10 Reasons Why Whole Foods Is Annoying

For example: carob-glazed doughnut holes

By Lessley Anderson

“Two-Bite Pecan Tarts” will not save the world.
Prepackaged chicken quesadillas are probably not local.
Prepackaged chicken quesadillas are probably not local.
Giant cupcakes aren't carbon neutral. Nor are they delicious.
Giant cupcakes aren’t carbon neutral. Nor are they delicious.
People call it Whole Paycheck, make fun of the SUV-drivin’ richies who shop there, fault it for not being all organic, or not being local enough. But not all the criticism against Whole Foods is deserved. (I did a price comparison against Safeway, for instance, and it wasn’t significantly more expensive.) In fact, CHOW shops at Whole Foods. It’s near our offices, and it carries organic produce and other good things we need. That said, we don’t enjoy shopping there. In fact, sometimes it annoys the living daylights out of us. Here are 10 reasons why.

1. Not Your Bag, Baby. If I buy an apple and an Odwalla and stick it in my purse, why don’t I get the five-cent bring-your-own-bag credit? My purse is a bag! Also: Don’t make me feel guilty because I want a credit instead of making a donation.

2. Deer in the Headlights. I ran in for a last-minute purchase. I was immediately hit with bright lights, air conditioning cranked up, seven-foot displays of chocolate, aisles that seemed to be a series of blind corners. Around me, zombied-out shoppers shuffled past in a narcotic haze. I fled and recalled the book Coercion, by Douglas Rushkoff, in which he talks about the moment when you enter a shopping mall and are suddenly stunned into paralysis. That state of zonked-out vulnerability, called the Gruen Transfer after an Austrian architect, is sought out by marketers so they can more easily “transfer” their messages. Drop by Whole Foods for flax seed oil and mind control!

3. Cheesy Nostalgia. Was it my imagination, or did Whole Foods used to give out free cheese samples?

4. Carob-Glazed Doughnut Holes. Macaroni and cheese, teriyaki wings, “Two-Bite Pecan Tarts” in a plastic tub, and prepackaged chicken quesadillas are very, very, very bad for you. Yes, even if they contain organic ingredients. It’s hard to buy Whole Foods’ we-love-healthy-eating shtick when a lot of its profits are made off stuff like this.

5. Cultural Literacy 101. On one visit, the guy at the smoothie counter seemed stuck in some kind of smoothie cultural backwater—his mind was blown when I asked him to blend espresso, chocolate, and a frozen banana into a drink. Then a hippie checker asked me if my Flying Burrito Brothers shirt was from a restaurant. I told him it was a seminal rock band from the ’70s.

6. Farmer John Doe. CEO John Mackey told writer Michael Pollan last year, in response to Pollan’s critique of Whole Foods favoring industrial organics, that the company was evaluating a “multi-tiered system for rating organic farms and meat producers.” It was supposed to create more transparency so we’d see what farm that tomato came from exactly. Still waiting.

7. The Biggest Disappointment Ever. When the Cupertino, California, Whole Foods opened, it was billed as the “biggest ever!” in the Bay Area. Yay, big! Just like all the people in the store, and the cars in the lot. Walking around the giant store tired me so much I had to buy the largest cupcake I’d ever seen from the bakery counter—it had a frosted bumblebee of prehistoric proportions on top. When I bit into the cupcake, I nearly croaked. Dry interior, gummy frosting, no buttery flavor or chocolate bite. I could barely carry the thing to the trash without throwing out my back.

8. Hide-and-Seek. CHOW’s test kitchen needed $100 worth of El Rey chocolate, for some make-your-own candy bars it was testing. Whole Foods had it—great! And the staff assured us that they’d have it next week too. They didn’t. When they finally restocked, the chocolate was all spoiled with white bloom and couldn’t be tempered.

9. Kumbay-Nah. What retailer wouldn’t want its store to have that vibrant, warm buzz of community? People stay, they buy. When one of the San Francisco Whole Foods opened, it had a DJ on site, but that didn’t work out so well. There’s still a coffee bar, pizza grill, and massage chair, though—all of which are empty. Maybe try a needle exchange?

10. Old Bean. What was a package of tofu with a three-month-past-expiration date doing on the shelf?

CHOW’s The Ten column appears every Tuesday.

Lessley Anderson is senior editor at CHOW.

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