Whole Foods: Not So Wholesome?

By Lucas Coker for SUST 210 online

It seems as though Whole Foods has made quite a niche for itself in the communities where its stores are located. Whole Foods pays its employees a good wage, lowest earners make $13.15/hour, and all employees are offered excellent medical care. Whole Foods is clean and friendly, sells delicious food, and provides lovely samples as you walk through buying your favorite items. What could possibly be wrong about this urban food mecca?

Image of an organic farmer from Whole Foods' website

Image of an organic farmer from Whole Foods’ website

Whole Foods continues to give its customers quality food and in a mostly responsible way, but you may also get misled as you walk around. Whole Foods gives the impression through its advertising that it supports local farmers and asks you to do the same, but only 10% of the average products from Whole Foods are actually locally grown. Advertising seems to purposely lead people to thinking just the opposite. With banners hanging high of attractively weather-beaten farmers eating or standing in front of their products along with the slogans, “support your local farmers” and “buy local,” customers cannot help but think that they are doing their own community a service by shopping at Whole Foods.

Many organic farmers, though, are not being supported in their own local grocery stores. According to what one small family farmer in Connecticut told me recently, “Almost all the organic food in this country comes out of California. And five or six big California farms dominate the whole industry.” And what about elitism? The reformers of the food movement in the 1960s and 1970s who pushed for organic foods without pesticides probably did not have in mind that it would be for the upper classes only.

Now I am not getting on my soap box here and suggesting that only the upper middle and wealthy classes buy at Whole Foods or buy organic overall. What I am suggesting is that to buy organic foods can be a very expensive lifestyle choice not always open to people without loads of disposable income. WalMart has seen a huge opportunity in this class disparity and has initiated a huge push to expand its organic and locally grown options. What is a luxury item in Whole Foods is about to become a much more accessible item at a lower cost to a much larger demographic.

What’s the whole ball of wax here? Supporting local farmers markets is the best way to sustain a positive eco-friendly food source. Fall is one of the best seasons to get organic, locally grown produce from your town, especially on the east coast. Step outside and take a walk down to your local market and meet your farmers face to face. You can always take your Whole Foods bag and pretend you’re at one of their stores, if you start to get Whole Foods withdrawal symptoms.

Each week during the Fall 2013 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future online class at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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