Whole Foods: High costs, ugly politics of healthy eating

by | Apr 8, 2015 | Opinion

Aresell Joseph

General Assignment Reporter


The air conditioning had stopped functioning on the two trains to West 14 Street in New York City and Mom, Karesell, and I sat there with sweat dripping from our faces as we sipped Poland Spring water on our way to Whole Foods at Union Square. I envisioned myself there drinking a cold bottle of ZICO Coconut Water. My size 10 leather Aldo sandals dug into my feet, creating a dull ache whenever I moved my legs.

“Let’s go nah,” said my Mom, in a thick Grenadian accent. We were on 14 Street. We exited the train and walked down the street. I saw the store logo for Burlington Coat Factory. We were close to Whole Foods. This got me thinking about the politics and costs of healthy food in North America.

We weren’t rich women travelling from Brooklyn to Manhattan in search of expensive, chemical-free food. We wanted to eat healthier and we were meeting family members at Union Square for some retail therapy.

From watching the news and subway ads, our understanding was that Whole Foods sold organic, chemical-free products. So imagine our surprise when we discovered Whole Food’s owner John Mackey was selling unlabeled food that contained genetic modified organisms (GMO).

On March 2013, the grassroots organization, Organic Consumers Association, said Whole Foods had agreed to start labeling GMO foods in Canadian and U.S. stores by 2018. Monsanto, a transnational company known for its genetically engineered foods, distributes to Whole Foods.

Whole Foods did not make any moves to inform their customers of this arrangement until they were urged to by their consumers, food activists and the OCA.

Mackey’s company has faced other controversies. He was accused of selling household items with alleged carcinogenic properties, specifically 1,4-Dioxane, a chemical stabilizer for solvents transported in aluminum containers.

It’s scary to think that a place selling organic food would mislead their customers in this manner. The fact that Mackey and his team won’t change their labels until 2018 seems ridiculous. How many people might be exposed to cancer-causing agents during that time period?

Yet even though people have been deceived by Whole Foods products, the store’s popularity in North America keeps growing because so many people do want to eat healthier. Our impulse to be better and healthier human beings overshadows the negative information we hear about a store or product.

Whole Foods’ prices are high and the company’s promise to sell foods and household items which are all organic and chemical-free, has been broken. They should label their GMO foods and put a warning tag on items with 1,4 Dioxane or any other chemical associated with ill effects on human health. Meanwhile, the Organic Consumers Association has said 1,4 Dioxane is used in cosmetics as well as household and personal care products and the group has petitioned Whole Foods to stop distributing products with this additive.

People who want to eat healthier should not face a cost of healthy food that so greatly outweighs the cost of unhealthy food. Whole Foods and other companies should do their part to make available lower price, organic, gluten-free foods, while continuing with high-end gourmet product lines to target customers who can afford such costlier products. People should not have to decide between paying rent and buying healthy food.