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John Mackey: “We sell a bunch of junk.”

Indeed Whole Foods does. Thankfully, they also sell a lot of good stuff, albeit expensive good stuff — and in an environment I find quite pleasing most of the time. Mackey in the New Yorker.

A year ago, Mackey came across a book called “The Engine 2 Diet,” by an Austin, Texas, firefighter and former professional triathlete named Rip Esselstyn. Basically, you eat plants: you are a rabbit with a skillet. Mackey had been a vegetarian for more than thirty years, and a vegan for five, but the Engine 2 book, among others, helped get him to give up vegetable oils, sugar, and pretty much anything processed. He lost fifteen pounds. This thinking about his body dovetailed with a recession that left many shoppers reluctant or unable to spend much money on the fancy or well-sourced food that had been the stores’ mainstay. Mackey, in a stroke of corporate transubstantiation, declared that Whole Foods would go on a diet, too. It would focus on stripped-down healthy eating. Fewer organic potato chips, more actual potatoes. He told the Wall Street Journal in August, “We sell a bunch of junk.”

Yep, Whole Foods isn’t really ALL whole foods but increasingly processed stuff with labels like "organic," "vegetarian," "vegan." The tofu processed "food" section is an abomination and probably — given the unfermented soy — worse than Hot Pockets. On the other hand of being fair, a vegan that gives up vegetable oils (go Nutiva coconut oil, John! You sell it and that’s where I buy it), sugar and processed food just might be reasonably OK. But at least understand Kleiber’s Law, and realize that we had to evolve eating meat to get a big brain and small gut, unlike our primate ancestors. And John? Read The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith who spent 20 years as a vegan.

As to the environment, I suppose that in one respect it’s a sliding scale for me. Going to Costco is always depressing, and if not for the junk, the QUANTITIES in the shopping carts — though I realize that for some it’s the equivalent of a small restaurant supply. Next is the standard supermarket and I just marvel at the crap people fill their carts with (do I need to elaborate?). Next would be Trader Joe’s. Far better than the previous two. Then there’s Whole Foods. The environment is nice, and ditching the upscale crap, which is still crap, would be a very positive change.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

13 Comments

  1. Grok on December 28, 2009 at 16:18

    Well at least they admit it’s junk. I can’t blame them a whole bunch for selling it. People want to buy it, so if they don’t buy it from Whole Foods, they’ll but it from someone else.

    It would be nice to see these stores carrying a few less frankenfoods. Closest Whole Foods is 45 miles from me, so I generally buy my stuff from the local produce guy & little health food store.

  2. John on December 28, 2009 at 16:40

    It sickens me to look into others’ shopping carts. Nearly 100% of the carts contain junk of some sort, including my own. We’re working on that, but unfortunately most don’t have a clue how badly they eat. Walking or driving through restaraunt allies and food-courts is even worse. Gawd we’re in a bad state!

  3. -Brandon on December 28, 2009 at 17:06

    Engine2 isn’t just about giving up vegetable oils…it is about giving up ALL oils, coconut and olive included. It is very similar to the McDougall/Ornish program. The focus on eating more whole foods and plant foods is a good message that more people need to hear. BUT the avoidance of all fats, all animal products, the reliance on wheat and other grains, and tofu/seiten/TVP products is probably the biggest drawback. Beyond that, the diet that it proposes is not sustainable. And, by sustainable, I mean only about 5-10% of the population can probably successfully eat that way.

    While the focus on eating more real food is a good one, the comment about realizing that we had to evolve by eating meat is one that those referenced will likely not come to. It would be nice to see a book review. The wife and I were two of the subjects for the Engine2 research, and I believe were even quoted in the book, something to the effect of ‘performance starts with your fork’ since we are triathletes. We believe the same thing to this day…just in a very different way that includes fats, meat, lots of veggies, and very limited grains that would be corn or rice every so often.

  4. Patrik on December 28, 2009 at 17:16

    Next time I go to Costco, I will take a picture of my cart looks like and email it to you.

    Typically:

    Meat (Yes, I would be better off if grass-fed, but that stuff is expensive.)
    Berries
    Random veggies
    Avocado
    Citrus fruit
    Jarlsberg cheese
    Goat cheese
    Marcona almonds
    Bottle of wine

    Is that “orthodox Paleo”? Nope. Is it better than 99.9999% of the SAD? Hell yes.

    Yes, the wine and cheese are processed foods — but I would argue minimally. What we don’t buy is the lethal combination of:

    cheap grain product + corn syrup + artificial flavorings = any one of 10s of millions of food products out there, from waffles to cereals to baby formula — you can make any sort of cheap, “tasty” frankenfood from those three “ingredients”.

    • Richard Nikoley on December 28, 2009 at 17:19

      Hey, if I saw that cart in Costco I just might be motivate to post it as so out of the norm.

      But me too. I’m about 80-90% grassfed, but that just wasn’t going to work for the family prime rib at 13 pounds.

    • Grok on December 28, 2009 at 19:48

      The Kirkland brand whole food products from Costco are pretty damn good!

      Kirkland almonds are the cheapest and best quality I have found anywhere, including online.

  5. Richard Nikoley on December 28, 2009 at 17:17

    “We believe the same thing to this day…just in a very different way that includes fats, meat, lots of veggies, and very limited grains that would be corn or rice every so often”

    Fuckin’ cool comment, Brandon.

    I really appreciate you stopping by and so adding to the discovery. It’s got to be self-experimental. Everyone has to determine what works best for them. Paleo is merely a great place to start.

    And thanks for the clarifications on that diet. Not for me, as you might have guessed.

  6. scott miller on December 28, 2009 at 17:21

    If Mackey really wanted to do The Right Thing, he’d ban any form of corn syrup from his store, like he correctly did with trans fat and food colorings. He’d also ban processed vegetable oils. But, with both of these, it’s asking too much, and the profit motive will win.

    Same as the old boss.

  7. Paul on December 28, 2009 at 19:03

    My local liquor emporium has on display ORGANIC VODKA! USDA Certified on the label.

    When I asked the clerk in a snarky manner if being organic it had more vitamins or something, she pointed in another direction and said that vodka is filtered through diamonds. As an ex-filtration engineer, my head exploded.

    Some people will believe anything.

    (Off topic but a good liquor story. When I was coming of age here in Florida – OK, so maybe I wasn’t legally of age – the cheapest vodka and gin was Five Flags brand. I presume one reason it was cheap it got fewer taxes added on being an in state product. The other was that the booze was made from citrus peels, billions of pounds of that laying around here. It was so poorly filtered (diamonds?? Coffee filters? ) that you could smell oranges and maybe even see a bit of citrus oil floating. Terrible hangovers, all those cogeners.)

  8. Marc Feel Good Eating on December 29, 2009 at 06:52

    My whole foods “perimeter” shopping cart contents. Grass fed ground beef, ground lamb, eggs, fage, butter,organic garlic.

    Marc

  9. Joseph Matasic on December 29, 2009 at 21:11

    My costco/SAMs club cart looks just like Patrick’s. Meat, cheese, eggs, veggies, heavy cream and red wine. Okay and whiskey. My biggest vice. I don’t have convenient access to grass fed. All don’t have enough room for a freezer. Otherwise I would order grass fed in bulk.

  10. Nico on December 31, 2009 at 20:39

    Not sure how relevant this is to this post, but, having lived in China for about three years, I’m constantly struck by how much better the traditional Chinese diet is from what the typical American eats (though China is now catching the junk food bug in a big way). Tons more variety of meats and veggies- way more than whole foods- and tons of fermented stuff (a big plus, if Seth Roberts is right). Nowadays most people do use grain-based oils, but traditionally lard was used much more often.
    I’d shop in an average Chinese produce market over Whole Foods any day. Way more variety, much fresher (most animals can be purchased alive), and I can shop for a huge meal for about a tenth of the price. The biggest drawback is probably pesticides, which, I have no doubt, Chinese farmers use in spades. Oh, and I occasionally miss cheese 🙂

  11. johnmackey on May 25, 2010 at 00:59

    [……]Not sure how relevant this is to this post, but, having lived in China for about three years, I’m constantly struck by how much better the traditional Chinese diet is from what the typical American eats (though China is now catching the junk food bug in a big way). Tons more variety of meats and veggies- way more than whole foods- and tons of fermented stuff (a big plus, if Seth Roberts is right). Nowadays most people do use grain-based oils, but traditionally lard was used much more often.
    I’d shop in an average Chinese produce market over Whole Foods any day. Way more variety, much fresher (most animals can be purchased alive), and I can shop for a huge meal for about a tenth of the price. The biggest drawback is probably pesticides, which, I have no doubt, Chinese farmers use in spades. Oh, and I occasionally miss cheese [……..]

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