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Whole Foods
9 June 2008

When I arrived at Whole Foods with my grocery list in hand, I was in a light-hearted mood. I love shopping for food. The smell and touch of fresh vegetables gives me a buzz. Knowing that I can afford them gives me only a little guilt.

On the way to the store, listening to NPR, I heard angry denunciations of a woman who had confessed in an interview that she couldn’t’ afford Whole Foods any more and so had given up on organic food. Many listeners called her on the concatenation of Whole Foods with organic food, and several offered alternatives – grow it, for example, or go to your local farmer’s market. We do both – but I also love to shop at Whole Foods.

Now, I suspect that the Whole Foods store in Los Gatos, CA is not particularly representative of Whole Foods everywhere. Los Gatos is wildly affluent and wildly inconsistent in its values. When I get to feeling strange about the “green luxury” of Whole Foods in Los Gatos, I go down to the New Leaf in Boulder Creek, or to Wild Oats. But now Whole Foods has begun acquiring its competitors. I wonder if brand wisdom will keep New Leaf’s homespun green identity. Sure, the meat ain’t top-o’-the-rack, but the free-range tofu rocks – and the politics of the customers is way left, tie-dyed and comfy. It’s almost like going to meetin’, shopping at New Leaf in Boulder Creek. They sell Earth flags for only $19.99 (small size). And they sell crafts and stuff made by locals. They are unashamed in a town where hippies and fundamentalist Xtians live cheek by Bible and get along just fine at the grocery store.

But as I was saying before my brain so rudely interrupted, I was feeling fine turning into the Whole Foods parking lot before I realized that I had forgotten my green bags. Oh, damn. I thought - I don’t want to be one of those people who use paper bags like they were, well – disposable. That’s definitely a species of everyday evil. Get over it, I told myself. I saw a car backing out, stopped short of the space, and turned on my blinker. A Lexus SUV coming from the other direction was more than a little aggressive. The sole female driver muscled into the space by playing that old trick of “I’m not looking at you”. I demurred. My mellow was harshed, but not completely.

Money is tight, and I was resolved to shopping wisely. No excursions down the aisle where “whole world” scarves sell for $40, no expensive baby clothes, no $5 greeting cards. Just the food, ma’am. I got out with 4 days’ groceries and one bottle of wine for $116. Not bad.

As I was leaving, the parking lot had turned into something that reminded me of nothing so much as a melée of big fish in a too-small aquarium. 2 out of every 3 vehicles was a giant SUV. They were all jockeying around, trying to get a parking place, cutting one another off. A woman in an Escalade with cell phone to ear (soon to be illegal, praise be) nearly ran me down in my puny little Honda Hybrid – probably couldn’t even see me over that gigantic grille. What a bummer.

I decided to make a plea to Whole Foods. You seem to be the big fish in the organic food biz. You give credit to folks who bring their own bags. In fact, you played a huge role the remarkably swift adoption of bring-your-own-bag as hip. So, how about if you reward folks who bring them in a hybrid or bio-diesel car? Or people who actually have more than one person in that SUV? You’ve succeeded really well with both ideology and product, Whole Foods. You could use the power of your brand to do some green outreach to the parking lot. Just as the carbon footprint of an electric car doesn’t end at the plug, the kind of environmental responsibility you seen to promote doesn’t stop at your automatic doors.

And hey, Los Gatos, get a clue! I figured I’d have to blur out the license plate numbers in the cars in this photo, but three of them were so new they didn’t even have license plates yet! So what’s wrong with this picture?

Whole Foods parking lot