OBSCENE GREEN: DOING MORE WITH MORE

View from the inside.

Too Perfect. View of the mega produce section at the Pasadena Mega Whole Foods. Photo courtesy of Rainy Days and Sunday’s

Since homey Wild Oats on Lake Ave shut its doors last November, we urban homesteaders have refused to step foot in the mega Whole Foods located on Arroyo Parkway. This monstrosity of a so-called health food store is just too excessive and gaudy for our simple taste. In fact when the new Whole Food store opened its doors, head urban homesteader, Jules Dervaes, said “That’s it! We’ll have to draw the line someplace.”

Just because “they” are forcing us to choose this obscene eco-shopping experience, we are determined not to fall into the greenstream under the guise of “organic” or “local.” Actually, when something becomes too popular, too chic, too greenstream the yellow warning lights go off. There are concerns if what we are being told is not necessarily truly green or sustainable but is instead actually a watered down form — what is now being aptly coined “greenwashing.”

This recent article in Sunday’s paper has solidified why we urban homestead radicals refuse to step foot in this mega store. They’ve totally ruined the true meaning of grocery shopping, turning into some weird form of eco-status and a place to be seen. Pathfinders as we are and trying to choose the path less traveled, this store’s burlesque distortion of local “green” grocer has us saying, “Heck, no — we ain’t going to go.”

Pasadena’s Whole Foods Market: Is It Sustainable Design?

The giant supermarket on Arroyo Parkway calls itself eco-friendly, but it may be too much of a good thing.

The massive new Whole Foods Market on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena represents the height of one-upmanship in Southern California’s increasingly competitive grocery store trade. I’ll see your three brands of soy milk, it says cockily to Fresh & Easy, and raise you two.

But the store is even more striking for what it says about the similar discontents plaguing the organic food and green architecture movements. The way they come together in this Whole Foods–a piece of green architecture designed to hold an organic food emporium–suggests that both may need to adjust their priorities. Or at least start acknowledging that they’ve become victims of their own success.

….Somewhere along the way, for both organic grocers and the corporate patrons of green architecture, the line between planet-saving and aggressive marketing became blurred. Companies realized that promoting themselves as eco-friendly could be a powerful sales tool. Some, not surprisingly, concentrated more on the marketing message than on their green practices –a strategy that became known as “greenwashing.”

….On the Sunday I visited, a group was settling down in the center of the second floor, just behind the pizza oven and not far from the roast-beef carving station, for a full-blown Champagne brunch. TVs hang everywhere so you can watch PGA golf (that’s what was on when I was there) while you pick out fair-trade roses from Ecuador.

It’s Vegas with organic, gluten-free scones.

…But the first rule of sustainable architecture is to keep new buildings as small and efficient as possible. With its soaring 30-foot ceilings and endless aisles, 280 subterranean parking spots and all those TVs flickering day and night, this place is neither. It’s more like the grocery store version of a hybrid SUV made by Lexus or a 12,000-square-foot “green” house with a swimming pool and six-car garage accompanying its solar panels and sustainably harvested decking.

Forget about doing more with less. This green-tinged cornucopia is all about doing more with more

Read complete article

Luckily for us, we don’t need “no stinkin’ aisle” of organic packaged foods, colorfully perfect “local” produce, nor are we tempted by the gourmet wine, cheese and whatever sections. Instead we are blessed that our grocery store is located right outside our back/front door. Staples (rice, flour, oats) that we can’t grow have and will come from another source.

Sure, our little local health food store, Granny’s Pantry, won’t have 12 feet of pasta sauces like the Whole Food store reportedly has. 12 feet! I mean, really, do we really need that much choice?

Any other local readers feel this way ? Here are a few local takes on the WHOLE FOOD”s FLAGSHIP and here’s one blogger’s eye popping photos from inside the store.

Have you refused to shop or have shopped at the mega Whole Foods located on Arroyo Parkway? Care to share your experience and which local stores you are supporting instead?

No Comments

  1. West Coast Grrlie Blather says:

    Because it is within walking distance, I must support the Farm Fresh Ranch Market in Altadena. It seems like the first step in responsible shopping is to stay away from my gasoline-powered internal combustion engine.

  2. Tableau Vivante says:

    I went in shortly after the WF opened. My word. It was overwhelming.

    I will say that as a cheese lover, I was positively impressed with the selection provided. But that was the only area of the store that didn’t make me cringe a little. I think the word I was looking for was obscene. If the density of this area demanded it, I could see it working well. But I’m not sure that it does. Pasadena is not New York. Unless they were counting on the rest of L.A. to get in the car and flock to the store.

    I went in one more time in March to see how it was faring. The produce section was empty. But the upstairs prepared foods area was decently packed. Aside from that? Mostly empty.

    It can’t be sustainable – fiscally or environmentally. I’ve been getting my produce from the farmers market for a few years now. Other staples – dairy, pastas, coffee, etc. – come from Trader Joe’s. I’m currently looking for a meat CSA for LA (no luck so far…San Fran has one), but when the carnivore strikes, we go to Taylor’s in Sierra Madre.

  3. Florence says:

    I am very thankful for the Whole Foods near me (in Houston). I appreciate being able to choose between organic and conventional fruits and vegetables and I like to get my organic oatmeal and whole wheat flour from a bin into my own container. The dairy section is a delight of tasty cheese, yogurt, and milk with no hormones or antibiotics. Same with the meat section. Before it opened, my choices were limited to what was carried at the local grocery store. It’s nice that you have choices that suit you and I am happy to have my Whole Foods.

  4. robin says:

    I am in Northern California, so my farmers market is open year round. It’s my first stop each week. Only if I can’t find anything there do I go to the natural foods section that my local grocery store recently added.

  5. ken kunst says:

    You’ve taken the words right out of my head! Napa was just “graced” by an obscene Whole Foods in an already overcrowded, disfunctional shopping area, totally car dependant…totally a fantasy of greeniness. The anticipation and excitiement of this corporation coming into town was almost as obscene as their perfect produce and organo/espresso, holier-than-thou, fair trade coffee bar…… The entitlement and moral betterness that the Prius drivers display when they purchase their $8.00 basket of “organic” blueberrys! This is a testimony about really how bankrupt our souls have become…when we pray to these mega monsters with such reverence, and we look to them for guidance and authority. On a positive note, at least folks are becoming more aware about organic foods, and at least there are more choices for these things…and not everyone can farm their own foods…but already, the excitement for the Whole Foods here has really worn off, and the parking lot isn’t nearly as full as they all expected…The high prices and the shakey economy will do that! When the bubble fantasy economy in America pops further, nobody will care wether a food is organic, sustainable, fair trade, or came fresh out of a dumpster…I hate to say it, but like at the top of PTF’s home page, we’re in trouble, and we’re not going to “Prius our way to the Whole Foods” out of it!

  6. Stephanie in AR says:

    We couldn’t begin to afford to sniff the air! Farmer’s markets are trying to get started but are still a good drive away & very limited. At least you have more choices than walmart. That isn’t meant to be spiteful–we have enlarged our garden, finally found a close site for bigger, and found your site for inspiration but living in an area where eggplant is exotic that store looks about as real as Disneyland.

  7. N. & J. says:

    I too am happy to have a Whole Foods nearby since I wouldn’t be able to really buy organic, local or bulk items any other way. True many mainstream stores are starting to carry green and organic items but the selection is limited. Living in Colorado where the Farmers’ Markets close in September and don’t reopen until June it’s hard to find local produce any place but Whole Foods. The one near me doesn’t have TV’s or soaring ceiling or subterranean parking. They do have a wide variety but the only sections I use are the produce, meat and bulk aisles. I live in an apartment and we are starting to grow our own food and make our own simple cleaning products but we aren’t self sustaining in the meantime Whole Foods is the best option we have and I’m not ashamed to shop there.

  8. Kory says:

    not necessarily whole foods related but definitely greenwashed is the effort by local developers to turn the already obscene Carousel Mall into destiNY USA (I wont give it the dignity of a link). A planned megashopping resort, complete with hotels and indoor? gardens, using eminent domain to snatch up land from its neighbors. Their construction techniques are less harmful than conventional, and they plan to use green power, as well as just about every possible effort taken to minimize the damage, but in the end its not the dirty diesel burning, or the source of their electricity that is the problem. Its the idea that we need megamalls in the first place, the thought that bigger will be better, that the more big box chains we bring into the community will somehow solve the horrific underemployment problem. Granted, all these techniques are great leaps forward if you HAVE to build, but in this case, we don’t have to build a bigger mall.

    The Developer R. Congel claims the project will be the first step in making Syracuse the Green Capital of America, but I wonder how many other developers are trying to make their targets the greenWASHED capital too.

  9. Stephanie says:

    Just a thought….You said “Actually, when something becomes too popular, too chic, too greenstream the yellow warning lights go off.”
    Isn’t that what your goal is? To educate and enlighten people on how to live better, healthier lives? So if your way of living becomes too popular, chic or too mainstream, does this mean we should be wary of the way you are living? While I do agree that it has become the “chic” thing to do in eating organic foods…this is GREAT! Because it continues to fuel this idea that desperately needs to permeate all crops everywhere. I also agree that you should buy local. But even money spent at Whole Foods help keeps Organic farmers in business.

  10. Stephanie says:

    Great website by the way! I thoroughly enjoy reading all topics!

  11. Britta says:

    I liked this post. I didn’t think you were condemning ALL Whole Food stores, but highlighting the “ungreeness” of the building, their carbon footprint, etc. and the hypocrisy of it all. The big goal is to be self sufficient, to grow and store our own. This example of a building does seem out of step.

  12. kristine says:

    ahhh, we refer to wf as whole paychecks because their prices are outrageous…only the rich can afford to eat well in our area. luckily, we also have trader joes now and the markets will be opening in another month.

    off topic: i have been approached by a chef to start growing herbs, etc for him this year. i’m happy to give it a whirl and want to offer edible flowers too.

    could you give me a quick ‘how to’ on how you harvest and package your edible flowers? i’m not sure how to keep them fresh and perky.

    btw, the soil blocks are doing great! thanks again for offering such products in your store.

  13. Roger, Gone Green says:

    The sin of the new Whole Foods store is that it perpetuates the myth that organic and fresh food is somehow “high end” conspicuous consumption. I think it will be a simple (and common) misstep as clean, green and sustainable enters the popular consciousness.

    Whole Foods has also *always* had a little of the “green costs a little more, but you’re worth it” marketing mindset, which means it got its “Wholepaycheck” nickname the old fashioned way — it earned it.

    Trader Joe’s has lots of organic and better-if-not-best practice and fresh products — without the “glam.”

    Be that as it may, I’d say even Glam Green is better than poisoned food grown with neurotoxins. I expect some form of conspicuous consumption will be with us, even in a greener, cleaner world. . .

  14. steve says:

    Sometimes I long for the former Soviet Union shopping experience. Wait in line and then snap up whatever’s in the store. A cabbage, parsnips, couple of potatoes and a beet. That’ll do, no problem. At least you didn’t fry your brain trying to decide which of the 20 types of rice, 8 types of salt, and 50 types of pasta sauce to buy. It wouldn’t surprise me if whole foods market starts to charge, like the rose bowl swap meet, to get in, so you can empty your wallet. At the same time it may be a good thing. Think of all the small food producers that are able to make a living because of stores like whole foods. Do you really want huge companies like Heinz and Kraft making everything you can buy? Although I can’t afford to shop at whole foods or buy a Ferarri, or buy the latest hi-tech gizmo, I like the fact that they exist just to show what’s possisble. Maybe someday I’ll be able to afford them, till then I’ll just have to make do with growing my own food and riding my bike.

  15. steve says:

    Wow–look at those rows of perfectly placed veggies. Does whole foods have a policy of only hiring produce workers with obsessive compulsive disorder?

  16. Jennifer says:

    Anais

    Obviously I’ve never been as I live in the UK, but know the type of store you are talking about and yes, cringe worthy does come to mind. I would have done my best not to shop there either purely on principle.

    Go, girl! And, good for you, for sharing your views on this place for all the world to see!

  17. Emily B says:

    We do not have anything like that here in our semi-rural/ metropolitan town. I am glad it looks scary!
    Here in oz we have two pre-dominant grocery chain stores. They pretty much control and set all food, produce and meat prices. In recent years they have taken over the fuel industry too. There is currently an inquiry into our soaring food prices. It was stated on the news tonight that our food prices have gone up by 60%+ over the last few years. There is a drought on but still it is becoming a huge issue….

    Luckily we have IGA stores so our household supports them. Another major issue here, due to the big department, grocery and hardware stores is the little ma and pa local guys can’t compete with the prices and eventually go under. You should see our main street many shops are empty, maybe as much as 40%!
    We have boycotted these ‘chain’ stores and try to buy as much as possible local, by supportting local business and keep as much as possible Austalian made.
    Anais’s post makes you think!!

  18. Anais says:

    Great to see such lively and thought provoking discussion.

    Such greenwashing issues are a hot topic around the table in our home. The green path is never straight nor easy and you have to be aware of the “ditches” on both sides.

    Life is complex and the truth is never plain nor is it simple. Finding the right balance is the challenge that we all need to figure out.

    Thanks for everyone’s comments and such reader participation.

  19. Devin Quince says:

    Here in Minnesota, I stopped at one of the “local” WF to get some misc. stuff and was really annoyed to find that they had blocked 75% of the bike parking with 2 large carts full of Spring flowers. When I mentioned this, they just blew me off, as though I was a bother. Nice way to support green transit!

  20. Anne says:

    Steve asked, “Do you really want huge companies like Heinz and Kraft making everything you can buy?” It’s a question with a point, but unfortunately there is a reality in the organic foods movement that most people are unaware of, and that is that the majority of the “organic” brands are owned by a few huge corporations, including Heinz and Kraft.

    Here’s a link to a chart showing which mega companies own much of the “organic” industry:
    http://awesome.goodmagazine.com/features/009/009buyingorganic.html

    I grew up in Pasadena, and loved to go with my mother when she shopped at at Granny’s Pantry. It is so nice to know that Granny’s is still there and hasn’t been pushed out by the bigger health food stores!

  21. Anais says:

    Anne

    Thanks for the comment. Yep, good ol’ Granny’s is still plugging away. Go Granny, Go Granny Go!

    Even so not all is well. Granny’s can’t sell our local ORGANIC PASTURES brand of milk products because Whole Foods has instigated an “exclusivity policy” with the milk company. It states that WF is the only store in the area that can carry Organic Pastures. Talk about monopoly and heavy handed policy.

    Anais

  22. Cindy says:

    I have to agree with Stephanie’s comments. While Whole Foods may not suit the tastes of those green thinking people who have other options, there are a great many more people in this world that would not have nearly the interest in heading in the direction of better choices if it wasn’t for places like Whole Foods. For those of us that don’t live in California, where farmers markets can exist year round in some fashion, places like Whole Foods at least give us a choice beyond the shriveled imports at Wal-Mart or Piggly Wiggly. And like it or not, the sucess of the Whole Foods chain has caused even Wal-Mart to start seeking out locally grown and organic produce on a small scale in some markets including my area. And to me that’s a good thing, both for me and the farmers that Wal-Mart and now Piggly Wiggly (competing with Wal-Mart) are working with.

  23. lyssa says:

    I don’t even really like shopping at the regular-sized Whole Foods stores…though the food quality is high, the prices are staggering and the stores are just not friendly. They have a very sterile, corporate green-ness.

    Still, I do recognize how lucky we are around here in S. Cal to have so many choices and year-round easy growing seasons. I can’t afford to make all my food choices organic, but at least I’m always able to find the organic foods that really matter to me (my priorities are organic milk and eggs, then down through the heavy pesticide vegetables).

    This is the first year that I’m eating some stuff from my own backyard…it is very exciting!

  24. Kara says:

    I randomly came across your website and find it inspiring. We live in NorCal- and have started turning our large yard into a garden. Thank you for the very helpful blog and tips- we be using soil blocks next year.

    Your comments on Whole Foods couldn’t be more right. It seems as though people are really missing the point about being green. It is wonderful that people have options- but – How green are organic- tomato’s from Brazil in January? We’d be much better off going without the winter tomato and focusing on what’s available seasonly. Canning is an excellent way to save fresh produce- root veggies can also extend the growing season.

    As for the meat consumption- no matter how free range, organic, grass feed, ect. the animal, there are still tremendous environmental impacts involved with the raising and slaughter of animals.

    Once again thank you for the website!!

  25. Renee says:

    You go girl 🙂 I loved reading this firey post, although maybe I just read it more firey than you wrote it because it’s a hot issue for me and I agree with you. Although I could put my money where my mouth is better, I do choose to shop at farmer’s markets and at a wonderful locally owned grocery called New Seasons that we have here in Portland. Wonderful people, they treat their employees very well, and source a lot of things locally. There is also a co-op I am trying to frequent more.

    Baby steps keep leading me to bigger steps. I think it’s great for you to point all this out to your mass of readers. People are trying to find the right thing to do, but it takes lots of time and energy to make the right choices. You are helping to educate people to make better choices.

  26. amy bardwell says:

    i do visit the WF on Rosemead & Foothill for the occasional half-gallon of raw milk (sadly quite pricey) and some cod liver oil. didn’t know about the exclusivity deal… bummer. i may have to check out Granny’s for the cod liver oil, though.

  27. Eric says:

    Time will tell what happens to the new fad of greenwashing. Being “green” is big business. For those of us that have been thinking green and small for a long time, it seems like the new wave of green devotees are “phonies.” I must rationalize with myself that someone doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is better than someone doing the wrong thing for whatever reason.

    I personally do not shop at WF because I don’t like the atmosphere. It is the “Abercrombie and Fitch” of the grocery store world. I guess that makes me unsophisticated. So be it.

  28. Eric says:

    I should add that I do have the option to shop at another store that sells organic/local produce. I exercise that option and I must concede that there are many places where WF is the only market of its kind. I have no qualms about someone shopping WF because WF is their best source of responsibly produced food. I must agree with previous posters that not all locations are like SoCal where organic markets are more commonplace.

    After the furor of greenwashing has passed, the bottom line is that more people will have heard about the benefits of local/organic food because of the existence of WF. To me that’s a net-positive, despite the fact that I don’t shop there.

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