Sunday, August 23, 2009

Whole Foods Nation Betrayed

Oh, the poor, poor babies. Self-deluded people buying overpriced, marginal quality goods from a major coporate chain that marketed the illusion of being "community based" and "wholesome".

The BBC writer has a very good time with this article, Customers call for Whole Foods Boycott:

It's the shop where wealthy American liberals buy their groceries.

But the American supermarket chain Whole Foods Market has found itself at the centre of a storm of controversy after its chief executive, John Mackey, wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal presenting a free market alternative to President Obama's proposed healthcare reforms.

Mr Mackey began his article with a quote from Margaret Thatcher and went on to add that Americans do not have an intrinsic right to healthcare - an idea strongly at odds with the views of a large proportion of Whole Foods' customer base.

The company, which has 270 stores in North America and the UK, sells organic vegetables, biodegradable washing powder and sustainable seafood to a well-heeled clientele and champions its liberal credentials.

I hate to break the news to you, kids, but its "liberal credentials" are as deep as its advertisements in the newspaper. It is a brand intended to appeal to liberal upper middle class snobbery and elitism, and to rake in all of your excess income.

There are several Whole Foods in the greater San Diego area, including one about three miles from where I live. I admit I was caught up in the glamor of it when it first opened up, but quickly grew disenchanted by the incredible price premium and, frankly, the crappy quality. The deli food tastes like the "organic" shit served up in college cafeterias everywhere (bland, under-seasoned, fibrous, incorrectly cooked, allowed to sit around for too long) but at about six times the price. The bulk foods are twice the cost of comparable products at the nearest area competitor, Henry's Market (which is locally owned, serves up local produce, and has great prices, just in case you're wondering), and the product selection is limited to high priced goods. Their bakery items are, in a word, inedible.

In short, it's a grand marketing scheme which has worked on people more concerned about appearing to do the right thing than actually doing it. A few people are smart enough to identify the ploy, but not quite willing to admit they were snookered:

Outside the store [in Washington DC], customers Emily Goulding and Ileana Abreu said the controversy had made them think twice about shopping there.

"It is hypocritical and disingenuous and it really cheapens the brand," said Ms Goulding.

"Whole Foods is expensive but people shop here because they identify with the social conscience of the company - now it turns out that ethos was just a marketing exercise," added Ms Abreu.

Um, so have you stopped shopping there? If the CEO "apologizes," will you happily go back to handing over your money for the illusion of an ethos? Are you taking your well-heeled asses to local produce stands, mom-and-pop owned corner markets, and some of the run-down independent grocers in the area who keep the money in the community? No? Why not? Because they don't sell perfectly shaped, organically grown, blemish-free red bell peppers imported from Holland for $4 each? Just the kind of dinged-up weird looking ones from Mexico at two for $1? Because they don't have nice looking stores with artfully arranged end caps and bright, colorful posters? Because they are a bit grimy around the edges and have people using food stamps at the checkout line? Becuse poor people with bad eating habits shop there and you don't like having to mix with the non-beautiful people?

Uh-huh. Riiiiight, you're there for the healthy, organic, natural food. Which is packaged at the same factories and comes from the same industrial farms and ranches as the other stuff, but has that pretty "365" label on it.

No, you're there to shop in an upscale grocery store where dirty poor people aren't able to join you, but marketed in such a way that you can pretend you're doing this for socially responsible reasons. I had to laugh at these two people interviewed for the article:

Massachusetts-based playwright Mark Rosenthal's "Boycott Whole Foods" Facebook page has so far attracted 24,738 fans, including supporters in the UK and Canada.

Rosenthal said, "I read the article and it stunned me, the hubris of this man who has made his millions selling his products to progressives in America based on an image of caring for the community."

Teacher Carol Kramer had driven from Virginia to take part in the protest. She said, "There are a lot of people out there who really invested in the Whole Foods brand, emotionally and financially. We are feeling really betrayed."

Why are you all so shocked?

This is exactly how The Precious was marketed to Whole Foods Nation, a facsimile of liberal values tied up in a "clean" package. The "progressives" are a social class, not a political movement, and they are all about image. It is a class still held captive by a fantasy of the JFK White House, wanting to see it as moon landings and cultural events and chic fashion, and not as Bay of Pigs and Vietnam and invasive policing by the FBI and CIA. Its a class that waxes rhapsodic over Woodstock, but is silent over tear-gas in the streets of Berkley.

I look at this situation and see a perfect microcosm of all the delusions about the nature of power and all the unacknowledged class prejudices held by Whole Foods Nation.



show me said...

Yeah! You are back! Hilarious post...please stay in the mix and write about healthcare!

Elise said...

Just back after a long layoff, Anglachel swings for the fences and knocks one into the next county! Boy, oh, boy, she's just what the doctor ordered. Even the opposing team is cheering her return to the game.

Teresa said...

My own local favorite was when the "libruls" felt we should boycott a popular local produce grower/fruit stand because they occasionally used Mexican labor, implying low pay. (They also hire loads and loads of college kids and locals. They resell produce from other local farms too.)

Ow gawd, talk about bigger fish to fry, starting with Whole Foods!

I will admit, we do get our Pero at Whole Foods, since we can't get it anywhere else.

Good to see you back even for a little while.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say how wonderful if is to see you back. I've been dying for your take on the events of the past few weeks. "The 'progressives" are a social class, not a political movement' quote may be the best take that anyone has yet had on the "creative class" that foisted Obama upon us. Beautiful.

I also completely agree with your thesis that they are looking for their own little slice of Camelot. I think too many of them bought into the whole "West Wing" fantasy - mistaking that fairy tale cooked up by Lawrence O'Donnell and Dee Dee Myers for the way that politics really works.

Palomino said...

"I think too many of them bought into the whole "West Wing" fantasy - mistaking that fairy tale cooked up by Lawrence O'Donnell and Dee Dee Myers for the way that politics really works."

Yes. They also bought into season 1 of "24."

Historiann said...

Brilliant post--it's good to read you again. And your parting shot--"[t]he "progressives" are a social class, not a political movement, and they are all about image," explains why "heath care" reform is where it is and why Obama's "friends" on Fb aren't anywhere to be seen in the debate. They already had theirs, and don't think it's glamourour or cool to work on issues now.

pdgrey said...

Lord, I am glad you are back. This is so exact on the 'hide behind, look what I do", liberal "I've got mine" people that voted for Obama. It reminds me of how many "boomers" I talk to that have told me they were at Woodstock.By now it must be at the level of the Million Man March. Remember when Tim Russert said he was there, HA! Sometimes, I think they were never anywhere that people were dying in the civil rights movement, in any war protest, etc., it just makes them "feel" better about themselves to say they were.

Bob Harrison said...

There were just as people at Woodstock as there were in Vietnam and at the same time.

Welcome back and most excellent post.

Aeryl said...

They already had theirs, and don't think it's glamourour or cool to work on issues now.

Absolutely Historiann.

I just watched Patton Oswalt's new special(which was horridly misogynistic, fatphobic, and rape-jokey) and when he got to talking about the election, it was full of that mindset. "Yea! We elected a black man! W00t!"

You can tell that the policy outcomes, aside from torture and the war, did not really factor into his concerns.

Unknown said...

My partner and I opened a shop in Kennebunkport Maine this spring - we sell all-natural, non-toxic nature-based goods we hand-craft, and have created space for customers to create ones of their own. The basis of each product is beeswax, which supports honeybee farmers thereby helping keep bees out there pollinating our food.

We've met all kinds of warm-hearted, generous people and have been suprised at who is most likely to put their $ where their mouth is.

If they have a Hopey Changey bumper sticker and are youthful, hip, wealthy, and can't stop about how awesome and revolutionary our shop is, they will, guaranteed, spend ZERO dollars. I do see them walking around town with plastic bags full of plastic toys made by asian children, though.

Never thought moderates and conservatives would be the ones to put bread on our table.

We refer to them as BAMAS, and have long sinced having conversations about the earth that help them feel better about not supporting REAL change and retail/consumption that harms less and means more.