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February 19, 2014 2:51 PM   Subscribe


 
When all 78 ingredients banned by Whole Foods are taken into account, roughly 54 percent of food items sold at a Walmart would be prohibited at Whole Foods.

Man, when you put the answer up front like that you spoil your own article.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:55 PM on February 19 [10 favorites]


Now, how many of Walmart's business practices are banned by Whole Foods?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:56 PM on February 19 [15 favorites]


And yet, you can still get tasty junk food and soda at Whole Foods!
posted by rtha at 2:59 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]


How many Walmart shoppers could afford to shop at Whole Foods?
posted by Carius at 3:03 PM on February 19 [37 favorites]


And just how far can your stick your nose up in the air, anyhow?
posted by Catblack at 3:04 PM on February 19 [15 favorites]


Truly the defining question of the twenty-first century.
posted by GuyZero at 3:04 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite sodas is Whole Foods Cherry Vanilla Cream soda actually. I go there mostly for the soda pretty regularly.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:05 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


how many of Walmart's business practices are banned by Whole Foods?

not so many... John Mackey is almost an honorary Walton Brother...
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:06 PM on February 19 [33 favorites]


What percentage of grocery products at my local grocery store would be banned by Whole Foods? I wouldn't be surprised if it were the same percent of products. The final question is quite nonsensical:
Do you prefer laissez-faire shopping (and the lower prices that come with it) or highly regulated shopping (and the peace of mind that comes with it)? The answer likely comes down to your politics—and your pocketbook.
Shopping at Walmart or my local grocery store is highly regulated shopping.
posted by muddgirl at 3:06 PM on February 19 [8 favorites]


I hear from most people when they're engaging in 'smart' or 'healthy' or whatever buying practices from companies such as Whole Foods that the reasons are always centric; i.e. avoiding cancer causing products, heavy metals, pesticides, etc. I rarely if ever do I hear them talking about the impacts that their purchase is having outside of their own consumption, which is how I tend to buy things. I have no issue in principal with high fructose corn syrup. I take issue with the massive subsidies given by the American government to huge farming conglomerates to strip mine the soil of the Midwest using monoculture farming practices that employ huge amounts of water from a non-replenishing aquifer, practices that are also dependent on large amount of petroleum based fertilizers that poison the surface water and disrupt the endocrine system of higher animals, including humans.

That's why this diet soda tastes deeeeeelicious, at least to me.
posted by ZaneJ. at 3:10 PM on February 19 [31 favorites]


Nothing has ever made Whole Foods look so good to me -- I hate accidentally buying yogurt with aspartame in it. It's like they hide the data. And avoiding high fructose corn syrup seems like a good goal, simply because it's tossed into everything, whether it needs sugar or not. Well, and I developed an anti-taste for it after I dropped sodas a while back.

Now, off to look up vanillan and the other items from the quiz and see what people other than Whole Foods types think about it.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 3:10 PM on February 19


What percentage of Whole Foods groceries can families (like ours) who shop at Walmart actually afford?

If you take out the packaged and processed foods (which our family never buys) and just stick to milk, veggies, and other staples, Walmart is the better deal.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:15 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]


I was very confused by my first visit to Whole Foods. I didn't know what I was getting into, and was unsettled by the complete lack of any recognizable brands. I got a bunch of unfamiliar (to me) stuff I needed for my Homemade chicken pot pie, searched hopelessly for what I know now to be a "forbidden" ingredient, chuckled heartily at some of the meat prices, and made a mental note to not make a repeat visit.

I guess decades of media exposure to advertisements has got me indoctrinated to select certain brands. Totally not not saying this is a good thing, but I found shopping at Whole Foods to be too much of a mystery as to the taste, volume, and familiarity in the items I ended up buying.

The end result of my shopping trip resulted in a filling that tasted equivalent to the chicken pot pie I usually make, but for twice the price. More importantly, however, the omission of Stove Top stuffing for the top "crust" bordered on blasphemy in my kitchen.
posted by Debaser626 at 3:17 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Ah, Whole Foods is pretty okay. Some of their stuff is a rip off, but there is great stuff too (imagine!). Their big jar of the 365 brand peanut butter is like the best peanut butter ever and pretty cheap.

That said, all produce and stuff I go to the coop or New Season's these days, primarily because I was talking to a check-out person at Whole Foods and they said they don't get to take expiring/damaged food home with them or give it away or give discounts on it. That is super lame-o. As a rule, I now believe in shopping at places that do a discount on wilting produce or send it home with employees as opposed to tossing it.

Still, there are a few things that you can only get at Whole Paychecks. And sometimes they have a bit of rare produce that's hard to find other places, like fiddleheads. Plus their salad bar thing is really delicious (if super expensive. Trick is never get the big box. NEVER!)
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:17 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


If WalMart were completely ruthless, they'd probably just buy Whole Foods for the fun of it.
posted by chuckiebtoo at 3:18 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


MSG, and high fructose corn syrup

Parmesan cheese is cool though, as well as "natural" cans of sugar-water and baked goods containing honey.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:19 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Fortunately Whole Foods has a whole aisle of homeopathic medicines to keep me healthy. Currently I'm curing my MRSA with a cleansing diet of kombucha, organic air-dried kale chips, nitrate-free bacon, and 10X colloidal silver.
posted by Nelson at 3:19 PM on February 19 [53 favorites]


I"m amazed to find, also, that they don't ban dihydrogen monoxide. That shit is EVERYWHERE and used in smelting steel, cooling nuclear power plants, and is a fire retardant.
posted by ZaneJ. at 3:20 PM on February 19 [20 favorites]


Whole Foods ginger ale is really, really good.
posted by goethean at 3:21 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


It seems like an more accurate title for this article would be: How can we make Whole Foods shoppers feel smug over the poors?

This Slate article, IMO, reeks of classism.
posted by Kitteh at 3:23 PM on February 19 [8 favorites]


Shopping at Walmart or my local grocery store is highly regulated shopping.

Yes, that bothered me too -- the main reason that Whole Foods is able to do this is because food labeling is regulated. It's also nonsensical in that Whole Foods actual stocks a decently large variety of stuff; it's just a different variety than Walmart.

The better comparison would be the Trader Joe's model (small-to-no-variety per type of good, guaranteeing relatively large volumes of sales, leveraged to negotiate low prices on higher-quality goods, promising the buyer that they'll be happy with everything that's for sale) vs. the more 'traditional' grocery model (of stocking a whole bunch of different kinds of everything and promising the buyer that they can find a type they like among those available).
posted by cjelli at 3:25 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


primarily because I was talking to a check-out person at Whole Foods and they said they don't get to take expiring/damaged food home with them or give it away or give discounts on it.

I wonder if that's either a store-specific policy or something related to whatever the laws are in your state. When I worked at WF (in CA), we absolutely got discounts on damaged/expiring food, and donations of both packaged and prepared foods were made to a soup kitchen supply company. And, a week or so ago, I was chatting with a cashier at my local WF, who was talking about how she was glad she was closing that night because she was looking forward to doing her discount shopping.
posted by rtha at 3:26 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Interesting, rtha. I'm in Oregon, and I don't think it has anything to do with State Law as the coops and some other groceries definitely do let employees take home expiring stuff. I know the WF employees here get a store discount, but according to this particular person, if it was expiring or damaged or whatever, they had to toss it out. Could be maybe that single store's policy.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:29 PM on February 19


My dad lives across the street from a WalMart. I'm grateful because he is an old guy who will have to stop driving soon. He is poor and can't afford Whole Foods.

Also, even though I hate WalMart (so depressing to be greeted by an elderly, disabled greeter who you really wish didn't have to stand up for hours greeting people but had a living wage job or pension instead), it sells organic stuff. Which is a big deal.

That's what I buy when I go visit. Not only organic because I've never had the budget for all-organic. But still, it's better than zilch.

Would I be happy if WalMart disappeared and was replaced by local, sustainable, well-managed stores that paid well? You betcha. Will that be happening any time soon? Of course not.

Whole Foods sells this really great sauerkraut in tiny jars for 13 bucks where I live. I know this because I sampled some at a friend's place. 13-buck sauerkraut is why I never go there. That and the sense that I don't belong. Shopping at Trader Joe's makes me much, much happier.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:30 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


When I look to buy items that are ingredients, I go to WFM. When I look to buy items that have ingredients, I go to WMT. Except produce. And staples like flour, milk, and meat/chicken. I rarely go to WFM.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:41 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


MSG? Aspartame? These are the things Whole Foods is worried about? Christ on a crutch. This article is pretty much just gross clickbait to make smug pricks feel righteous.

(Note also that Slate published an article this week about bunk health "science." Great work trolling everybody, folks. Really crackerjack.)
posted by uncleozzy at 3:42 PM on February 19 [10 favorites]


I wonder what percentage of the 78 banned ingredients are the 2014 version not getting your kid their vaccinations?

The Whole Foods smugness makes me crazy(ier). Trader Joes for the win.
posted by Keith Talent at 3:44 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


Why would I give a crap what Whole Foods approves of?

The article points out that Whole Foods bans whatever upper middle class yuppies who read too many magazines get in a kerfluffle about.

OK, not quite in so many words, but still.

I don't genrally shop at Wal-Mart, but lack of whole-foods-approved ingredients is by far the least of my concerns with Wal-Mart.

Who commissioned this Whole Foods puff piece?
posted by edheil at 3:47 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]


FFS folks, just because you shop at WF doesn't mean you're into homeopathy and anti-vaccination, just as shopping at Walmart doesn't mean you're an obese gun-loving mobility cart riding tea party member. I know, I know, it sounds nuts, but I'm tellin' you.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:47 PM on February 19 [58 favorites]


[This thread will go a lot better if people don't take gratuitous potshots at WM/WF shoppers. Have some class.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:51 PM on February 19 [10 favorites]


It seems like an more accurate title for this article would be: How can we make Whole Foods shoppers feel smug over the poors?
Don't forget the hicks! You guys also get to feel superior to people who live in WF-free zones because we're not near a major metropolitan area. The closest WF is a two-hour drive from me.

I mostly shop at the local employee-owned grocery store. There's tons of HFCS and whatnot there, but it's not that hard to avoid it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:52 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Whole Foods is the nearest coffee roaster to my house. They do it pretty well. Sometimes I buy fancy beers there too, or other stuff.

I don't feel like Whole Foods is any safer on what's most important to me: I try to eat lots of veggies but I don't trust Whole Foods any more than I do Wal-Mart for pesticide-free veggies.

Hey remember the "cooking with MSG" post on Metafilter? I tried it on some veggie burgers and it was fantastic.
posted by surplus at 3:54 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


FFS folks, just because you shop at WF doesn't mean you're into homeopathy and anti-vaccination, just as shopping at Walmart doesn't mean you're an obese gun-loving mobility cart riding tea party member. I know, I know, it sounds nuts, but I'm tellin' you.

So you're saying the world isn't accurately characterized by gross, simplistic caricatures. But surely that can't be right?
posted by yoink at 3:54 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


Whole foods = 2 hours one way
Wally world = 6 minutes

We don't get nice things out here in the ass end of nowhere.
posted by Space Kitty at 3:54 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]


MSG is getting a bum wrap!

Free MSG!
posted by Mick at 3:59 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]


My Whole Foods doesn't carry canned corn. Canned corn! It's evil!
posted by something something at 4:02 PM on February 19


Fwiw, Lutoslawski, my experience from working at a Whole Foods Market (granted, about ten years ago) was much the same as rtha's. Pretty much all the things about to expire or the items that got slightly damaged in transit were set aside for the food bank. Employees were given lots of leeway to sample whatever they felt like, too. As in, give out as a sample to a customer or take home yourself as a sample. You know, within reason, not, like, a whole cartful
of stuff...
posted by fancyoats at 4:06 PM on February 19


I usually shop at the WF around the corner from my house. Yes, it is expensive but if I avoid prepared foods, it is ok.
When I do go to the Super Stop & Shop in town, I'm always thrown by the shear size of the place. The snack chips alone fill both sides of the aisle and run the full depth of the place. How is that not obscene too?
posted by R. Mutt at 4:12 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


just because you shop at WF doesn't mean you're into homeopathy and anti-vaccination

As the one guilty of introducing homeopathy to this thread I have to acknowledge your point. OTOH I do find it offensive that this supposedly healthy grocery store has an entire aisle full of fake medicines that are at best useless and at worst could help kill people. It's a weird set of priorities that thinks MSG is evil and colloidal silver is good. (At least Sovereign Silver is it's only 10ppm, so at least it's not likely to turn you blue.)

FWIW I think HFCS is poison and think America would be better off if Walmart didn't sell so much of it. So I can argue both sides of it. Mostly I'm just bitter because Whole Foods is the closest grocery to my house and they don't even sell decent bacon.
posted by Nelson at 4:14 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]


Heh, part of my current job doing bike delivery involves shopping at Whole Foods for other people.

I don't really mind texting the customer for clarifications on stuff. When they ask for vegan, gluten free stuff but don't specify a brand, or ask for organic something or other but they only have a non-organic version I have to ask for clarifications, as choosing for them can go horribly awry.

Meanwhile I get to spoil the scenery in my ghetto-ass courier kit and startle trophy wives with yoga mats and/or grin wildly at them when I catch them checking out my beefy legs or increasingly toned ass.

And I get to make friends with the poor WF workers and cashiers, who are apparently glad to see another working stiff in their store.

I'm glad, though, that I don't even have the option of shopping at walmart, for work or personal purposes, because the nearest one is far away, and seattle/washington has costco.

My ex-gf and I noticed that we'd get into a fight nearly every time we went there because it was so depressing and stressful.
posted by loquacious at 4:15 PM on February 19 [11 favorites]


I see nitrates are on the list; I guess this means they only sell the oxymoronic "uncured bacon".
posted by ftm at 4:22 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Collodial silver is a decent antimicrobial, but there are better modern options that cost less. But it is absolutely not for internal use. Unless you want to turn into a smurf.

Homeopathy is ridiculous, though. I want to leave fliers explaining Avogadro's Number and snarky messages about woo and magic.
posted by loquacious at 4:23 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


My ex-gf and I noticed that we'd get into a fight nearly every time we went there because it was so depressing and stressful.

I'm not the only one? This is, somehow, comforting.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:24 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I have shopped at Whole Foods many many times in my life. Mostly because it was novel to me when it opened up off of Ponce in Atlanta during my 20s. I had heard of this chain and was dazzled by all the cool foods--though I quickly learned that some of my friends who had shopped at WF before in other cities why they called it Whole Paycheck. I took my parents there when they went to visit. They loved it. They were so excited when years later a Whole Foods opened up in their town. Some months later, when I called my mom, I asked her, "Hey, how are you liking having a Whole Foods now?" My mom paused, then replied, "Well, we don't really go there." "Why not?? You were so excited when they opened!" I cried. She paused again, "They don't make me feel comfortable there. I feel like they are snobby to me and your dad."

That crushed me. I'm sure it was nothing WF did personally to my parents, but it makes me sad my own mom doesn't feel comfortable at a damn grocery store. She's a WalMart shopper--which I don't like but it's not my business--but when she wants to go fancier, she heads to Trader Joe's, a place she just adores.
posted by Kitteh at 4:29 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


For the longest time, I've wished that there were better magazines in the checkout counter at grocery stores, rather than celebrity gossip and aspirational near-fiction preying on everybody's desire to be loved/desired.

One day last year I walked into a Whole Foods in West LA and saw they had the Harvard Business Review at the checkout counter.

Somehow, it didn't feel at all like I'd hoped it would. But I guess it's relatively highbrow aspirational near-fiction and celebrity gossip.
posted by weston at 4:30 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


We call Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck" around these parts. Trader Joe's for the win!
posted by Lynsey at 4:31 PM on February 19


Lutoslawski: That said, all produce and stuff I go to the coop or New Season's these days, primarily because I was talking to a check-out person at Whole Foods and they said they don't get to take expiring/damaged food home with them or give it away or give discounts on it. That is super lame-o. As a rule, I now believe in shopping at places that do a discount on wilting produce or send it home with employees as opposed to tossing it.

Still, there are a few things that you can only get at Whole Paychecks. And sometimes they have a bit of rare produce that's hard to find other places, like fiddleheads. Plus their salad bar thing is really delicious (if super expensive. Trick is never get the big box. NEVER!)


Hey Lutoslawski, which co-op in Portland do you go to? I commonly go to the Alberta grocery co-op because my girlfriend lives up in NE Portland, and I lived 5 blocks away from it for over a year. Them and Food Front are two of my favorites here.

I don't have anything completely against Whole Foods, other than that I commonly find them to be very overpriced for particular things (I did recently go there and buy a month's worth of groceries for $80, but that's on top of buying some cheaper things at Safeway). I realize that not everyone is capable of going to Whole Foods or shopping at a co-op and that Wal-Mart is sometimes the only choice. That said, I am not too worried about aspartame or MSG. Aspartame has been shown to not be the dangerous chemical everyone thought it was, ditto with MSG.

I also am not too big of a fan of some of John Mackey's political views but he doesn't come off as a very evil person.

Nelson: As the one guilty of introducing homeopathy to this thread I have to acknowledge your point. OTOH I do find it offensive that this supposedly healthy grocery store has an entire aisle full of fake medicines that are at best useless and at worst could help kill people. It's a weird set of priorities that thinks MSG is evil and colloidal silver is good. (At least Sovereign Silver is it's only 10ppm, so at least it's not likely to turn you blue.)

I totally agree with this. The grocery stores I tend to frequent all do this too, and I've considered writing in to New Seasons and the grocery co-op I shop at about these issues. (New Seasons is a local, privately owned grocery store that is here in the Portland/Vancouver, WA metro area. I would consider them a good middle-ground between Safeway and Whole Foods.)

I am a fan of Trader Joe's too, however there was recently some controversy here regarding their installing a new store in NE Portland that was met with a lot of community derision, which is whose side I took. I wish there were more grocery co-ops across the nation that were affordable for people as I believe they can serve a very important utility in a community, whether that utility is being able to talk to local farmers who sell to the co-op, or hosting informative speakers that will teach you gardening techniques, to displaying infographics on how the co-op performs year-after-year.

As of now I tend to do my shopping at Safeway and Whole Foods. Whole Foods is off of the streetcar line and Safeway is at least somewhat in walking distance to my place. When I am at my girlfriend's I'll shop at the local grocery stores, which I use to live by and frequented because I could walk to them, and that was really a big deal to me.
posted by gucci mane at 4:43 PM on February 19


Now, how many of Walmart's business practices are banned by Whole Foods?

WF definitely treats their employees much, much better than WalMart does. Not perfectly, and WF management actively interferes with unionization, but I know I am effectively sourcing slave labor if I shop at WalMart — and not just their direct employees, either. Further, I also know that I have alternatives to both WF and WalMart that are even better to their employees, if more expensive. I am fortunate enough to have options with my grocery purchases and, in knowing that, I try to be somewhat ethical about those choices. The reality is that we live in a capitalist society, so it matters when people use their money to pick from the lesser of evils.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:44 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I was fairly ambivalent about WalMart until they brought about the $4 generic drugs, which forced a change at most pharmacies. I forgive them of a lot just because they did that.

Whole Foods never did anything that awesome for me. I can afford it, but I can't figure out why I'd want to.
posted by Houstonian at 4:46 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Whole Foods. Pfft.
posted by bradth27 at 4:59 PM on February 19


A couple of notes: If you believe Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, the difference between artificial flavor and natural flavor is that natural flavor is made on obsolete equipment.

Generally speaking, I buy one thing at Whole Foods: bulk herbs and spices, which are fresher and way, way cheaper than grocery stores. The rest - too expensive. I don't buy groceries at Wally World (and in fact, about the only thing I do buy there is cheap clothes for the kids or socks for me). The bulk of our food comes from a local chain grocery store because 90% of what we buy is unprocessed.

And this is the key to healthier eating.

And besides, I don't think I would ever experience this at Wally World, nor this.
posted by plinth at 5:08 PM on February 19 [11 favorites]


I dunno where the nearest Whole Foods is. Because we have Wegmans.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:12 PM on February 19 [6 favorites]


Wow, the reverse snobbery in this thread is thick enough to choke a pasture-fed, humanely raised cow.

I don't know which imaginary Whole Foods you like to shake your fists at, but I worked at one for three years here, and the vast majority of the clientele were 20-somethings buying prepared foods and beer. Do you imagine that Mr. Monopoly walks down the aisle rubbing his hands at $15 tortilla chips? Jeez, talk about the comments saying more about the commenter than about the topic.

Yes, WFM is not cheap (although they're working hard to dispel the "Whole Paycheck" image), but I'd rather shop there and buy organic food that's better sourced than to give money to Walmart or Giant or Safeway. Trader Joe's is okay, but I actually don't like the flavor of some of the products I tried. Which I can also say about WFM's 365 line.

My experience with WFM in the DC/MD/VA region is that the team members are hardly Snooty McSnootpants. Most of them are either immigrants or young people and generally pretty friendly. I think John Mackey is an asshole, and I haven't worked at WFM since the mid-aughts, so this isn't company talk. I also think they've shaved staff considerably to make better margins, so the folks who work there are working extra hard. So, if y'all have had bad experiences, that's unfortunate. But smugness? Elitism? Please.
posted by the sobsister at 5:13 PM on February 19 [17 favorites]


Everytime I go to the Whole Foods off of Alabama in Houston, there is always a swarm of fruit flies around the free produce samples. I admire their pro-Gaian ethos, but come on, cleaning up with a little bleach and soap won't hurt things now will it?
posted by Renoroc at 5:18 PM on February 19


So for further clarification: the WF nearest me is managed by a local comedian and pretty nice guy and the people who work there are not snobbish that I've noticed. It's more all the other shoppers who seem to think they're somehow sanctified by shopping there. The Trader Joe's near me, however, seems to be staffed by Real Human Beings who laugh with you, sort of remember your face if you shop there a lot but not in a creepy way like they do at my bank. ("Hi Lynsey! Got any plans for the weekend?" To which I almost reply, "Excuse me? Are you asking me out?")

Regarding Walmart, I make sure that I never, ever have to go there. It's just unspeakable. Ugh. No. Not. Ever.
posted by Lynsey at 5:23 PM on February 19


"Whole Foods is giving their demographic what their demographic wants.”

The quote from the wise Marion Nestle is exactly right, and pretty much invalidates the whole false ethics-based comparison the Slate article is gesturing at. This is what Whole Foods is doing, and this is what Walmart is doing. Identifying demographics and catering to them is just what businesses do -- certainly business on this scale, at least. This is not necessarily a terrible thing.

(I still hold the belief that there are a few human-scale businesses -- indie art galleries, feminist bookstores, small-town hardware stores, neighborhood diners -- where the particular unshakeable principles of the owners just happen to coincide with enough customers to keep their operations going. But that's not how most things work.)

When Walmart heard about the whole local food movement, they tried to get in on it. (Though they might not be doing farmers any favors with their interest.) Whole Foods, conversely, is down-playing organic food and adding more conventional items.

I have nothing against Whole Foods. Here in NYC, at least, they're not noticeably more expensive than any of their competitors. I think the "Whole Paycheck" joke is kind of funny, but not actually accurate. They really do sell some good stuff.

Being a New Yorker, I've never actually been in a Walmart. But I think MSG is just fine, and making a rule against it is ridiculous.

I also think that, in about five years or so, what's sold in Whole Foods and what's sold in the Walmart grocery section will be essentially the same-- because as businesses, they're not that different. In some ways I think that's a good thing, because more people will have access to more kinds of food. In some ways I think that will be a loss -- because at that time, there will be even fewer options that aren't either Whole Foods or Walmart.

For now though, I think the good guys vs. bad guys perspective of the Slate piece is totally bullshit.
posted by neroli at 5:26 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]


Something that kind of surprised me when I moved out to LA is how different Whole Foods are in different places. Like, back in Michigan, it can be pricey, but it's mostly in line with grocers of similar quality. Out here in LA? Suddenly, the "Whole Paycheck" jokes make sense.

Then I had a job that took me all over the Southland, and I was surprised by just how variable the prices are, even within an area. There are two Whole Foods not too far from each other in Long Beach and Torrance, and they had startlingly different cheese prices.
posted by klangklangston at 5:28 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Mostly I'm just bitter because Whole Foods is the closest grocery to my house and they don't even sell decent bacon.

Huh. I've been buying the thick-cut bulk bacon (at the meat counter) for years, and I think it's delicious. To each their own (also, more for me).
posted by rtha at 5:32 PM on February 19


"Wow, the reverse snobbery in this thread is thick enough to choke a pasture-fed, humanely raised cow."

I don't care how my cow is raised. I just want it at a reasonable price. It's a cow. I'm eating it.
posted by bradth27 at 5:37 PM on February 19


Then I had a job that took me all over the Southland, and I was surprised by just how variable the prices are, even within an area. There are two Whole Foods not too far from each other in Long Beach and Torrance, and they had startlingly different cheese prices.

Yeah, this. Whole Foods gives the individual stores a lot of leeway, so two stores only 3 miles apart can have totally different prepared foods, yoghurt selections, bread selections, pastry cases, different sushi suppliers, different bulk food options, etc. (And I've never seen a WFM with a bulk spice section!)

And the clientele varies greatly by where you are. Here in MA it tends to be soccer parents, nannies, and office workers, but the Portland, Maine store is full of crunchy granola twenty-somethings.
posted by pie ninja at 5:54 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I don't care how my cow is raised.

Well, then, WF might not be the best place for you to buy beef. Unless you want to buy beef that is delicious, in which case it might be after all. Unless it's not. Food is complicated.
posted by box at 6:06 PM on February 19


The taste of beef is not changed by the manner in which the animal is killed.
posted by bradth27 at 6:08 PM on February 19


How many of the stories in the National Enquirer would be banned by Slate?
posted by bukvich at 6:10 PM on February 19


But just for kicks - I would bet the beef I purchase is just as delicious as the high priced WF beef that was fed candy canes and raised with love and killed with a velvet hammer. I raise my own beef. And I just take em to the slaughterhouse and pick it up in nice little packages.
posted by bradth27 at 6:10 PM on February 19


OTOH I do find it offensive that this supposedly healthy grocery store has an entire aisle full of fake medicines that are at best useless and at worst could help kill people.

It has a similar effect on me. Years ago I was at Whole Foods and remembered I needed a water-filtering fitting. The fitting they had for sale claimed to be offering better water purification through the power of quartz crystals.
I am deeply revolted at businesses that choose to sell fraudulent goods. (Yeah I know that sand can be used for mechanical-filtration, but that wasn't the claim)

Most of my Whole Foods experiences have been positive (largely because I've learned to only shop for the kinds of low-woo basics even Whole Foods can't screw up), but the smell lingers, and I shop there rarely.
posted by anonymisc at 6:11 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


I don't disagree (although there are people that do).

But I do think that the taste of beef is changed by e.g. the food that the cow eats. That said, though, taste is subjective. I'm not trying to start beef or whatever (hey-o!)

On preview, yeah, if you raise your own beef you might not be a member of, to paraphrase Nestle, the WF beef demographic.
posted by box at 6:13 PM on February 19


Oh - I agree that what an animal is fed changes the taste of the meat. Sometimes when we catch a wild pig, we keep him penned and feed it corn and feed for a few weeks before killing it. It definitely makes a difference.

And no, I'm likely not the demographic for WF. Salary wise I can afford to shop there, I just don't see any reason to spend the extra money simply because I can.

I have no problem with people who do - it's just that I prefer to spend my money on things like beer and hookers.
posted by bradth27 at 6:17 PM on February 19


And, even if I wasn't into organic soap and shit, I would still like to spend my money at WF instead of Walmart because they give their employees more money for beer.
posted by box at 6:20 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I find Whole Foods completely disconcerting. It is like walking through the mental minefield of of a person with food neurosis. It reminds of being an atheist in a church that isn't the denomination you grew up with.
posted by srboisvert at 6:22 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]


But come on! It takes the beer money out of YOUR pocket! I ain't buyin no beer for folks just because they work a cash register at WF. I don't have a problem with Walmart - I shop there occasionally to buy things I can't find easily. But I usually shop a local grocery store. It's a tad bit more expensive than Walmart, but it's closer.
posted by bradth27 at 6:23 PM on February 19


"And, even if I wasn't into organic soap and shit, I would still like to spend my money at WF instead of Walmart because they give their employees more money for beer."

Make your own soap. You could probably make an entire Batch for what you pay for it at WF. it's not difficult. I'm actually presenting a demo of how to do just that where I work next month. Lye soap 101.
posted by bradth27 at 6:26 PM on February 19


I find Whole Foods completely disconcerting. It is like walking through the mental minefield of of a person with food neurosis.

Seriously, what?
posted by the sobsister at 6:28 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Oh, I'm doing okay for beer money. It's a luxury, but one I can afford, and one I feel good about. Shit, I mostly brew my own beer anyway. If you're ever in Arkansas, hit me up--I'll trade you some farmhouse ale for some of that wild pig meat.
posted by box at 6:29 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


You're right about the soap, though.
posted by box at 6:30 PM on February 19


Aren't there grocery stores in between WF and Walmart, in neighborhoods that actually have a choice? Don't really see why this is a one-or-the-other conversation. I shop at a grocery store that treats their employees well and offers a range of options both organic and not, local and not. We even have organic-only grocery stores that aren't Whole Foods at all.
posted by muddgirl at 6:33 PM on February 19


Yeah, I think the binary framing does a disservice to farmers markets and co-ops and stuff and local grocery chains alike.
posted by box at 6:37 PM on February 19


Yes. In the greater DC area, there's Yes!, which sells many of the same things as WFM, and Mom's Organic Market. They're not as conveniently located as WFM, they don't really have the scale to sell a wide variety of meat and fish, they don't bake in-house (that I know of) and they are more expensive on certain items than WFM. That said, I lived near a Yes! and found that it could take care of most of my weekday needs.
posted by the sobsister at 6:39 PM on February 19


My experience with WFM in the DC/MD/VA region is that the team members are hardly Snooty McSnootpants.

I think you misunderstand the criticism. The problem isn't the staff, it's the other customers — though I wouldn't say it's universal. I don't like to shop at WF in general because I have grocery options with good food that are better for their workers, but I've been to several in different cities over the years. Twin Cities? Fine. Boston? Fine. River North in Chicago? Never never never again. Never.
posted by stopgap at 6:41 PM on February 19


Holy crap - Oreos have HFCS in them? Oreos?!?

I have been so vigilant about this and it never occurred to me to check the Oreos. Damn damn damn damn damn.
posted by Mchelly at 6:43 PM on February 19


I think you misunderstand the criticism.

Thanks, but no, I understood that it was aimed, in part, at the clientele. That's why I said that "the vast majority of the clientele were 20-somethings buying prepared foods and beer," i.e., hardly the types to look down their noses at other buyers.

The clientele varies from store to store, of course. Georgetown attracts an older, more international crowd. Silver Spring more families. Foggy Bottom a lot of students. But what I don't get is: who cares what other customers say/do/think? I don't really interact with other people when I shop. I put what I need into my cart, I pay, I leave. That commenters were making such an issue about smug, snooty customers is hard to understand. Would they let some imagined or projected snobbishness deter them from buying what they want/need? Are there really WFM stores where the rich drop their lorgnettes and mock you for pairing a Sancerre with Roquefort?
posted by the sobsister at 6:49 PM on February 19


I really would like to know why Whole Foods bans those specific ingredients.

The staff were rude to me the first time I went, but I'm sure Walmart staff have been rude to me before.
posted by Danila at 6:53 PM on February 19


My closest WF is an hour-and-a-half away, so you're not going to see me there any time soon. That said, I would definitely so some shopping there if one was closer, if only to be able to do my grocery shopping and not have to check for HFCS in goddamned everything. Jesus, it's like the cockroach of food additives. It's everywhere. I bought a tiny pint of a super-premium vanilla ice cream for Valentines day, and that fucker had HFCS in it.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:54 PM on February 19


I bought a tiny pint of a super-premium vanilla ice cream for Valentines day, and that fucker had HFCS in it.

How did the ice cream taste? Would you have known it had HFCS if you didn't read the ingredients? Do you think HFCS made that ice cream less healthy?

(I think the problem with HFCS -- which is essentially sugar -- is not that it's in ice cream, which is supposed to have sugar. It's that it's in a bunch of of processed food products that you wouldn't expect to contain sugar. The solution: don't buy too many processed food products.)
posted by neroli at 7:01 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


WF usually has a basket of cheese ends. Great way to try new stuff, grab a hunk and a baguette. The Smjor is astounding. If they have beans and rice on the hot bar, it's sometimes much cheaper. Ask for salt for anything from the prepared foods. Be nice to the employees, they take a lot of abuse.

I know, since Mrs. Underflow was a department buyer there for three years. When she started, employees were encouraged to try a product a week for free. There was a 25 cent rack for damaged goods, with the proceeds going to the employee fund. Seasonal store celebrations were awesome. Buyers had a ton of local control. Employee satisfaction was publicly posted as one of the store's top values.

By the time she left, damaged goods were donated to the local shelter, explicitly for the tax write off. No more free trials. No more seasonal celebrations. No more employee fund ("Please donate some vacation hours so that so-and-so can go see his son's cancer treatment.") Several buyers had quit since corporate was shipping them required-to-sell stuff. And, during a store remodel, the employee satisfaction line was explicitly removed from the store's posting of values.

I might be a little bitter though. My wife had three dozen customer service awards, team member of the year, was profitable for the last 6 quarters, and had found an accounting error worth four times her yearly wage. So, of course, they fired her for having her shirt untucked while stocking. Perhaps she was distracted by her father, who was in the hospital and died two days later from his lifetime of alcohol abuse.

Yeah, I might be bitter.
posted by underflow at 7:01 PM on February 19 [19 favorites]


the sobsister: "Wow, the reverse snobbery in this thread is thick enough to choke a pasture-fed, humanely raised cow."

I don't think it's reverse snobbery to understand that some shoppers are worried about ensuring that all of their food is locally-sourced, organic and gluten-free while other shoppers are worried about getting through the month with enough food to eat.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:02 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


I don't think it's reverse snobbery to understand that some shoppers are worried about ensuring that all of their food is locally-sourced, organic and gluten-free while other shoppers are worried about getting through the month with enough food to eat.

Thanks, but that's not what I was referring to. Much more the notion that some people wouldn't shop at WFM because the other customers are so snobbish and smug. Or the one "epater le bourgeois" comment on "spoil[ing] the scenery in my ghetto-ass courier kit." Really?

It's a supermarket, not Steppenwolf's Magic Theatre. Food is sold there. And beverages. That's really about it. The feelings of discomfort, confusion, inadequacy and defiance in this thread are hard for me to understand. It's a supermarket.
posted by the sobsister at 7:12 PM on February 19 [4 favorites]


So Colorado just got its first Trader Joe's stores and the Denver Post did a price comparison with them and other local grocery options, including Whole Foods. Useful info (though admittedly I'm only in it for the triple ginger cookies.)
posted by asperity at 7:12 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I feel like I should add that, while the manager responsible for my wife's firing did end up getting promoted, he at least had to suffer through a large number of people literally yelling at him. Including corporate, who were very upset. And my wife found a better job, so, there's that.
posted by underflow at 7:17 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


the sobsister: "The feelings of discomfort, confusion, inadequacy and defiance in this thread are hard for me to understand. It's a supermarket."

Although I'm not anymore, I grew up poor. After being looked down upon for many years, it's very easy to pick up on the disdain of others. I understand that may not be a skill that you've developed in your life, but just because you've never experienced it doesn't meal that it's not real.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:18 PM on February 19 [16 favorites]


I really would like to know why Whole Foods bans those specific ingredients.

For the foie gras, it's because of the feeding tube. I feel it's a horrible practice, but it's not hard to bypass the foie gras at WalMart (or almost any place).

I think a lot of the banned ingredients are banned because of faux science. A lot of people are afraid of food groups, food ingredients, and chemical names. Thus:
- Cysteine as a bread additive is bad, but naturally occurring in brussel sprouts they are OK.
- Sufites are bad, except when wine profits are involved.
- Vanillan has been used since the 1500s, but is banned in favor of the much more expensive vanilla extract.
- Dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate? Benzoyl peroxide? Scary big bad words, or ingredients in laxatives and acne cream?
- Etc.
posted by Houstonian at 7:19 PM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Like I said, I go to the supermarket to buy food and drink. I can't begin to imagine the circumstances in which any customer would give two shits about my clothing or any other class marker, much less express disdain on any level. But it sounds as if your experience at WFM differs from mine.
posted by the sobsister at 7:24 PM on February 19


"Wow, the reverse snobbery in this thread is thick enough to choke a pasture-fed, humanely raised cow."

I agree. I don't like spending a lot, but Whole Foods has REAL BUTCHERS. Butchering
REALLY GOOD cuts of meat. At prices comparable or cheaper than Chicago's free standing
butcher shops. Same with their seafood.

There's also what I like to call the MOLDY CHEESE ISSUE.

I'd like Trader Joe's more if they could plastic wrap their cheeses properly,
as Whole Foods seems to do. Every chunk of TJ's cheese goes moldy on us in
a day or two, even if refrigerated. Somebody online (Chowhound's?) brought this issue
up once, and it was explained by someone else that TJ wraps its cheeses wet or something,
leading to aforementioned mold problem.
posted by Chitownfats at 7:29 PM on February 19


I go to Whole Foods and carefully dodge all the beautiful people on my way to the beer case where is inexplicably stocked a pretty good canned light lager for (drumroll) $2.99/6!
posted by telstar at 7:30 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


While it would be nice to have the time and money to pick and choose groceries, most of the time reality gets in the way. So this working parent, on most occasions, has to go to the place that has everything that she needs vs. some of the things that might be healthier. Yes, I could go to WF and spend a lot of time looking at labels and comparing, but really, I just want to get home and fix a good dinner for my kid. And I can get all of the necessary ingredients at the WalMart/Stop & Shop/Shop -Rite. Forgive me for going with the convenience.
posted by sundrop at 7:43 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


And just how far can your stick your nose up in the air, anyhow?

man if you think whole foods is being strict here, just try finding particular items at the park slope food coop.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 8:09 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I now feel like an alien because I had to google 'Whole Foods logo' and 'Walmart logo' to figure out which was which in the article's split photo.

That's what happens when you live in the far, moon-cratered reaches of Australia.
posted by Salamander at 8:22 PM on February 19


TJ's vegetables are not really cheaper than WF's, and while I haven't personally bought meat there, my roommate used to and it often went spectacularly bad very quickly. Left me with an uncomfortable feeling about the place. Great cheap booze, though.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:29 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I like the vibe of Trader Joes. But the quality of Trader Joe's food, across the board, is not appreciably better than WalMart's or any other mass market grocery. Once you stray away from produce, dairy, and meats, most of those cute packaged goods are just...processed food, including all the additives, HFCS, trans fats, filler and other stuff I like to avoid. It has kind of the halo effect of being an "alternative" grocery, and a comfortable price point on some major loss leaders (booze and candy especially) but it's not a health-food store. It's a cheap-food store with packaging, styling, and experience design that seems friendly to a certain demographic niche, and with legitimately good employment practices (as far as I have read), but it's not a place claiming to go ounce-for-ounce against Whole Foods in terms of product quality or freedom from additives and processing. The oackaged brands are cutely camouflaged, but they're just processed foods.
posted by Miko at 8:34 PM on February 19 [5 favorites]


What I really miss from the Northeast are those little bodegas that sold vegetables that were shockingly Pareto on the cheap vs. quality axes. I vaguely remember reading an interesting article about the economics of how they were able to do this; will have to dig it up.

(Unfortunately I think one way they could do this was by exploiting un-/underpaid family members for help, which is too bad. But that wasn't the only thing that explained it.)
posted by en forme de poire at 8:37 PM on February 19


Does TJ's at least treat its staff better than WM? I feel like it would be hard not to but I honestly have no idea.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:38 PM on February 19


Well, there are big produce warehouses in East Coast cities that you can go to at like 4 in the morning and shop for bulk produce and truck it to your bodega yourself. I think that's at least part of how bodegas offer cheap produce.
posted by Miko at 8:39 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Everytime I go to the Whole Foods off of Alabama in Houston, there is always a swarm of fruit flies around the free produce samples.

Huh. Good to know. I'll stick with the Trader Joe's (also off of Alabama, now that I think of it). TJs may not be perfect but there's a lot to like.

Also, Texas requires one to re-frame the question of local grocery stores a bit. At least in Houston, Whole Foods is shopping local if local is ~150 miles. Just as local as HEB (San Antonio), not quite as local as Fiesta (Houston proper) or Central Market (owned by HEB), way more local than Kroger (Cincinnati) or Randalls (owned by Safeway, which is based in California).

It's kind of fascinating because most grocery stores are quite, quite regional (Albertsons, Vons, Ralphs, Lucky--these were all chains specific to SoCal before the industry consolidated and no one in the Northeast would be likely to have a clue what I'm referencing).
posted by librarylis at 8:41 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


There's local ownership and then there's local sourcing.
posted by Miko at 8:45 PM on February 19


How many Walmart shoppers could afford to shop at Whole Foods?

How many Walmart shoppers could afford to shop at Walmart knowing that every cent they spend is leaking out of their community and going to support shitty labor practices that will eventually destroy their own community?
posted by hal_c_on at 8:46 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


How many Walmart shoppers could afford to shop at Walmart knowing that their tax dollars will be paying for food stamps and housing assistance for underpaid workers?

I try not to shop at Walmart, but have been on the road, so sometimes it's the obvious option when I'm too pooped to find a better choice. The food section is especially heavy on chips, sodas, sweets, processed foods in giant sizes. Just try to buy 1 cupcake - you seem to have to buy 2 dozen. The meat is mostly packaged elsewhere, the fresh fruits and veg. not always high quality.

I don't shop at Whole Foods much, because it's just way too expensive. I think of it as going out for a meal, and their cooked foods are really tasty. I just can't bring myself to get anything served over rice when when it's 7.99/lb.

Trader Joe's is pretty good at packaging a changing array of adventurous foods at pretty good prices and pretty good quality, but they may not have specific items on any given visit. There's a Trader Joe's/ Whole Foods/ SuperMegaMarket grocery trifecta near where I work, as well as a good bi-weekly farmer's market, and I wish everybody had such access to food diversity.
posted by theora55 at 9:35 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


hal_c_on: How many Walmart shoppers could afford to shop at Walmart knowing that every cent they spend is leaking out of their community and going to support shitty labor practices that will eventually destroy their own community?

Look, caring about your community doesn't make more money magically appear in your account so that you can afford what I estimate would be about a 30-50% hike in your grocery bills (assuming Walmart vs. Whole Foods). That's kind of a privileged attitude. There are entire professions, important ones, where most of the practitioners will never make enough to afford that kind of expense (not without unacceptable sacrifices).
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:43 PM on February 19 [7 favorites]


How many Walmart shoppers could afford to shop at Walmart knowing that every cent they spend is leaking out of their community and going to support shitty labor practices that will eventually destroy their own community?

This is super classist and messed up. I'm well aware that the WalMart I was at earlier tonight is basically a blight on a blighted area, and that their labor practices are unrelentingly horrible. I also know that I live at 150% of the poverty line and have a preteen who's constantly hungry, and that before going to WalMart I called the gas company to check how much I had to pay to avoid having the gas shut off, and then while I was at WalMart, I walked around and figured everything in my head so that when I paid, I made it out with $24 left in my bank account after the gas and the groceries were paid. I'm not stupid. I know what I'm doing, and I understand that the choices are unsustainable. They are, however, still the best choices that I can make, under the circumstances.

Also, I think that it's shortsighted to blame WalMart for everything. WalMart is a symptom of a problem--capitalist greed run amuck and few, if any, protections for workers. We could peg minimum wage to inflation, for example, or even guarantee a living wage. We could strengthen unions. We could raise taxes on companies who don't meet standards x and y for employees. But the collective we, as represented by our government, have consistently declined to do so. I'm not sure why we expect better of the Walton family.
posted by MeghanC at 10:30 PM on February 19 [26 favorites]


"I totally agree with this. The grocery stores I tend to frequent all do this too, and I've considered writing in to New Seasons and the grocery co-op I shop at about these issues. "

From working at a food co-op for a bit, a big part of this is that the markup on that shit is insane and really helps the margins for the rest of the store. Like, you might get away with a three percent markup on cheese, but you can mark up vitamins and supplements six times your wholesale cost and people will still buy them. They were the number one shoplifted item, and the source of endless fake return scams. The next best margins were on the essential oils.

"Like I said, I go to the supermarket to buy food and drink. I can't begin to imagine the circumstances in which any customer would give two shits about my clothing or any other class marker, much less express disdain on any level. But it sounds as if your experience at WFM differs from mine."

Like I said, I've been to pretty much every grocery store between Malibu and Long Beach, and there are plenty of them that are full of snobby asshole customers who will go out of their way to side-eye you. It can be uncomfortable. That's not what all of them are like, but it's a real thing. Not so much in, say, WeHo or Venice, but Santa Monica or Thousand Oaks, the class differences there can be really unpleasant.
posted by klangklangston at 11:02 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


I shop at neither Walmart nor Whole Foods. Walmart because of what they are and Whole Food because of my friends' tales of being fucked over by them. I try to do most of my shopping at Costco. Takes a big fridge and a willingness to make many meals out of each trip. But an alternative that folks in Washington, Idaho, California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Arizona, and Texas should consider is Winco, which is 100% employee-owned and has as cheap if not cheaper prices than Wallyworld. And now I'm done derailing!
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 1:36 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


My mom turned me on to a fact that side by side brand name items are in the same can as generics. This ended my turned up nose at generics. It's the same thing for WM and WF.....the best beef in my home town is at WM....not WF....because WM buys it locally. But for the healthy stuff that I like I go to WF...that's why it's called shopping.
posted by OhSusannah at 1:43 AM on February 20


How many Walmart shoppers could afford to shop at Walmart knowing that every cent they spend is leaking out of their community and going to support shitty labor practices that will eventually destroy their own community?

Let's have a thought experiment then. Let's suppose Walmart have not-so-shitty labor practices. Walmart will pay all their employee Whole Foods level wage($11 an hour? $12 an hour?). In this alternate universe, Walmart will adopt Whole Foods' “Unacceptable Ingredients for Food” list.

Would you shop at the newly reformed Walmart? More importantly, will the current Walmart shoppers shop at newly reformed Walmart? Can you make the new Walmart affordable for current Walmart shoppers? If you can't make the new Walmart affordable. Where would you like the current Walmart shoppers get their food?

Turning food purchase into moral and ethical choice is a luxury that most poor people can't afford.
posted by Carius at 5:39 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Can you make the new Walmart affordable for current Walmart shoppers?

You certrainly could. The other topics aside, I don't want to let the WalMart company off the hook here. Their labor practices are lousy, but there isn't a direct relationship between lousy practices and cheap food, despite their anxiousness that we believe this. The direct link is between lousy practices and insane levels of corporate profits shared amongst a relatively few people. This is a company that certainly could afford to provide affordable food and have better labor practices; it would just mean less profit for the owner/shareholder group. Believing that they have to foist off their responsibility to pay a decent wage onto the public dime in order to make them affordable is buying into a fiction about their business model that they'd like us to believe, but doesn't match the fact that sales are rising, they are the #1 company in the Fortune 500, and they continue to increase shareholder dividend. This is a company that could afford to improve without impacting the price at the register. It just would mean fewer eggs laid by this particular golden goose.
posted by Miko at 6:22 AM on February 20 [9 favorites]


The whole idea of "Forbidden Ingredients" and the marketing around the concept has made shopping at Whole Foods surprisingly Orwellian...

KNOWLEDGE IS BAD. TRUST US.

Whole Foods is, like, the worst of the American Left, wrapped together with some bad bits of the American Right. Consumerist environmentalism (and diet fads) for the 1% coddled by a giant corporation that treats its workers like shit.

I should theoretically be on board with a lot of the things that Whole Foods Claims to support, but the place always just makes me uneasy. Food deserts are a real thing, and I certainly will credit WFM for bringing "better food" to the masses, but for now, I shop at Trader Joes' and Costco.
posted by schmod at 6:41 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Turning food purchase into moral and ethical choice is a luxury that most poor people can't afford.

We only have four Walmarts in the state here, and no Whole Foods (but their goat milk comes from my town, something that has a big impact). While I'm lucky to have some good farmer's markets here (including one that is year round and more of a store) there is only one supermarket for 15 miles in any direction and the prices and selection are so-so. We have a decent amount of anti-Walmart activism in Vermont and it's a mixed bag. Even our most anti-Walmart activist, Bill McKibben, has said that being anti-Walmart is for people who can afford to make those choices and he specifically talks about not giving people a hard time if they're working without many choices.

I know it's an internet-person argument that says "Hey everyone has choices" and it's why we see people arguing about who can or can not eat healthy on food stamps and where "Whole Foods vs Walmart" is seen as something other than just "Coke vs Pepsi" (capitalism always wins!) but if you want to affect real change in your communities, turning against people who are actually not the ones pulling the strings or making the real choices is not a particularly constructive way to go forward. We've had some luck with changing zoning laws to keep megastores down and Act 250 means anyone who wants to build has to do an environmental impact statement. These are good for some things and bad for others (our taxes are some of the highest in the nation and property taxes are lowest in some of the towns with Walmarts and this is not coincidence). I thought the Slate article ending with the sprouts example was basically trolling.
posted by jessamyn at 6:43 AM on February 20 [13 favorites]


Man, when you put the answer up front like that you spoil your own article.

"My friend said to me, "You know what I like? Mashed potatoes." I was like, "Dude, you have to give me time to guess. If you're going to quiz me you have to insert a pause." - This is The Word of the Hedberg.

I don't know what it is, but it's not capitalism (at least in the "free market" common usage sense IANAE).
I got some sweatshirts at Steve & Barry's a while back. Now, whatever one thought of the place, the clothes were fairly cheap (they didn't make stupifying profits) and good quality. The sweatshirts I bought were great.
So S&B's went out of business. I'm looking for sweatshirts of similar quality. Can't find 'em.

I mean, I can't find a sweatshirt made of good material that won't tear, porous enough to let out sweat, thick enough to keep me warm, comfortable, etc.
Nada. I've looked online, at sports stores, they're all not the same specs. I'm willing to pay much more for sweatshirts like them, but they're simply not there.

And I've found this with a lot of things. Got 1 kind of real chocolate milk out here (Oberweis, which, despite his politics the outfit delivers quality milk) the rest is "Tru Moo" and the like.

There must be a great deal of money in offering the illusion of choice. Remember how Twinkies went away for a bit? Huge outcry. Farm to school programs can take all kinds of hits. Twinkies though, can't do without them.

So I think it's an active thing. Not sort of passively doing business and, whups, someone didn't make it, but actively occluding choices, driving out companies that do business differently or offer a product of better quality and/or for substantially less.

Sort of an augmented Gresham's law: Bad money drives out good money, but on purpose.

Maybe I've watched "They Live" too many times but y'know what I drink when I want water? Water. Out of the tap. That's right, I'm a radical freethinking anarchist.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:32 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


A few years ago, our city got a new Walmart. It was a very contentious issue with the people who live here. The proposed site was right at the entrance to the city, backed up to a residential area, and the city was just rolling over and doing everything Walmart wanted them to. The city council meetings were standing room only with people arguing against the tax breaks, the variances the city was handing out left and right, the liability issues, the effect on local businesses, and a host of other things.

And when the astroturf group defending Walmart responded, they responded to some email they and the city council supposedly received complaining about the 'type of people' that Walmart attracted. Not one person there had made that argument, but the city council sat there and lectured everyone in attendance as though they had. They glossed over or completely ignored every single issue that had been brought up in the meeting, and acted as though they'd made some ridiculous classist argument about not wanting 'that type of people' in our city.

It would have been comical if it weren't so obscene. They bulldozed right over every legitimate issue anyone had brought up and turned it into some horrible, ridiculous strawman that I'm convinced they constructed themselves, then went right ahead and continued to give Walmart everything they asked for.

I have a whole lot of problems with Walmart. I don't like the way they treat their employees, I don't like what they do to communities and the American economy. I don't like their business model. I don't like the general sort of gluttony they encourage. I don't like them.

That doesn't mean that I blame people who don't have a reasonable option to shop elsewhere. I know that I can avoid Walmart because I have access to other stores, mostly because I have the time to shop around. I'm fairly certain that I don't pay significantly more for my regular groceries than I would at Walmart, but if I do, I can afford it. I know not everyone has those options, and that we're all fighting our own battles. Most of my friends shop at Walmart, they all have their reasons, and I'm not turning my nose up at them for it. I understand that my choice is based on my privilege and my personal priorities, and that not everyone shares them.

The article's pretty weirdly framed, though, in much the same way that city council argument was framed. It's really not fair to lump Walmart detractors in with some strange Walmart vs. Whole Foods story, or with the ridiculous class war narrative in general. You can hate Walmart without being some kind of mindless Whole Foods acolyte, and I'd venture to guess that most Walmart detractors aren't. If Whole Foods were having the same types of devastating effects on the American economy as Walmart is, I suspect you'd see mostly the same people calling them out on it.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:46 AM on February 20 [7 favorites]


"I got some sweatshirts at Steve & Barry's a while back. Now, whatever one thought of the place, the clothes were fairly cheap (they didn't make stupifying profits) and good quality. The sweatshirts I bought were great.
So S&B's went out of business. I'm looking for sweatshirts of similar quality. Can't find 'em.
"

They wildly over-expanded and spent a ton of money on real estate right before the crash. Like, they were in the top ten for square foot expansion in 2008, alongside Walmart, Costco, Best Buy, etc. The bottom falling out of the commercial real estate market just gutted them.
posted by klangklangston at 8:47 AM on February 20


I'd like Trader Joe's more if they could plastic wrap their cheeses properly,

Oh dear. You're not meant to leave your cheese in the plastic wrapping once you get it home. My friend is an honest to Pete cheesemonger (even makes cheese!), and she wraps everything in cheese paper for her customers. Then you can tuck the paper wrapped pieces in a big Tupperware container - or, if you're in my house, in a dedicated drawer in the fridge, because my household apparently consists of mice, judging by the amount of cheese eaten here. I promise, it works!

As for WalMart vs. Whole Foods? Nope, don't shop at either. WalMart's business practices are just gross, Whole Foods gets called Whole Paycheck for a reason, and both are way out of the way for shopping in any case.

I am very fortunate to live three blocks from a Kroger, a 10 minute drive from an Aldi, a short bus ride to the local Farmer's Market, and I have access to Door to Door Organics AND a local butcher shop that delivers. Whole Foods and WalMart can duke it out amongst themselves, I'm going to continue to ignore them both.
posted by MissySedai at 9:47 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


a 10 minute drive from an Aldi

I miss living near an Aldi. Great labor practices, easy to get in and out of, lower prices than Walmart. More practical than its cousin Trader Joe's (and TJ's doesn't let cashiers sit down, as far as I've ever seen.)
posted by asperity at 10:05 AM on February 20


I was actually surprised to find out that Whole Wallet was a chain, because it seemed like such a Santa Barbara thing. As in, "Hey, let's make a cross between Trader Joe's and a natural food store, and charge more money." So they got the New Money from Hope Ranch, and the better off retirees from the Mesa area. But then again, thus was Santa Barbara, where the downtown Ralph's was higher class and snootier than a bay area WF.

Now I live in an area that WF wouldn't come within 10 miles of. The closest markets are King and Lion, which are crazy mixtures of Mexican and Asian foods. And the Mi Pueblo, which has real bacon, the sort that makes you realize just how bad American bacon is. If I want a better class of veggies, I drive over to Speots in the middle class suburb, and while I'm in the neighborhood I get frozen chicken and ground turkey from TJs. Then there's the farmer's markets. I am so damn lucky to live where I do.
posted by happyroach at 10:30 AM on February 20


FWIW I think HFCS is poison

If it is, then so are honey and agave syrup, which are also both high in fructose. The tiny amount in your wheat bread or "honey ham" lunchmeat or whatever is not going to hurt you.

Eating many grams of fructose a day, I wouldn't recommend. Drinking that can of coke might be bad for you. But really, eating a bunch of sugar is not good anyway, even if it's sucrose or cane juice.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:17 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


I agree with the point about honey and agave syrup. The whole point of agave syrup is that it is high in fructose - that's how it can be sweeter per calorie than table sugar.

I do kind of disagree though that sugar is sugar. Fructose is metabolized completely differently from glucose and there's increasingly good evidence that it is uniquely bad for you, beyond just the empty calories.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:22 PM on February 20




"If it is, then so are honey and agave syrup, which are also both high in fructose. The tiny amount in your wheat bread or "honey ham" lunchmeat or whatever is not going to hurt you."

The reason why I avoid HFCS is more that it's a decent proxy for "Is this going to be wildly over-sweetened?" Since cane sugar is more expensive, manufacturers tend to be a bit more sparing with it.

"I do kind of disagree though that sugar is sugar. Fructose is metabolized completely differently from glucose and there's increasingly good evidence that it is uniquely bad for you, beyond just the empty calories."

Completely different? I'm dubious about that claim. For the most recent study I've found, there was no real difference in outcomes between fructose and glucose.
posted by klangklangston at 12:27 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


I recognize that research is saying that fructose is worse than other sugars.

Avoiding HFCS in sweet foods may be a wise choice. However I think the panic in seeing it in items like bread is overblown. It's a tiny amount of sweetener that nobody would think twice about eating in a more "natural" source of fructose.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:31 PM on February 20


klang, no reason to be dubious. While basically every cell in the body eats glucose, most lack the necessary transporter to take up fructose. As a result fructose gets metabolized almost exclusively through fructolysis in the liver, through a markedly different metabolic pathway than glycolysis, and tends to contribute to different ends in the cell as well (esp. lipid biosynthesis). Fructose also doesn't provoke much of an insulin response compared to glucose. The Wikipedia article is actually decent if a little rambly.

I'm at home right now so I can't read the actual article, but I'll give it a read when I get to work. It's worth noting though that even the write-up of the article that you linked basically confirms that fructose and glucose have pretty different effects on the body, with fructose contributing more to blood triglycerides and less to an insulin response (which is what people already suspected).
posted by en forme de poire at 12:40 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


I recognize that research is saying that fructose is worse than other sugars.

It is important to remember that sucrose is about half fructose; just like HFCS. So if fructose does turn out to be the debbil, that's still no reason to prefer cane sugar to HFCS.
posted by yoink at 12:44 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


My primary complaint with HFCS is its ubiquity in American prepared foods. All sorts of food is sweet that shouldn't be. Like bread, as mentioned above, which can get to 3g of added sugar / slice, about a quarter of a can of coke in the bread in my sandwich. Savory breads should have no sugar. I like cole slaw with sandwiches, but you're hard pressed to find a not-sweet prepared cole slaw in an ordinary store. Add in some canned tomato soup and now every item in your meal has sugar added it. It's not just that sugar is bad for you, it's that it's all unexpected sugar. And in America we've ratcheted up the baseline for foods so much that people don't even notice when their tomato soup is sugary.

Shopping at Whole Foods doesn't solve this sugar problem; they sell all sorts of organic, fat-free, gluten-free crap with lots of sugar in it. Just because it's labeled "organic agave nectar" or "evaporated cane juice" doesn't make it magically healthy.
posted by Nelson at 12:48 PM on February 20 [8 favorites]


Klang, it also looks like these studies about fructose that the paper you linked cited were from relatively short controlled-feeding trials and used biomarkers as disease proxies. That's common practice but also has important caveats (think for example about how statins were oversold as preventative for CVD; it turns out they sure do lower cholesterol effectively, but their effect on cardiovascular disease is much less clear).

It is important to remember that sucrose is about half fructose; just like HFCS. So if fructose does turn out to be the debbil, that's still no reason to prefer cane sugar to HFCS.

Absolutely. Cane sugar, honey, agave, and HFCS are all more or less the same amount of bad for you. The question is whether this extends to things like simple starches, which get broken down into ~100% glucose.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:55 PM on February 20


Hey, you're right. I was confusing glucose with sucrose.
posted by klangklangston at 1:15 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Yeah, you could replace all the HFCS in the world with honey or cane sugar or whatever and it wouldn't make much difference to anyone's health. People want to believe that there are a finite number of particular substances that have bad juju, and if you avoid all of them you'll be fine. When the truth is more like "some is fine but too much is bad," it's harder to pin down and people tune it out. Hating HFCS is popular because that's a rule with clarity; you can be sure of whether or not you're following it.
posted by echo target at 1:28 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


And in America we've ratcheted up the baseline for foods so much that people don't even notice when their tomato soup is sugary.

This is definitely true in my experience. I experimented with not having any added sugar or artificial sweeteners for a while in grad school, and when I had some marinara sauce later on it practically tasted like tomato candy - unbelievably sweet. It was crazy how fast the change happened, and I have a hunch that all this surreptitious added sugar, which is probably there as a cheap way to sex up mediocre food, is putting a (light, but noticeable) finger on the balance of the Western palate, training us to want and prefer sweeter foods in general. It's probably not as extreme an effect as say, high-calorie beverages, but I think it's there lurking in the background.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:10 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]


I can attest that when I first came to live in the States, I was just amazed at how sweet everything was. Things that no one would think to add sugar to where I came from, like peanut butter, for example, were just inedibly sugary. American supermarket bread is just about cake, it has so much added sugar.

Still, once you realize it's there (and realize that pretty much all big brand cereals should be in the candy aisle) it's not that hard to avoid with some careful lable scrutiny.
posted by yoink at 2:24 PM on February 20


when I had some marinara sauce later on it practically tasted like tomato candy - unbelievably sweet.

This is something that drives me crazy. It'd be one thing if it were just most of the jarred pre-made marinara sauces that had added sugar, but I get really tired of having to look at basic cans of tomato sauce -- the kind that's obviously made to be a cooking ingredient, so people could very well add their own sugar if they actually wanted it -- to make sure this isn't the kind that has sugar or HFCS added. If I were king of the world, this would be illegal.
posted by weston at 2:37 PM on February 20


However I think the panic in seeing it in items like bread is overblown. It's a tiny amount of sweetener that nobody would think twice about eating in a more "natural" source of fructose.

I think this is getting it backwards. Bread should not have the amount of sweetener in it that (some Americans) don't think twice about being added to their bread, and it's exactly this sugars-in-all-the-foods-whether-you-want-it-or-not that is a huge problem and quite worthy of concern. Seeing HFCS in the ingredients list has the advantage that it makes it obvious that additional sugars have been added, rather than the sugars being an inescapable consequence of cooking the ingredients needed to make the [whatever].

Sugar sugar everywhere (when not a drop is called for) is something you should be thinking twice about.
posted by anonymisc at 3:37 PM on February 20 [4 favorites]


I never shop at Whole Foods for myself, because holy fuck I don't have that kind of money. Also I live a few minutes' walk from the best food market in the world (apparently), with a standard large chain 24hour grocery store across the street, and 10 minutes further away is a discount grocery store.

But I do shop there sometimes when I'm doing private catering. And holy shit is it fun spending their money on that food. The produce, especially, seems to be impeccable. It's also refreshing talking with people behind the counters who actually know what they're talking about when it comes to proteins.

But on the whole, I prefer going to the St Lawrence. Not least because if you walk through there wearing chef whites everyone gives you a discount. It's fantastic.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:40 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


I miss living near an Aldi. Great labor practices, easy to get in and out of, lower prices than Walmart.

That's where my family did its shopping when I lived in Germany, and I missed it so much when I returned home (in 1988). Imagine my delight when they opened three stores in Toledo in 1990! I do a large chunk of my grocery shopping there - the products are good quality, and at Christmas I can get all the German sweets I've missed so much. The money I save by purchasing my staples there frees up more money for good produce and dairy.

They've expanded like crazy in our area, there are 6 in the city and immediate suburbs, in an area where we also have Kroger, Meijer, Walmart, Spartan, Giant Eagle, Fresh Market, Costco, and about a bazillion independent joints. They've even become A Thing in one of the more tony suburbs that used to look down on Aldi because "that's where poor people shop".
posted by MissySedai at 5:23 PM on February 20


Yeah, if only Aldi owned Metafilter's favorite US grocery chain.
posted by GuyZero at 6:54 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


$10 for 16oz of retail juice at Whole Foods. From BluePrintJuice, whose web site reads more like a pharmacy than a food producer. (Note: juice is not actually medicine.)
posted by Nelson at 1:11 PM on February 23


Argh the existence of BluePrint cleanses make me want to hit things
posted by en forme de poire at 3:40 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]




Did you mean this link?
posted by Nelson at 10:08 PM on February 23


Yes, I did -- thanks. Not sure how that happened.
posted by Houstonian at 10:28 PM on February 23


I don't know what to think about all the woo-woo pseudoscience stuff at Whole Foods. it's like when I haven't DVR'd something and I have to watch ads or paper plates at Safeway - it's stuff that I just mentally filter out. I just don't pay attention to it. WF still have really good meat and a well-staffed butcher counter and pretty good vegetables and some dry goods that are hard to find elsewhere (what is so hard about stocking proper French lentils, Safeway??). The crazy stuff... I don't know. I don't see it as an essential part of WF - more of a side show. But maybe other people see it the other way around.
posted by GuyZero at 9:03 AM on February 24


I think it's pretty interesting, and considering people I know personally who both accept the scientific consensus on, say, climate change and evolution, but reject scientific consensus on healing, diet and nutrition, there are honestly a fair amount of conflicting attitudes.

Thinking about why this is gives me a fair amount to chew on. I'm not sure that attitudes to science as an entire discipline explains the dichotomy. For one thing, there is a "fear of toxins" thing that a lot of people who buy organic, wear bamboo and hemp, etc use as the central operating principle. Elemental is good, additives are bad. So perhaps they accept the climate change consensus because [at least part of] climate change can be attributed to the introduction of "toxins" into the natural environment, which are bad. It fits the "toxins are bad" narrative.

There's also a countercultural skepticism thing in play. Rejecting religious narratives about creation/evolution has been a part of a lot of people's lives. But there is a way in which skepticism can be applied which does not always support science - the same skepticism which is used to doubt and reject religious narratives also can be directed at scientific officialdom. It's possible to be skeptical about health narratives that are promoted by "Big Ag" and the medical establishment, because some of them have, often enough, been shown to be misleading and harmful. Things with the aura of "alternative to establishment science" have some appeal to people who fear large consolidations of power which make messages untrustworthy.
posted by Miko at 9:37 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


WF still have really good meat

Except for bacon. Or cured sausages. Or pastrami. Or any other meats cured with nitrates. Because the same people who believe homoepathic medicine works or that inorganic pesticides are more dangerous than organic pesticides also believe that nitrates are bad for you. These are all pseudoscientific beliefs. Skepticism is healthy but alternate faith is not. And in Whole Foods case, the faith in their pseudoscience leads directly to profits for them. It's predatory.

(Every time I hear people talk about "toxins" I'm reminded of Todd Haynes' provocative film Safe. It's a disturbing movie, and fascinating.)
posted by Nelson at 10:10 AM on February 24


I eat their bulk bacon regularly and it tastes just fine to me. I grew up eating nitrated bacon, and I can't tell the damn difference in this case.

But when they started saying they would stop carrying cured hams from Spain and Italy because nitrates, every single person in my department (Specialty, so, those hams, and also tasty cheeses) ranted and raved about how stupid it is.
posted by rtha at 10:13 AM on February 24


Is "cultured celery extract" a thing in the US? You see it on labels for cured meats here in Canada, and it's basically a way to put nitrates in a product without the dreaded word "nitrates" that many consumers are scared of.

(I did a quick google search, and it seems natural foods bloggers have already noticed this ingredient and are urging people to avoid it)
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:00 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Also for all of their "toxins" woo, WF seems to carry a lot of raw milk cheeses which strikes me as sketchy as fuck. Pasteurization was invented for a set of good god damn reasons, which include fun stuff like Guillain-Barré syndrome.

It's true that WF carries a few things I haven't found convenient replacements for, like tempeh. In a city full of vegetarians you would think that would be a more commonly stocked item, but nope.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:21 AM on February 24


"Thinking about why this is gives me a fair amount to chew on. I'm not sure that attitudes to science as an entire discipline explains the dichotomy. For one thing, there is a "fear of toxins" thing that a lot of people who buy organic, wear bamboo and hemp, etc use as the central operating principle. Elemental is good, additives are bad. So perhaps they accept the climate change consensus because [at least part of] climate change can be attributed to the introduction of "toxins" into the natural environment, which are bad. It fits the "toxins are bad" narrative."

There are two things that help me think about this:

First off, while Haidt's full of over-generalizations, his argument that the political mind includes a virtue in "purity," and that the way that the left expresses that value is through nutrition and food shibboleths is pretty convincing to me. Better nutritional purity than sexual purity, in my humble.

Secondly, and this is something that is certainly true for my mother's generation, there's a deep skepticism over the modernist approach to science, because frankly, the public got fucked over again and again by "scientists" selling a bill of goods on lead, PCBs, DDT, dioxins, pesticides, herbicides, industrial agriculture, radioactivity, plastics, cigarettes, etc., etc., etc. So when scientists talk about GMOs as harmless (or a category error), especially in the service of industry, there's a conditioned response to just reject it and embrace the "earth" and "green" alternatives, especially if their understanding of broader science isn't very sophisticated. My mom's got a great heart, and is really canny about a lot of things, but she just doesn't have the interest in evaluating a lot of competing scientific claims, so she defaults to one that makes emotional sense.

"In a city full of vegetarians you would think that would be a more commonly stocked item, but nope."

It's all over at Asian markets here, especially ones that have any size of Indonesian clientele.
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 AM on February 24


Is "cultured celery extract" a thing in the US? You see it on labels for cured meats here in Canada, and it's basically a way to put nitrates in a product without the dreaded word "nitrates" that many consumers are scared of.

Yep. Not ever brand has it, but lots do. It's like "cane juice" as a euphemism for sugar - it's the same thing, just a slightly different form. There's at least one if not more brands of bacon at WF with celery extract.
posted by GuyZero at 11:32 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Also for all of their "toxins" woo, WF seems to carry a lot of raw milk cheeses which strikes me as sketchy as fuck.

WF (and every other place that sells cheese) is prohibited by law from selling raw-milk cheeses that have been aged less than 60 days. I am unaware of studies that show that properly handled aged cheeses made with unpasteurized milk pose a significant risk.
posted by rtha at 11:32 AM on February 24


WF seems to carry a lot of raw milk cheeses which strikes me as sketchy as fuck.

In other countries this is considered normal. Raw milk I'm not a huge fan of, but whatever, it's your funeral. Raw-milk cheese aged properly is pretty safe (apparently).
posted by GuyZero at 11:36 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'd be shocked if I couldn't get it in the Sunset or the Richmond, but my neighborhood is both far from those two and a little on the white-bread side. (Lately I've had fantasies about moving out on the N, but I like my roommates a lot and they are not portable because they commute to the South Bay.)

WF (and every other place that sells cheese) is prohibited by law from selling raw-milk cheeses that have been aged less than 60 days.

I haven't looked through the literature myself but my sense is that the 60-day rule helps but is not bulletproof, and was not really based on very rigorous studies to begin with. My bigger annoyance is that in some groceries it's actually hard to find cheese that isn't raw; where I went to grad school, the organic-foods store in town sold raw cheese almost exclusively and there are a couple of places I've shopped here in SF where I had to sit there turning over each of the damn cheese wrappers and searching for fine print like a dumbass.

I mean, sure, nothing's risk free, and I'm more than okay with taking some food risks when eating for pleasure, but I also want to be able to limit my risk and not have to worry about Campylobacter when I'm just trying to put stuff in the tank and keep myself going throughout the week.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:50 AM on February 24


TBH I'm also just annoyed that part of the rise in popularity of raw milk products is because of this trendy wingnuttery about pasteurization making food un- or anti-nutritious, or causing allergies.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:33 PM on February 24


Sadly, there was a comment to that effect on the sidebar at one point.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:40 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


There's a flip side too which is that pasteurization requirements basically price smaller dairy farmers out of the business requiring them to either purchase expensive pasteurization equipment or send their stuff out and pay for processing. There is a small but growing microdairy movement out where I am and folks are working on smaller scale pasteurization tools (a Mefite built that!) but right now they're expensive pieces of equipment, legally required in most cases, and they make running smaller scale operations prohibitively expensive where other options (testing, etc) might suffice. Not trying to argue, just explaining a human alternative argument that isn't just trendy wingnuttery.

I sidebarred that comment. I'd do it again.
posted by jessamyn at 12:41 PM on February 24 [4 favorites]


That's an argument I can get behind, jessamyn - I'm more talking about attacking the process of pasteurization itself. Most of the time when I've seen someone praise raw milk on the internet they're talking up its purported health benefits.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:55 PM on February 24


My father had Guillain-Barre syndrome. He was in intensive care for months. In the hospital for just under a year. Still has a few side effects now (decades later). Expensive, damaging, can be deadly. In a nutshell: You go to bed feeling like maybe you have a cold, and wake up the next morning paralyzed. All your muscles gone within a few days.

I guess some people are ok with taking that risk, but most people don't know that's a risk they are taking when they see pasteurized milk as the "healthy" milk at Whole Foods. On Metafilter, there was talk about GBS during swine flu season, but never really on discussions about pasteurization (except this one time, more generally about food poisoning). I'm happy en forme de poire brought it up.
posted by Houstonian at 1:31 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Most of the time when I've seen someone praise raw milk on the internet they're talking up its purported health benefits.

That's a fair concern. In my circles when it comes up (and it's been a thing that was in the news for a bit here in Ontario) it's entirely about flavour.

Then again I tend to be around people who think that throwing a handful (not joking) of butter into something is pretty much always a good idea, and I find it hard to disagree, so perhaps we're the wrong demographic for nutrition woo.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:27 PM on February 24


I'm sympathetic with raw-milk ideas in general (a big foodie) but the only two times I've eaten a young raw milk cheese, two times separated by years, I immediately threw up. It's put me off trying any more. It might be just me or just coincidence, but twice burned...

I wouldn't hesitate to drink fresh milk just out of the cow raw. But the reason for pastuerization wasn't world domination directly - it was lengthening supply chains. You have to have good control of conditions from udder to glass to offer it confidently.
posted by Miko at 3:07 PM on February 24


Well, also it helped get rid of tuberculosis pre-vaccine days. There are bovine diseases that can jump to humans via milk. If you can prove the cow has none of these diseases (a fairly recent innovation) then you can be more certain the milk isn't deadly.

To quote wikipedia: In the 1930s, 40% of cattle in the UK were infected with M. bovis and there were 50,000 new cases of human M. bovis infection every year.[12] According to DEFRA and the Health Protection Agency, the risk to people contracting TB from cattle in Great Britain today is very low. The HPA has said that three-quarters of the 440 human cases reported to the HPA between 1994 and 2006 were aged 50 years and above and only 44 cases (10%) were known to be non-UK born.

Basically, drinking non-pasteurized milk in the UK in the 30's was a really, really bad idea. Thus, pasteurization.
posted by GuyZero at 4:44 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Wow. Raw milk sounds bad. Time to send in the stormtroopers.
posted by telstar at 8:23 PM on February 28


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