Friday, September 2, 2016

The impressive place that is Whole Foods

Whole Foods gets a bad rap. They are mischaracterized unfairly. Their products are mischaracterized, their employees are mischaracterized, and their customers are mischaracterized too.

Allow me to correct misapprehension, please. Allow me to defend them.

They need no defense. They're doing just fine.

I've been talking about the Hatch chile because they are seasonal. This is a thing that I never appreciated before. I had no idea what the hubbub is about. No idea why so many tents and giant bingo ball machines with flames blowing on them pop up this time of year around here. Until I bought some and my eyes were suddenly opened. Now I get it.

But I did not know that Whole Foods does the same thing. It makes sense. That's what they do. They seek out the best food available. Then offer it to you. They have the same kind of roaster set up outside their store and offer the same thing and in smaller amount. You don't have to buy a whole bushel whereas you do at the temporary roadside tents.

It's a matter of you appreciating it. Or not.

A few years ago I noticed a bin of very unsightly tomatoes. Yellow tomatoes, Whoever heard of that? Not me. Zebra tomatoes. Those things must be gross. Oddly shaped tomatoes with apparent deficiencies. From tomato plants that do not produce that many tomatoes. Who would want to buy those? It baffled me. When there are nice ones available, perfectly shaped, perfect firmness with no flaws. And hardly any taste. I had become accustomed to second rate tomatoes that are suitable to appeal by appearance on a massive industrial scale. Suitable for shipping and handling. Suitable for marketing. Large number of tomato per plant. But lacking authentic garden tomato flavor. The odd tomatoes blew my mind. I expected the worst, and man, was I ever wrong.

This is what Whole Foods does. They know that and other things too. A lot more other things. They have a lot to teach and offer about food. But you must be open to appreciate it. And all that costs money. It is not geared to compromise. This is the difference.

So now is tomato season and even mass tomatoes grown on vines that produce the most tomatoes are presently at their best. Good as they get, that type. Within a few weeks that situation will change and tomatoes will revert to their flavorless compromise tomatoes. Grown someplace else and transported. I walked into Whole Foods today and they had large table set up right at the entrance loaded with questionable looking tomatoes. Weirdly misshapen orbs, some of them too soft. I grabbed as many as I thought I can eat. This is the season. Take advantage. Life is too short for tomato compromise. You don't have to settle. But it will cost a bit more. Believe me, it's worth it. You are worth it. You don't have to settle for the cheapest there is. Not when it comes to food.

It's not that they seek out the most expensive. They seek out the best possible that they can offer within reason.

The customers are not snobs with more money than common sense. They know this too. Their customers know what Whole Food detractors don't appreciate. To a person they are all kind and friendly.

I learned to accept the grace that people extend to me. Today even before this the Hatch man carried my backpack to my truck. I learned not to say, "That's fine. I got this." When people make contact and offer their grace. Take it. Conversely, not to is rejecting their grace And that happened today at Whole Foods again before even entering the building. A gentleman older than myself showed me that he's not a WF shopping snob by grabbing a trolly for me when we went for one at the same time. He didn't have to do that. He could have minded his own business and not have been rude. He extend to me his grace. I learned to accept it. 

Now, young people get a very bad rap as well. I feel they don't deserve it. What I read about their behavior nothing matches my own direct experience and not by a mile. The employees and clerks that I come into contact are opposite as described. I find them friendly and bright, cheerful and happy, well adjusted, and frankly dealt a great deal of unfairness. Education cost for example. They have my sympathy for being ripped off. Their education is not worth what they're being force to pay. And they think all this is normal. It's not. I'm ashamed to say by my own generation gains wealth at their expense. Home ownership another. They're treated as whipping horses. And that makes me very sad. My heart goes out to them. They deal with all that and with youthful energy and strength. They are born into the world that we created, their condition is largely our fault. 

Inside the store now, I'm amazed to see more peaches in great abundance packaged reasonably to take home. Good old Whole Foods I should have known. The vegetable section is like entering food heaven. I mean it. They've carefully selected the best of everything. Everything you can want is right there and in awe inspiring abundance. 

I want a fish. 

A whole fish. Specifically a red snapper. And I prefer one not too large. These things are expensive. It's the middle of the country after all. I will not find what I want at King Soopers. The sort of thing rather cheap in Mexico. They just don't have that sort of thing here. Their customers don't appreciate whole fish. Their customers don't know what to do with such a thing. And they certainly are not going to pay what it cost to provide it. I push my little trolly (It makes a great walker, I feel normal momentarily) my two canes hooked on the handle, and walk up to the fish counter. A lad is looking directly at me, watching my progress from behind his counter, waiting to help with my selection. They're so aware. They're so right there. I scan the case and see only cut fish. A nice variety, all expensive, but those things don't last. They must move them. Consider that. If they don't sell then their costs are increased astronomically. Sadly no whole fish. I'm disappointed. The lad is still watching me go over their offering. 

"I was hoping for a whole fish." 

"Look down." 

They had a metal tub set up in front of the case filled with ice. Whole fish kept cold. I didn't see them. "Oh Jeeze." The young man laughed. "Were it a snake I'd be bitten!" He thought that was funny. 

"Pick one, I'll wrap it for you." 

The perfect size for red snapper. Bright eyes, kept perfectly cold. I reached in and pulled one out, now my hand has fish on it. A young woman suddenly appeared at my side.

"I'll take that from you, if you like." (I learned not to reject grace extended. My intention was hand it to the lad to wrap. I gave her the fish and wiped my hand on the ice and she took the red snapper behind the counter. It's the perfect size. 

"Would you like me to filet this for you?" Again, I had visualized doing that myself. "Go ahead, please, yes. But I do want the head and the bones for broth." 


So now I get to talk with the young woman as she's working, cheerful and attractive and bright. Very interested in what I have in mind with this fish. I tell what I intend to do with it. She's impressed with my plans. We talk a good deal, actually. I tell her other things too. I do go on and she apparently takes it all in. She really is interested in the things that I'm saying and not just pretending to be nice. All of the people in there are like that. They are all very interested in the subject of food and what people do with all these things that they sell. 

While the customers and clerks at King Soopers, the regular store, are not. Not to that extent. They cannot take time to discuss the subject of food and have little interest in my plans. This young woman is beautiful. Truly. I'm not just making this up. She says to me.

"I like the way you think about food. I like your understanding and how make things from so little." 

I mentioned my blog. 

"Tell me the name of your blog. I want to see what you do with this. I need to read your page about bread." She actually wrote down the name of my blog.

This sort of thing is actually common there. Young people hard at work, doing what you ask of them and doing it cheerfully and with genuine interest. They impress me tremendously. All of them do. No matter the subject. 

Now. As to cost. Last week at Tony's an urban market like this closer to my place I noticed they had two red snapper last week and I've been thinking about them since. (They all behave similarly there. All the young people are intensely interested in their business. I gave a sourdough starter to a young man there last week and I'm curious how that's turning out.) But there was no red snapper the second visit. I asked and the young man there about them and he said he could order them. They were the perfect size and that gave me the idea for bouillabaisse. When I asked about cost he said that it's $17.00 LB. "How many pounds?" Usually three or four.

Change of plans. 

No pot of fish soup is worth $50.00 to $65.00. That far exceeds the cost of the huge red snapper I bought at Whole Foods last year and thought a bit expensive for a fish. 

What a bummer! 

So this whole fish from Whole Foods is 1/3 that cost. Still expensive in terms of a pot of soup. But reasonable for all things considered. 

The people I know do not appreciate any of this. They tell me flatly, "I don't like seafood." or "I can't eat shellfish" and the like. They cannot appreciate what is offered. They don't appreciate the effort. Nor the people, the workers nor customers. Frankly, they have it all wrong. I wish I could get them to appreciate. But I cannot. Either you do or you don't. It is a beautiful thing that is offered, truly, and all things considered the cost is actually kept down. For you. But you must appreciate first. They are not in the business to gouge suckers. You must be able to recognize and accept grace extended. To even be able to see and to know that it is grace being offered. Then a whole world of real grace opens up, from carrying your backpack to your truck, snagging a trolly instead of moving along lost in their own world ignoring people around them, to speaking when addressed and not ignoring a greeting, to working their tails off for you, and doing that cheerfully, to seeking out the best they can find and offering it all to you and keeping the cost down so much as possible. 

The characterization of Whole Paycheck misses the entire effort and it says more about the person making the jibe than it does about this really incredible business that attracts truly beautiful and gracious people. Not snobs at all. They need no defense. But I give it anyway. They show me how to extend grace by doing it. I've got a lot to learn. Odd having children teach me.


Evi L. Bloggerlady said...

I don't care for Whole Foods (although I will occasionally go there if they have something I need). While I appreciate them promoting things like heirloom tomatoes and good tasting food, I am not sure Whole Foods should not get any credit for the current food revolution. If anything WF is riding the wave and benefiting from it (and good for it for doing so). What I do not care about WF is it's too damn expensive for what it is offering.

I'm cheap.

I support local farm stands and green grocers and food suppliers. The prices are way less than WF, the food is fresher, and I know where it is coming from.

AprilApple said...

I like Natural Grocers. Same local produce without the fancy price tag. We have a new Lucky's in town. They have nice looking produce, better price, and they play 80's pop music while you shop. win win.

This was on the other day.

I'm not a fan of Trader Joes, and I only go to Whole Foods for specific offerings. They get high marks from me on their in-house baked breads-- over-priced, but worth it.

Evi L. Bloggerlady said...

I like Trader Joes because they have items that are really good and not over priced. If I don't need a 3 lbs bag of walnuts from Costco, TJ has a reasonably priced 8 oz bag. But I rarely buy produce there. I would rather get it from the veggie stand.

AprilApple said...

I do agree that Whole Foods has better customer service. sort of.

I've complained to the managers at the local Whole Foods after I see people eating off the food bar and sampling using a tongued-out paper sample cup as a scoop and they keep licking the cup and then scooping up more - essentially sticking their whole face in the dip!
Hipppy germs all over the place on the food bar. Managers said "thanks but we really cannot do anything about it. The employees know it's bad and so WE don't eat off of the food bar." Lovely.


AprilApple said...

Agreed on that 3lb bag of walnuts - Evi.

Chip Ahoy said...

I wrote about Japanese kombu and bonito dashi because that's what I was talking about with the young woman filleting my fish.

I have plenty of kombu but I ran out of bonito.

I asked her if her WF carries it. Slim chance, actually. I expected I'd have to go to the Asian market, the only place that I've seen it.

She said that she didn't think so. She was pretty sure, not.

I asked her if she knows what that is. She said no.

I asked if that WF (there are 3 close to where I live) has an international section, she said, yes.

I went to the aisle, and boom, there they both are, right there at the front.

And I thought, man, this place is not messing around. Their buyers know exactly what is important. And I can guarantee none of the other places have such a non Western staple.

Sprouts is pretty good, they're a bit more distant. Walmart Food and Costco are always outside of downtown. And Sam's Club is membership with everything in large quantity.

It doesn't make sense to do your grocery shopping at WF, but it's excellent for seasonal things, for items in bulk, and for odd things like a whole red snapper that's not frozen.

Also, just try to find cheese made from raw milk.

The U.S. uses only pasteurized milk and there goes all the flavor. ALL of it, I said.

Okay fine, most of it. Okay fine, some of it. There goes some of the flavor.

That's why French people think we're weird.

A strange attitude to take considering Louis Pasteur was French.

chickelit said...

There are no Whole Foods within a reasonable distance from me. I used to drive down to the one in La Jolla every year to get rare cheeses and mushrooms. But then I did a little research and found the same things closer. I haven't set foot in one in years. The people who shop there always struck me as smug and "hipper than thou."

Evi L. Bloggerlady said...

Chip, unless I trust the fish monger knows what he or she is doing, I am hesitant of a fish like bonito in Colorado. Bonito right out of the water is delicious. If you bleed and brine them on ice they are also excellent for a few days. I am sure if you flash freeze them they are good too (if bled and cleaned right when caught). But oily fish like bonito, bluefish, sardines, mackerel, etc. have a very short half life if not handled expertly.

Chick, agree on WF customers being a bit smug (although I don't want to say all WF customers are smug since I have bought a couple of things there myself). I find that local places have all the stuff WF has, often with better prices. But if it is convenient and I know they have something I need, I will go to WF.

MamaM said...

They show me how to extend grace by doing it. I've got a lot to learn. Odd having children teach me.

Mirror neurons at work. Powerful stuff, free, present, available, ready and waiting. Which is why I believe Grace and Truth (what Jesus was purportedly "full of") to be the keys that opens us to kingdom of heaven experiences. When others act in the spirit of Grace and Truth, goodness is reflected and realized.

A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting.

Evi L. Bloggerlady said...

Raw milk cheese is excellent. Raw milk is fine. Just make sure it is milk.

Evi L. Bloggerlady said...

I am talking about fresh bonito, not the Asian processed bonito flakes.

I also like the Vietnamese dried pork for putting on sandwiches.