Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Whole Foods: Why, Whether... and How

The Pollan-Mackey smackdown last night was good entertainment. It was not a conversation that will solve the world's food problems.
Both sides were well prepared, but there can be no argument that Michael Pollan controlled the evening, and even manipulated things. He's got more presence as a speaker (and a more mellifluous voice; wait, was Mackey's microphone sabotaged?), so he seized the leading-star role.
John Mackey was rumored to have been quite nervous going into this debate, but I found him to be humorous, intelligent, and game.
Quick aside here, if you haven't been following: Michael Pollan attacked Mackey's Whole Foods company in the book The Omnivore's Dilemma. Mackey, CEO of the chain, has instigated some impressive changes in response. Story still unfolding.
BUT: Here was my favorite remark of the evening, regarding whether an organic, local diet was within economic reach of most eaters, wherever you do your shopping.
Mackey said, "If you cook, you can do it."
He meant no take-out, no icky prepared deli meals, no granola bars. Just fresh, or bulk, or sensible. Apply water, a pan, a little fat, some heat. Presto, you got a good, inexpensive meal.
I recommend it.
If you've got time to waste in front of the television, surely you can spend a few gratifying moments banging around in the kitchen. It's good for you, and you can afford it.


Amy Sherman said...

The San Francisco Food Bank has a really interesting interactive module that lets you grocery shop virtually with the budget of a person on a fixed income.

I'd love to hear your thoughts after trying it. It really put into perspective for me how hard it is to just shop and cook if you don't have much money. You run out of $$ way before you reach the calories you need. Sadly less processed foods are even more expensive than healthier "whole foods".

Catherine said...

Hi Cookiecrumb, A friend sent me this article a few weeks ago. I thought it shed a lot of light on how hard it can be to actually eat organic on a serious budget, e.g. if you're feeding a large family or lower income. By walking the aisles with a nutritionist and really adding up calories and food costs, the author broke down day by day what you could eat. I was shocked at what you'd have to give up -- not granola bars or cereals, but meat, fish and fruit. This doesn't take into account other ways of buying food (e.g. farmer's market, meat by the half cow, etc.) which can lower your costs, depending on the size of your family and the area where you live. Still, it seems harder than I expected.

Anna Haight said...

I watched this event via webcast and was quite impressed with the level of thinking. His answer about cost also included that 'we're all getting richer'.. which really doesn't answer the question. The answer you cite does get us closer, and of course, some are still going to fall off the map of affordablity, but I think it's right that cooking from scratch gets you a lot closer.

Dagny said...

I could probably afford to eat more organic and/or local stuff if it wasn't for my party budget. And there's no way I'm giving that up. Unless I find some really nice guy who is willing to subsidize my income.

Era said...

I love Michael Pollan, and I had the good fortune to hear him talk a few months ago at my school (UC Davis). His book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma" was amazing, though I do agree with some of the criticism that he didn't pose any good solutions to the problems he wrote about. But generally, the book was wonderful and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about what they are eating.

El said...

Huzzah, Cookiecrumb. You took away the most salient point of the smackdown. But selling bulk rice and beans isn't going to make anybody any money, now, will it?

cookiecrumb said...

Amy: Thanks, I will take the "tour." I didn't mean to imply that the Pollan-Mackey discussion was about hunger. People in poverty wouldn't do much better shopping at Safeway than they would at Whole Foods. Nor do I think a diet needs to be 100% organic or local. It's just a start.

Catherine: That's a good article, but even there the full diet is not addressed. There are no provisions for sweeteners, fats, spices... So, yes, the argument is still intact that a restricted budget is going to be hard on food choices. No argument there (right, Amy?).

Anna: Well, he may be wrong about us all getting richer. I'm not! There's a huge and growing divide between the upper and lower classes, with the middle sort of vanishing. Even so, I think there can be wise food choices, even on a budget.

Dagny: You are just too, too high-maintenance!

Era: Thanks. I'm one of the proud "I-bought-it-but-I-haven't-read-it-yet" people. I appreciate the nudge to get reading.

El: It was a most amazing admission from Mackey, almost as if he let it slip. And yet, you seem to know that in his heart, he believes in his natural food mission, as much as he believes in being a consummate businessman. So I'm happy to let the rich yuppies buy the expensive pre-made deli food and coffee (profit for the store) while I shop for meager quinoa and chickpea flour. :D