Posted on June 10th, 2008 in food, fresh fruits and vegetables, organic foods, organic produce, processed foods, processed meats | 3 Comments »
Being a regular customer at Whole Foods for some time, I've had a chance to notice what they sell and who normally shops there.
After a recent visit I've come to the conclusion that contrary to popular belief, Whole Foods IS NOT a health food store in my opinion.
For many reasons.
First, WF looks more like an upscale gourmet food store than health food store. Walk around any of the stores and you'll find an extraordinarily large section of chocolates (including large display cases filled exclusively with chocolate), one of the largest meat departments in town, more prepared foods than most grocery stores, large selection of processed foods, coffee bar, large selection of desserts, large dairy sections, one of the largest selections of seafoods around, and in many WF, a smokehouse and wine bar.
When you walk around the store, you'll find samples of guacamole (made in a factory) and chips, smoothies made with sorbet (sugar) and yogurt (processed dairy product), pizza, chocolates, chocolate powder in juice and sometimes fruit slices.
None of these sections and samples (except for the fruit) would be considered 'health' improving. They are normally found in traditional grocery stores as well but WF has upgraded them with a healthy twist. And it seems to be working since most people 'think' that since these foods are at Whole Foods, they 'must' be healthy, although in most cases the opposite is true.
Processed food is still processed food and not healthy for you. Even though a processed food is organic and heated to extremely high temperatures, it's STILL a dead, processed food and not a 'health' food. Even though a dessert may be 'sugar free' and 'natural', it's STILL a processed food made with processed ingredients. Even though coffee is organically grown and fair trade, it still contains caffeine and is a stimulant. Although milk or cheese may be organic, it's still pasteurized, dead, clogging to your system and not a health food. Although rice and soy milk is a better alternative to milk, it's also pasteurized and not a health food. Although bottled juice may be organic, it's also pasteurized, dead and not a health food.
Is sushi a health food? In reading the label of a box of 'fresh made' sushi at WF recently, I found it containing conventional sugar, soy sauce, salt, and 'natural' ingredients. It also was 'made for' WF and not made in the store as they try to convince you with asian employees working in that department exclusively, wearing asian style attire and looking as though they are preparing fresh sushi.
Are smoked sausage, turkey pizza, frozen lasagna, cheese burritos, egg salad, gelato, chicken salad, chocolate balls, chicken and rice soup, Haagen Daz ice cream... all health foods? Sounds like SAD (Standard American Diet) diet that has lead this country (and now exported to many other countries) to the state of high rates of obesity to me .
To their credit, WF seems to carry more organic, range-free and uncured meats than any other store, although again, not health food. They also carry many alternatives to traditional and conventional foods that other grocery stores do not carry, including a larger number of organic and personal care items, which is an improvement on conventionally grown foods.
They also carry many green, eco-friendly home and cleaning products which traditional grocery stores don't offer.
Second, most WF employees are not educated in health or the benefits of certain foods, herbs or related foods. In traditional health food stores or co-op's, employees are normally a wealth of information, from health benefits, personal experiences, additional resources and their genuine, personal interest in health. It often shows in the time they take to explain and answer your questions, and they are normally an example of their interest in their own personal health.
This is normally the exact opposite of what you'll find in WF. The employees are nice and helpful, but they are mostly not well educated in health, don't have a personal interest in health, and they often aren't good examples of health as well. The only exception may be in the Whole Body departments where you may find some employees with additional experience in some stores.
Third, watch who shops at WF.
Spend just a few minutes watching customers come through the store and you'll find a similar cross section of America today with about 50-75% of customers overweight or obese. Contrast that with who you see shopping at a local farmers market or 'traditional' health food store and it's atypical to todays America, mostly slender and average shoppers.
The only place where you'll find true 'health' food in WF is in the produce department where you'll normally find fresh, raw fruits and vegetables. Although that is changing since most of the produce found at WF is sourced from large organic 'factory' farms and only a small handful from local farms. WF tries hard to advertise (and convince you) they are strong in the 'local' market with signs throughout the stores, but in truth, they rarely have more than a few locally grown foods on any given day.
There is a very small section of 'raw foods' in some WF where they offer mostly dehydrated raw and super foods. They also carry nuts and seeds in the bulk department, but only a small selection is raw and organic. Most of the bulk department is made up of mixes, nut butters, grains and conventionally grown bulk foods.
Some deli departments do carry a handful of 'raw' salads, although it's a very small handful.
There are a few sprouted grain products available as well, both fresh and frozen.
To their credit, WF does have one side of their salad bar stocked exclusively with organic fresh produce offered at the same price as all their salad bar items.
Overall, in terms of size, I found about 10-15% of the store to have 'health' food. Compare this to your local farmers market which is 100% fresh produce, nothing processed and normally picked fresh within days (or hours).
Although I'm grateful that WF is in my area and do shop there for certain items, I find myself at a local farm or farmers market more often. I also enjoy the local aspect of farmers markets and knowing my food is mostly grown locally and can speak with the farmers, learning about them and the foods they grow, building a relationship.
What do you think? Let me know your comments below.
To your best health!