Hole Foods

…That is, unless you’re guilty of something and have a confession to make.  There are some holes in the Whole Foods Market facade, after all.

First of all, I’m not going to debate whether or not organic is better or worth a higher price.  (It is, for the very simple fact that farming mega-corporations have taken over control of most of the food supply in this country, and what is allowed to go on behind closed doors and off the label is nearly criminal.  Anything not organic means that it has either been genetically engineered, doused with chemicals, or usually both, and this is never good for the human body; thus, organic is always better and although it’s a shame to have to pay more just to get what should be normal food, that’s just a fact of life.)

I’m also not going to take issue with his mid-August healthcare commentary.  What he had to say was sound.  It is not the government’s responsibility to take care of every lazy, chain-smoking, beer-chugging, pill-popping, calorie-packing, carb-loading, vegetable-phobic couch potato American.  People would do much better to cut out bad habits, break unhealthy addictions, get up off the couch and out of the house, turn off the TV, put down the iPhone, eat fruits and vegetables, and eat proper portion sizes.  Really, is it that tough?  But this rant will get a post of its own.

No, what I do take issue with are several mistakes Whole Foods has made.

I take the biggest issue with its ingredients and their labeling.  Natural and organic products are available.

However, you have to look harder than you think to find some of them.  When you read the labels, everything sounds nice and benign, and you might think you’re out of the woods because you can, indeed, pronounce everything.

But Whole Foods is notorious for utopian-sounding ingredients that are actually synonyms for much more ominous compounds that have been included anyway.

For example, many of their soups and potato chips contain autolyzed/hydrolyzed yeast or yeast extract.  Those of us who try to avoid MSG might be pretty pissed off if they didn’t know that these yeast derivatives have an equal effect on the body.  They’re neurotoxic, very allergenic, inflammatory, and worst of all, highly addictive.

Sometimes the ingredients are right on the label, but they’ll try to soften it by claiming that the harmful substance everyone’s keeping an eye out for is from “plant sources”.  It’s particularly hard to shop for shampoo, conditioner, or toothpaste because of this.  It’s great that the irritant known as Sodium-Laurel or Laureth Sulfate in this toothpaste comes from coconut pulp, but that doesn’t change the fact that it leaves my skin cracked and itchy.

And other times, the ingredients are stated on the label with no such fluff.  You might think Whole Foods is the last place this would happen, but it does.  I had to look long and hard for deodorant without any paraben or sulfate compounds in it.  I finally found some mineral salt sprays…just before my mom proudly announced that she found the same ones in a Canadian Walmart, and they were cheaper, even before considering the exchange rate.

Sometimes the ingredients aren’t even disclosed at all.  We’ve all come to expect this from our neighborhood grocery stores who pull crazy shenanigans all the time, such as spraying meat with viruses to kill bacteria so it’ll hold for another day, or exposing color-void meat to carbon monoxide to artificially restore its healthy red color.  These have all hit the papers, which is what drove a lot of us to places like Whole Foods in the first place.

Thus, it would never happen at Whole Foods, or so we think.  But when organic apples are out of season and are temporarily replaced by conventionally grown ones, look (and feel) closely.  That grimy oily feeling on your hands after handling a couple?  Is the same carcinogenic carnuba wax you find on apples at your local grocery store.

The kicker?  For that identical product, Whole Foods charges you more.

Which brings me to my next point of contention: price.  Prices stubbornly insist upon remaining just out of our comfort zone.  It has gotten to the point where every time we go shopping, something on our list has gone up.  Sometimes it’s a small hike, but sometimes it’s rather substantial.  I watched our average prices go up 20% during a single year.

I try not to bitch (too loudly, anyway) without offering some kind of solution.  And in fairness, there are ways to shop there without breaking the bank.  The biggest bang for your buck is the bulk section–and I don’t mean the candy.  Stay away from the mountains of party mixes, dried fruits, and natural M&M counterparts.  Those get very expensive.  However, there is a smorgasbord of varieties of beans, rices, granola mixes, nuts, seeds, and flours that are very affordable.

Instead of individual pre-measured packages of herbs, spices or teas, get those in bulk as well.  Sure, there’s more work involved with soaking the beans and washing the rice, and sure, there’s no such things as “instant” (everything has to be slow-cooked), but it’s healthier for you, and much cheaper.

Another way to ease the pain is to take advantage of the rare items on sale.  This comes with a caveat: if something is on sale at Whole Foods, it’s usually for a reason. Often, it’s on the verge of going south and occasionally, it has already.

However, it is possible to find the occasional honest-to-God sale on something, even when there’s nothing wrong with it.  Call it a soft economy; call it a case of it-was-overpriced-to-begin-with-and-it’s-not-moving.  Regardless, it’s possible to find a good deal sometimes.

A more recent revelation we’ve had is to learn your prices (you should anyway) and comparison shop at other stores.  If organic strawberries are not in season and conventionally-grown is your only option, chances are that Whole Foods is the most expensive source.

So, verify that the strawberries at your local supermarket are indeed cheaper, and get them there instead.

Another thing to do is, when Whole Foods has a sale on cereal, for example, they often give an amount, like $10 and specify that it’s for, say, 3 boxes.  The cereal is normally $3.49 a box.  You’re saving 16 cents a box.  They act like it’s a big deal, with big yellow signs and all, but is it?  Sixteen cents is sixteen cents, though, so fair enough.

But don’t get roped into buying all 3 boxes if you were only going to buy one, thinking that you need to buy all 3 to get the sale price.  They of course want you to buy more, but you don’t have to; if you buy just 1 or 2, they still give you the per-box sale price.

Another caution: don’t automatically assume that buying a bigger quantity of something gets you a better deal.  Bring a calculator if you have to.  As nerdy as you may think it looks, you could save yourself a lot of money, and at a place that can charge you $40 for a container of Acai berry juice and still sleep at night, it may be worth it to keep one handy for some quick number-crunching.  They’ll gladly sell you a 1-year supply of something, but be sure that there are some actual savings involved, especially if it’s something you’re just trying out.

Whole Foods, like any other store, is designed to extract the most money from your wallet, and they’ve carefully engineered every aspect of the entire store to do just that.  Gotta keep the glum shareholders pacified somehow, after all.  You can fight back, though, and remain sensible when shopping.  They won’t take your Whole Paycheck unless you let them.  I don’t mind paying a little more for a much better product that won’t slowly embalm and kill me over the next 20 years.  Just know what you’re buying and make sure it really is worth the extra cost and that the ultra-hip 100% post-consumer-recycled paper package with quotes of yoga sutras in an uber-mystic modern font isn’t just a mask for regular supermarket-grade crap at an organic price.


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