Monday, March 03, 2014

Whole, sustainable fish in a barrel

Are Whole Foods customers really that bad? Nils Parker thinks so. And it's certainly the kind of thing you can assert without drawing too much controversy. It's fish-in-a-barrel at this point. Do people who shop at Whole Foods get all defensive and excuses-excuses about it? Yes, even if the excuses, like Wegmans not having a bulk grains-and-legumes section, or the local Gristedes being more expensive, are tough to dispute. It's embarrassing to admit to shopping at Whole Foods, so much so that even legitimate reasons sound like silly excuses. Even if you don't show up in a new Prius (or any Prius) and head-to-toe Lululemon (or any Lululemon), you're in effect confessing to being that guy.

Parker engages in a bit of the ol' assertion of a perfect stranger's thoughts, but it's OK, because the stranger is a Whole Foods shopper, not a human being:

They stand in the middle of the aisles, blocking passage of any other cart, staring intently at the selection asking themselves that critical question: which one of these olive oils makes me seem coolest and most socially conscious, while also making the raw vegetable salad I’m preparing for the monthly condo board meeting seem most rustic and artisanal?
Eh. Perhaps customers are this insufferable other branches. One can infer such insufferableness from my favorite Whole Foods sign, which I'm sure I've posted before but now's as good a time as any to bring it to new readers:


But at the Princeton branch (a good drive's remove from the town or university, deep in strip mall and office park territory), the customers seem quite reasonable, as well as a socioeconomic mix. (These things could well be related.) It's a popular lunch stop for people who work in the area, and not just in the pharmaceutical-company-executive sense. Also for locale-specific reasons, the staff will be, say, preppy blond teens from the area, so between the posher staff and less-posh clientele, there's less of a customer-cashier class divide than one might find at a big-city branch. It's not that this region is somehow devoid of entitlement. The behaviors Parker describes are ones I've seen... in coffee shops. On NJ Transit. Most which is precious or insufferable seems to cluster in town itself, with its no-prices-given food boutiques and tiny seasonal farmers market where the ten interested parties must fight over a bunch of lacinato kale.

But yes, maybe Whole Foods is, as a rule, that bad. But it's too easy a target. It's too easy to write about the cliché, and to ignore the reasonable hordes in favor of the rare few who meet it.

2 comments:

Glove Slap said...

I wonder if Nils Parker ever shops at those non-Whole Foods stores he mentioned, cause "regular" stores also get their share of jerks. The WF I usually shop at is so cramped and unrelentingly crowded, it's like "Soylent Green" and no one would get away with too much obnoxious behavior.
There's certainly seems to be a significantly higher sense of entitlement in people of a certain tax bracket, no matter where they are. But working class and poor people have a parallel problem with chips-on-shoulders and plain obliviousness that manifests in less fancy supermarkets, and in my neighborhood I would not DREAM of putting someone's basket at the end of the line. Way to get stabbed.

Phoebe said...

While I'm sure he's been in a regular supermarket, if for no other reason than that was the only option until a few years ago, I agree that he presents rich people as uniformly awful, and not-rich ones as uniformly delightful.

And it's not just by implication - his bit about how wonderful everyone is who works at Whole Foods seemed... patronizing? Overkill? The idea seemed to be that to work at a rich-person supermarket is the ultimate martyrdom, the most trying job imaginable. As if rather than being treated with respect, Whole Foods workers should be solemnly thanked for their service.