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An Ode To Whole Foods Lunch

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Dear Whole Foods,

I can’t explain how many times you’ve rescued me from the crippling indecision that creeps in when it hits 11:45. With each passing minute my stomach churns, and I ponder the nearby restaurants, the sellouts: Mexican? Nah. Italian? Meh. Chipotle? Maybe, but mostly meh. Pizza? No. Nothing satisfies. No matter: Whole Foods it is.

Yes, first thing when I get back, I say, ignoring my coworkers on the way out, who remind me of the things I promised I’d do this morning, but haven’t. I put on my shades; it’s sunny outside and I stroll through a jam-packed Wilshire Blvd., onto Westwood. What I don’t realize on my walk over to Whole Foods is that I still haven’t solved the appetite dilemma, given that Whole Foods has as many options for lunch as does the entire Westwood village, the area I work in.

In my first few steps inside Whole Foods, I’m noncommittal, inquisitive. I’m greeted by air which is misty and minty, as if God had just taken an Altoid and breathed out. The floor is shiny and fresh, nearly as reflective as a mirror. The fruit, colorful and vibrant, more closely resemble artwork than anything that ever came from a tree.

I observe the meat and fish section, and ponder stocking up my fridge so that lunch doesn’t turn into a strenuous debacle every workday. I’d cook the night before and bring it to work… ah… how smart… Alright that’s enough of that. Let’s be real: grocery shopping is something, after two years of telling myself I’d start doing, I haven’t done. I buy by the meal, which means I waste money professionally.

Do I want to try the newest organic pesto hummus with a pita cracker today, somebody asks. “Absolutely,” I respond, grabbing a bite size sample, and maybe one more. And quite delicious, I think, once I’ve shamelessly walked away. I head to the salad bar and hot food section, where hordes of people carry their cardboard boxes and fill them with individualized sustenance. The salad bar looks good and sounds wise, but I’m not that healthy. I prefer meat, cheese and oil over stupid kale.

Until I make my final decision, I saunter casually and observe the trends of characters, namely a former frat bro playing his best at professional in an oversized suit, yoga-insta girls texting viciously, and MILF’s shopping slowly with canvas bags in one hand, a shopping list in the other. I stroll among them silently, striking eye contact with a few, trying to fit in, as if back in high school.

Eventually, I gravitate to the sushi section, where the rolls appear photoshopped. How is that food? How was that ever a fish? I often find myself lifting various boxes of sushi, pressing down on the plastic, observing the pieces, the ratio of fish to rice, then putting the boxes back where I took them. I think this is weird, and it is, but as I stand there, I find others doing the same. I’m hypnotized by my imagination of how these pieces would taste; the fresh photoshopped fish, tender rice, succulent spicy mayo. But I eat sushi enough. If anybody’s on the cusp of mercury poisoning, it’s me.

Most often, I succumb to the sandwich bar, and land working with a sandwich maker who seems to operate both mentally and physically at half-speed.

“Chicken sandwich, please, on ciabatta.”

“Hang on, hang on. You want a sandwich?”

“Yes, please. A chicken sandwich.”

“OK, a chicken sandwich. And what kind of bread?”

“Ciabatta.”

And this intellectual dynamic continues throughout the exchange. I watch him look around for the appropriate bread, which, I see, is right in front of him, but he has a tough time finding.

I find that if I specify my sandwich requirements prematurely, my maker feels rushed and pressured, and probably hopes bad things happen to me. Alternatively, when I quietly await my moment to speak, and the sandwich-maker gets to his stopping point, the tone is accusatory, as if ‘how else do you expect me to make your sandwich?’ “What else? what spread?” So I do usually hit a crossroads here, whether to talk or wait. On this particular trip, though, my sandwich-maker and I are on the same page, exchanging questions and answers at a methodical pace, even slipping in some humor along the way.

He wraps the sandwich threefold in butcher paper, grabs a knife that can slice through an arm, and cuts the sandwich cleanly in half. Then he wraps it again, sticks the price tag on, and I’m on my way.

What do you think, I ask the sandwich-maker, who I’ve decided must be high now, therefore, a person’s whose opinion I quite value.

“Pretty good, man. You made a good sandwich.”

“Couldn’t have done it without you,” I say.

The whole foods journey doesn’t end just yet. Around lunchtime, it’s pretty crowded, and going into the shortest line isn’t always the move. Some long lines move quickly, and some short lines move slowly. I dedicate ten to fifteen seconds in analysis of the trends, doing my research, and then make a leap of faith in regards to which line will have me stuffing my face with sun-dried tomato aoli the fastest. By nature, as soon as I pick one, I observe the other lines, noting they’re faster, and I ponder jumping ship. However, I’ve done enough line jumping in my heyday to know that it’s fool’s gold, and illusion: pick your line and live your life, I always thought.

I plow through the density of the sandwich as a lawnmower overpowers unkempt grass. I’m proud of my decision to come here—healthy, but not that healthy, saw some neat people, kept it under $15. Hey, maybe I do just have an idea of what the hell I’m doing. But probably not.

On my walk back to the office: It’s been a fine experience, but we should remember that Whole foods is not without flaws. Most alarmingly, be aware that only about half of what salivates your glands is as tasty as it looks. The orange chicken, for example—highly resemblant to that which is epic from Panda Express, tastes like airplane food. Or the rotisserie chicken, too, which tastes like paper. This prompts me to think that this “whole” place is nothing more than hoax, a facade of organic food that sells chemical-ridden stuff like anywhere else. But I don’t want to think about that, because if Whole Foods is on the do-not-eat list, I don’t know if there’s anything left.

Still, even incredibly overpriced, with ketchup bottles up for 6.99 and milk for 4.99 plus a 1.50 CRV fee, Whole Foods is an example our newfound ability to eat whatever want, whenever. Can you imagine having to hunt for your food? You and I both know you wouldn’t be able to gather 1% of what Whole Foods sells. There are endless choices here: nothing you can’t order, nothing you can’t create. Whole Foods is the American Dream made real: The lunch of opportunity. TC mark

featured image – Northfoto / Shutterstock.com

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