Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mark Morford Goes to Whole Foods

..Why the hell can't this be the way of American business overall?

It's like some sort of drug, something warm and happy and dangerous and visceral they inject into the lighting system or mist all over the carefully constructed mountains of pornographic produce or slather all over the nearly religious seafood and meat departments because, oh my sweet Jesus with a Le Creuset ramekin and 10 pounds of artisanal Gruyere, there really is something frighteningly addictive about the glorious hellbeast grocerypalooza known as Whole Foods.

It's like this otherworldly vibration, this wickedly overblown slice of succulent, obnoxious, must-have lifestyle nirvana for the health-conscious semi-progressive well-moneyed hipster set and also those who really, really want to think of themselves as such.

And best/worst of all, it's all overlaid with this amazing sheen of healthy, pro-green, socially responsible attitude that effortlessly chips away at your cynicism and seems to suggest a bit more of a statement than just, you know, "Hey kids, if you shop here, if you buy into the ethos and if you eat the right kind of organic lettuce and can afford our huge tubs of crab-artichoke bisque, well, you are on the right track. You are, in fact, approaching enlightenment."


Because here's the thing: While it's terribly easy to accuse the joint of being the very embodiment of pseudo-progressive ideals wrapped in pitch-perfect marketing that goes so far beyond a mere grocery store, so far beyond the place you need to dash into to grab some sour cream and a pack of condoms, there is indeed something more to this joint's existence, something that, in the age of bloated Wal-Marts and tract homes like a cancer and a president with a fifth-grader's vocabulary, is actually worth celebrating.

I mean, my God. Merely skimming the company's own press releases, reading up on its various foundations, its commitment to transparency in how it does business and the issues it faces as a so-called "do-gooder" company, its current No. 5 ranking in the Forbes list of the 100 best companies to work for, its surprisingly progressive positions on supporting local farmers and promoting sustainability and humane animal treatment, its commitment to community, its overall dedication to minimizing chemicals and additives and all the mountains of toxic crap our country swims in like a noxious river, well, it's tough not to sit back and go: Wait, if they can do it, why the hell can't this be the way of American business overall?


Because it turns out — hey wow and go figure — you can actually make a great deal of money by, you know, caring about the products you sell and the people you sell them to. It turns out it might actually be possible to run a large, profitable corporation and still have something resembling a conscience, an idea that seems almost antithetical to the brutal capitalist ideal of money-uber-alles.

Yes, Whole Foods is far from perfect. Yes, the large-scale "industrial organic" model the store adheres to, as Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" so expertly lays out, has its share of major drawbacks. Yes, maybe I've just been suckered in and drunk the organic Kool-Aid. And yes, far too many of the yuppie moms who shop there have the same $400 strollers and the same Range Rovers and the same perky haircut. Whatever.

The truth remains: Would that more businesses behaved this way. Would that more corporations were cursed with a conscience, a sense of community and decency and an overall ethos of holistic health. Plus the damnable place makes you want to eat better and cook more and spend your kids' college fund on fresh duck sausage and 10 bottles of tawny port and a case of organic grass-fed free-range lube. What's not to like?

One might not like the fact that Whole Foods is "corporationy" but in Asheville we have two other alternatives, Earth Fare and Green Life which I basically cannot tell apart except for the fact that for some aesthetic twitch, I still prefer Dorothy Lane Market in Dayton, OH.