Saturday, January 28, 2012

Non-objective reasons why you should not shop at Whole Foods

Aside from being one of my favorite places in the world, the Hollywood Farmers Market is also objectively (really, objectively:) a really good thing to have in this world. Every week during most of the year, and now every other week in winter, it brings in fresh produce from farms near Portland and makes it available for purchase--good for farmers; good for urban shoppers. It has a Fresh Funds matching program so that people dependent on food stamps can double their purchasing power for fresh fruits and veggies. It brings the community together through volunteer labor, since the success of every market depends on people helping set it up, break it down, and take care of it while it's running. It truly brings the neighborhood together, in one of the most wholesome ways I can think of.

And then there's Whole Foods. There's a big one that opened down the street from us a few years ago, which brought with it what we thought might be some pretty cool options. Since Whole Foods purports to "care about our communities" as well as provide the "highest quality natural and organic products available" (that's what their website "values" section says, anyway), it seems like a good partnership, right? We have some similar stated values about natural products, one of our bigger farmers even sells to Whole Foods during the summer...we could certainly form some kind of mutually beneficial partnership, right?

We've advanced many opportunities over the last few years. The biggest one I worked on was composting, trying to get them to take the compost we generate during 5 hours a week of market time and then putting up signs thanking them for it, or whatever they thought was appropriate. (Since we don't have a permanent market site, we don't have our own site for compost collection, thus putting us in a weird position of having to depend on other people for it.) But we've tried many other tacks as well: perhaps they could help support our Fresh Funds program. Perhaps we could both put up signs on the produce we share, "available during the week at Whole Foods" and "find us at the Hollywood Farmers Market on Saturdays." There's a whole list of ways we tried to engage Whole Foods in some form of collective community-building and collaboration.

We went back and forth with them for a l.o.n.g time about collaborating, and essentially got the giant run-around. "Oh, we have to check with our team." "Oh, I don't know, we have to see if it fits into our values." "Oh, I don't know if we have the capacity." "Oh, I don't know, you'll have to ask this other person." "Oh, I don't know if that's a good fit for us right now." And on and on and on, for anything we thought to ever talk to them about.

Until now, when Whole Foods is suddenly trying to develop their own market on Saturdays. Now, all of a sudden, our customer base is valuable to them. Now, all of a sudden, they care about the community because it's full of potential shoppers that we can help get in their doors. Now, they want to help us with composting and give us more vendor stall space near their store because now, it will help them make more money. Now that they want to make their own market, they want to be our friend.

It makes me perhaps irrationally angry, mostly because it strikes me as so counterfeit. I mean, I know that if you're a business, you generally do what seems best for you, and that includes doing the things that can make you more money. But I can't help but feel that relationship-building is a large part of that. You can't just treat someone like shit for the whole time you've been around, then suddenly turn around a try to be nice when you need something. And you especially can't do that under the guise of trying to build community, when really what you're trying to build is your own bottom line.

In the meantime, Grocery Outlet, with very few (if any) ulterior motives, lets us use their parking lot every single week to house our market, takes our trash for us every single week, even puts happy little signs about us on their marquee, without us asking. They do it because they're wonderful people and they care about their neighborhood, even if our market surveys show that very few people who shop at the market go to Grocery Outlet on market day. They're just nice, and they're willing to share their extra space, or their extra garbage capacity, in a way that is apparently totally alien to Whole Foods.

So yeah. None of these are objective reasons why you should avoid Whole Foods (though I could find those too--the money doesn't stay in the community, they're hugely anti-union, they don't really support small farmers like they pretend to, their management won't acknowledge the possibility of global climate change, etc. etc). But it's just one more reason I personally plan to avoid them. Plus, in a city with a whole bunch of other great grocery options, why would I support a store where the profit goes back to Texas? Or a store who jerks around small nonprofits like the farmers market for their own benefit? Not that I went to Whole Foods that much anyway, but now I'm definitely done.

1 comment:

Blog PassionistaForLife said...

Hey there, is this your one and only domain or you also own others?