Monday, September 23, 2013

Food, Glorious Food

Musing on why I didn't find that Whole Foods blog funny...

Last week I read a satirical blog in the Huffington Post Comedy section entitled "Surviving Whole Foods."  I found the link in my facebook feed via numerous friends that day.  I eagerly clicked on the link.  As someone who enjoys a monthly shopping trip to Whole Foods, I got ready to laugh knowingly, maybe even at myself.

But I did not laugh.  So I reread the blog, twice... then again.  I thought I must be missing something.  But I just wasn't laughing.  So I slept on it.  But when I woke up, I felt even less like laughing.  Had I become humorless?  Could I no longer take a joke?

So I'll try to put what's bugging me into words.  I think that good satire is rooted in a healthy dose of truth.  But reading this blog just felt like a blow by blow of one over-the-top misguided observation after another.  I cringe when the author casually states that "poor people" don't have "special diet needs."  I disagree.  Diabetes immediately comes to mind... it actually affects people below the poverty line at a higher rate.  Here is Dr. Mark Hyman's thoughtful blog from a few years back that addresses the link between poverty and diabetes.  I suspect that poor people likely have just as many, if not more, special diet needs when compared to society at large.  These special diet needs were likely caused by the fact that they didn't have access to good, real, whole food in the first place.  Maybe they were deterred by the high costs, or more likely because a place that offers quality food doesn't even exist in the neighborhood.  This does not make me laugh. 

The author continues to ridicule Whole Foods as she makes her way through the beauty and vitamin aisles.  Somehow she is "tricked" into buying things she doesn't need, including hundred dollar face cream.  To use her own phrase, talk about "rich white people problems."  Talk about finding a way to factor personal responsibility out of the equation, and to let Whole Foods take the blame for you spending too much money, you having no self control, you being too preoccupied with the size of your pores to make the choice to not max out your credit card.  Maxing out credit cards is still responsible for having ruined the financial lives of countless Americans and played no small role in the economic downturn we so often like to blame on the government.  This also does not make me laugh.

Unlike the author of "Surviving Whole Foods," I didn't grow up shopping there, as she states in an on camera interview.  In fact, I'm pretty sure my parents never step foot in the place because they've also heard that you'll spend your "whole paycheck" there.  Maybe they are intimidated because they've heard of the snooty, unfriendly, pretentious staff members.  This has not been my experience.

Avocado - Natural Whole Baby Food
The parking lot at the Chicago South Loop store has great big parking spaces (it's a perk to living in the mid-west I suppose!).  I'm wearing my baby as I cross the walk, and a nice lady smiles and waves me through.  I have a lovely conversation with the butcher behind the counter, he helps me decide what the best cut of meat would be for a recipe I'd like to try.  He's knowledgeable, friendly, and talks with me about how to get the most for my money here.  I sample delicious cheese; I learn where it's from.  The whole wheat bread is in the bread aisle along with all the other bread; I am empowered to choose a loaf that's in my budget.  The signs in the produce section help to highlight what's in season, so if I want, I can make the decision to provide my family with food that's growing optimally and nearby.  I learn about a local farm I didn't know about before.  I buy an organic avocado from California, it makes us think fondly of Los Angeles.  I try a sample for a bath scrub, I smell amazing for the rest of the day.  I decide not to buy any, because it's out of my budget right now, but the scent on my wrist makes me smile.  I check out, providing my re-useable bags, which I now store in the car.  I used to forget them all the time, and sometimes I still do.  But I'm glad that this store is trying to help me remember to use them. 

It is not my intention to be a spokesperson for Whole Foods.  I can't deny that prices are high there.  And maybe on occasion you'll run into a grumpy staff member, but who doesn't have grumpy days?  The truth is, good quality food simply costs more than food that's bad for us and bad for our country.  It's a problem that we've made highly processed, sugary, empty calorie-d food so cheap that we expect all food should be cheap.  And the cheaper bad food is, the more it costs to provide healthy options, such as fresh grass-fed meat, a wider variety of whole grains, and support for small local farms.  Whole Foods is not here to solve all our problems, but they are a forerunner among national supermarkets when it comes to providing customers with with good, healthy whole options.  I would like to argue that an occasional, well thought out trip to Whole Foods can be a really enjoyable experience, that does not need to result in breaking the bank.  

If we're ever going to make a dent in our country's food problem, we need to demand better food from better quality sources.  We can ask this of our local farmers' markets, or grocery stores.  I'm lucky to have this opportunity.  Unfortunately, not everyone has the access or the means to do this.   But if people with relative privilege, like the author of "Surviving Whole Foods," spent a little more time making smart choices in the food aisles, and a little less time maxing out her credit card on ridiculously priced beauty products, we might have a chance at changing the status quo. 
I promise, I'm the same fun-loving gal I've always been.  I haven't lost my sense of humor or my appetite.  I just spend my laughs on stuff that's funny, and my money on food that's good for my family.
Food, Glorious Food - this week's blogpost title is the opening song from Oliver! in which the orphan workhouse boys fantasize of food while collecting their daily gruel.  I hope I see the day when the dream for all Americans to have access to good, whole food, becomes a reality. 

1 comment:

  1. I hadn't read this!-- until this moment. I really appreciate it and feel you were much more thoughtful in your blog than the author of the "Surviving Whole Foods " post, who seemed to be reaching for a laugh. I'm also happy to save my laughter for stuff that's actually funny.