Liberal's lament: Seduced by the bad boy of 'Whole Paycheck'

I admit it: I have drunk the Whole Foods Kool-Aid. I am besotted with the place.

I know, I know, it’s a big-box chain whose founder and CEO is the controversial John Mackey, a right wing guy who is anti-union, who famously opposed national healthcare in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, and has a world view that is a good 180-degree swing away from the philosophy of its typical liberal bumper sticker-sporting crunchy-granola customer. Nevertheless, I find some excuse to drop by Charlottesville’s diminutive version of Whole Foods several times each week.

I do this with full awareness that Whole Foods drives small stores out of business. If I had the courage of my “buy fresh, buy local” convictions, I’d boycott the place and spend my grocery allowance at small, locally owned businesses like Rebecca’s, the Organic Butcher, and the farmer’s market.

Plus, CEO Mackey says he fears that global warming “hysteria” will lead to regulation and changes in our lifestyle (God forbid). Alas, I am smitten.

When I’m being helped by Whole Foods’ uncommonly intelligent and friendly personnel, I try not to think about what happened back in 2002, when the employees of a Whole Foods store in Madison, Wisconsin, voted to unionize but were forbidden from doing so by their bosses. CEO Mackey once said to a reporter, “The union is like having herpes. It doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover.”

As someone who has happily sung along with Joan Baez to the classic labor-union ballad "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night," this was something I totally did not want to know about the founder and CEO of Whole Foods. 

Why would a bleeding-heart liberal like yours truly allow herself to be seduced by the offerings of such a man– of such a corporation?

Well, to begin with, consider that they feature the meat of humanely-treated chickens, cows, and pigs that are not subjected to hormones and overcrowding. They have grapes and broccoli grown without pesticides. Information about maintaining good health is readily available. The store’s environment appears to embrace a “Let’s take care of the planet and each other” philosophy.

In other words, the place is a veritable trap for American liberals.

Additionally, let’s ponder the heart of what one of those ginormous, Whole-Foods-on-steroids stores offers: an amusement park of food. That’s what it’s like at the flagship Whole Foods in Austin, Texas. Anything you might want to eat– raw or cooked– they have it. A rainbow of fruits and veggies entices; candies, breads, and pastries beckon from carefully crafted displays. Food stations abound: the gelato bar, the juice bar, the barbecue bar. And there’s the yeasty, cheesy aroma wafting from the pizza oven. And there’s live music, for heaven’s sake. Oh, and there’s beer– for consumption on the premises. Does life get any better than this? I have been there, and submit that it does not.

I don’t have to tell you, gentle reader, that our Whole Foods here in Charlottesville is no flagship outfit. Or that Austin isn’t the only town to have one of those pumped-up Whole Foods. No siree. I have wandered, awestruck, around the Whole Foods in Short Pump and partaken of the varied culinary delights, including the barbecue bar, and wondered whether Charlottesville would ever get an upgrade.

And now that it’s happening, I'm so excited about the opening of the new store that it’s embarrassing. June 5 will be the final day for the old store at Shoppers World. June 6 will be The Day Without Whole Foods for Charlottesvillians, and we may need counseling to deal with this temporary hole in our lives. (Or is it just me?)

At last, on June 7, they will throw open the doors to our very own culinary Disneyland: the Whole Foods market on Hydraulic Road. It will be roughly twice the size of the present store, with a barbecue bar, a wine bar with scheduled tastings, one of those enticingly aromatic pizza ovens, a for-real café where you can drink beer and wine, and God knows what else. I cannot wait.

Nevertheless, there’s that nagging voice in my head whispering that it’s wrong to be seduced by the flash and dazzle of a corporation that’s destroying small businesses, does not allow its employees to organize and bargain, and whose prices are so high that a huge swath of the local population cannot afford to shop there.

I feel like I have fallen head over heels for the bad boy, the guy that everyone says is all wrong for you, the guy who’ll kick you to the curb when he’s done with you.

Ah, but he knows all the right moves, and when you’re in his presence, that first sip goes right to your head, colors grow impossibly vivid, and you’re happy to inhabit this sensory wonderland for as long as it lasts– or as long as you can afford it.

So, yes, I drank the Kool-Aid. (But, hey, it’s organic.)