Sunday, May 1, 2022

Whole Paycheck

     Whole Foods was never a good fit for Englewood. Too expensive, too pretentious, though credit to them for trying to bring Italian lemonade and bulk grains to a low income urban food desert. But Whole Foods closing down there after six year years, announced this week, was foreordained.
     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:


     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


  1. While this short piece is a fun and hilarious take-down, and defending Whole Foods in this space, to be disdained by the band of snarky verbal sharpshooters who read the comments here is a fool's errand... well, I'm gonna, anyway. ; )

    Just to note, I'm a "regular guy" in Chicago, not a fat-cat, Land Rover-driving, North Shore trust-fund fellow. There's a lot of pretentious nonsense to attack when one lives in your "food cornucopia" besides food, I would imagine. Personally, I'm not sold on focusing on a company that has tried to make better food more available to more people in this country , whatever the politics of its founder, the sensibilities of many of its customers, and the excesses of its product descriptions.

    Though I could go to Mariano's, which has not been enhanced by its purchase by Kroger, IMO, Sunset Foods is not an option for me and the choice largely boils down to Whole Foods and a run-of-the-mill Jewel. Whole Foods has better produce, better meat, better store-brand products and better bags to carry it all home in, for that matter. Given the increase in quality, the store-brand products are priced competitively. It's not a place where I look to get a pizza, so the absurdity of its oven descriptions doesn't affect me. When it comes to a number of other products whose praises you've sung here on EGD, NS, quality usually seems to matter, often regardless of higher prices or possible pretentiousness.

    Though its reputation as "Whole Paycheck" didn't arise out of thin air, of course, and it makes an easy target.

    1. I don't disagree with you, and there is one aspect of this little tidbit I should point out. It was tagged at the end of the column I wrote after returning from being in. rehab for two months. It's purpose was to show that I was now moving on to other subjects, and so its light, throwaway nature was deliberate. I picked it BECAUSE it was obvious and easy and a shift away from the somber "Hi I'm Neil I'm an alcoholic" tone of what went before.

    2. Oh, great. As if my comment wasn't already overblown and probably misguided in response to a light-hearted and witty Sunday romp of a post, now it seems even more ridiculous. : )

      Though I do appreciate that background, NS. I had wondered why this seemed to just be a segment of a column, when you often post the entirety in instances where there were multiple topics.

    3. No worries. I'm just glad to have people comment. It felt silent for a while.

    4. I, too, have noticed that the number of comments are down sharply of late. In my case, it's been becauuse of the paywall. I'm finally going to remedy that situation, and get myself a digital subscription.Not just because I want to know more about what's going on in Chicgo these days, but because I am addicted to EGD.

  2. Down here in the wilds of Hoosierland, we have one Whole Foods in Schererville and I have never been there although I live 4 miles away. Yes, we got Aldi, Da Jewels, Meijers, WallyWorld but I suppose our go-to is Strack and Van Tils with 20 stores. After WF opened, Strack's in Schererville remodeled extensively to compete(they are about 1.5 miles and 20 mattress stores apart!) Well that lasted until their parent company, Centrella Grocers bit the dust under the heavy hand of a hedge fund, Fortunately Strack's was able to buy themselves out of bankruptcy court and continue operating. They still have a great selection of everything including fresh sushi, wines, bakery, and probably the greatest fried chicken this side of Mrs. Murphy's Greasy Spoon on Maxwell Street(4 Fried Chicken and A Coke). Yes, we long for a Trader Joes' but we hear than we aren't genteel(read rich) enough for one. That's fine because us Region Rats scrape by with road side farmstands and stuff. When I was kid in the 1960''s & 70's my grandmother in Wheeler, Indiana had free range chickens--damn things were all over the yard--and brown eggs before the rest of the hoi polloi knew what it was!

    1. I don’t know why people have an impression of Trader Joe’s as an expensive store. I find their prices to be quite reasonable.

  3. I don't think of Trader Joe's being expensive, what with 3 Buck Chuck Wine but obviously Trader Joe's wants a certain demographic. My closest TJ's is 36 miles away in Orland Park. There was talk of them looking in Valparaiso but nothing recently. Valpo would be a good fit for them but Crown Point, Indiana would work too. However our spillover crime problems and nightly high speed pursuits back to Illinois might deter TJ's from coming.

  4. Here in Cleveland, all the Trader Joes we have are in the tony, stylish, well-heeled eastern and western suburbs. Not one location in the city proper. On the other hoof, two of the five locations in the sprawling Little Chicago that is better known as the Twin Cities metro (population 3.6 million) are actually in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but in upscale downtown areas. I've always felt that they have a strong dislike and even a disdain for city dwellers, so I quit trekking out to the boonies for ginger snaps a long time ago. Whole Foods? Never been inside one...same as Starbucks.

    I'm not a foodie.Nor do I like foodies. My tastes are simple and even plebian. If there's such a thing and an anti-foodie, count me in. On the other hoof, my kid sister shleps out to a nearby Minnehapless suburb and fills her Zero Fridge-Freezer with Trader Joe fare. Then she ends up throwing half of it away. All the foodies I know do that...and they do it a LOT.. They trash enough food in a few days to feed a village in North Korea for a week.

  5. As mentioned, give Whole Foods credit for attempting to provide quality food to an underserved neighborhood. I wonder why Whole Foods did not convert the store into an Amazon Fresh one: 1) National Brands; 2) Amazon Fresh Store Brands; 3) Weekly Sales; and 4) Whole Foods 365 Brands. I shop my nearby Oak Lawn Amazon Fresh --FREE 2 Hour Delivery vs. $9.95 from the nearby Whole Foods Evergreen Park -- it's like the 'cheaper' Whole Foods with the same quality products.


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