Friday, 29 June 2007

‘Americans like plates the size of their laps…’

A view of the PYO strawberry fields from my garden. They also grow asparagas.

With the title of today's post's generalisation, AA Gill* has reported his first impression of Whole Foods Market’s debut to the UK. It is yet another food chain to transport itself from the vast American continent to the tiny spot of an island known as the British Isles. Krispy Kreme Donuts and Starbucks are both fairly new. We still do not have a Starbucks in our part of England. But my husband believes I could begin the façade of one, thanks to the Starbucks mug fetish I developed in the US years ago. As usual, I digress…

My husband and I were excited and enthralled when we visited the Whole Foods Market in Austin last November with a dear friend. What a fantastic place! We enjoyed our luncheon at the fish bar. Nothing like what AA Gill experienced. Well, perhaps a little. Our eyes popped out at the gargantuan displays of everything in sight, including the trolley cart escalator thingy that deposited shoppers directly to the large multi-storied car park. We just thought it was all so enormous because we were in Texas, and the capitol at that!

But Whole Foods is also known by some as Whole Paycheck, because it is yet another example of how consumerism can tell us to eat things that are healthy and good for us and then guilt us into overpaying for disciplining our eating habits. Supposedly. And it has set a fine example of that philosophy by opening its very first store in London’s High Street Kensington.

The Americans marketing Whole Foods to the UK have just made their product even more expensive, and ridiculously inaccessible:

  1. We in the UK will now have to pay twice as much as shoppers in America, because of the pound/dollar conversion. American companies (e.g., Magellan, Cuisinart, Yankee Candles, just a few of my favourites), never convert their product pricing via the exchange rates, continually overcharging those of us who live outside the US.
  2. Whole Foods in High Street Ken has provided absolutely no place for shoppers to park. For a ginormous market, it has sealed the fate of most shoppers who, even if they use a car, must park far, far away to cart their groceries by hand.
  3. Because of its inaccessibility to the majority of shoppers who use public transport, said shoppers will be limited to what they can physically carry out of the store. On second thought, just two bags of healthful goodies could stretch one's financial limit anyway.
  4. 'Good nutrition' seeks out an elitist niche market. Most people who can shop regularly in High Street Ken are highly paid consumers to begin with. So with Whole Foods Market’s sincere spin that we should all have healthier foods for a correct lifestyle, they really only care about those consumers who can afford to pay their ridiculously priced food to begin with.

I doubt Whole Foods will ever move to any other parts of the UK. London has its urban sprawl as do most major cities around the world but it does not make up the entire land mass of England, Wales, and Scotland. (The folks in Northern Ireland are completely out of luck on this one.) It is certainly not worth the price of petrol here to venture into London and Kensington High Street. (We pay the equivalent of $100 to fill up a tank of gas in cars that, unlike most of those driven in Texas, are engineered for good gas mileage.)

My usual weekly jaunts to Waitrose and our local farmer's markets will do us just fine.


For my American friends, I am including links to some of The Times/Sunday Times articles about the opening of Whole Foods Market here in the UK. Along with some of the readers’ comments, they are a fascinating look at the differences both Americans and Brits/Welsh/Scots/Irish have over food and eating.

Keep in mind that British Baby Boomers experienced a much different upbringing with food and nutrition than we American Baby Boomers did. The devastation and affect of both World Wars and The Troubles to Great Britain – from the major loss of its work force to the struggles of government restructuring to a nation rebuilding after each of these events – lends a different perspective to life than what most of us growing up in America during the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s knew. (It was only at the end of 2006 that the UK finally paid off its wartime debt to the United States government – 60 years and a couple of generations after WWII. My prayer is our country will never have to know what it is like to pay a war debt off to a 'friendly allied nation' as insistent upon being repaid as our's. In God we trust?)

*I begin with an excerpt from the piece in today’s Times by AA Gill, one of my favourite journalists here in the UK.

Whole Foods Market AA Gill: Table Talk (The Times)

This week’s restaurant is the grazing floor of Whole Foods Market, the organic department store you’ve been hearing so much about recently. The largesse of this born-again, healthy, feel-my-freshness emporium exposes one of those great rifts between Americans and us. Americans like quantity. The sight of towering displays of fresh food, a carnage of meat, oceans of fish, a sugary cornucopia of buns and breads, and vast wheels of cheeses, fills them with a sense of wellbeing and comfort. The land of unending plenty is what their ancestors went to. That’s why Americans like plates the size of their laps and portions bigger than a neocon’s hubris. Extravagance is their birthright.

We, on the other hand, when confronted with an unfeasible pile of skinned chicken breasts or a decomposing Babel of pilchards, immediately want to know who’s going to eat it all, and what are they going to do with the leftovers? Every one of the dozen people I’ve spoken to who’ve been to this shop worried about the waste. It can’t be given to tramps. Our history of food is scarred by shortages and rationing. We still feel guilty about not finishing our plates. Walking round this perishable glut, I had the distinct, uncomfortable sense that a voice would come over the Tannoy telling me I couldn’t leave until I’d finished all the greens.

Wholefood heaven? More like a (Medjoul) date from hell… Lisa Armstrong (The Times)

Is this the future of food? Lydia Slater (The Sunday Times)


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