Everyone knows that Whole Foods is the mecca for all things healthy (at least by pop-culture standards). It’s the grocery-equivalent of training at a Crossfit box – you get points just for walking in.
And, like a Crossfit box membership, Whole Foods is expensive as all get out.
I know everyone’s worried about gas prices and the tax rates and everything, but what about the fact that I’m over here trying to take out a loan just to buy a bag of carrots from Whole Foods…Ok, that’s a lie. I’d skip the loan paperwork and hit up Winco instead. But if I wanted to buy my groceries at Whole Foods, I’d have to take out a 2nd mortgage. (Spoiler alert: I don’t even have a 1st mortgage yet.)
In case you haven’t guessed yet, I’m not exactly Whole Food’s most frequent customer. I like to pop in sometimes, just to wander the aisles and suck in as much of their organic air into my lungs as I can before I am forced to leave and return the reality of my life as a peasant. So this weekend, when I stopped in at Whole Foods, I was not expecting anything more than a few minutes of extra-clean air and a reminder of my relatively-impoverished state. Because
I like oversharing you’re obviously curious at this point, here’s the play-by-play:
It’s early Saturday afternoon when I pull into the parking lot, which is especially overflowing at this time with Prius-type hybrids and minivans covered in “Coexist” and “Hilary 2016” bumper stickers. I’m on a mission to find tapioca pearls (with which to make homemade boba/bubble tea), so I focus my sights and head in.
I pass Whole Food’s shaded outdoor Bier Garten and marvel at the number of people day-drinking. Seriously, 80% of the seats are full. It’s also 80 degrees outside, so I don’t blame them a bit for downing some (organic) brewskis this early. Maybe it does’t count as day-drinking if your beer is gluten-free?
Inside, I take a moment to revel in the air-conditioning. Sweet, free-range, organic, pesticide-free, temperature-controlled oxygen. It’s so organic it hurts. 50 Shades of Oxygen? I allow my lungs a moment to revel in the pleasure before I remember my mission and strut off into the mayhem of weekend shoppers.
As I scurry past the cash registers, I notice – as I always do – that the male cashiers are split into two distinct groups. First you have the attractive under-30’s crowd – they’re good-looking in a “UC Santa Cruz Alumni” kind of way, or maybe they lean towards a clean-cut “former VP of the UC Berkeley Student Democrats Club” look. You know they’re only working at Whole Foods to pay the bills until they can open their own medicinal marijuana co-op and/or finally get a paid position on Hilary Clinton’s publicity team. The second group is older, maybe late-40’s and up, and they’re not necessarily giving Hugh Jackman a run for his money, if you know what I mean. (Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you run across a “hot-dad” type…but it’s a rare sighting, like baby sea turtles.) These guys are typically the ones who repeatedly tried to run for office back in the 80’s and then finally ended up here when they realized the Green Party wasn’t going anywhere. A few that I’ve seen may also be ex-cons that found great success in the prison rehabilitation programs and discovered their passion for organic farming, but I may just be generalizing based off of their neck tattoos. I’m not an expert on these things.
After a quick detour through the natural beauty care section, where I spend 2 minutes waiting in line (behind a couple who, from their conversation, appear to be selecting an essential oil to set the tone for their “tantric massage” that night), and then 30 seconds sniffing bottles of $25 tangerine essential oil. It smells like summer and discretionary money that I don’t have, so I reluctantly put it back on the shelf and begin scouring the aisles in search of those dang tapioca pearls.
I’m female and kind-of-Asian-ish (I’m half Pacific Islander, so geographically it’s a close call), so it’s an understatement to say that I’m directionally challenged. Once I’ve spent 5 minutes searching fruitlessly for tapioca pearls, I decide to interrupt an employee who already looks plenty busy stocking shelves and seek help. An elderly gent beats me to the punch and asks him where the black olives are, and Whole Foods Man (WMF) tells him to look at the far end of aisle 8. As soon as WFM stood up to direct him, I realize he is of the “under-30 and good-looking category.” It’s only fitting that this is the day I’m wearing glasses and not a stitch of makeup, my hair is up in a mess, and I’m wearing one of those flowy skirts that goes to my ankles. (Aside from the fact that I’m wearing deodorant and a bra, I appear to be a middle-aged hippie.) The thought of homemade boba strengthens my resolve, so I swallow my pride and swoop in before he can go back to stocking shelves.
“Excuse me. I was wondering if yall carry tapioca pearls?”
My courage is rewarded with a smile and an enthusiastic response.
“We do! Let me show you where they are,” WFM tells me as he leads me off towards the baking goods. I trot along behind him, feeling slightly guilty for getting a private escort to my grocery target, while the older fellow before me was sent off to fend for himself. WFM pauses at a shelf and then triumphantly pulls down a package for my approval. These are tiny tapioca pearls, not the large kind I was looking for. My guilt doubles as I tell him that (and my heart sinks at the thought of another quasi-summer afternoon without bubble tea), but he determines that perhaps it is stored in the Asian foods aisle and heads off towards the aisles filled with expensive ramen noodles (an oxymoron, it would seem, but leave it to Whole Foods to take something as cheap as ramen noodles and make them a luxury grocery item).
I stand awkwardly silent beside him while he peruses the aisle, and after a minute feel obligated to begin apologizing.
“If yall don’t carry it, it’s not a huge deal…”
An eccentric middle-aged woman interrupts his silent searching. By “eccentric,” I mean she had her wallet shoved down the front of her high-waisted yoga pants. It seemed to be her resourceful, if strange and potentially-unhygenic, alternative to carrying a purse.
“Can I just interrupt you for a second? Where can I find the parmesan cheese?” she barks.
Looking puzzled, WFM points to the shelf directly next to her at eye-level. She spins in a circle, looking befuddled, and as soon as she starts to open her mouth, WFM points again to the shelf. She exclaims something unintelligible and busies herself with the process of selecting a powdered cheese. I wonder for a moment if she will carry her groceries to the register in her yoga pants, much like a kangaroo would do with its pouch (if kangaroos shopped at Whole Foods, which they don’t, because ain’t no marsupials got
time cash for dat). It’s time to begin my awkward apologies once more.
WFM insists that it’s no problem at all, and informs me that he’s going to go ask his manager where these dang tapioca pearls are stocked. He trots off and I stand there, savoring a moment of solitude in this warehouse of organic luxury. A good looking young dad walks down the aisle with two sons. I shamelessly peek at his left hand and let myself enjoy a moment of prolonged eye contact before remembering that today I look like some earth-child who escaped from a commune in Eureka. I settle for twiddling my thumbs in the middle of the aisle until WFM returns and rescues me from my misguided attempts at a mating ritual.
“I talked to my manager, and apparently we don’t carry the big tapioca pearls because they contain artificial ingredients. It is Whole Food’s policy to not carry any products with artificial ingredients.”
He says “artificial” with the same disgust that Nancy Pelosi would use in discussing the NRA (or that which Mitt Romney would use in talking about the moderation of certain 2012 presidential debates). If ever there were an appropriate time to stitch a large scarlet “A” to my shirt, it would be now. I feel like a Playboy Bunny at a Girl Scouts meeting, and I look around for Whole Food’s nonviolent security team, which I assume not only exists but is coming to escort me and my artificial-flavor-enjoying tastebuds from the building.
I’m moments from just pulling a Forrest Gump and running out without another word, when I remember the other thing I was going to look for at the Organic Grocery Mecca for Rich People.
“…well, one more thing. Do you know if yall carry potato starch?”
He chuckles and leads back to the baking goods aisle, where the potato starch is indeed located, not even four feet from the tiny non-artificial tapioca pearls. The potato starch is even on sale, and for half the price Amazon was asking. I feel a sense of accomplishment not unlike that of the day I graduated from college. I express my thanks and excitement to WFM, who graciously brushes it off and refrains from asking why I’m so excited about a bag of potato powder. We part ways and I trot proudly to the register. I am about to become one of the chosen ones.
I find a checker with no line, and waltz right up with my head held high. Not only am I standing inside Whole Foods, but for once I am actually purchasing something. Visions of commerce and capitalism and six-figure incomes dance in my head as my transaction is completed. The kid at the register thanks me for declining a bag for my grocery (note: singular), then gestures at my lone bag of potato starch and asks what I’m “going to make with that.”
“Oh, I’m going to take it as a supplement. I’ve been reading up on it and it’s really great for helping to balance out your intestinal bacteria! It feeds the microbes in your large intestine to promote digestive health and overall wellbeing.”
At this point, I realize he is now staring at me with a look of shock mingled with repulsion. Until I saw his reaction, I had not considered that it might be unladylike to discuss my digestive health endeavors with a stranger.
“Well, anyway, thanks! Have a good one!” I chirped, and skipped towards the exit. I held my bag of potato starch proudly as I passed by the Bier Garten and day-drinkers on the way out to my car and real life.
You can’t win ’em all, but at least I got my potato starch. No longer am I a Whole Foods air-sniffer, no sir. I am now a full-fledged Whole Foods customer. If only they gave out sparkly gold membership cards like Starbucks…I’m a sucker for marketing like that.
PS: You better believe I’ll be driving out to the Korean market soon to find those deliciously artificial tapioca pearls.