Saturday, March 19, 2011

Real Food- the dilemma of Whole Foods

The big grocery store chains-- Safeway (called Dominick's here in Chicago), Jewel, and their like-- are getting better. They all have certified organic store brands, and certified sections in the produce aisle, as well as the next step up from horrendous meat (i.e. free range, raised without antibiotics, etc. not that I trust the labels). Unfortunately, the big boxes like Target, Meijer and Walmart have stepped right in with grocery sections that are wall-to-wall processed foods at seductively low prices.

Enter Whole Foods. Designed to look like the authentic local groceries that they put out of business, they are staffed by engaged, activist, educated individuals. They are wonderful corporate citizens, proactive not just for local food and green initiatives, but in arts, education, science and civic engagement. They have trustworthy brands, and hard-to-find organic and unprocessed items.


When Whole Foods moved into Chicago, they appeared to be doing it right. They held meetings. They were accessible. They promised not to shut down locally owned organic grocers and coops. But those shops are gone anyway. And I would have been fine with that, if these shops had closed simply because they couldn't compete with the better selection and prices at Whole Foods (yes, even Whole Foods was cheaper than some of the organic markets, because of the quantities they can buy).

But Whole Foods didn't leave it at that. They bought the organic markets saying they weren't going to shut them down. And then they shut them down.

When some of the food co-ops stubbornly held on, being immune to buy out, since no one owned them, Whole Foods stepped in and got zoning laws changed, forcing them out of their neighborhoods.

Whole Foods is great-- I trust their products. Their prices, while high, are in line with what food should cost, without the Big Ag subsidies that put small farmers out of business. They are one of the last national companies left who put their charity dollars into their local communities. They have amazing staff. They have items available that real food junkies like me simply can't find anywhere else (organic, preservative-free chocolate chips anyone?). It's not so easy finding real food in the city; the mercados and asian markets have wonderful produce, but if it's organic I'll eat my non-organic hat.

In fact, I'm in big trouble right now, because Whole Foods gives charitable support to three of my clients.

But I can't forget that when they moved into the community, they acted like the corporate bullies that their clientele abhor.

Do you shop at Whole Foods? Help me feel better about them!

My good friend Patte brought me this delicious, sauce? soup? side dish? when I badly sprained my ankle last month. I love people who save old copies of Gourmet! I wonder if she got the ingredients at Whole Foods?

Pasta e Fagioli
from Gourmet | October 1993
Reprinted without permission
Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.
Yield: Makes about 3 cups, serving 2 as a main course

2 slices of bacon, chopped

1 small onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small rib of celery, chopped fine
1 carrot, sliced thin
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
16-ounce can white beans, rinsed well and drained
16-ounce can tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/3 cup tubetti or other small tubular pasta
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
freshly grated Parmesan as an accompaniment

In a heavy saucepan cook the bacon over moderate heat, stirring, until it is crisp, pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat, and in the remaining fat cook the onion and the garlic, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add the celery, the carrot, and the broth and simmer the mixture, covered, for 5 minutes. In a bowl mash 1/3 cup of the beans, stir them into the bacon mixture with the remaining whole beans and the tomatoes, and simmer the mixture, covered, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in the tubetti, simmer the soup, covered, for 10 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente, and if desired thin the soup with water. Let the soup stand off the heat, covered, for 5 minutes, stir in the parsley, and serve the soup in bowls sprinkled with the Parmesan.

Patte’s Note: I cooked the pasta separately to the al dente stage and added it as I needed it. Any small pasta will do. I also ditched the parsley and added 3 c. fresh baby spinach (chopped) at the very end of the boil.

1 comment:

  1. Here's a reason why I love Whole Foods: the employees. To a one, I've enjoyed talking with the employees at the Sauganash store. Many of them even know my name or my toddler's name.

    I credit that store for being a part of helping me survive crushing postpartum depression. Every day, I'd go there to talk to one of three coffee ladies and the bakery staff, all of whom had their own kids. They were unfailingly kind, tremendously informed about product.

    Also, we're a vegan family and while we do spread the love to other stores (like Fresh Farms in Niles, Caputo's in Elmwood Park) there's vegan products we use that only health food carry and I only trust Whole Foods to have fresh stock, not expired, dusty stock.

    Plus, Whole Foods does provide a lot of local charitable outreach, like your clients get. The other chain stores have cut out most of their community giving programs entirely.

    Hope that helps a bit.