Opinion

Whole Foods snoots must shop for status elsewhere

Rex Huppke is a Chicago Tribune columnist. Photo by
Rex Huppke is a Chicago Tribune columnist. Photo by

Whole Foods has long been a top grocery destination for shoppers eager to spend unnecessarily large amounts of money on food that makes them feel superior to others.

Sadly, that dynamic has ended. Online retailer Amazon closed on its acquisition of Whole Foods this week and immediately started – hold my locally sourced camel milk – lowering prices.

A company press release quotes Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer, saying: “We’re determined to make healthy and organic food affordable for everyone.”

Why? Doesn’t Amazon care about people who want to send the message “I have too much disposable income – thus the raw Manuka honey I’m spreading on my eco-farmed brown rice cakes – and I want to subtly communicate that message under the guise of good health and environmental consciousness”?

Wilke’s statement continued: “To get started, we’re going to lower prices beginning Monday on a selection of best-selling grocery staples, including Whole Trade organic bananas, responsibly-farmed salmon, organic large brown eggs, animal-welfare-rated 85 percent lean ground beef, and more.”

Good grief. Now eating ground beef that has been animal-welfare-rated won’t seem so special. And the days of silently mocking people who eat irresponsibly-farmed salmon are over. All thanks to a corporate giant that sells virtually everything on Earth, except status.

When I first heard of the Amazon/Whole Foods pairing, I thought there might be hope for the Whole Foods clientele.

Perhaps Amazon would deliver fresh-ground almond butter and adzuki bean and sea-salt crackers to the doorsteps of the worthy via drones named Finn, earthy flying machines that were just working at Whole Foods until their alt-folk drone band took off.

But the press release says nothing about drones with man buns. Just a bunch of blah-blah about “lower prices for customers over time.”

If Whole Foods shoppers wanted lower prices, they wouldn’t have shopped at Whole Foods. A bargain was never the point.

The point was you could get the same kind of nasty, flavorless hippie gunk that used to sell for cheap at dirty co-ops but pay 17 times more for it because it came in a package with a dolphin and a Native American prayer printed on the label.

And that was desirable, because as soon as people who didn’t have food with a cool dolphin and a Native American prayer printed on the label got a look at your dolphin-labeled, spiritual, nut-free, 100-percent organic, antioxidant-rich prune chew, they would (you assumed) envy the daylights out of you.

They didn’t, of course, but that was beside the point, because perceived envy and actual envy are effectively the same thing for an envy addict.

Now nobody’s going to envy your stream-washed organic baby kale because it will be competitively priced and available online at something called the Amazon Prime Pantry.

I see one logical solution to the dilemma Amazon has created: If the masses can afford environmentally friendly and cruelty-free food, then environmentally reckless and cruelty-full food must be priced high and sought after by the elite.

Former Whole Foods shoppers must now seek out expensive cuts of animal-welfare-ignored beef, fatty and guaranteed to come from a cow that was killed in a most merciless way. (Foodies will latch onto the belief that terror promotes better marbling.)

Overpriced produce will be stolen from local farmers and sprayed with fresh pesticides. All baked goods will be rolled in nuts and injected with other potential allergens.

The new go-to store for food-related status signaling will be called Cruel Foods.

Every customer who walks in will be shot in the face with a gluten cannon. All purchases will be packed into used petroleum barrels that are carried to your car by underpaid orphaned baby seals.

It didn’t have to be this way. But Amazon is taking away the one thing Whole Foods shoppers loved most – prohibitively expensive food that made them feel morally superior.

So now the tables must turn. It will taste terrible and break the bank. But when has that ever mattered?

Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Reach him by email at rhuppke@chicagotribune.com.

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