Monday, March 20, 2006

PC humbug watch
Is Whole Foods really wholesome?
Reminds me of the libertarian argument against well-meant fair-trade coffee
Let's say you live in New York City and want to buy a pound of tomatoes in season. Say you can choose between conventionally grown New Jersey tomatoes or organic ones grown in Chile. Of course, the New Jersey tomatoes will be cheaper. They will also almost certainly be fresher, having traveled a fraction of the distance. But which is the more eco-conscious choice? In terms of energy savings, there's no contest: Just think of the fossil fuels expended getting those organic tomatoes from Chile.

Almost all the organic food in this country comes out of California. And five or six big Californian farms dominate the whole industry.

After all, a multinational chain can't promote a "buy local" philosophy without being self-defeating.

Charges of elitism — media wags, in otherwise flattering profiles, have called Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck" and "wholesome, healthy for the wholesome, wealthy" — are the only criticism of Whole Foods that seems to have stuck.
As I said looking at price signs at a health-food shop, I’m not willing to pay that much to feel that effing sensitive.

By accident (or Adam Smith’s invisible hand?) an uncharitable, un-PC big company may end up doing more to help people.
It's likely that neither Wal-Mart nor Whole Foods will do much to encourage local agriculture or small farming, but in an odd twist, Wal-Mart, with its simple "More for Less" credo, might do far more to democratize the nation's food supply than Whole Foods. The organic-food movement is in danger of exacerbating the growing gap between rich and poor in this country by contributing to a two-tiered national food supply, with healthy food for the rich. Could Wal-Mart's populist strategy prove to be more "sustainable" than Whole Foods? Stranger things have happened.
Even back-to-the-land old friend Jeff Culbreath has acknowledged that the romance of small farming is often unworkable.

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