Monday, April 16, 2007

A Whole Foods Experience

I'm off work today thanks to the ridiculous amount of rain that has hit NJ...

Beth and I made our first visit to a Whole Foods Market on Saturday. There are two within about 45 minutes from us. Our goal was to explore the environmentally-friendly products that they sell, specifically their 100% recycled paper products (good for the boreal forests!). We also wanted to see their organic foods, produce, and shade-grown coffee selection. We were impressed with the overall experience. The produce was extremely high quality. They had an organic/all-natural/free range/hormone-free/etc. version of basically anything you can think of. They also had the 100% recycled paper products we were looking for, as well as biodegradable laundry detergent, dish detergent, and other household products.

We enjoyed our experience, but I have a few reservations about Whole Foods. First off, they obviously cater to an upscale crowd and the prices reflect it. I understand that organic food is more expensive to produce, but until we find a way to lower the prices and cater to the "everyman", 98% of the US population will continue to buy mass-produced, chemically-dependent crap.

Second, environmentally-conscious people like the readers of this blog and all of my birder friends know the benefits of buying the type of products that Whole Foods sells. It seems to me that Whole Foods is not marketing to this population. All of the Whole Foods stores in NJ are in very well-to-do areas and most of the people there seemed to fit that mold. Whole Foods' reputation has become that of a trendy place to shop vs. a place to shop to help the environment and the local grower.

Beth and I have also visited Trader Joe's, a similar, but smaller, chain market. They seem to have slightly better prices than Whole Foods, but a much smaller selection.

What has been your experience in shopping for organic foods and environmentally-friendly products?

9 comments:

John said...

I much prefer to visit a farmers' market. The produce may not be strictly organic, but it has not been shipped a long distance and the sales support the small-scale local farms. But there are trade-offs either way.

birdchick said...

I've had the same reservations about Whole Foods. We have both a Whole Foods and Trader Joe's where I live, and WF is more expensive, but they have more variety than TJ. One frustrating thing is that WF will drop a product if they can find the same that is organic and local. Never mind that the other product, though not local was still organic and of better quality.

We have a couple of other upscale groceries here: Byerly's, Lund's, and Kowalski's--all three of those have pretty good organic/local choices in groceries. I end up rotating between all stores and shop at Lund's the most often--it's in walking distance from our home and I've been trying to use less gas/get more exercise by getting groceries more often, in smaller quantities, and walking...kind of like buying Nyjer.

Mike said...

I'm a big fan of Trader Joe's. We get everything we can from there and fill out the rest from a local health food chain, Mrs. Green's. I admire what Whole Foods is doing, but TJ does beat them on price without sacrificing quality.

John's comment about farmer's markets is definitely valid when they're in season and you're looking for produce. Nothing beats supporting smaller local, hopefully organic farms if your food purchasing is informed by conservationism. I just signed up for a share of a CSA harvest, which I expect I'll write quite a bit about if it comes to fruition.

Nuthatch said...

This is the classic issue with American consumers: they want everything as cheaply as possible. Conventionally grown foods and many other cheap consumer products tend to cost us all dearly. Not in the price we purchase them for, because they do not take into account the hidden costs to the environment, workers, etc. We all end up paying the price somewhere down the line -- as habitats are destroyed, our health is compromised, etc.

I have to eat. So I try to eat locally and/or organic. It costs more up front but I believe it is worth it in the long run AND because it sends a message that these products are in demand, encouraging their production. The extra money has to come from somewhere, so I don't go to the movies, or wear the latest fashions, or I cut it out of some other less-necessary area.

Susan said...

Here's your link to a local farmer's market: http://www.franklintwpnj.org/farmers_market.html

You have to watch, though, to make sure that you are not getting produce purchased over at Costco and trucked in! Rutgers has an organic CSA (I'm a member from Year 1), but it's extremely pricey, and it's got a waiting list of 100+. I have to question my own driving, too - I drive extra miles for organic?? Liberal guilt, it's free to all!

Birding has helped me to identify lots of great food stops though. Going to Stokes Forest? Plan a stop at one of the roadside produce markets near Culver's Gap. Fantastic apples at the one on the south side of the road. Going north on 206 at Newton? Right at the McDonald's you'll often see a sign for local fruit. If you follow that sign up the hill, you come to a stand that has local produce including Jersey rarities, such as cherries from right up the road.

Not to mention Alpine Meats on 94 (alas, seldom visited since Yards Creek closed to birders), Sussex Meat Market (best prices I've ever seen), etc. Someday I'll do a web entry on this.

Fresh eggs are my passion, and are hard to find. I hope this year to finally stop at Suydam Farms, open on Saturdays, right at the intersection of Skillman's Lane and Rt. 27 (if you're going to Negri-Nepote ... ).

Have to say, having visited the original Whole Foods in Austin, TX - how does anyone escape for less than $200? Also, give Wegman's in Bridgewater a look - last year they had fiddlehead ferns, which had to be local ...

Patrick Belardo said...

John,
I definitely plan to shop at more farmers' markets this season. There are a few near us.

Mike,
I've learned something new today. I never knew about CSA's. I had to look it up! According to Susan below, there's one locally that I *might* have a shot at.

Nuthatch,
I agree with your comments. I am willing to spend the extra money, for the most part, but I don't think your everyday American understands the implications. It's an education problem in more ways than one.

Susan,
Thanks for the info. It's great to know there's so much around NJ. I escaped WF for $150! I could have easily spent $200.

Jennifer Hanson said...

I like Whole Foods but the combination of the cost and distance from my current location means that I don't visit it nearly as often as I did when it appeared near my old location in Montclair. I also have various tiers of regular supermarkets, a good Asian market, farm stands, and the Pennsylvania Dutch farmers market in Kingston to choose from now. I find that nowadays, if I want to drop money on food, I go to Kingston. Still, I hope to get back to Whole Foods at some point.

LauraHinNJ said...

I think Nuthatch is right - we like to talk about being *green* but it's another story when it comes to paying extra for it.

I like the idea of Whole Foods, but wish it weren't so much about where one shops as part of one's image.

I love their selection of organic produce, but would chose to shop at the local health food store if their produce weren't wilted and half moldy.

The current issue of Vanity Fair is their *green* issue and I've been reading it with a real feeling of dismay. One of the smaller issues they raise it where our paper products come from, and how we're literally wiping our arses (forgive me!) with virgin rain forest.

As a result, I'd been wondering about a source for recycled paper products and will have to check in with Whole Foods on it, if my wallet can stand it!

Patrick Belardo said...

Laura,

Check out the link in this post for "boreal forests". It has a list of companies that produce recycled paper products. Your TP may not be silky soft with some of this stuff, but at least you know you're not using fresh cut hardwood. Whole Foods has their own brand and Seventh Generation seems to be a popular brand.