How Whole Foods Created A New Breed Of Shopper

In my darker moments, I imagine what it might be like to live through an alien invasion. I'm not a War of the Worlds, death-and-destruction kind of guy; I am more prone to creepier visions of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers variety, in which our enemies live comfortably amongst us. And, lately, I’ve come to suspect that the enemy is indeed already here: It’s Whole Foods.

The environmentally conscious, user-friendly, million-options super market chain snuck up on me like a slow-moving teddy bear. Now, I can’t imagine life without it.

About 10 years ago, a layover stuck me in a sterile hotel in Vancouver, where a consortium of Whole Foods meat suppliers was gathering for a conference. I had enjoyed shopping at Whole Foods and was tickled to hear from one of the guys attending the conference — I swear to you, he wore stiff blue jeans and a 10-gallon hat and spoke like Sam Elliott’s “Stranger” from The Big Lebowski — that a store would soon be coming to my hometown, New York City. He said that it would be "magnificent." He had a sparkle in his eye as he looked off into the middle distance, as if he were imagining a beachhead on Iwo Jima.

I didn't take him seriously. I was amused by the prospect of Whole Foods adapting to New Yorker culture. And now, here we are 10 years later, and it's us who've adapted to them. Last week, I, a guy who prides himself on knowing the best local pizza joints in each and every neighborhood, bought a whole pizza pie (hey, it's not bad!) at Whole Foods because I wanted to supplement the meal with offerings from the $9.99 per pound antipasti bar. What have I become?

Say all you want about the Starbucks culture we live in. At least we can feel comfortable hating Starbucks. But, Whole Foods? With its aisles so wide and endless organic options and inoffensive green logo and helpful but not unctuous employees. The fact that I spend so much money there and that it never bothers me, strikes me as beyond nonsensical. It’s like a spell has been cast that dismisses the impulse to criticize the notion that maybe $7.99 for a quart of organic blueberries is too much to pay. Or, somehow, it’s in my interest to spend more than six dollars on a small box of cereal.

It’s twisted, like I’m the M in an SM relationship, when I am sincerely appreciative for the 15 cents deducted from my $123 receipt when I dutifully bring my bag to the store.

Whole Foods? As my friend Barbara likes to say, more like, Whole Paycheck. Still, I can't hate it. Read More


Posted on June 28, 2012 and filed under Food Trends.