I knew it wasn’t a good idea to go to Whole Foods at dinner time. But my daughter was going nuts that I didn’t have all the ingredients to make my vegan mac and cheese. So I braved the crowds to pick up a vat of plant based butter. And by crowds I mean the store was jam packed in a way that could cause a panic attack from anyone who believed we were still in a pandemic. Whole Foods had recently added self-checkout registers and all the confused consumers were crammed into one slow moving line where social distancing was forgotten. Six feet? There were barely six inches between me and the gourmand with free trade coffee beans or the yoga mom with the acai.
This can’t be healthy, I thought. And then I started word associating. This definitely isn’t healthy for a health food store. Which got me wondering is Whole Foods even a health food store?
Don’t get me wrong it’s incredibly convenient that they have these giant places of commerce all over where you can get organic persimmons year round or an impossible selection of nut milks. Hell it’s one of the great feats of the 21st century that Dunkin Donuts carries a vegan breakfast sausage sandwich and that you can get cruelty free hair conditioner at Walgreens, but it makes me a little sad that the independent health food store has been run out of existence. Maybe it’s a case of misplaced nostalgia like some people have for pay phones or tape decks in cars, but I miss them.
They used to be all over Miami. You had Oakfeed in the Grove, Natural Foods in Kendall and South Beach, A Key to Health on Key Biscayne, The Honey Tree on Biscayne Boulevard, and down Washington Avenue in South Beach were all these random little vitamin dives. It was a bit of a religious experience in that you couldn’t go into the empty little shops with a grocery list, you had to be open to the possibility of what they might have to offer you. You’d take a leap of faith that the dusty bags of dried apricots didn’t need an expiration date and you’d sometimes be rewarded with some random box of cookies made of date paste.
To be fair you could walk into a Whole Foods and probably every time discover down their endless aisles some great, new product that you never tasted. Health food has gone so mainstream that often times even when I step into Publix I discover some delicious item I’d never before seen. But I guess it’s part of the human condition to reject what comes too easy to us.
I remember when I converted to vegetarianism as a teenager it was a bit of a mission to find something to eat. You’d have to take these long treks that were uphill both ways to find a place that sold frozen veggie burgers that tasted like cardboard. Now Burger King serves up a vegan Whopper and KFC serves up buckets of vegan fried chicken that taste so much like the real thing you wonder if they’re playing a practical joke on us uptight vegans.
There are still a couple hold outs in South Florida from before Wild Oats was bought out by Whole Foods and Amazon bought out Whole Foods. There’s Beehive Natural Foods out on Bird Road and… I guess that’s it now that an internet search taught me Honey Tree on Biscayne Boulevard closed down a couple years ago.
Health food is no longer segregated. It’s been coopted and sterilized ready for you purchase at a self-checkout line near you if you don’t mind the crowds.