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Cranky Cuss

Cranky Cuss
Ossining, New York, United States
February 28
I am the author of "Send In the Clown Car: The Road to the White House 2012," currently available on Amazon and CreateSpace. I'm currently semi-retired after 23 years in a corporate environment. My motto: The conventional wisdom has too much convention, not enough wisdom. Corollary: Even Einstein was wrong sometimes, and you're not Einstein.


Editor’s Pick
SEPTEMBER 28, 2010 8:05AM

Whole Foods: "Poor Person in Aisle 12!"

Rate: 69 Flag


(My daughter Nicole, left, her friend Sabeena, right, with the Food Network's Alton Brown) 


Nobody has ever accused me of being a Foodie.  My idea of variety in my diet is switching from Nacho Cheese Doritos to Cool Ranch.  I know nothing about growing fresh vegetables, and the only time I’ve been told I had a green thumb was when I stuck it in the guacamole dip.


But God – or whatever all-powerful force angrily turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt (mmm, salt) – decided to punish me for some sin in a previous life by bestowing onto me a daughter and creating the Food Network. Then (S)he stood back and roared with laughter.


My daughter Nicole is a 19-year-old baking and cooking machine.  This summer, after learning everything that Giada De Laurentiis and Alton Brown could teach her through the TV screen, she realized her calling in life is to be a pastry chef.  Since the Culinary Institute requires some work experience before admission, she skipped this year of school, got a job in a bakery, and now spends part of her day with her hands in dough and flour.  She comes home with a smile on her face, which brought a smile to mine.


Until she discovered there was a Whole Foods a couple of minutes from where she works.


I am as much a fish out of water at Whole Foods as Sarah Palin is at a Mensa meeting, expect, unlike Palin, I’m aware that I don’t belong. Still, there I was entering its portals last week, facing a mind-bogglingly colorful selection of fresh fruits and vegetables: apples, corn, tomatoes …


“Yay, they have marjoram!”


“Uh huh. What the hell’s marjoram?”


“Don’t you get excited by all this food?”


“No, only when the food” (imitating Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies) “gets in my belly!”


Frankly, I didn’t know what many of the products were.  Dragon fruit? Aloe vera leafs?


(Actual conversation later with my wife.) “Ann insists I must have seen an aloe vera plant before, but I’m sure I haven’t.”


“Your mom had an aloe vera plant in her den all those years.”


“Oh, that’s what that was?”


 Not only were the products mysterious, but so were their uses.


“Why are you buying an Anaheim chile?”


“I want to make my own ketchup.  The chile will give it a little kick.”


“Why do you need to make your own ketchup?  I just bought a bottle of Heinz last week.”


(Sigh.) “Next time, I want Mommy to come shopping with me.”


“Hell, no.  I’m not going to be the first person to max out his credit card buying fruits and vegetables.”


As we moved on to the aisles with the bottles, jars and boxes, I realized that Whole Foods only sold products with the finest ingredients, nothing cheap, and by nothing cheap, I mean “nothing inexpensive.”  The cost of the bottle of tarragon vinegar Nicole looked at would have fed a family of four at McDonald’s.  I was pleased when Nicole returned it to its shelf, realizing that Giada and Alton don’t stock their kitchen on a budget.


While my daughter shopped, I began to break down the Whole Foods customers into three categories:


Skinny Bitches: You know them, the ones who consider a salad with no dressing a big meal, the ones who could play hide-and-seek behind a broomstick, the ones that would make Twiggy shout, “Hey, eat a steak once in a while, willya?” They may be eating healthy food, but they sure look unhealthy.


Gym Rats: You know them, the ones still wearing their Spandex after an hour on the treadmill and now they’re giving themselves a treat – a few drops of vinaigrette on their salad.  I give these women a wide berth, since they look like they could kick my ass without breaking a sweat.


Trophy Wives: (After all, this is Westchester, home to some of the richest CEOs) You know them, the ones whose blonde hair comes from a bottle and whose breasts come from a surgeon’s hands, the ones who come to the store in short-shorts and four-inch heels. I hate trophy wives, and not just because I’ll never have my own.  (Yeah, yeah, I know, dear, you’re my trophy wife.  As Frank said on Everybody Loves Raymond, “What contest in Hell did I win?”)


The one type of customer I did not see was a poor person.  This is not surprising.  Eating healthy is expensive, and you’ll never find a Whole Foods in a poor neighborhood.  Statistics show a heavy correlation between obesity and poverty, and a trip to Whole Foods bore this out.  I fear that we are dividing into two Americas, not just between the haves and have-nots, but between the healthy and the unhealthy, with a lot of the division being the same.  I feared that I was, by shopping here, inadvertently contributing to it.


I also felt the unmistakable snob appeal.  All of this became clearer to me as I reached the shelves with the one product I understood: beer.  I’m a bit of a beer snob, usually reaching for the microbrew when I have the chance.  But I also don’t turn down a Budweiser or a Miller when I’m out with friends, and I understand that some people buy a six-pack of Bud because they’d rather spend their money on something like, you know, rent.


I saw the beers displayed on the shelf, and I wondered about the decision process to stock Sam Adams and Heineken, but not Bud and Miller.  Were they made with better ingredients?  Were their workers treated more fairly?  Or was it – and this is where I’m placing my bet – because they didn’t want to sell any product associated with the hoi polloi?


As I approached the checkout counters – oh, now I see some African-Americans and Latinos! – I felt almost as bad for my contribution to the economic segregation of America as I did for the draining of my checking account.  (I said almost.)


So the next day, with all the healthy food stored in our kitchen, while my daughter was at work, sticking her hands in dough and flour, I snuck off to eat lunch at McDonald’s.   It wasn’t good for my heart – or frankly, any of my other internal organs – but for a few minutes, it did cleanse my conscience.


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I'm with you on this. I grew up really poor, so I have a really hard time now that I'm no longer poor and surrounded by a lot of non-poverty, especially in shopping experiences. There's a supermarket close to where I live that is the Michigan equivalent of Whole Foods, and I was there once, before I discovered that they had pretty much everything I'd buy at Meijer's except it was in different boxes and 50 percent more expensive. I agree that there's a huge difference between those in poverty and those who have economic clout, but then once they reach that survivability stage, they kind of go nuts in the other direction, not being satisfied with having enough to survive. Now they have to over-survive, to put it as simple as a simple person as I am can put it.
Nice piece about Whole Paycheck, but really..I am just jealous your daughter met Alton..whom I love. Well done.
Hit the nail on the head with this one, Cranks.
Whole Foods is overated and overpriced. I don't and won't ever shop there. You want to experience a really good supermarket chain, try Hannaford. Go up to Route 6 in Carmel. It is worth the trip. Good organics, excellent customer service and a clean, clean, clean store.
Food shopping places (especially fancy ones) can be the most alienating places on the planet. Great post.
I really liked your comment about the Skinny Bitches. You're right, they maybe healthy, but they don't look it.
Best Wishes,
I live near the flagship Whole Foods, and trust me, it's worth a trip to Austin to see. Come hungry, they have at least a half dozen bars within the market where you can sit down and graze... a pasta bar, a BBQ bar, a wine bar, a cheese bar, etc.

In their nearly infinite choices, they have left out a lot of banal choices you can get anywhere else, like crisco, Miracle Whip, and BudMiller beer. So? You can get them anywhere else. Why bother.
Laughed out loud but have only one question: When you were having the conversation with your wife later in the day, how did Nicole become "Ann"?... Did she have to sell half her name to pay for those groceries? ;)
I increasingly find few things as unattractive as rich white people. (But they do have gorgeous handbags to oggle in the checkout line). Makes me kinda glad I'm not rich. Can't help the white. Come to think of it, haven't been able to help the broke much, either. Rated for being spot on. Again.
I get the same feeling at a Trader Vic grocery store. Who are all those people? And have you ever been in a Food For Less? Amazing number of food stamps being used there but the quality is so bad that we dont go anymore. We used to go to Costco and the masses are there in all their glory. It is interesting that Walmart is stocking more and more food. But we finally settled on Albertsons. I was glad to learn that it is no longer controlled by the Mormons but it seems to have the blend of rich and poor that I like with a beautiful store that has just been remodeled. There is a Vons across the street in desprate need of a remodel. It has medium quality but because the store looks old the people look poor. There are Co Op stores with the same richy rich feeling but they really think they are the answer. They are too expensive!!!! When will they figure that out?! We have organic stores called Henry's here that try to show good prices by having food in bins but it is so full of intellectual foodies that I just can't shop there. This country is so divided about so many things. Great post, Cranky. Thanks.
you had mw at the doritos r.
Well you know I loved this. And I TOLD you you'd seen an aloe vera plant before, knucklehead! It always amuses me on shows like Top Chef when they send all the contestants into W to stock up for a challenge; if restaurant chefs really shopped there on a regular basis it would be impossible to buy a meal for less than $50.00 - at Applebees. This was funny, and loving and right on. What a lucky daughter you have, you old beer-drinking softy.
We don't have a Whole Foods here, but now I'm wondering which category I'd fit into! How about "Other"? It's exciting that your daughter will be a pastry chef -- think of all the desserts you have in your future!
I don't think I'd know a "whole food" if it tripped me. Unless you count all beef hot dogs. Is that "whole?" But now, Sam Adams, that's some GOOD stuff! Who knew?? Fine article, masterfully written! msp
Loved this story because of it's truth. Funny too. -R-
I've shopped at both Food King (I dare you to buy their grey meat!) and Whole Paycheck in my life. But if I have the money it goes to the least processed, safest food I can find. WF pays its employees well and it's a different experience in there.

But since I don't live among CEOs I just see normal people shopping there. But you're right, I don't see any junkers in the parking lot. The divide between the haves and have-nots is only going to get wider until, you know, we decide that's a bad thing.
Lucky you - Whole Foods nearby, future pastry chef daughter. Liked the fish out of water line, and really, the whole story.
I have seen those stores but never actually been in there...yet. I see one being built, due to open in fall of 2011. I wonder if anyone will shop there then?

Very fun post.
In Montana "Whole Foods" means buying your grandson's Whole Hog at the 4-H fair and canning your Whole Garden in two weeks. Does eating off the land count - I mean elk, pheasant, huckleberries, chokecherries and wild plums? Seriously, I don't think there is a Whole Foods in Montana -
Then there is me spending her last nickle buying gluten free delights.
I only go in there if absolutely necessary. I save money by buying at Trader Joe's.
But going in there is like window shopping.. and if I knew Alton Brown was in there I would be camped out all night.
I just loved this story.
rated with hugs and congrats on the EP
Pardon me.. its 6:25 am.. I love the "shit some amateur says" :)
Great post I see you bit...
A beaut. Let's us go shopping w/Bell in the panhandle (or wherever she lives). She'll cook, we'll just coo over our plates. I hate WF.
First your daughter needs to watch Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America. Gordon Ramsey always promotes how to take the cheep stuff and make a quality meal. Second I prefer to believe in the Married With Children philosophy, the rich are worse prepared to live in this world since they live such healthy lives in an overly polluted planet. Those of us who live off fat, salt and preservatives are better adapted. Finally when they tell me what unnatural food are then maybe I will buy stuff labeled "natural". To me an egg is an egg.
The nearest Whole Foods is a 30 minute drive to the well-heeled side of town for me. But I have got them beat! The informal Farmer's Market on the corner of Cow Pie Drive and Mule Tooth Lane where we can get organic everything from the back of a truck. Love the signs:

Mellins, Maters, peeches n gulf shrimp, FRESH cheep
I am the "gym rat," yet I feel so conflicted about my Whole Foods love, for the culturally divisive experiences you mentioned. I grew up poor in a family that treated fast food as valid sustenance so no surprise, I ended up obese as an adult prior to my awakening while temping at the American Dietetic Association, and morphing into the aforementioned gym marsupial. A group of my friends joke that I can frequently be found shopping at 'Whole Paycheck." I yearn for the day when healthy food is a right, not just a privilege.
I always feel really out of place there. Chubby moms need not shop here, I guess! Trader Joe's has better stuff, not as much variety, though. R
I have heard of stores like that but have never been in one of them. I'm pretty sure that I would have the same reaction as you did.
As always your commentary is right on the money. I shop wherever they have what I want and there are a few things they carry that I can't find elsewhere. But I cannot imagine shopping for my regular groceries there. I once broke down and bought some grass-fed ground beef. My hamburger tasted like...grass!
Hmmmmm, no wonder I never see "trophy wives" or "skinny bitches" at 99 Cents Only or Dollar Tree--it's mostly short, pudgy brown women and I'm usually the "lone Gringo" but as my wife said last night, "I wonder what our grocery spending would be if we didn't buy at the dollar store?"
I been in the south for 40 years off and on, and we have had farmers markets forever. At one time, everyone had a garden that they put up for winter. I'm not talking about the stuff in these new Whole Food places. The basics, corn on the cob, tomato's, peas, lima beans, etc., etc., etc.,. We are now being priced out of the fresh food business by these others. I still prefer to stop by a truck with a camper beside the road to buy our vegetables. Fresh and fairly priced, and healthy, which I used to never even think about. Good Stuff, Cuss!
Good call on the people shopping at WF...they are the demographic target for the eco-friendly Zen-ish organic cotton Yoga crap they sell near the line for the registers (at the Columbus Circle store in NYC). Even their magazines for impulse buyers are like $15 a pop!
I've not had the pleasure of a Whole Foods run . . . which is probably for the best, given the prices. We have a locally owned co-op within a half-hour of where we live, though . . . and it's got most of what one might want . . .
I love Whole Foods, but am reduced to an occasional indulgence or purchase of random items. I'd do all my shopping there, but I need to save for retirement. I heard that there is a new sheriff in town, and he feels that the chain has catered too much to the masses, and a lot of their food is nicely dressed junk (my own words). A trip past the bakery aisle might confirm that. He wants to clean the place up and make it a real health food store again.

I'm sure the costs to do that will trickle down to the consumers. But yet, if he builds it, we will be helpless to not come.
Great article! In our house, Whole Foods is affectionately known as The Food Museum. My husband occasionally buys some weird ingredient for some weird food creation he's working on, but all the rest comes from Costco and one of those giant pack-it-yourself warehouse places.

But the strawberries! In January! Oh my.
One of your funnier ones, Cranky, albeit with an underlying issue around affordability. Food delivery is a service, starting from seedlings on through. An axiom around service happens to be that it rests on the pillars of price, qualilty, and timeliness ... the customer can control two.

So we mass produce food to make it cheap and abundant. In so doing the quality suffers. Hormones in beef. Beef raised on corn rather than grass. ADM crop dusting America's bread basket in bulk.

And we've shifted. We see more the value in quality. Hence price rises. (Timeliness is rather inelastic in food production. I mean, a man's gotta eat, whether it an over priced Tofu Burger or just a 1/4 pounder in a sack hurled at you from a sliding window after ordering from a big neon sign giving you numbers to facilitate the speed at which you can ingest the artery clogging goodness.)

Not sure the answer there and understand the dilemma. The FDA in theory makes sure the high volume/low cost food is safe. A further drain, though, is the rise of single parent and/or two working parent homes, meaning time is off the essence in food prep and hence more processed foods. Might be healthier and not terribly much more expensive to boil elbow noodles and then melt up some cheddar and american cheese, but it takes a hell of a lot longer to prepare.

Services. And the three attributes of Price, Quality, and Timeliness. I really think it goes to the heart of the more serious message underneath this really funny piece.
Richard, great story about your daughter and Whole Foods. Like some other readers here, I have not set foot in Whole Foods and reading your piece made me feel like I wasn't missing much. In any event, I don't live near one, but I do shop at the Hannaford store that OEsheepdog mentioned in his comment so I'm feeling really good about that! I'd be interested to hear your critique on Trader Joe's since that is another store that I shop at on a weekly basis.
So true. I hate economic injustice as much as I hate skinny bitches (which means, a lot), and these kind of stores always sicken me. I don't shop at Whole Foods and the like because they don't have them in Paris (and hopefully, in a country where fresh, quality produce and other comestibles are a reasonable price for everyone, I'm proud to say), but even if they did, I wouldn't set one toe in the door. Right on.
How snobby these chains get may be regional. Sutton Place Gourmet in the Baltimore/Washington area stays kind of high-end, Fresh Market down here doesn't make me feel like I need to go through a credit check to walk in.
Nicely done. I love how the serious pops up through the comedy.
I shop for very specific items at Whole Foods, and pay the price. I have a soy allergy (so I can't eat most processed foods) and the ONLY mayo I can find is sold at Whole Foods. I don't notice the people very much, I get in, pay, and get out before I am tempted to spend too much. It is always crowded when I am there.
Great commentary crank - but sad reality that it is so expensive to eat healthily.(is that a word?)
There's a supermarket chain here, AJ's, that makes Whole Foods blush with inferiority. I remember checking out the produce aisle and being mesmerized, as if each individual eggplant was polished and placed under its own spotlight, every lemon picked from a painting of lemons. Their cracker aisle is large, their wine selection is famous, and their butcher department is, well... really nice looking. I think they have rules that almost no name brands that most Americans would buy can be stocked on their shelves. I am sure the quality is good enough, though the prices aren't to pay for organics... it's to pay for the mahogany panelling and easy on the eyes lighting. They do want to keep the hoi polloi from the foie gras. (PS: my first job was at Walter Stewart's in New Canaan.)
Being in a Whole Foods feels like the gift shop at MoMA in NYC. Everything is gorgeous and should have a pin spot or a frame on it. Like you, I have no idea what to do with most of their things, and eke out my grub purchases in the natural foods aisle at Stop n Shop. There is sticker shock enough with that.
Eating healthier and doing activity did radically change my body for the better (and feel 20 years younger), but I only shop at Whole Foods once every month or two to splurge on some exotic item that I can't find in my regular haunts. Can't afford to make this a more frequent routine.
Whole Foods is a delightful place to be. As you say, all the pretty colors and amazing variety of fruits and veggies. I shop there occassionally, and every single time I have the same experience...smiling all the way to the checkout line, lulled by the aromatic fragrances in the air, until I get to the checkout stand and find that a bottle of water and a bag of oranges rang up to $50. I'm such a dufus, I always forget until I go to pay.

Our favorite market is Wegmans. They are good to their employees, have reasonable prices along with a good selection of organics and other healthy choices, and there's just a wholesome, friendly vibe with your fellow shoppers. It's perfect because you don't feel like a snob the way you do at whole foods. If you've never been to a Wegmans, you might give it a try.
These are the stores for the childless weird-o's (like me), although we just have a Trader Joe's. I never see kids under high school age, very few fatties of either gender, and you can't buy anything like toilet paper or cleaning supplies so the food thing seems less animal. But I only go there once in a while. You can usually find me shopping at whatever chain is closest to me.
Oh, there's a Whole Paycheck near us: we make a trip to it now and again for a special event, but for everyday organic, there's a local chain called Sun Harvest, which has more reasonable prices, especially for bulk foods. For meats, there's another local chain, the Culebra Meat Market (Hispanic groceries there, also) For even more exotic edibles, there is the Indian grocery cunningly disguised as a gas station quickie-market which has everything, including jasmine rice in 20lb bags, and on Saturdays, farm-stand fresh vegetables in the parking lot of a strip mall down the road.
All the above are short on upscale ambiance though - but easier on the pocketbook.
Funny and sad, all at the same time. As a vegetarian (and fortunate that I have the choice) and bit of a foodie, I shop at Whole Foods occasionally. I also know how lucky I am. I live in the 'hood, where the three closest grocery stores to my house are the Double 8, the Double 8, and the Double 8, which are sort of the anti-Whole Foods. Shop at an inner-city grocery store, and you see very clearly why poverty and obesity go hand in hand.
I'm just going to come right out and say it. I shop at Whole Foods for most of my groceries. I worry about meat that is full of antibiotics and chemicals(not to mention the way the animals are treated) and I think that it is important to avoid many fruits and vegetables with pesticides. I can't apologize for wanting the best food for my family's health.
Having said that, I buy my Cheetos and all paper products at the Safeway. There are a lot of things at Whole Foods that are just ridiculous. But a lot of the natural, organic stuff makes sense to me.
Now I shall step off my tiny soapbox and say how much I enjoyed reading this and I hope we can still be friends...~r
I love your descriptions of Skinny Bitches. =o) Especially the ones who could play hide-and-seek behind a broomstick, the ones that would make Twiggy shout, “Hey, eat a steak once in a while, willya?”

They call it "Whole Paycheck" for a reason. And yeah, organic baby vegetables come with a price that excludes a lot of people, especially in the times we're in.
Oh, did I mention that I am not even close to "upper middle class" let alone rich... xo
Bingo. You make social commentary fun. And Nicole does have a glorious smile.
Great story, I loved the dialog. Wholefoods, wholepaycheck.
I grow my own marjoram.
rated with empathy
@Ken: I remember reading something in the Village Voice about 20 years ago, before parts of Harlem got gentrified, about the limited choices inner-city shoppers had, and that even chain supermarkets were avoiding those neighborhoods. It made me aware of another example of economic inequity.

@Joan: Do you even have to ask if we're still friends? But I'm still racing you to be first at Ann's.
oh cranky! what a serious article disguised with spot-on humor. (r)
First, Nicole is a beauty with a great smile. I shop at Publix. I've shopped at the same location for 18 years, though the store itself has gone from Piggly Wiggly to A&P and now Publix. I had an out of town visitor who was a food snob and would only shop at Whole Foods. I went with her to see what all the fuss was about. I was so disoriented, I had to go wait in the car! But the produce -- display, quantity, size and quality -- was shockingly superior. I never got around to comparing prices. I stick to what I know.
This was hilarious. You forget two of our major WF shopping populations though: metrosexuals and urban hip.
There's something inherently wrong with Whole Foods. I can't put my finger on it but I can tell you this: the people that shop at the one in my neighborhood turn into zombies. Vacant stares, walking out in front of traffic, and they stop in the middle of the store aisles for no reason like their batteries went dead. And for God's sake, it's the snobbiest bunch of people I've ever seen, customer's and staff alike. I'll take Fresh Market over Whole Foods anyday.

Now, above and beyond that, give me the Farmer's Market. I spend a fair amount of time there each year buying for meals and for canning. It's always the best and freshest.
Oh, how right you are! I am one of those people enchanted by the delectable fair at Whole Foods but cannot afford to purchase it. I suppose I'll die one day from power-driving un-organic fruit and peeling back the plastic skins off processed American cheese. Oh well...I've had a good life.....and Doritos rock!
Has anyone noticed the price of organic chicken? I guess I'm stuck with the hormones and chemicals. The rich are going to outlive the poor in our democracy. rated
I don't know what the equivalent of Whole Foods would be in Montreal, but we do have many stores and local markets which sell healthy products here. Nicole has a lot to teach her Dad. Great story, CC. ~R
The barley used in Bud and Miller is housed in cruel, crowded containers--not at all free-range.
Most excellent. I have also noticed that the only people of color are standing behind the counter or stocking the shelves...why, it's a regular plantation situation! Especially knowing the big trouble they've had regarding their pay scale and non-benefits...there was also the rat in store issue...the whole thing reads like Fear and Loathing On The Way to Whole Foods...xox
that is exactly how I feel in there- exactly
I must say I'm a little angered by this article. I live close to a Whole Foods and I have spent time where I was living out of my car and penniless for almost two years.

What people who like to view the world in terms of groups, racial and economic, so often fail to realize is that you can't fight poverty without wealth. What a successful enterprise like Whole Foods enables the that company to do is precisely fight what you seem to be lamenting about.

Before Whole Foods, what companies would regularly have free samples available to customers? Why don't you see this as a tremendous act of generosity that other markets have since found they have to imitate?

You don't think that someone who is starving might not appreciate a simple, small sample being made available? You don't think that even one small sample of something could be enough to tie them one over until they can find some change or get help some other way?

If I found eight cents on the ground, say around a parking meter where someone had dropped it, I could buy a small banana at Whole Foods because they were having a sale on bananas at that time. It was a fantastic deal that was not available at any other grocery store.

This doesn't even mention the donations that Whole Foods makes to Veterans groups and homeless shelters with items from their bakery. If the wealthy clientele you disparage only wants a croissant that was baked that day, that means that a day old croissant most likely finds its way to a shelter or a veteran somewhere. We have a Veterans association (VA hospital) only blocks away from our Whole Foods and they pick up items from there daily.

Whole Foods donates their time and money to other causes as well, such as giving tours to school kids to educate them about eating healthy, and the one near me offers grilled foods at lunch such as a taco or a hotdog you can buy for $1. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Even McDonald's like.

In life we have many chances to view something with a cynical eye or a positive one. No one and no company is perfect, but when we start to view success as a negative I think we end up helping no one.
We don't have a nearby Whole Foods but we do have a Trader Joes where I find a very happy connection to quality and the best prices in town for stuff like really good olive oil and coffee to name just two high priced items. I think that people mistake TJ's focus on quality with food snobbery but that has not been my experience at all and I find savings there on even the most mundane items and everything I buy there is really good. Check it out if you can........PS I find food elitism really nasty in these hard times. Great interesting post...raated
I love Whole Foods. It's like the Disney World of food.
@Retalbo: They overcharge everyone for food and then give a banana to a poor person. Yeah, that balances the scale.
They appeal to people's snobbery and vanity. They encourage the well-off to spend money on stuff they don't need, money that could have been donated to a food bank or a soup kitchen. Not that the well-off would have donated it, of course. But any kind of conspicuous materialism - and that's what WF often is - turns my stomach.
Also, there are few food stores, in general, in poor neighborhoods, and if there are, they're probably small ones without fresh produce, anyway. Many people don't understand that obesity indicates malnutrition. Also, there are far more tobacco advertisements in poor areas, especially for Newport cigarettes, the strongest and therefore the most addictive cigarettes, facts I learned working in the "Communities Against Tobacco" movement in New Jersey.
I shop in Whole Foods for special occasion cheeses, fish and steak once in a while. I don't think their milk products and bread are much more expensive than Wegmans, but their vegetables and condiments definitely are. I never found the crowd there particularly snooty or unpleasant, but I was really pissed off when their CEO published a piece against the health reform. Sure, he can afford anything. THAT I think is much more of a travesty than expensive good quality food. Although I am far from the regular in the store, I find hating the bulk of its customers tasteless. I know those types that you paint, but it is a bit unfair to say that they constitute 100% of WF customers. I think that people who deserve much more disdain are those who create and aggravate the situation that less and less people can afford good quality food (I don't mean WF food in particular here, but the fact that generally fresh quality ingredients are more expensive than canned and highly processed).
@ Con Chapman -- Sam Adams only uses free range hops, right?
There is certainly a lot of social stratification in the United States. It is what it is.
I'm afraid you've missed the whole point, here, Mr. Cuss.

Whole Foods doesn't offer Budweiser not because they don't want to sell any product associated with the hoi polloi, it's because I, as a Whole Foods shopper, don't want to shop with the hoi polloi, so I don't shop anywhere that sells Budweiser. Whole Foods knows this, so they are catering to their demograph.

If it's any consolation, I feel just as out of place at a Safeway (wow, 36 whole chemicals I can't pronounce in one product on sale for 2 for a dollar?! What a steal!). ;-)
@Stellaa: I would have made fun of the men there if I'd seen more than one. Plus I made fun of myself. But thanks, as always, for the input.
The problem with food shopping is that you need to do it in different places...Whole Foods has its place (and BTW in my area offers the best deal on milk that actually tastes good I've seen in a long time...) My local supermarkets are as expensive as WF without the care of the food presented -- and I am not talking about image I am talking about the foods they buy. I don't buy meat in supermarkets either -- you cannot get more disgusting. So for me there are Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Costco for a lot of what I buy and Farmer's Markets too.
@Mr. Chaplin: No, I didn't miss the point. Whole Foods appeals to snobbery. Many other commenters have mentioned places they shop where they buy healthy food at reasonable prices without feeling like they should be having their limousine driver take the food to their cars.
I live in a rural town. No Whole Foods, but great farmers' market and a small organic grocery store that really rocks. I love food, food preparation, and wine choices. I have been to Whole Foods while traveling, and I did see any people that fit your descriptions, I only saw people shopping for food for the day/evening/week.

If someone really likes upscale, try the Dreager's chain in the SF Bay Area. We call the one in San Mateo, the mother ship. I loved it and gladly paid for the prices. We are not rich, not gym rats, certainly not skinny, just people who love food.
I was grateful that I could buy a banana for eight or twelve cents and using their self-serve bins could buy a small quantity of nuts or whatever and not have to buy an entire package of something. They also provide free internet, the one I go to has a patio with electrical outlets where the financially challenged are able to charge their cell phones or computers, as does the Starbucks next door. Another place of "conspicuous materialism" you probably don't like.

And by the way, I've had several visitors from Europe tell me that this would be unheard of in their countries: a place that would let you stay as long as you like, sometimes without even buying something, plug in a computer and use free internet all day. What greed!
Actually, the "Whole Paycheck" idea is a fallacy. If you compare item to item (or at least comparable item to comparable item), you'll find that WF's prices are actually very good. Much better than most health-food places, mostly thanks to their own "365" store brand.


...and I could present more examples...

Not to mention there's a WF in almost every town, as opposed to other health food stores where I would have to expend extra gasoline and time to get to...
Warning, I like Whole Foods and I'll now explain why.

I live in a clump of towns in the middle of the corn fields. Less than 200,000 people. We have no Whole Foods. I prefer to eat organic, especially meat and certain produce. I have to eat gluten free. I'm allergic to most processed foods in main stream grocery stores because they almost all contain soy, wheat or white sugar (I'm allergic). We have 3 health food grocery stores, all small, all more expensive than any Whole Foods I've shopped at. They also attract mainly "alternative" types who seem really "cool." I'm not one of them. I shop at these stores and in the "Natural" aisles at some regular grocery stores because it's what I can eat. Sometimes I get tired of seeing so many "cool" people everywhere (my problem really). The funny thing is that when we go to Memphis TN or Arlington Texas, I love going to Whole Foods because there's so many everyday people there and I can find many items MUCH cheaper than at home. I suspect location makes a big difference on who shops there and pricing. We don't eat at restaurants or go to movies. We only shop at thrift stores for clothes (and not very often). In this way we can afford a larger grocery budget. We do it because the difference in how we feel and what we have energy to do is significant. I think it's odd that many regular grocery stores have a "nutrition" section. That's generally where more organic, natural, less processed foods are. If that's where the nutrition is at, what does that say about the rest of the store.
I'd love for there to be a national rival to Whole Foods that's more affordable and less fancy. Until then, I'm grateful that because they exist, I can find the food my body has come to appreciate (because I feel healthier) at least every 8 hours or so.

Ok, all done.

I'm a bit nervous to hit "post..." because I'm clearly in the minority on this one, but I have strong opinions about food. Now, having said all that about healthy food etc, I must tell you my husband has an 87 year old great aunt. She's in excellent health and spirits. She could care less about health food. She eats an ice cream cone every night before bed. When I grow up I want to be just like her...
It's a rotten bloody system. Gonna lead to a lotta bloodshed. Only a matter'a time.
Meh, I think it depends on your mindset going in there what your experience will be. While I do agree some of their prices are ridiculous there are also some bargains to be had and you can indeed gorge yourself on all the free samples they offer. Like any store any where you have to shop smart and there ain't no way in hell I'm paying $8 dollars for grapes. The Whole Foods I occasionally shop at is in Cambridge MA and there are all shapes and sizes there, male/female, crazy/sane. I haven't asked any of them about their income levels though but I'm willing to bet that a lot of them aren't pulling in CEO money.
Oh, and I'd like to add that just because someone is into eating healthily doesn't mean they're a snob.

Seriously, eat what you want, shop where you want, and please, for the love of Bob, let other people eat what they want and shop where they want without calling them names...

I went into WF the other day and spent $5 on cat food and mac 'n cheese. It was the last $5 I had. When was the last time you had to spend your last $5 so you and your pet could eat that night? And I'm the elitist snob? Because I shop at Whole Foods? OK...
Awhile back I went into our regional equivalent of Whole Foods - you know, the place where classical muzak lulls the customer into thinking they can spend more because they are so much better than the rest of us? I mean they have culture, for crying out loud.

Anyway, due to unemployment, I was on food stamps. I went to this store because they had grass-fed chicken breasts on sale much cheaper than "regular" chicken breasts at the big box across the street. How did I know this? By the ever-so-tasteful banner the store had strung across the width of their entrance, just underneath the store name.

Thrilled to get such a deal, I had the butcher bag me two, and then proceeded to check out. Imagine my embarrassment at the check out station when I was told Uppity Store didn't take food stamps.

Upon hearing the phrase "food stamps" (which is actually a debit card), heads turned, people in line behind me leaned to get a gander at who it was had the nerve to use food stamps in their store, and someone, presumably a manager, came over and stood next to the checker person - and stared at me, stonefaced. It was as if someone had yelled "This is a stick up!"

I said, "Oh, sorry, I didn't realize that." I handed the checker the chicken and left the store.

As I walked out, I wondered how long before some of those "haves" who stared at me would soon join me in the ever growing class of "have nots."

When they do, I'll try not to stare.
CC...loved the description of Whole Food shoppers. But you missed the pudgy white guy over in the cheese department.

OMG....Whole Food's cheese section is where I want to go when I die. Sure, a pound of smoked gouda costs more than my car payment...but so good. And their service, at least here in Low Country, is exceptional.

Your daughter met Alton Brown? Can I come and touch the hand that touched Alton...the Supreme God of Foodies?
Stellaa commenting on humor? Now that is funny!
@Damion Chaplin - There's a viral rumor going around on OS that Cranky wrote this satire just to poke fun at YOU!!! I believe he fell short of the mark, though, because the way I read it, he wasn't saying that EVERYBODY who shops at Whole Foods is a snob, only that Whole Foods is the preferred market for snobs. If you shop there and are not a snob then it would seem Cranky REALLY fell short of his intended target. Of course he did shoot himself in the foot, as he admitted that HE shops at Whole Foods. Too bad the piece wasn't done by a "real writer," eh?
Frankly I think this entire essay is little more than self-sabotaging nonsense, and I don't care for the framework with which you are denigrating WF and the people who shop there. We complain about our health or our weight, but when opportunities present themselves for behavioral change, we become uncomfortable having to share a supermarket with "skinny bitches" and "gym rats"? Get a clue, Cranky! The store is founded on several core values: quality natural and organic products, excellent service, full employment benefits, community and the environment. Yes, it's (threateningly?) different from Stop N' Shop and yes, at least at this juncture that does make things more expensive. But I've found that since a WF moved into my neighborhood, I've never been healthier. Plus, I eat/buy less: I find I don't need the fixes that come from junk food and other comfy-cozy forms of culinary self-destruction. We need to stop erecting defensive barriers to personal growth and open our minds to change.
Cranky - you make me laugh! Even LOL. :) I think you're absolutely right about the lack of Bud or Miller on the shelves. Heehee...
I buy my Medaglia del Oro coffee online from JavaCabana ... what a deal! Oh, and Sabeena is hot!
How exciting! The impeccably polite Monsieur Chariot is pissed!!
Very well said, M. Chariot, thank you.
We have an equivalent in Williamsburg: Fresh Market, for which I carry my Victorian top hat and ebony walking stick in my truck's tool box just in case I'm running short of my favorite Robertson's Thin Cut Scotch Orange Marmalade and happen to be in the neighborhood. Can always count on running into a genteel acquaintance or two there, as well pip pip.
Additionally, Whole Foods was the luminous setting for one of my most sublime love affairs - love among the sugar-free whorled croquants, the kind of love that deathless crankpots like yourself are incapable of understanding!
Big Food & Big Ag have hijacked the "organic" title and are now foisting their boxed "health" food on people disconnected from their food. I work at several farmer's markets and am face to face with the have's and have not's all the time. The one common thread that runs through all participants, rich & poor, is the desire to reconnect with, and know about, their food sources. Farmer's Markets RULE!
Ah, but of course, "pissed" in the English sense. Is it an especially piquant vintage, Monsieur?
My dear M. Paust: I have had an absolutely beastly day, and thus do not appreciate your droll needlings - howe'er dextrous they may be.
Oh, piffle, M. Chariot, you find the attention irresistably bracing.
@Joan H. - I read your comment and am still coughing from inhaling the gnat that flew into my esophagus as I was gasping with wonderment. But I did manage to rescue the little rascal, and, yes, of course we remain friends despite your confession having caused my mini-trauma.
Hm. I am going to add to my original "Whole Paycheck" comment and say if I could..I would shop there every day, because I love quality, healthy food. I'm also a carnivore, and while there meat is superb..its dear.

They are still expensive. If you want the good stuff without the spending..Trader Joe's is your best bet.....Leaving California for a part of the world that is still waiting for TJ's was HARD.

Very hard.
Interesting questions about the cultural implications surrounding food. I think part of the problem was when we replaced culture with business for the prefix agri-

That being said, I actually don't have a problem with Whole Foods--it appears they have quality products. And I don't think your generalizations about the typical Whole Food shopper is very fair.
Food inequality is a problem much bigger than WF. Go down to your local run-of-the-mill grocery store and compare how much a loaf of whole wheat bread costs with a loaf of Wonder Bread.

I remember reading in Bill McKibbon's book Eaarth that the Great Valley of California is responsible for producing a large percentage of American's food, but remains high in food insecurity.
I was visiting a friend in NYC who took me to Whole Paycheck at Columbus Circle to visit the Giant Wall of Desserts. We have nothing like that here in the Flyover States. Viva, arugula!
I can't afford to do my regular grocery shopping at Whole Foods, but part of the reason they are so expensive is that for years they've been stocking items that are very specialized. Up until it became trendy to be gluten-free in the past year or two, they were literally the only place for miles where I could pick up some of the things I wanted to have on hand for my niece who has celiac disease when she came to visit. Who else carries the snacks you can buy for the classroom where you have a peanut, milk, soy, and egg allergy? Not only that - did you know if you are shopping for special food need, the store concierge will walk around and help you to find the foods that are safe and appropriate? I don't live in an area with a giant superstore full of organic foods, I live in an inner-ring suburb where our choices are fairly limited. A monthly trip to Whole Foods helps me find some of the convenience foods that make cooking for my vegetarian kid easier.

When I was pregnant and needed some items my midwife recommended, their vitamin and homeopathic section had everything I needed. And their employees know the products.

You may not like their business model, but they aren't overpriced on a whim - they're overpriced because a lot of what they carry is so specialized that most people will never want to buy it. If Whole Foods goes out of business, some of those small specialty food businesses will suffer.

(signed, not rich, skinny, or trophy-like!)
I would like to hear some more about this "wall of deserts."
You're right and you're wrong. I'm a poor person and I shop at Whole Foods, not exclusively but I buy meat there because I do not want to support factory farming of animals. I would never have thought to shop in Whole Foods when it first came here because I am poor, but then some of my poor friends told me they had cheap organic beans, and then I saw they had cheap brown rice flour, and good gluten-free bread (though expensive). I don't buy vegetables there or any stuff I know I can get cheaper elsewhere (which is almost anywhere), but they serve a purpose. BTW, the meat I buy is cheap, like pork shoulder that makes good curried pork or ground pork which makes wonton, or ground beef which is cheaper than Trader Joe's even to make Swedish meatballs. No hormones or antibiotics, not much more expensive than the grocery store.

I haven't been to McDonald's in ages and don't miss it.

OESheepdog--I used to live in the NE and went to Hannaford and loved it. Lots of people called it Cantafford Hannaford where I lived.
Eating well is expensive and you're right about not seeing poor people at Whole Foods. Some effort is being made in poorer neighborhoods of New York City with local farmer's markets that accept food stamps. The produce may not be officially stamped organic, but much of it is grown pesticide free. There are also many CSA (community sustainable agriculture) coops that allow people to purchase vegetables throughout the growing season from local farmers. They are reasonably priced and most offer a low-cost option for those in need. Some also accept food stamps.
These efforts as well as getting healthier foods into public schools and better educating young people are often supported by local community organizations and neighborhood leaders. Let's make no mistake about it -- food is political.
I'm with you on this one Cranky. I llive a couple of minutes from the Whole Foods in question and choose to shop at the Stop & Shop down the street. The last time I went with a friend to that Whole Foods (her idea), I thought I'd pick up some spinach for a salad, and was more than dismayed to find out my only choice was organic baby spinach at &7.99 per lb. Needless to day, I headed to Stop & Shop. I just don't understand how any one else other than the fairly rich shop there to eat on a daily basis. But they are thriving because as you said, there are a lot of rich people in Westchester. Happy (food) shopping!
We got a Whole Foods in my big little town in flyover country years ago. Even though they've built others, I still go to the first store since it is easy to get there. However, I'm not stupid enough to do all my shopping there. They have salt-free cheeses and other low salt offerings that I need, unfortunately, so I go there about once a month to stock up.

For everything else, I learned to read a food label. Believe it or not, a lot of regular grocery chains are carrying products similar to Whole Foods, and the farmer's markets take care of about everything else.

I'm a little surprised at some of the posters who act as if Whole Foods invented community service. Nope, not even close. We have two large supermarket chains here who practically fully stock the local food banks with their donations. They sponsor just about every walkathon and charity drive you can think of, in addition to selling single bananas.

I'm also surprised that a Whole Foods in Westchester, which is still on the East Coast last time I checked, is so out of touch with yup to the minute sensibilities. Budweiser is in right now, at least until the next "in" beer comes along. If you leave a store swinging a six-pack of Sam Adams you might as well be singing, "I'm a tool, I'm a tool, I'm a major tool." Whoda thunk it?
I can't even afford the box that has the paper that hides the sole that holds me upright when I walk fournteen blocks to cash my SSI check, get some frozen vegetables and 1/2 fat ice cream, then trudge back a few more blocks, put the shoes back in the tissue paper, close the lid and re-gift them so I can afford some fresh cilantro. It's great on Edy's Mint Chocolate Chip.
I just want to say.... I don't object to providing organic produce, meat and poultry, and high quality food. I think everyone would be better off for eating good, fresh food and infinitely less packaged junk. I have no quarrel with that issue.

I'm just sorry that in these economic times, the prices at Whole Foods are out of an awful lot of people's reach. I think Cranky has hit the nail on the head that it takes a certain level of means to be able to do all your grocery shopping and WF. Fortunately for me, I have other local sources for fresh produce that are more reasonably priced than those at WF. But then, I live in a very urban area--Silicon Valley is also Foodie Land. Since those alternatives are available for me, I take them. I realize many people don't have the choice, though.
Food privilege should be the focus, as others have pointed out.
Whole paycheck Foods is a good employer - really good benefits, including full domestic partner. They were way better 10 years ago, and even better before that, in terms of profit sharing. Not so much these days. One argument against is that they are anti-union - I don't like that. But they are paying high wages in response.

It's never as simple as it seems. You like the glowy lights and beautiful displays? That's a lot of employees trained in a rather groovy motto about friendliness, service, and keeping everything stocked all the time.
You pay for the pleasure of your shopping experience, and in this case that really does help people have careers at Whole Foods. I know - my significant other worked there for many, many years.
It's an entitlement issue, don't you think? Even if some folks have joined the ranks of the newly poor, they still will turn in their food stamps at Whole Foods. Maybe it's a form of entertainment.


I am sorry my comment caused such a traumatic event for you. Was it the fact that I don't want to put chemicals, additives or hormones into my body? Was it because I care about how the animals I eat are raised? Or was it because I stand on a tiny soapbox when I talk? :) I am glad we are still friends...
@Joan H - A complicated chain of events. The wonderment came with my admiration for your sublime defense of shopping at Whole Wallet. The gnat - dunno from whence he/she came, and the trauma emerged from the drama of struggle to save my own life, from choking, as well as rescuing the poor little bug that didn't have a clue what the hell was going down. Fortunately he/she didn't. Our friendship was never at any time in doubt, and the gnat now sits on my shoulder reading and nodding approval.
I really love Whole Foods and shop there almost exclusively. I can taste the difference between food from WF and other food that is full of preservatives. 365 allows for value shopping. At my local WF, we have a very diverse clientele. Lots of African Americans, Latino Americans, and every possible combination (given the diversity of our community) shop at WF, happily. Perhaps we live in a bubble, but I don't think so. Like-minded people hang out together and try to do the best they can. Eating well does not have to be expensive. I would not dream of raising my children on anything but healthy food. We don't have a flat-screen TV (we watch very little)....but my children will benefit from the benefits of growing up on WF, including baby food from WF. It takes the guesswork out. Food, exercise, and intellectual stimulation are the cornerstone of a good life!
Well, if anyone's hungry there's plenty of Spam here for breakfast today - sorry I'm late. Cranks, how thrilling it must have been for your beautiful girl to have a photo op with Alton, thanks for sharing that - I love photos here.

When I walk into Pike Place Market in Seattle my eyes dance a little jig. Same with the farmer's market down by the wharf in San Fran and Cidarella's in NYC, where I almost waltz from counter to counter to ogle the beautiful displays and soak up the smells and sounds of a busy food marketplace. I ooh and ahh until I am sated (literally and figuratively because I'm sampling all the way through the markets), and then I buy myself a little treat like a fresh baguette, a little jar of red pepper jelly, a wedge of artisan cheese, or a couple of heirloom tomatoes - I carry my package home and have a little solo party or share with a friend. I enjoy what the world has to offer for what I can afford to pay. I'm worth it. It's the little things, you know?

(All this to say, "snob" markets, including local shops and Whole Foods, have their place in the economy, and serve a purpose and a population~ nice rant though!)
My favorite market is vegetarian - they do not even sell meat products so when I need meat I do stop at my nearby WF. I also go there if I only need something like toilet paper, milk, cheese or some fruit. The one thing that always amuses me is that the checkers always ask "Is this to go?" - as if I'm going to use the 4pak of toilet paper in the aisle. I really don't get it!
I should follow-up my previous comment/incident by naming the Whole Foods-like store that didn't take food stamps (for the very good sale on grass-fed chicken breasts that beat the big box competition across the street). It was The Fresh Market.

I would also like to add that in my city, long before Fresh Market arrived, we had a local health food store/market that sold (and still sells) nearly everything that Fresh Market does with the exception, of course, of meat/fish/foul. They take food stamps.

There is also another market in town which not only sells the national health food products, etc., found in a Whole Foods, but also sells local/state vegetables, meats/fish/foul, and they, too, accept food stamps.

The other differences between these stores and The Fresh Market is while some specialized products are expensive, they are for the most part far cheaper than Fresh Market. But then again they don't doll up the store for the carriage trade and pipe in Mozart.

Before I hit rock bottom with lack of employment, I frequented these stores with great regularity. Now, with no car, getting to them is a bit more difficult.

Needless to say, if I ever again become flush, I won't be shopping Fresh Market (which looks very similar to a Whole Foods) even though I will be the same person, just without the food stamps.
I really enjoyed your story. Great writing. It made me laugh out loud. Occasionally, I shop at Whole Foods. It's way more visually stimulating than the Publix or Kroger I shop at regularly and I tend to trust the food there more, even though I spend a lot more and get a lot less. We have quite a few of Whole Foods in the Atlanta area and I've been to most of them. In fact I went to one to eat lunch earlier today (their sauteed kale is amazing).

How did you not know you did not see any poor people shopping there? I got a bit confused when you wrote "As I approached the checkout counters –oh, now I see some African-Americans and Latinos!". I admit this left a bad taste in my mouth as I assumed the Whole Food characters were ethnically diverse. (This is my experience at the Whole Foods I shop at.) I understand this story was based on your experience, but I'd like to point out that being rich or well-off or wealthy should not be assumed to mean whites only.
I am fascinated by the Ostrich eggs they sell at the Whole Foods for $40 a pop. I read that it's the equivalent of 30 chicken eggs. That's a helluva fritatta or a hacker's night delight.
Uh, the labels you mention in this article sound like prejudices against healthy people. The writer fails to mention that Whole Foods is a Godsend for vegetarians and for people with health issues --especially those with allergies. Most of the people shopping there, at least the one in my town, fall into the health problem or vegetarian category. The other obvious reason people shop at Whole Foods is they don't want to eat the toxic stuff that accompanies most less expensive food. Once I learned to read know, all that gibberish on the labels of Twinkie boxes, macaroni and cheese, etc. and I started to feel exactly like a restaurant customer who knew the cook was sick and coughing in our food. When you understand what kind of pesticides/poisons you're buying at discount stores, it becomes difficult to eat them.

Also, you can actually make things cheaply using organic ingredients, you just have to dramatically change your life style and cook things from scratch. Snobs, I think, would be more apt to eat out.