Whole Foods, the Temple of Pseudo-science

wFNothing new here, but I do so love this subject.

Americans get riled up about creationists and climate change deniers, but lap up the quasi-religious snake oil at Whole Foods. It’s all pseudoscience—so why are some kinds of pseudoscience more equal than others?

[snip ]

I’m talking, of course, about Whole Foods Market. From the probiotics aisle to the vaguely ridiculous Organic Integrity outreach effort, Whole Foods has all the ingredients necessary to give Richard Dawkins nightmares. And if you want a sense of how weird, and how fraught, the relationship between science, politics, and commerce is in our modern world, then there’s really no better place to go. Because anti-science isn’t just a religious, conservative phenomenon—and the way in which it crosses cultural lines can tell us a lot about why places like the Creation Museum inspire so much rage, while places like Whole Foods don’t.

You can buy chocolate with “a meld of rich goji berries and ashwagandha root to strengthen your immune system,” and bottles of ChlorOxygen chlorophyll concentrate, which “builds better blood.” There’s cereal with the kind of ingredients that are “made in a kitchen—not in a lab,” and tea designed to heal the human heart.

At times, the Whole Foods selection slips from the pseudoscientific into the quasi-religious. … There’s a sign in the Durham store suggesting that shoppers bag their organic and conventional fruit separately—lest one rub off on the other—and grind their organic coffees at home—because the Whole Foods grinders process conventional coffee, too, and so might transfer some non-organic dust. “This slicer used for cutting both CONVENTIONAL and ORGANIC breads” warns a sign above the Durham location’s bread slicer. Synagogue kitchens are the only other places in which I’ve seen signs implying that level of food-separation purity.

Here’s an example of the nonsense Whole Foods peddles to its customers:

Even if you haven’t been hit with a cold or flu, you’ll want to use this opportunity to grab products for the whole family to help with coughs, aches, and pains. Boiron Oscillococcinum and Chestal, as well as some Ricola Lozenges are good to have on hand for adults and kids alike.

If it’s weight loss you’re focused on, there is a vast choice of protein powders, electrolyte supplements, and meal replacement products. You know you’re getting high quality products to help you meet your goals. And at 25% off you can add in wellness boosters, probiotics, or even a 7-Day cleanse to amp up your results.

27 Comments

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27 responses to “Whole Foods, the Temple of Pseudo-science

  1. i’m only there to hit up the waffle bar

  2. sound beacher

    I love the PoCho WF, it has tons of parking and the store is wide open and nice, the rest of that shopping center has really been upgraded, too. Easy to get to from Greenwich. Don’t like the high NY taxes, tho 😦

  3. Anonymous

    I am a fan myself. Anything is better than the dismal selection at the Greenwich Stop n Shop.

  4. anon

    whoever wrote the copy for the WF ad above has never been in one; there are zero women there whose focus is weight loss.

  5. GWChase

    Best food store in the area is ShopRite in Commerce Park, Stamford.
    GW

    • Joey

      yes it does the job but it can be a bit depressing shopping there. Watching people put junk food into their carts and not buying “fresh” vegtables. All I think about is that my health care premiums are going to increase as the patrons eat themselves into a sugar comatose. I guess it is their life but I certainly don’t have to watch the suicide.

      I do agree with CF though that Whole Foods is really moving into an area of selling snake oil. But that is the American way—-all sales is the same. Do your own homework and don’t take anyone for their word.

      • anon

        so it was YOU giving me the evil eye yesterday when I unloaded double stuff oreos and ranch doritos from my cart? it never fails that the day i opt in for a little junk food, some holier-than-thou lurker or skinny bitch is behind me, all judgmental.

  6. Publius

    They used to sell radium infused water as a health tonic once upon a time until a well known industrialist’s jaw fell off..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radithor

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

  7. Fox

    Just underlines the old saw that a fool and his money are easily parted!

    • The French Canadian form – they’re mackerel snappers, we’re god fearing protestants. They massacred my people back in the old country, we came here to look down on them.
      We do, however, share a common affection for cows.

    • Dogwalker, I’m not sure if that charmer is a distant cousin of ours or not but it is remarkable when you google-image Anthony Fountain, the number of people (of diverse hue) whose mugshots come up. Try it for yourself!

  8. weakleyhollow

    It’s also the best place to go to meet folks with plenty of extra disposable income.

  9. Whole Foods is THE place for fair trade chocolate.
    (What the hell is fair trade chocolate?)

  10. “a lot about why places like the Creation Museum inspire so much rage, while places like Whole Foods don’t.”

    Whoa! Whole Foods isn’t a temple to pseudoscience. Whole Foods is a pseudoscience carnival. People go there to be entertained by their food and by their food shopping, just like people go to a carnival to be entertained by the fairway and the fortune tellers. And why shouldn’t people pay money to be entertained if they feel like it? Shopping at Whole Foods is cheap wholesome fun. (Of course, some gullible people take it seriously, just like some gullible people take carnival fortune-tellers seriously.)

    The Creation Museum, on the other hand, exploits gullible people into thinking that their “science” exhibits are really science, and that their scriptural references aren’t used blasphemously. It doesn’t exist to entertain. It exists to deliberately propagate falsehood, and to demonize those who dissent from falsehood. It’s the Daily Kos of American Christianity.

    • The Daily Beast author of the article I quote from anticipates your objection; whether his answer satisfies you (works for me, because I find both places amusing) is, of course, up to you. Regardless, I, and the author, see your point.

      So, why do many of us perceive Whole Foods and the Creation Museum so differently? The most common liberal answer to that question isn’t quite correct: namely, that creationists harm society in a way that homeopaths don’t. I’m not saying that homeopathy is especially harmful; I’m saying that creationism may be relatively harmless. In isolation, unless you’re a biologist, your thoughts on creation don’t matter terribly much to your fellow citizens; and unless you’re a physician, your reliance on Sacred Healing Food to cure all ills is your own business.

      The danger is when these ideas get tied up with other, more politically muscular ideologies. Creationism often does, of course—that’s when we should worry. But as vaccine skeptics start to prompt public health crises, and GMO opponents block projects that could save lives in the developing world, it’s fair to ask how much we can disentangle Whole Foods’ pseudoscientific wares from very real, very worrying antiscientific outbursts.

      • Ah, but I don’t care specifically that both creationism and anti-GMO pseudoscience are both “harmful to society”. Creationists or GMO opponents would disagree with me on that, and that’s fine. I’m comfortable with people disagreeing with me, and I’m especially comfortable with stupid people disagreeing with me.

        My point is that the Creation Museum different because it seeks to spread falsehood and seeks to propagate its own vision of the scripture in place of the word of God. Those are simply evil goals. Whole Foods attempts to make money by selling food to people in entertaining ways. These are both good goals, and if they spread some pseudoscience, well, so what? If its customers had bought less expensive goods at Shoprite and used the difference to buy tickets to the next Star Wars movie, would their heads have been filled with less pseudoscience or more? How about if they had spent it on yoga lessons? Newsweek subscriptions?

  11. Hope the writer got a good price from Monsanto. Here’s the test: Go to a WalMart. Waltz around if you can stand it. Observe people, peer into the contents of their baskets. Go to Whole Foods and do the same. Draw your own conclusions. You are what you eat. I am 5’8″ and have weighed 123 for life, rarely exercise except that walk everywhere in Carmel by the Sea where I live. I have sibs who eat a Frankenfoods diet with one hand and quaff prescriptions from the other, predictably overweight etc. Your cells are constantly splitting according to what you feed them. If you wanna be a GMO science project, you bloody hell have the right. For me, I managed major design and construction in leading medical centers and have seen too many of the sad results of unintelligent eating. It’s too late to do better on one’s death bed strapped to 25-beeping machines. Not a hell of a lot of choices then.