Dec 19, 201309:55 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

Thoughts on Whole Foods and 'Silent Meals'

Whole Foods protesting and a weird food trend you may or may not see in 2014

Whole Foods Market in Jamaica Plain, Mass.

COURTESY OF WHOLE FOODS MARKET

It's the end of the year, more or less, and that means you'll be able to read a lot of “top 10” lists. Not here, because I don't give two poots (current exchange rate is 1 poot to .37 poops) about top 10 lists, but if that's your bag – you've got options.

So what do I offer in place of the standard list? I OFFER NOTHING BUT PAIN.

I got a press release recently that, among other things, suggested one trend we'd be seeing in the near future was “silent meals.” From the release: “Restaurants are starting to hold silent meals, asking patrons to remain quiet and focus on the taste of the food, sounds of the food prep and details of the room.”

That sound you hear is me laughing. I'm not the biggest fan of restaurants that are so loud you can't hear your dining companion from across the table, but “silent” meals? I cannot see a restaurant in New Orleans successfully pulling that off, and it doesn't bother me at all. I do not think there are many people who take food more seriously than I do, and I'm capable of focusing intently on a meal, but I'm not taking a vow of silence at any restaurant. There are some trends that come to New Orleans late, and then there are some that we miss entirely; to the extent that this is in fact a trend, we're not going to see it.

One trend we haven't missed is the whole “protest a Whole Foods Market” thing. It's been a while, but before it opened, the Magazine Street Whole Foods garnered opposition significant enough to cause a change of the developers' original plans. Those protests, though, were about whether the development was in keeping with the character of the neighborhood in the sense of the volume of traffic. Contrast that with the objections voiced by folks in Gowanus, Brooklyn, or Jamaica Plain, Boston, which I read about in the New Yorker recently.

I like the New Yorker, New York City, Brooklyn, Boston, and from what I saw of it, Jamaica Plain. That said, you couldn't better stereotype a particular brand of hipster douchebag than Elizabeth Greenspan did in her article about the “gentrification” embodied by the opening of a Whole Foods.

I shop at Whole Foods from time to time, and although it won't ever replace Rouses for me, there are some things Whole Foods does better. I would love to tell you that I shop at Whole Foods because I know they pay their employees more than other national chains and give them benefits and stock options or because I refuse to eat things that don't bear a “non-GMO/organic/humanely raised/yoga pants-namasté” label. But the truth is that I like their produce, their seafood is better than what you can typically find at any other grocery, and they have great meat. I can't find Bubbies pickles anywhere else, I dig the Whole Foods-brand pasta, and God help me I love their oatmeal soap. I am willing to pay a premium for these things is what I'm saying.

I am not, as it happens, motivated by the same things that prompted residents of Gowanus and Jamaica Plain to “raise concerns” about Whole Foods moving into their neighborhoods. Towit: “gentrification.” That tends to be a word tossed around by people who have more money than sense and who feel that the “authenticity” of their neighborhood is in jeopardy – “authenticity” being something they can discuss with the other members of their caste, now and in the future when they live in the Hamptons and need validation. “Namasté.” What I'm talking about is best summed up in the following quote from the author: “During my occasional trips to [the Jamaica Plain Whole Foods], most of the customers look like me: white, thirtysomething, perhaps pushing a stroller or chatting on their smartphones.”

Irony is not rain on your wedding day, kids. Irony is a “white, thirtysomething” woman talking shit about other “white, thirtysomething” women pushing strollers or talking on smartphones in a Whole Foods in Jamaica Plain, Boston. The author of the piece is ostensibly neutral about the complaints of neighborhood activists, but it's clear where her sympathies lie, and it's pretty rich that a thirysomething white woman is criticizing Whole Foods on behalf of minorities she claims are being “pushed out” by folks who look just like her.

The author quotes a sociologist at the University of Massachusetts who complained that the Whole Foods took the place of “an affordable Latino grocer.” I took “affordable Latino grocer” to be contrasted with what normally passes for “grocery stores” in neighborhoods on the cusp of gentrification – which are otherwise known to “activists” as “food deserts,” where the only “groceries” are convenience stores that charge exorbitant prices for fresh produce. My wife pointed out that the contrast was more likely to Whole Foods, which does not count among its virtues “affordability” as a general rule. I'm not entirely sure, but I would like to know more about why the affordable Latino grocer left, and I'd be very interested to know what the other businesses in the neighborhood around the Whole Foods think of it.

To give her credit, the author does note that Whole Foods has opened stores in Detroit and Indianapolis lately, neither of which are high on the fedora-douchebag scale I've invented for the purpose of this post. But here's how she notes it:
 

“In Detroit, which hasn’t seen the arrival of a national grocer in years, many residents seem ready for this future. This summer, when Whole Foods opened there, it consulted with numerous community groups and hired more than half of its employees from the surrounding area. It offers popular, and free, nutrition classes. But Whole Foods is receiving as well as giving: it got more than four million dollars in city, state, and federal subsidies as incentive to open the store. For some—including local business owners who don’t typically see this kind of government support—such subsidies are part of the frustration.”


So, “some – including local businesses” are frustrated by governmental support for Whole Foods opening the first new grocery in Detroit in years? That's such utter poppycock that it caused me to use the word “poppycock.” There will always be contrarians, but if you can actually find someone with half a brain in Detroit – DETROIT THAT IS BANKRUPT AND HASN'T HAD A NEW GROCERY IN YEARS – who will object to the opening of a Whole Foods – I'll buy you a pony.*

Anyway, I'm looking forward to Whole Foods opening in February.

P.S. to Whole Foods: Is it too late to ask for some sort of graft? It's probably more customary to ask for the graft ahead of writing something pleasant about you, but I'm not really all that good at graft.

 

 

*Pony may be imaginary and/or not to scale. Offer not good in continental United States or other continents. Offer is not offer. Why are you reading this?

Reader Comments:
Dec 19, 2013 11:30 pm
 Posted by  lkocher

Mr. Peyton,

I'm just wondering if you're happy with your usage of the terms "hipster douchebag" and "fedora-douchebag scale." I'd also like to know if you really meant to write "woman talking shit." Frankly, I'm very put off by it, and disappointed that no one chose to suggest that you might reach for a thesaurus.

Dec 20, 2013 10:16 am
 Posted by  Aaron

Mr and/or Mrs. Kocher,

Not speaking on behalf of Mr. Peyton, Esq., but rather attempting to channel his motivations, "hipster douchebag" (H.D.) and especially "fedora-douchebag scale" (F.-D.S.) are two phrases which have achieved sentience in the world and do in fact sum up a thesaurus full of colorful phrases, arguably all less palatable to those with gentle constitutions. In doing extensive research on the term (I believe it was the fourth google link, and I skipped the first three), this sums up what a H.D. is nicely: "The hipster walks among the masses in daily life, but is not a part of them and must shun or reduce to kitsch anything held dear by the mainstream." ('Guide to being a Hipster Douchebag' by SBPress).

The F.-D.S. is another important measuring stick for the level of H.D.: the best source I could find for it was across the pond, and so referred to their scale as the "Hat Wanker" scale, and lumps in fedoras with trilbys, which they rank as 5/5 on the hat wanker scale for many reasons, but mainly this one: "If you yourself are a trilby wearer, you probably also regard breaking into schoolboy French mid-sentence as nature’s very own Rohypnol." It's an elevated sense of one's worth that the affectation of that charming hat makes clothes melt off the fairer sex. I'm not in agreement with the definition, but there we are, popular culture has spoken.

In conclusion, the whole thing is tongue in cheek, and I'm sure your panties need not be in that bunch.

Dec 20, 2013 11:33 am
 Posted by  Liz Greenspan

Hi Robert,

Thanks for linking to my post for the New Yorker. The only part I really take issue with is your characterization that I was talking shit about Whole Foods customers who are like me ... I really wasn't meaning to. My point was to comment on the demographic at Whole Foods, and to point out that, for the most part, it doesn't include most of the neighborhood's Latino residents. As to my part in the gentrification process -- yes, totally -- but I'm also not as powerful as Whole Foods.

As to your other questions: the affordable grocer (which had lots of produce, and was cheaper than WF) closed when the managers of the store retired and the owners decided to lease to Whole Foods instead. The reaction to Whole Foods from other business owners is mixed. Some love it, particularly property owners -- there's more traffic in the area, and for prop. owners of all stripes, they can charge more in rent. But some local businesses don't like it -- like a local health food store, that fears it is losing business to it, and some just don't like the symbol of WF. It's anecdotal, but I know one Latino business owner/property owner who has ostensibly benefited from WF because his properties are worth more now, but who hates it because he doesn't see it as welcoming to his community.

In any case, I think the protests and debates that seem to precede a new WF store are interesting, and a trend, as you note, so that's why I wrote the piece.

I know nothing about the New Orleans store, but you say there were concerns WF would change the "character of the neighborhood" ... hmmmm. .. doesn't necessarily sound so different to me. I'm just a douchebag hipster, though :)

Liz

Dec 21, 2013 09:12 pm
 Posted by  Robert

Liz,

Whether you're a hipster of any variety is immaterial. You wrote the piece you wrote for the New Yorker, and I hardly think someone as literate as you didn't know the audience for which you wrote.

There are currently two Whole Foods Markets in New Orleans. Had you actually read what I wrote, you'd know that. The third is coming to MY neighborhood, and I can assure you there are no complaints from locals being "pushed out" by it and less yet "scared" of it. Property owners or lease-holders are, in this instance, the same; they want a postive development where there has been only blight for years.

For what it's worth, the folks in New Orleans who protested the Whole Foods thought it was going to bring the neighborhood too much traffic, and would prevent them from parking SUVs close to other upscale shops. It's very different.

You said that what you find interesting are "the protests and debates that seem to precede a new WF store," but what you actually find interesting are the protests and debates that precede a new WF store in Brooklyn and Jamaica Plain. Meaning yes, you probably are a hipster douchebag.

I'm just the asshole calling you on it.

LKocher: First, what Aaron said. Second, I am not sure whether "happy" is the word. I have more than one colleague who criticizes my use of profanity as lazy, and I think where writing on the internet is concerned, they and you are correct. In my case, however, I don't use profanity as a crutch; I use if for effect in the same way I use any other word.

I wouldn't change what I wrote.

One thing for which you criticized me was "woman talking shit," and had I said that in a context that suggested a woman was less entitled to talk shit than a man or a human of any other gender then I'd be apologizing. But that's not what I said. I was referring to a very specific woman, and I've addressed her above.

Thanks to all three of you for your comments, by the way.

Dec 22, 2013 05:18 pm
 Posted by  B.Mira

Irony is a "latino" looking for some of that good WF meat in South Hampton and the closest WF is 35 miles away.

I have distant childhood memories of shopping at a Whole Foods (uptown NOLA near a cemetery) about 35 years ago (circa. 1978) with my mom, a place i can't imagine any of these hipster douche-bags stepping foot in, talk about crunchy, raw, all yoga, no pants. A member's "share" sliced off a communal wheel of cheese, and I don't think meat was sold at all.

I also remember WF Esplanade, in my beloved Mid-City, and I felt like my boyfriend left me for some uptown girl when WF decided to "build" on Magazine, heading for "greener" pastures. Almost seemed like Katrina gave WF the perfect opportunity to "dip" out on a relationship that had cradled, nurtured, and helped it become the beast it is today. So, that being said I have a lot of mixed feelings about WF returning to Mid-City, and WF in general. Yeah, even if WF gives "minorities" jobs, these are not the people I know, even if they do live next door, literally. I might be the only one that gets discomfort, or a sense of subtle brainwashing or "branding" that really creeps me out to the core. I really appreciate the "realness" of the workers at Rouses now, maybe our community should push for a higher "living wage", or maybe Liz Greenspan can help us lead that charge.

Which brings me the real stress causing agents: Hipsters - My father, a mid-city resident for 38 years said "I have new neighbors, they won't talk to me" to which I replied, "Dad they are called hipsters". Why do hipsters love latino neighborhoods (Park Slope, Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, Mid-City) for their "passive aggressive hostile takeovers"? Where do they really come from and why are there so many? And why do so many feel entitled to be "experts" like Ms. Greenspan, (in my opinion) she seemingly elected herself (in her comment) as the "mouth-piece"/representative for a latino grocer and maybe even a "whole community".

Add your comment:


Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived here his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

recent

archive

feed

Atom Feed Subscribe to the Haute Plates Feed »