I live in whatever the opposite of a food desert is—a food cornucopia, I suppose. Sunset and Jewel—several Jewels—and Mariano's and Aldi and Costco and even Fresh Farms, that great Russian emporium in Wheeling, with fantastic slavic bread and Eastern European cookies, everything immaculate and wonderful. I'm sure I'm leaving a few out.
The one place I never go to is Whole Foods because, well, I explained it in 2005:
SAVE THE EARTH
Too bad there aren't more hungry, homeless people in the northwest suburbs, because they could graze themselves full on 12-grain and seed bread, cider-roasted salmon with fruit chutney and other exotic free tastes at the Whole Foods in Deerfield. When I stopped by I had just had lunch and wasn't even hungry, yet still found myself nibbling cubes of Fratelli Pinna Brigante cheese and chunks of gourmet brownies. A far cry from the sizzling slices of kielbasa that smock-wrapped, beehive-hairdoed ladies used to prepare in electric fry pans and hand out stuck on fuzzy toothpicks at the A & P.
I couldn't read descriptions in Whole Foods of the coddled apples and happy chickens fed only natural grains without thinking of the Romans, and their candied lark's tongues. Organic food is decadent, even worse than the excesses of the past because it is disguised as virtue. The whole world is eating beans grown in the sludge of old bauxite mines and gnawing meat that has hung on hooks in the market for three days, while we're paying $10 a pound for maple mustard roasted turkey from birds raised on Mozart.
We're not paying for the food, really, we're paying for the packaging, and its implication that our lettuce was grown by pueblos and delivered by ox cart. I stood in gaping wonder at "American Flatbread," an "all-natural pizza baked in a primitive wood-fired earthen oven." At first I focused on "earthen" as the marvel. "I tried pizza from metal ovens but it tasted so . . . technological."
But then I came to savor "primitive." Not any old earthen oven, mind you, not one of those fancy Southwestern stucco domes with a door and everything. No, our oven is a rough mound of dirt and we shove the pizzas in a hole and they sit serenely baking amongst the burning yew wood, wood specially grown for us in renewable Brazilian forests by our own joyful peons. And we, we are not charmless suburbanites yapping on our cell phones as we roar up to Whole Foods in monstrous vehicles that burn more money in gas each month than most people in the world earn in a year. No, we are gentle, rainforest folk, crouching under the lush green canopies of our self-regard, using our fingers to eat organic groats from wide bowls, groats gently washed with spring water, a bargain at $7.99 a pound.
—published in the Sun-Times, Nov. 28, 2005