Thoughts on Whole Foods and 'Silent Meals'

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?

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