There’s something about Whole Foods that completely throws me off my game. It confounds me like no other grocery store, although I’m not convinced it even is a grocery store. More like an organic fever dream.
I go inside and am immediately confronted by the bakery. Even though I don’t want baked goods (lie) I take the tour, walking around the woman who is assembling an entire muffin from chopped-up samples. I spend a long time studying a loaf of “authentic French brioche,” imagining all the possibilities.
I look at all the fruit and vegetables, do a drive-by of the salad bar and wind up standing in the bulk foods section contemplating raw almonds. I think, “Raw almonds are so good for you. Even though they taste like wooden nothingness it’s good nothingness, the kind of nothingness a body needs.”
I talk to a worker in the vitamins/supplements/body products aisle. Wearing a t-shirt made from hemp that’s trimmed in jute, she stocks tiny bottles of essence of lavender while telling me about the joys of nutritional yeast. “I love to sprinkle it on popcorn!” she says. She is young – maybe 22 – beautiful and fresh-faced. The kind of woman who will very soon drop everything to help dig water wells in sub-Saharan Africa. When I was 22, I survived on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches and vodka tonics and thought I was hot shit because I bought the book Random Acts of Kindness at a book sale at the student union.
Of course I agree with everything this vixen apothecary is saying. In fact, I tell her I’ll look into the yeast even though this is an untruth. I won’t ever buy the yeast. It seems like an extravagant expenditure, like the time I bought flax to sprinkle on food and it ended up at the back of the cupboard for four years. I just wish I was the person who got excited about yeast.
I move on. A woman hands out samples of yogurt in little cups that look like medical waste.Â I never try any of the samples. I feel weird about it, as if trying a sample makes me seem desperate. “Yes, I would love to try a quarter of a flax-sesame seed flatbread cracker! My life is boring!”
I put food into my basket. Chunks of pineapple. Vegetarian chili. I end up in front of the case that holds sandwiches.
Confession: I have a horrible, guilt-inducing relationship with the cranberry tuna wrap sandwich at Whole Foods. Here is my history with this sandwich:
Discover sandwich. Eat it with some blue corn tortilla chips. It is amazing.
Eat it again.
Eat it again.
Repeat for 70 more days, although not consecutively.
Eat it again.
Feel horrible, crushing guilt after eating this sandwich for 72nd time.
Stay away from sandwich for weeks.
Eat it again.
Go to look for sandwich and find out they didn’t make it that day. Deflated. Elated. Deflated. Eat something else – marinated tofu, spinach with sesame dressing, thinking I’ll feel virtuous. I feel sad, like I missed out on something.
Check to see if they have sandwich. They do! Eat it again.
Have sandwich in hand, ready to buy, and remember that I don’t eat chicken, pork or beef. Remember that I saw tuna on TV in their whole state, as fish, not chopped up into bits.Â No animal deserves to end its life in a mayo-based salad.
Put the sandwich back and walk away.
“I have a very strange relationship with that sandwich,” I think. “Is this what it’s like when someone is trying to decide whether or not to buy heroin just one more time?”
I turn to the salad bar. I pile cubes of marinated tofu into a cardboard container and spend too much time staring at the macaroni and cheese. There are beets. There is kale. There is a vat of potatoes that is crusted-over on top. I’m circulating around with the other lunch shoppers, all of us wearing knit hats that make us look eccentric and entitled, which we are. Â There should be more for us here. In the middle of all this abundance, we’re not sure what we want to eat but we’re sure we shouldn’t have to search for it. It should be waiting for us on a (recyclable) tray.
I buy a salad and sparkling water in the express lane. I’ve never had a rude cashier at Whole Foods. This is something they get right – instilling charm and upbeat attitudes in their workers even in the face of women in berets who can afford cheese that is $27 a pound. They never berate me for not remembering to bringÂ my own bag. On Valentine’s Day, the cashier asked if I had plans but not in a creepy way. It felt very que sera, sera to me.
Also, they have good magazines. Except this one, which, if you read it, turns you into a pretentious asshole:
I take the salad and water to the little cafÃ© area to sit with the other weirdos who want to use the tables and chairs for awhile before moving on to the next exhausting aspect of our days. Some college students talk about their impending trip to India. Someone else talks about recycling. I’m not making this up. Most of us talk about nothing because we’re alone, wringing the last bits of freedom out of our lunch hours.
Eating in their cafÃ© feels like eating in a preschool that serves organic snacks and has only wooden and cloth toys. I keep looking around, waiting for a woman with a tambourine to pop out to lead us in a rendition of “This Land Is Your Land.”
I finish eating and feel dissatisfied. I think about the tuna again. “No, that’s over now. And not a moment too soon.”
I dart back inside and take a muffin sample. What the hell.