?v?r a year, since I h?d last been inside a Wh?l? Foods ?t?r?. Th? ?n? closest t? my h?m? is ?n Santa Barbara, Ca. But I needed t? stock u? on ??m? bulk ?t?m?.

W?th 291 ?t?r?? ??r??d ??r??? th? Un?t?d St?t??, as w?ll ?? ??x ?n C?n?d? ?nd f?v? in Engl?nd, Wh?l? Foods h?? ?v?lv?d ?nt? a un??u? ?h????ng experience f?r m?n? b?l??v?ng th?t they are buying gr???r??? ?n a h??lth-??n????u? ?nv?r?nm?nt. Unl?k? a Walmart ?r C??t??, th? public ??r???t??n ?f Wh?l? F??d? ?? one ?f a forward-thinking, ???-?w?r? chain d?d???t?d to ??ll?ng food that ?? ?rg?n??, t??t??r, more n?tur?l ?nd nutritious, ?nd less processed. Prices m?ght be higher, but th?t’? ?k?? for th? “enlightened ?h????r.”

Y?t, ?? reported ?n a 2010 N?w Y?rk?r m?g?z?n? ?r?f?l? ?f Whole F??d?’ ??-f?und?r and ?h??f ?x??ut?v?, J?hn M??k??, th? ?h??n h?? b??n ?r?t???z?d fr?m all ??d??, ?? ??th?r “?n ?v?r?r???d luxur? f?r yuppie gastronomes ?nd fu??? label-readers. Or ?t is H?l? Foods, the ??mm?r???l ?mb?d?m?nt of ?nv?r?nm?nt?l ?nd nutr?t??n?l pieties. T? h?rd-??r? proponents ?f n?tur?l ?nd organic f??d…Wh?l? F??d? is a disappointment—a bundle ?f b?g-bu??n??? compromises ?nd h?lf-?t???…It’? a welter of paradoxes: a staunchly anti-union ?nt?r?r??? that embraces some ?r?gr????v? labor ?r??t????; a self-styled w?rld-?m?r?v?r that mu?t also deliver ?u?rt?rl? results to Wall Street; a b?g-b?x chain putting ?n ?m?ll-t?wn ??r?; an evangelist f?r healthy ??t?ng th?t ??ll? sausages, ice ?r??m, ?nd beer.”

healthy-life-next-exitM??k??, in a m?m?nt ?f open candor, even t?ld th? W?ll Str??t Journal ?n August, 2010, “W? ??ll a bun?h of junk.” Judg?ng from m? l?m?t?d ?x??r??n?? ?n??d? th? Tu???n ?t?r?, M??k?? ?? completely right, though h? v?w?d in the interview t? r?du?? the amount ?f unhealthy products.

The Things I Saw

W?lk?ng thr?ugh the open fr?nt d??r? ?f Whole Foods, you’re hit with v??u?l ?nd sensory ?v?rl??d. T? m? right was a display of sale ?t?m? leftover fr?m th? h?l?d???, ?n?lud?ng organic candy canes m?d? w?th ?rg?n?? sugar. A l?rg? d???l?? ?f cat and d?g f??d w?? n??rb?. On th? ?th?r ??d?, th?r? was a g?n?r?u? ??r??d ?f ??l?rful fr??h fruits and vegetables. Normally I avoid the ??nt?r ???l?? because that’s where th? junk f??d ?? found, but I was curious. I wandered d?wn ??m? ?f th?m t? ??? wh?t w?? b??ng ??ld. Th? f?r?t one w?? l?n?d with ??r??l? boxes. I l??k?d ?l???l? at th? “nutrition” l?b?l?. Alm??t ?ll ??nt??n?d h?ghl? ?r??????d wh??t, ??rn ?nd other ?r??????d gr??n?. Sugar seemed t? ?lw??? be high u? ?n the ?ngr?d??nt list. Y?t m?n? ?f th??? ??r??l? were being marketed ?? “?rg?n??,” and almost ?ll w?r? f?rt?f??d w?th ??nth?t?? v?t?m?n?.

Ov?r in th? n?xt ???l? were ??k?, br?wn?? ?nd ?th?r boxed m?x??. Y?u ju?t n??d to ?dd w?t?r, mix th? batter, ?nd turn ?n th? oven. And th??? t?? w?r? b??ng ??ld as “?rg?n??,” ??nt??n?ng ?ug?r and ?r??????d fl?ur ?? th? m??n ?ngr?d??nt?.

Th?r? ???m?d to b? bakery ?t?m? perched on d???l?? r??k? ?t th? ?nd ?f ?v?r? aisle. Some f??tur?d trays ?f organic cookies m?d? with wh?t? flour ?nd ?ug?r. A l?rg? glass d???l?? had f?n?? ?r?????nt?, or ?t l???t th? Am?r???n ?r n?n-Fr?n?h v?r???n. A ?m?ll line of ?u?t?m?r? was w??t?ng ?t th? m??n bakery counter, which w?? full of l?rg? ??k??, ????, ?nd oversized cookies ??v?r?d ?n rainbow sprinkles. I gl?n??d at th? ingredient lists ?f m?n? ?f these b?k?d goods—white flour ?nd sugar m??tl?.

I wandered d?wn ?n?th?r ???l?, f?r?t passing b? th? frozen ???t??n wh??h ??nt??n?d mostly ?r???r?d m??r?w?v??bl? “h??lth-f??d” v?r???n? ?f TV d?nn?r?. There was nothing I w?uld eat ?v?n th?ugh m?n? ???d th?? were organic. (Th?n again, I d?n’t ?wn a microwave, or ??? the ?ur???? ?f h?v?ng ?n?.) As I ?????d the d??r? ???t??n, I ?t????d and checked ?ut the ??? yogurt—most were ?r??????d ??? made w?th organic ?ug?r.

N??rb? w?r? ?h?lv?? of chips—almost ?ll m?d? w?th potato ?nd ??rn. Sur?r???ngl?, I d?dn’t ??? any ?rg?n?? potato chips. In addition to being h?gh glycemic, n?n-?rg?n?? potatoes are ?m?ng th? m?r? toxic f??d?—th?? ?b??rb th? h?rb???d??, pesticides, ?nd fung???d?? they’re tr??t?d w?th dur?ng growing, ?nd ?ft?rw?rd? are tr??t?d w?th ?h?m???l? ?g??n so th?? d?n’t ??r?ut. Ju?t as b?d w?r? th? ??l? ??nt??n?d w?th?n—t?????ll? the m?r? unstable v?g?t?bl? ?n??, safflower ?nd sunflower ??l?.

It w?? t?? painful to w?lk d?wn th? ju???, b?v?r?g? ?nd ??d? aisle, ?? I avoided ?t ?lt?g?th?r.

Th? bulk f??d ???t??n r?m?nd?d m? ?f th? ?ld co-ops th?t I ??m?t?m?? shopped ?t ?n th? ??rl? ‘70?. Ex???t th?t h?r?, the bulk section w?? u?u?ll? full ?f highly ?r??????d unhealthy ?r?du?t?. I even saw th? ??m? ingredients th?t w?r? ?t??l?? everywhere I turned ?n Wh?l? Foods—white ?ug?r ?nd wh?t? fl?ur. There were ?l?? b?n? f?ll?d w?th wh?t? r???, ?nd l?t? ?f chewable ??nd???.

Anything Healthy?

I d?d find beans, l?nt?l?, wh?l? gr??n wh??t and rye, ?nd ?th?r healthy ?t?m?. Th??? ?rg?n?? real foods ?r? h?w ????l? ??n ??gn?f???ntl? r?du?? th??r f??d bill. If you ?t??r ?l??r ?f ?x??n??v? (per ??und ?r???) ?nd unhealthy ?t?m?—ju??? ?nd ??d?, ??r??l, br??d, frozen dinners, packaged sliced meats ?nd ?h????, ?h???, ?nd sweets, whether ??u buy ?rg?n?? or n?t—??u ??n dr??t???ll? ?ut ??ur costs b? bu??ng wh?l? oats, lentils, whole pieces of m??t and ?h??k?n, ?gg?, and fr??h fru?t ?nd v?g?t?bl??. And t? b? f??r, these ?x??n??v? junk food ?t?m? ?r? n?t unique t? Whole F??d?—m??t other h??lth food ?t?r?? carry them too. But Wh?l? F??d? deliberately b?nk? upon th? public ?m?g? ?f being a ?l??? where ??u bu? “whole foods.”

At th? ?h??k?ut ??unt?r w?r? ?m?ll b?x?? of h?gh-fru?t??? ?n?rg? b?r? and m?r? candy. When th? young ???h??r asked me ?f I h?d f?und ?v?r?th?ng I needed, I ???d, “Th?r?’? too mu?h junk f??d ?nd t?? f?w ?rg?n?? items.” She ?h??rfull? r??l??d, ”But we’re ?dd?ng m?r? organic items ?ll th? t?m?.” “L?k? what k?nd?,” I ??k?d? Sh? smiled ?nd said, “I r??ll? d?n’t kn?w,” and ??nt?nu?d r?ng?ng u? my groceries.

As I drove away, w?th ??v?r?l b?g? ?f gr???r??? ?n th? b??k seat—filled w?th lentils, sesame ?nd flax ???d?, extra v?rg?n olive ??l, B?l??m?? vinegar, and Gr?nn? Sm?th ???l??—I reflected ?n h?w th? h??lth food ?ndu?tr? h?d b??n taken ?v?r b? purveyors ?f junk food. It w??n’t always th?? w??.

Fruit and VegetablesThe Beginning of “Health Food”

In the ??rl? 1900?, as big corporate f?rm?ng gr?w with its ???t???d??, h?rb???d?? ?nd chemical fertilizers, th? m??? m?nuf??tur?ng of ???k?g?d and ?r??????d f??d? ?v?lv?d t??. Wh?l? ?m?ll gr?u?? of ??t?z?n? ?r?t??t?d th??? ?h?ng??, Am?r???’? f??d supply w?? n?w different—there w?? m?r? corporate profit ?nd less nutr?t??n f?r consumers. Th? few who saw this as a health ?r?bl?m ??nt?nu?d relying on l???l f?rm?r’? m?rk?t? for fr??h unadulterated safer food, ???r?h?d out th? difficult to find un?r??????d wh?l? f??d?, and the ?hr??? “health food” w?? b?rn. Th? m?v?m?nt also attracted v?g?t?r??n?, those with ??????l dietary needs, ?u?h ?? those ?ll?rg?? t? wh??t, or d??b?t???, ?nd ?th?r? in ???r?h of n?tur?l living.

Out ?f this movement ??m? th? rise ?f h??lth f??d ?t?r?? and ??-???, wh?r? hard-to-find ?t?m? could b? f?und ?n one store, although a 1870’s Ph?l?d?l?h??-b???d retail ?t?r?, Th?m?? M?rt?nd?l? C?m??n?, m?? have b??n the f?r?t. Or?g?n?ll?, health f??d stores were ?m?ll r?t??l ?h??? ?r h?m?-b???d co-ops th?t h?d bulk ?t?m? such as wh?l? gr??n?, ???b??n?, dr??d fruits, ?nd granola. Bl??k?tr?? molasses, brewer’s ????t, ?nd coffee ?ub?t?tut?? b???m? ???ul?r. And, there w?r? l?t? ?f d??t?r? ?u??l?m?nt?, ?nd unknown t? many ?t?r? ?wn?r? ?nd ?u?t?m?r?, they ??nt??n?d virtually ?ll synthetic vitamins m?d? b? ?h?rm???ut???l companies. Oth?r ?t?m? w?r? n?t h??lth? ??th?r, like dr??d bananas ???t?d w?th ?ug?r. Th? w?rd “?rg?n??” was used, but ???u?ll? h?r? ?nd there ?? th? U.S.D.A’s ?rg?n?? ?r?gr?m h?d n?t b??n ??n???v?d ??t. Wh?t l?ttl? fr??h ?r?du?? w?? t? b? f?und was u?u?ll? ?ld, w???? ?nd double the ?r??? of grocery ?t?r??. Yet ??m?h?w, th? h??lth-f??d ?t?r? ??n???t survived l?ng ?n?ugh to grow u?, spurred on b? th? ecology m?v?m?nt ?f th? 1960s.

But many ?f the ?m?ll health f??d ?t?r?? ??uldn’t ?urv?v? wh?n a Wh?l? F??d?, or ?t? rival Wild Oats—both w?r? f?und?d in the 1980?—m?v?d into town. They were ??th?r b?ught ?r went ?ut ?f bu??n???. In 2007, Wh?l? F??d? g?bbl?d up Wild Oats for over a h?lf-b?ll??n d?ll?r?, despite ?n?t??l r????t?n?? fr?m th? Bu?h Adm?n??tr?t??n for ?nt?-tru?t v??l?t??n? ?n a ?u??rm?rk?t ???t?r th?t the Federal Trade C?mm?????n ?rtfull? d???gn?t?d ?? “?r?m?um n?tur?l and ?rg?n??.”

Th? ?ubl??l? tr?d?d Whole F??d? n?w h?? ??l?? ?f ?v?r ??ght b?ll??n dollars a ???r. Of th?t revenue figure, one w?nd?r? just h?w mu?h is a r??ult ?f ??ll?ng junk food?

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