Thursday, March 01, 2007

Organic Inc.

Last week, the grocery store chain Whole Foods has bought out its primary rival Wild Oats. The response, expressed with a palpable taste of “I told you so”, seems to be that the buyout represents the final proof of Whole Food’s transformation from idyllic, local organic food store to corporate behemoth high on money, power, and high fructose corn syrup is now officially complete.

The talk of this transformation as some archetypal, to use a word from 11th grade English class, fall from grace, the way people response when a hometown sports hero signs a free agent contract with another team, is amusing. Wild Oats was not your local health food store. The food is as expensive, and is shipped as insanely (Chilean orange anyone?), as that at Whole Foods. As the article Is Whole Foods Straying From Its Roots? in yesterday’s NY Times points out – if you can get past the self-righteous undertone – Whole Foods is in essence trying to stop the larger, traditional grocery stores from taking some of its market. There’s always a bigger fish in the sea.

It brings us to a question that has divided environmental movement for years. Which is better? Getting the big fish to change or having lots of little fish take over? In other words, do you work with Walmart to become more environmental friendly? Or do you boycott their stores?

There’s no easy answer, not in today's world. I will say this. I’m sad to hear the Wild Oats on Nassau St. in Princeton will be closing. That’s not to say I like shopping there. I simply like the idea that people in town can walk and bike to the grocery store, whatever that store is. The only Whole Foods in the area is on Rte 1 and has no pedestrian or bicycle access. Now that is a crime.

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