I love Whole Foods and will continue to shop there for certain essentials (ie. cranberry tuna salad, Peanut Butter & Co Smooth Operator peanut butter, Rachel's yogurts), but I do feel compelled to be a little pickier in my selections and shop for staples at grocery stores that don't make me feel like I'm slowly murdering the contents of my bank account.
On August 2nd, the NY Times published an article entitled "Whole Foods Looks for a Fresh Image in Lean Times." In the article, Andrew Martin describes how the upscale grocer is attempting to redefine itself as an economical place to shop. In the past, I have noticed that my Tazo Zen tea, Kashi GoLean Crunch Honey Almond & Flaxseed cereal and Rachel's yogurts are significantly cheaper than at my local Gelson's or Ralph's, but I've never thought to myself, "Hmm... I can't afford to get a pedicure, but I think I'll go hit up Whole Foods for lunch!"
Then, this past Monday, faced with a tight schedule and lack of time to make or construct my own midday meal, I succumbed to the allure of the Whole Foods salad bar deathtrap. I took stock of the inventory and was less than pleased with the selections. I knew the grape tomatoes and huge chunks of cucumber were going to add significant weight to my $7.99/lb salad and was loathe to spend more than $6 on a weekday lunch. As I walked aimlessly around the prepared food area, I noticed a special cooler bursting with prepacked salads for $3.65. I immediately zeroed in on the Beet & Kale Salad containing golden and red beets, red onions, feta cheese, dried cranberries, kale, a hearty portion of romaine lettuce, and a vinaigrette dressing. Because I can't subsist on dairy protein alone, I hopped my way over to the salad bar, dug through the roasted chicken breast until I found a quarter pound of favorable-looking white meat, and proceeded to the check-out. $5.49 later (unadulterated receipt below), I was on my way back to the office.
I emptied the salad onto a paper plate, added my chicken and poured the tangy dressing over my plentiful plate of greens. Biting commenced, I made some yummy noises over the succulent fresh beets and sweet dried cranberries, and tried my utmost to be ecstatic over my steal-of-a-deal. While the salad did taste fresh and the sparse ingredients were of the utmost in Whole Foods quality, I finished my meal wishing it packed a little more punch. I couldn't help but wish it came with orange segments and candied pecans or walnuts, and I felt seriously deprived of ample dried cranberry-age. I started to think that maybe I would get the salad again and just add more of my own goodies, but then I realized that in so doing, I would be compromising the most alluring part of the lunch-- its friendliness to my wallet.
Yes, Whole Foods does have the potential to overcome its "Whole Paycheck" image, but the irony in Mr. Martin's article title cannot be missed. With these "lean" greens, the path toward fiscal responsibility is going to be a path that leads to lean thighs too. (And a growling stomach to boot.)