Over the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve been hearing the question, “why doesn’t Whole Foods come to Boise?” Before I knew much about food and nutrtion, I too thought this would be a great thing, to have such a pillar of whole foods and health in our city.
This was before I realized what Whole Foods really is: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. After educating myself, I have learned all about Whole Foods and their mission to sell “healthy food” to the consumer market.
Over the years, I have shopped at Whole Foods in other cities when I traveled and had no other choices. I also do everything I can to bring my own food with me – especially if I’m driving. I want to avoid having to pay the expensive prices Whole Foods charges for their products, especially because I know that I’m really not getting what is claimed on the label for my money.
8 reasons I won’t shop at Whole Foods in Boise, Idaho:
1. Whole Foods claims to be anti-GMO. They have engaged in large anti-GMO campaigns throughout their history. But the fact remains, Whole Foods carries a great deal of GMO products in their stores.
GMOs are becoming more and more pervasive in our food supply. Most soy, corn, canola, and cotton come from GMO sources. There are currently no labeling laws in the U.S. If something isn’t labeled “non-GMO” or “GMO-free” it’s probably GMO.
If you watch this video, you can see that when Alexis Baden-Mayer, Political Director of Organic Consumer’s Association asked a Whole Foods employee whether store products had GMO ingredients in them, the question was patently avoided. When you shop at Whole Foods, you are likely buying GMO foods without realizing it. How can a corporation claim to be anti-GMO and continue to carry GMO products? It’s wholly abhorrent, and sends a mixed message to the consumer public. Wouldn’t a company that is so outspoken about GMOs be eager and open to answer the question? In my opinion, this refusal to answer the question shows that they in fact do have GMOs in their store.
In 2011, Organic Consumer’s Association featured an article talking about how Whole Foods admits they sell GMOs, and Natural News also featured an article talking about how despite its best efforts, “products sold at Whole Foods do, in fact, contain genetically engineered ingredients, even when Whole Foods would prefer they didn’t.” Even with this recent information being released, Whole Foods continues to make it seem like they are anti-GMO, when clearly they are not. If they would just drop the pretense of being on an anti-GMO campaign, it wouldn’t be nearly so deceitful.
There are so many issues with labeling now and misinformation being conveyed to consumers, many consumers believe that just because a product carries the word “all- natural“, “organic“, “low-fat“, “low sodium“, “lean meat” on its label, that makes it safe and healthy to consume.
This is not the first time I’ve blown the whistle on Whole Foods. In January of 2011, I wrote a post about big corporations who were agreeing to partial deregulation of GMOs. These companies: Whole Foods, Stonyfield Farm, and Organic Valley, gave their blessing to the USDA about allowing a “co-existence” of GMOs in our food supply. If you understand the inherent threat GMOs pose to our food supply, you would never agree that co-existence is a good thing or even possible. Many people argued with me that there were only two choices available as stated by the USDA: partial deregulation and full deregulation, and that these entities did the right thing by choosing the “lesser of two evils”. Again, there is no such thing as co-existence with GMOs. Once those organisms are in our food supply, they will contaminate EVERYTHING and cause harm to us, our farmland, animals, and the environment.
Those companies could have just refused to agree to these terms. If I were the one making decisions for those companies, that’s exactly what I would have done, and let the chips fall where they may. Those consumers who have high standards would have supported them, and their businesses would have continued to flourish. And they would have remained with their integrity intact. As it stands, their ethics and business strategies are very much compromised, and their reputation forever called into question. For those companies, they clearly saw it as a matter of less profit to disagree with those two choices.
2. Whole Foods is one of the most over-priced grocery stores at which you’ll ever have the pleasure of shopping.
For years, I’ve listened to people in my city complain about the expense of our employee-owned and locally operated Boise Consumer Co-op. Guess what folks, real food costs more. The fact that you can go to Win-Co, Wal-Mart, or some other discount grocery store and pay $1.99 – 2.99 for a pound of steak is not a good thing. You are still paying a lot for those processed foods (yes, that steak is highly processed and full of chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, GMOs, etc) you buy at the chain grocery store due to farming subsidies (paid for by every tax payer), the fact that the food you are buying has little to no nutritional value, and your doctor bills later. But many people don’t take that into consideration.
So when I hear people complain about how expensive the Co-op is, I think about how amusing it will be to see their jaws drop when they see the prices in Whole Foods. And it’s not just in certain cities like Las Vegas and L.A. I’ve shopped at Whole Foods in those cities as well as Orlando, Seattle, and others, and prices are consistently higher than any other health food store I’ve shopped. I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of people all over the country who shop in numerous locations, and what I’m hearing from them is that prices are also higher in their cities, 2-3 times higher than any other health food store. If you think Whole Foods has better prices and selection, you are in for a rude awakening indeed. And even though you are paying more, guess what? The quality of food is not high enough to justify those prices (in fact, most of it is not healthy at all).
3. Whole Foods proudly advertises their support of small, local farmers, and yet the majority of their products are from many miles away.
In this article from Slate (2006), a small farmer from Connecticut explains why this isn’t really the case:
“Almost all the organic food in this country comes out of California. And five or six big California farms dominate the whole industry.” There’s a widespread misperception in this country—one that organic growers, no matter how giant, happily encourage—that “organic” means “small family farmer.” That hasn’t been the case for years, certainly not since 1990, when the Department of Agriculture drew up its official guidelines for organic food. Whole Foods knows this well, and so the line about the “small family farmers that make up a large percentage of organic food producers” is sneaky. There are a lot of small, family-run organic farmers, but their share of the organic crop in this country, and of the produce sold at Whole Foods, is minuscule.
Okay, I get it. To be competitive and offer products people want, most grocery stores sell produce shipped in from all over. This has been the model of grocery stores for decades and decades. But don’t advertise and market yourself as a company that stocks products from local farmers when it’s very obvious that the majority of your inventory is anything but local or produced by small farmers. In 2008, news reports uncovered the fact that much of Whole Foods organics are not even from California, but China. It’s dishonest. It’s half truths like this, in addition to the blatant, outright lies that Whole Foods tells to its consumers (such as being anti-GMO and stocking many GMO products in the store) which have made me so mistrustful of this corporation.
4. Even though I do buy some foods from other sources, there are many wonderful, sustainable, local farms in my area which I have been buying my meat, poultry, produce, and raw dairy from for years, and will continue to purchase from in the future.
Here are some of the farms from which my family buys food:
- Matthew’s All Natural Meats
- Homestead Natural Foods
- Peaceful Belly
- Alderspring Ranch
- Rice Family Farms
- Morning Owl Farm
5. In March of 2010, Whole Foods Corporate office announced that although it had formerly carried raw milk on its shelves, it was issuing a new corporate policy of discontinuing this practice on a national level.
For years, Whole Foods carried Organic Pastures raw milk. Our family drank OP raw milk and ate raw dairy foods for 2 years, and they were some of the best we’ve ever eaten. Organic Pastures is the largest raw milk dairy in the country and has never had an outbreak of pathogenic bacteria during the time they’ve been in business, which is over 10 years. Organic Pastures sells to many, many satisfied residents and visitors all over the state of California and beyond, and continues to sell milk in a variety of stores, businesses, and locations.
I can’t support a corporation which bans the sale of healthy, raw milk and yet allows a variety of inferior dairy products to grace its shelves with the assumption that these are “health foods”. One example is Organic Valley, a dairy conglomerate which is now considered one of the pinnacles of health in the food system, and yet they use ultra high temperature pasteurization, which effectively destroys all good bacteria, proteins, fats, and enzymes in milk. So much for the money you are spending on those products – and they aren’t cheap. Every time you buy Organic Valley products, you are getting denatured enzymes and other nutrients, as well as dead bacteria. Doesn’t sound quite so healthy anymore, does it?
6. There is already one great local health food store where I do shop and will continue to shop – The Boise Consumer Co-op, and two brand new businesses opening up this spring, Huckleberry’s Natural Market and Natural Grocers.
I’d much rather support a locally-owned and/or family-operated business which prides itself on being part of the community in which it resides, and has principles in supporting the local, surrounding food system, than a large, corporate, pseudo-health store catering to the affluent who don’t bother to educate themselves about foods and products they are buying, and who are impressed by above all – slick marketing and high price tags. I’ve not yet shopped at Natural Grocers, but I like their mission statement information, and have heard great things about it from others I know. I used to shop at Huckleberry’s Natural Market when we lived in Spokane, WA for a year and loved it.
7. Did you know the USDA standards for organic beef only requires “grassfed” beef to be 30% grassfed?
That’s right. So even though Whole Foods says they have very high standards about humane treatment, grass-feeding, etc., what you are buying there is really only required by law to be 30% grassfed. So even though in some cases you will pay up to 3 times more for the meat they sell there, you are only getting about the same amount of time on grass as feedlot meat. It also means some producers choose to finish cattle on grain for the last 90 to 160 days before slaughter, and that folks, is not grassfed beef. The last 30 days of an animal’s life is the most critical for assessing nutrient quality of the meat.
8. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey posted under an assumed name for multiple years on Yahoo’s online forums, and trashed the store it eventually bought out, Wild Oats.
The reputation and integrity of a company rests heavily upon those who represent it. How can you trust a company whose CEO is engaged in such activities? This deceitful action embarrassed his company and probably pissed off many of the competitor’s stockholders. This action put a shadow on his entire person, calling into question the integrity of his actions. Can we really trust this man or his company to be truthful about the products it sells? He says he “had fun doing it”. Very childish, and doesn’t speak well of his ability to make sound decisions. It borders on pathological behavior.
Some people might believe my purpose in writing this article is to be nit-picky or that I’m just a snob. But this is serious stuff. This isn’t about empty criticisms or bad-mouthing a company that does ” the best they can”. It’s about blowing the lid on corporations who have continually made it a practice to appear green, sustainable, and healthy in the products they sell, but who certainly are not. It’s extremely important we make a distinction between all the marketing and advertising we are continually bombarded with – products which we are told are healthy for us and the environment – and those which aren’t. Sadly, these make up a majority of what’s available on the market. That’s why it’s critical to know what these corporations are doing and understand that they are pulling the wool over our eyes when they tell us they are better than all the other conventional stuff available.
I think these are pretty compelling reasons to avoid large chain stores and support local, sustainable farmers who avoid GMOs in their farming practices, whether it be in crops or feed they give to their livestock/fowl. These 8 reasons also really illustrate the importance of accountability and transparency in our food system and our farming industry, which currently is under a great amount of scrutiny from the real food and sustainable communities for some of the reasons I mentioned here.
If you doubt the integrity of the commercial, industrial food system and farming industries, you are not alone. These issues are becoming more and more visible with food recalls which happen regularly and are documented in various places. All you have to do is a little research, and the things you will learn will make you angry and disturbed. But becoming aware is the first step in taking action against companies and corporate farms who continue to sell unsafe food and who are not thwarted by our own government, which is supposed to protect us.