LA Times on Whole Foods Pasadena

We’ve come to realize that the mainstream media is usually so wowed by Whole Foods that, most of the time, it seems their critical faculties are left at the door when they write about the store. 

We can understand. If you’re used to shopping at a drab and dull supermarket (meaning nearly all of them), it’s easy to be stunned by Whole Foods. The minute you enter, the Whole Foods trademark “greeting” shows off what they do better than anyone else.

Beautiful cut flowers, year-round fresh berries, stacked high gorgeous produce, and samples of “good-with-our-fruit” cheese and crackers, can make even the smartest writers forget that Whole Foods isn’t a social movement but a business. A great business and a revolutionary one, in some ways—but one that still looks to the bottom line.

Yet we found an exception in the Los Angeles Times April 6 story on the chain’s new Southern California Region flagship store in Pasadena.

In the piece, staff writer Christopher Hawthorne explores the conflicts between the roots of the organic food movement as well as green architecture and how—in Whole Foods and the culture as a whole—the demands of business have made green a slightly different shade of natural.

As Hawthorne noted, “On the Sunday I visited, a group was settling down in the center of the second floor, just behind the pizza oven and not far from the roast-beef carving station, for a full-blown Champagne brunch. TVs hang everywhere so you can watch PGA golf (that’s what was on when I was there) while you pick out fair-trade roses from Ecuador.

It’s Vegas with organic, gluten-free scones.”

As Hawthorne noted, ” On the Sunday I visited, a group was settling down in the center of the second floor, just behind the pizza oven and not far from the roast-beef carving station, for a full-blown Champagne brunch. TVs hang everywhere so you can watch PGA golf (that’s what was on when I was there) while you pick out fair-trade roses from Ecuador.

It’s Vegas with organic, gluten-free scones.”

Citing Michael Pollan’s critiques of the retailer, Hawthorne asks if Whole Foods—and by extension, American business and American culture—can ever incorporate green ethics in an economy driven by a consumer culture that countermands the ethos of its roots? In other words, if green means reduce, reuse and recycle, how does even a corporately conscious retailer like Whole Foods make an impact?

While acknowledging the store’s increased efforts at supporting local producers and the treatment of animals, Hawthorne concludes that in the hyper-competitive supermarket arena “Forget about doing more with less. This green-tinged cornucopia is all about doing more with more.”

Or as we’ve said before, just because you’re selling or even buying organic produce, doesn’t mean you’re going to change the world. It has an impact, and an important one, but don’t stop there.

For more on this question see our story on Planet Green’s food show starring Emeril Lagasse on location at Whole Foods Market.

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