Okay, maybe it's not Whole Foods Market per se, but maybe the Whole Foods Market lifestyle?
I have been shopping at WF for a few years now. It all started when I became a vegan. I went to WF to get the organic vegan food with no preservatives or animal products. Super healthy, AND I was going to be a skinny you know what. When I arrived at Whole Foods, I was expecting to be surrounded by skinny people. Emaciated people. Organic vegans and veggies. But from the moment I stepped into the store, I noticed that all of the skinny people I was expecting to see were nowhere to be found. I figured maybe they were an elusive species that only came out at night or something. The heavier people I was seeing were obviously on their way to health and would be skinny in no time.
For the next few years, I watched the WF clientele as well as the employees with fascination. Each time I was in the store, I noticed that not only were the overwhelming majority of people not skinny, they were actually fat. There was no way that I could be missing all of the skinny people, considering that I am at the store 1-2 times a week at all different hours.
Clearly, these people are health consious and they are willing to pay higher prices in order to eat healthy; so why are they fat?
The answer eluded me until yesterday. I was sitting there in the dining section watching people, when it suddenly dawned on me: Whole Foods people are fat because they are buying into the low-fat, high-carb, whole-grain, veggie-vegan lifestyle. It was like an epiphany! I know, I should have recognized the answer sooner, considering that I have been Paleo for 6 months now, but it was so enlightening to finally have the answer, I wanted to shout it out on a bullhorn. And how sad that these people truly care about their health and are trying to do the right thing by carefully avoiding the unhealthy foods, only to fail miserably unless they are willing to starve themselves. It is especially sad to see all of the moms picking out the organic juices and vegan cookies for the little ones.
So has anyone else noticed this? Are your Whole Foods people fat too? If so, did you figure out the answer immediately, or did it take some time? I'm feeling behind the curve here.
Like most anything, you get out of it what you put into it. If you shop at Whole Foods or any other natural/healthfood market but still buy processed crap, you get crap results physically. I shop at a regional natural market for specialty items, and I'm blown away by what I see people purchasing. A mother with her kids and a shopping cart full of organic chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese, 'natural' bags of chips and crackers, organic cookies and candy, and organic chocolate milk loaded with sugar. Why pay a premium for "organic" junk food? Organic cookies are still sugary junk. What's the point of that?
It's not really where you shop. It's what you buy while you're there. And quite frankly, a large portion of the US population is overweight or obese. So, statistically speaking, you are very likely to see quite a few 'fat' people no matter where you are in public. It will vary slightly depending on what state or neighborhood you are in, obviously, but the fact remains. I do most of my shopping at Wal-Mart and Target (budget constraints), but I'm not a pound overweight. I don't buy junky food when I shop and I put effort into my workouts and meals.
Well really, people are making themselves fat. Most people have the option of buying healthy, fresh foods that will keep them at a good body composition. No one is holding a gun to their head and forcing them to buy organic dairy-free cheese doodles. The problem is that many people don't even care much about what they eat, and even if someone is health and weight conscious they are bombarded with bad information and misguided recommendations from every angle... the government, the media, their family doctor, everyone they know...
I shopped at Whole Foods for years and now I work there. There are lots of fat customers and workers and plenty of normal-weight and thin ones. Just like any grocery store the employees and clientele vary mostly based on what area you are located. The one in the yuppie urban area of my city is 85% young, thin, trendily-dressed, single yoga fanatics and vegans. In my area people are typical suburbanites though on the wealthier side, and mostly shopping for their family, not just themselves.
They stock what sells, as any business should. There is an overwhelming demand for baked goods, sweets, and various processed junk everywhere. And WF does try to make these things as 'healthy' as possible and offer lots of options to people who eat alternative diets (vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free). The problem is that the information they have about what is healthful is mostly backwards. But even if the CEO is paleo and believes that grains are evil the corporation would probably go out of business if all they sold was animal products and produce. Corporations exist to make money, which means fulfilling existing demands. Americans want sweets and grains, whether they are health-conscious or not.
Their fresh options are amazing if that's how you you choose to eat. They have by far the best produce available in my town, are often the only place I can buy local and pastured dairy products, and I am really liking the direction the seafood and meat departments are headed. They recently introduced a 5-point rating system for all their meat suppliers which is nearly spot-on. They are also making a big effort to support small local farms. Really I feel that they are about as supportive of a paleo lifestyle and a healthier American food system, as a multinational corporation can get.
FWIW Whole Foods is, very literally, a candy store disguised as a "health foods" store.
The inordinate amount of candy/chocolates/pastries (no matter if is gourmet/fair trade/etc etc) they give floor space and sell boggles the mind.
EDIT: I should clarify -- I am totally okay with WF being a candy store -- if anyone wants to gorge on gourmet, free-trade candy - then by all means. But at the end of the day, let's call with what it is.
It is ironic, but if Whole Foods sold only "whole foods" they would quickly go out of business (or, more accurately, they would not be able to support their current business model of large stores, continued expansion, etc.)
In a Gnolls.org post, J.Stanton wrote,
"There’s one big reason that industrial food manufacturers like Kraft (Nabisco, Snackwells, General Foods, many more), Con-Agra (Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, Healthy Choice, many more), Pepsico (Frito-Lay, Quaker), Kellogg’s (Kashi, Morningstar Farms, Nutrigrain, more) are huge and profitable.
It’s because grains are cheap, but the “foods” made from them aren’t."
He went on to do some math, with the following results,
"A bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds and costs $6.85. That’s 12.2 cents per pound. A bag of Tostitos contains about 10 cents worth of corn, and costs $4.00. That’s a 4000% increase.
A bushel of wheat weighs 60 pounds and costs $7.62. That’s 12.7 cents per pound. A loaf of Wonder Bread contains about 16 cents worth of wheat, and sells for $4.40. That’s a 2700% increase.
A bushel of soybeans weighs 60 pounds and costs $13.64. That’s 22.7 cents per pound. A box of “Silk” soy milk contains about 4.5 cents worth of soybeans, and sells for $2.90. That’s a 6400% increase."
Which, compared to the paltry 400% markup for pork bellies, means that grains, and, more specifically, processed grain products, are the most profitable item on store shelves.
There isn't a lot of money to be made selling "whole foods" and as a result, most of what you see at Whole Foods, including heavy vegan/vegetarian promotion, is processed "organic", "gluten free", or "all-natural" grain products.
You can easily subvert this system (and stick it to "the man") by simply ignoring the center of Whole Foods (as is the case in most supermarkets) and purchase the actual whole food items located along the perimeter.
Yes, just like every other grocery store in the world. They're out to make money, not help people get healthier.
This is exactly why I do almost all my shopping at farmers markets and through CSA's now. The food is cheaper, fresher, cleaner and locally grown. It's actually been almost a month since I bought any food for myself from a store.
I work in a gluten free bakery (do I indulge occasionally? yes. not going to apologize for THAT). One thing i've noticed is that a majority of the people that come in to purchase our food and grocery items (it's also a small grocery store of strictly gluten free products) are some of the unhealthiest looking people. They've given up the gluten (yay) but are totally overindulging in the other grains and sugars. It's so sad. The kids that come in with their parents a lot of times are high on sugar (you can totally see it) yet their parents are popping sugary gluten free treats into their hands because "oh finally, johnny can HAVE this!" It's my job...sometimes I feel great that we can help celiacs and gluten intolerant people live a more "normal" and easier life, but then again, being "paleo" or unprocessed is just the same thing but one step further and more healthy. I think any store that caters to what the food pyramid considers a "healthy" diet is just going to cater to those who insist that grains are the way to go...regardless if they're gluten free or not.
I don't think it is an accurate analysis. While I do not shop at WF, I do shop at Sprouts, and it is full of some of the fattest people I've ever seen. Really fat people in scooters, buying up lots of game meat and fresh foods. I don't think Sprouts is making them fat, I think they are shopping there so that they can get healthy.
In my area, Whole Foods customers are definitely more health-aware, they look healthier, etc. Not sure if they're statistically skinnier, but you don't see people loading up a double sized shopping cart with chips and soda, and you see lot of people dressed in workout or yoga clothes, etc.
Whole Foods is also expensive and so gets a certain demographic is a result, generally young, affluent people. The percentage of hot young women in the average Whole Foods in my area is many, many times the population average...
We call it "Whole Paycheck" because it is so expensive. But generally you can find a much higher % of nutritious food than in your typical grocery store. Generally the food labels are better, for example you can better source the meat and produce. There are lots of foods that are "gourmet" but not necessarily healthier (i.e. fancy cheese), though there is a fine line between the two. For me, wholesome food relatively high in fat and flavor and with minimal ingredients and processing is the best food, and you can put both "health" and "gourmet" labels on that.
There is also a fair share of junk... if you don't think there is much of a difference between say whole wheat pasta and regular pasta (I don't), then they're just selling a more expensive version of the same crap in many cases.
There are also some people that are drawn to a place like Whole Foods because they are in fact unhealthy and are trying to get better, such as recovering from cancer, or diabetic or some other chronic condition and seeking supplements, or what have you. The guy behind me in line last time I was there obviously had some kind of disorder as he could not lift his purchases up onto the conveyor belt and needed help.
After living in Austin, TX, the headquarters of WH, I watched how WH transformed when the new bigger flagship store opened as all the (shall I say) Yuppies flocked to it like bees on honey just so they could be part of the "it", "cool", "with-it"crowd that shops/eats there! But it's like everyone says, for the most part, it's mostly all the same crap anyone can buy at a regular grocery store. In the prepared food section, which at that store, is extremely busy, two of the main ingredients used in their cooking is canola oil and soy!
Whole Foods is a business capitalizing on a market segment however they can. I buy a few select things at WF, and ignore the rest. Not everyone marries their personal beliefs with business income. In fact, most don't.
If I created a "Whole Foods" type store, I would be like a hawk to ensure that my store only sold whole, healthy food items. Imagine that! And while many people have different ideas about what 'healthy' means, I would at least stick to a basis of what I think healthy means, based upon what I've learned, and what I would continue to learn on an ongoing basis.
The difference between that type of vision and Whole Foods is that the owner of WF knows very certainly that LOTS and LOTS of items sold in his store are very unhealthy for any human to consume. Besides that, he is Vegan and pushes that agenda heavily, all while selling loads of unvegan foods (thankfully!). This is further confirmation that he is not concerned much with trying to make the business model match up with any type of underlying morale he might have.
As Patrik says, let's call it what it is. It's a store that sells all kinds of foods, and only some of it is actually good for you by literally anyone's standards. If WF is guilty of "making people fat", I think it would fall under the premise that WF is guilty of tricking the gullible public by intentionally disguising itself as a health food store, while not remaining consistent with that model in its operations for profit.