Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I hate Whole Foods

Not very long ago I found myself in the Chelsea (New York City) area on a Saturday morning. I needed some breakfast staples - a dozen eggs, some bread and bacon. Chelsea has a shiny (relatively) new Whole Foods. Well. I think the best price for a dozen eggs was something close to $3. Bread? a veritable aisle-full. None less than $3. Now I am partial to Pepperidge Farm - probably considered a premium brand but not to be found at Whole Foods. Nor was anything like Wonder or brands one is used to shopping in supermarkets to be found. Bacon? $5 a pop.

I know it's Chelsea (I'll let the Monk get into that) and therefore frou-frou and expensive but I'd think I'd like to be able to buy some basics without spending a fortune.

Never going in there again unless I'm dying of thirst and have $5 to buy some organic berry drink.

In the Weekly Standard today Andrew Breitbart savages Whole Foods perfectly and elegantly.

THE DOWNSIDE to the Whole Foods experience is that its success is driven by one of our era's more grotesque phenomena: the upwardly-mobile urban dweller, the one who wants to indulge class-conscious epicurean yearnings and save the world, too. Whole Foods is a wonderland molded to accommodate the psyche of the socially-responsible, guilt-ridden liberal--the crunchy Kucinich capitalist.

What other conceivable reason would the chain have for displaying Out magazine at the checkout stand? Even if the wishful demographic estimates of gay-rights groups don't economically justify
this niche product's front-and-center placement at the point of sale. Out--with other unreadable yoga and nutritionist-approved lifestyle monthlies arrayed around it--screams: You are an open-minded, deep-feeling and wondrously spiritual person. You are now free to buy, buy, buy!

That's also why the fundraising tally for the crisis du jour--tsunamis, famines, whatever--for each individual Whole Foods store is artfully displayed near the ATM swipe. The website,, is designed more in the style of a charitable foundation than a billion-dollar grocery enterprise. "Seafood sustainability" and "commitment to green" are among the subliminal slogans seeded throughout the shopping experience, as if to say, Hey, we're in this together. Your total is $117.42.

What really gets Breitbart's goat is a letter posted at eye-level at the checkout counter (well organized and efficient I must admit) by John Mackey, Whole Foods' CEO that shows how a mess of animal rights and vegetarian groups support Whole Foods' policies. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is one of the undersigned which is a litmust test for me. Anyone who believes being a carnivore is "Holocaust on a plate" is deeply deluded or deeply troubled.

This letter though was signed by Peter Singer of Animal Rights International. Singer is a bio-ethicist and professor at Princeton who advocates famously bestiality (accusing humans of being 'specieist') and societal killing of severely disabled babies.

Back to Whole Foods, a highly profitable corporate entity which has chosen to brandish the Peter Singer Seal of Approval. The problem is that many people, myself among them, regard the man as a monster. All at once, what I had accepted (from an amused intellectual distance) as clever market positioning, artfully designed to draw in the gullible left, took a disturbing turn. I had always assumed Whole Foods did its homework to ensure that the social experience of shopping there would be a fine imported blend of good corporate citizenship and high-camp, but harmless, political correctness.

What we have instead is not so harmless after all. There is something deranged about a wildly successful corporate entity that prizes the endorsement of a man who will not distinguish between the moral claims of a lamb chop and a school child.

Call me a Philistine but I am much, much happier shopping at Super Stop n Shop.

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