I love Whole Foods.
I love the experience of shopping there, the smells of wonderful foods, the array of fresh produce, all the local products they feature. I look forward to going there every other Friday morning to buy the vast majority of my food (except for beef, which I buy from a farm, and produce in the summer). I almost always get a salad or something for lunch before I leave. Although…I have a hard time selecting something to eat from their prepared foods. It’s because they use a lot of low-fat foods, canola oil, gluten, dairy, and other things I can’t eat. Some of those are simply my restrictions, but some of them are pseudo-healthy, like the canola oil.
Therein lies the major problem with Whole Foods and other health food stores. They have a lot of products that are perceived as “healthy,” but which are not. Some are outright NOT healthy, like organic potato chips, organic soda, organic ice cream…. Yes, they’re made with organic ingredients, but they are still stripped of nutrients, full of sugar (real cane sugar instead of HFCS, but still), made with unsaturated oils, etc. They’re not health foods. They’re labeled as being “better” because they use sea salt instead of regular salt, or sunflower oil instead of GMO corn oil. But still, they’re junk food. They’re not whole foods, they’re not worth eating. Most health food stores are quite aware that these products they’re selling are not truly healthy, but most people who want to eat health food still want to feel normal, so they want the option to buy “health” food that looks almost exactly like the usual packaged food they’re no longer buying. Also, these packaged foods make most of the money for the stores, so they need them to survive financially.
Beyond that, though, there are many different ideas about what’s healthy out there. Soy, low-fat diets, canola oil, etc. But none of these are healthy. Non-GMO soy, fermented and used only as a condiment, is not bad. But there is a huge array of products made from heavily processed soy, like soy burgers, soy “chicken,” soy “hot dogs,” soy yogurt, soy milk…and on and on. These products are extremely processed and are not healthy. At all. There’s soy margarine, which everyone celebrates! Earth Balance, no trans fats, yay! But no. It’s a fake food.
Health food stores are heavily biased towards low-fat and fat-free diets, too. On Trader Joe’s website, they discuss different types of fats. They vilify saturated fats far more than they do TRANS FATS! Look at the text here:
Saturated fat is a triglyceride molecule that contains only single carbon bonds. They can raise your blood cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease. Animal fats found in meat, poultry and whole-milk dairy products are all high in saturated fats.
Trans fat is a specific kind of fat that is formed when oil manufacturers change a liquid oil into a solid or semi solid fat, such as shortening or margarine. Hydrogen is added to liquid vegetable oil to solidify it. This process is called hydrogenation, and it creates trans fats. Trans fats are also found in nature, but in very small amounts in some animal based foods.
Isn’t that amazing? Saturated fats are blamed for heart disease and cholesterol issues; trans fats aren’t even labeled as “bad!” I’ve already written to Trader Joe’s about this, suggesting that they do some research and update their site accordingly. I would suggest that you all do the same. However, since their company is highly pro-low-fat diet, I doubt they’ll take it seriously. They are proudly selling their low-fat granola, low-fat brownie mixes (I haven’t looked at the sugar content on those, but I’d bet it’s extremely high), and other low-fat foods.
Health food stores aren’t catering to a truly healthy audience. They’re catering to what the mainstream perceives as healthy. They’re not interested in a real-food perspective.
I’ve read that John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, is vegan. Whole Foods stores are increasingly leaning towards vegan offerings. They’ve pulled raw milk from the shelves in several Western states (where it is legal), they’re putting out brochures and programs designed to reduce consumption of animal products and increase consumption of low-fat, raw foods.
This all makes me sad. Why, as the mainstream begins to notice the “new” real foods movement, is the “health” community pushing back so hard with raw foods, veganism, low-fat diets, and all of the other 90s fads that have been shown by those doing real science to be not that great after all? (NOT that you shouldn’t consume raw foods; the lifestyle to ONLY consume raw foods is just too extreme.)
I believe we need to fight back now. The mainstream isn’t going to pick up on the real food movement unless we make a bigger deal about it. We need to keep blogging about it, keep holding events, write letters to health food stores asking them to have real-food speakers and feature real-food products, and reduce reliance on low-fat, high-sugar products. We need to let them know we’re out there so that they can cater to us and so that the culture will slowly change.
Stand up, write a letter. Boycott the stores if you have other options (a lot of people don’t, unfortunately). Shop at farmer’s markets in the summer and find local farmers you can buy from off-season if possible (for meat, or if they grow in the greenhouse). Make your presence known. This is important, because the health community is writing off the real food movement right now. Last month, Jenny at Nourished Kitchen issued a 28-day Real Food Challenge that was extremely well participated in. So well, in fact, that it made the news on CNN. There are 764 comments on that article, and many of them negative. That’s the view of the real food movement right now.
What do you think of the real food movement? What do you think of health food stores? Will you continue to shop at Whole Foods after their latest annoucements?
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