November 29, 2009

The Horror of Whole Foods, or The Obama Effect

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What is the issue?

One of the perks of living in San Francisco is the ready availability of good food — freakishly delicious coffee, quality meats and fish, local organic produce. I don’t need to drive to find any of these things. I simply walk out my door and stroll my merry way to one of, I don’t know, a dozen farmer’s markets — or to one of five local produce shops that sell beautiful fresh local organic fruits and vegetables. I can meander to one of three local butchers where I find local grass fed beef, free range chicken, locally made cold cuts.

Yes, San Francisco may be egregiously expensive and have a conspicuous problem with so-called homelessness but man oh man, we can eat and drink well. Just look at the bevy of house roasted coffee shops — Blue Bottle, Ritual, Four Barrel, Barefoot.

And yet, for reasons I cannot fathom, there are Starbucks and Pete’s everywhere I look. Now, I know what motivates Starbucks. But for the life of me I can’t fathom what drives my neighbors to go to Starbucks when they could just as easily go to Ritual. Same distance. Same cost. Better coffee. And yet.

This past month saw the grand opening of a Whole Foods, right smack in the middle of Noe Valley — across the street from the farmer’s market, down the block from the local cheese shop, and about three blocks from the butcher. To which I declare: What the fuck?

Whole Foods truly freaks me out. It is such an astounding success in branding that people feel like they are good people just for shopping there, giving their money to an anonymous, global, profit driven company. It’s unbelievable. Shoppers feel privileged — and personally rewarded — for spending money!

As a brand consultant, I am in awe. As a citizen, I am repulsed. This enormous, faceless, global corporation struts into the neighborhood and within days is sucking life from the local merchants.

I don’t blame Whole Foods, just as I don’t blame Starbucks. They are corporations whose goal is to make money. Of course. And I applaud them both for their smart, successful businesses. No, I don’t blame them. I blame my neighbors. I blame so-called liberal San Franciscans for not having the slightest fucking clue about what’s wrong with this civilization of ours. It’s not the lack of organic produce, remedied by the savior, Whole Foods. It’s the relentless homogenization, centralization, and anonymous will to velocity that’s killing us all — every day, in manifold ways.

What’s so egregious about Whole Foods is that it wears the liberal mantle. Those who shop there think they are doing the planet good— for giving their money to a global corporation! This is the Obama Effect: make liberals think something has changed, that they’ve somehow done good, while it’s all business as usual.

Listen, I am attracted to Obama just as I’m attracted to the fine produce of Whole Foods. But I am not so insane as to believe that voting for that guy or shopping at some goofy supermarket changes anything. On the contrary, it repeats the same ills. But what’s so dangerous is that they have us believing that things are different. At least Safeway and Bush are obvious foils, empty, soulless, declaring their life quashing will. Whole Foods and Obama deceive us into thinking things are getting better!

Change happens when change happens, when actual behaviors change. And voting for this guy instead of that or shopping at Whole Foods instead of Safeway changes nothing. It’s the same old thing.

Time to drink some real coffee and wake the fuck up. TC mark

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