Ouch. I’m in trouble for saying that, especially with friends who’ve said how lucky I am that the newest Whole Foods branch, the largest in New England, has opened down the street from me. After all, everyone’s into Whole Foods—it’s the Jolly Green Organic Giant with special food products for almost any diet. So I visited my new neighbor. You hear about people from other countries seeing our massive supermarkets for the first time—that’s how I felt. After entering, I froze, trying to stare in all directions at the same time. There was so much energy and bustling around, it felt like the food version of New York City. There were assorted fresh bars for salads, hot entrées, antipasti, trail mix and granola. Their food court included pizzas, sushi, panini, burritos, artisan breads, cakes and pastries, gelato and more.
But after more visits and taste-testing of several items, the novelty of Whole Foods has worn off. It’s joined my list of stores that I label as needing “intense cost control awareness,” such as The Container Store and Target. You intend to buy a few things but leave with large shopping bags and a dent in your credit card. The difference with Whole Foods is that I’ve regretted what I’ve bought. Their take-out is far from exceptional. I’ve tried the sushi, burritos, shawarma, pastries, and hot and cold entrée bars. People may disagree but I’d rate the food average at best, excelling in appearance, not taste. For example, on a recent visit I found it odd that my grilled veggie burrito tasted identical to the California sushi rolls I’d eaten there the week before, and both were bland, forgettable. I daresay that the much simpler salad bar at the cafeteria in the hospital where I work tastes almost gourmet compared to Whole Foods' super-fancy salad offerings.
There are certainly great-tasting commerical brands of organic foods if you don't mind paying high prices. Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value brand is cheaper with prices closer to a Trader Joe’s or even regular supermarket chain, but unfortunately the taste of those foods isn't that special. I do appreciate certain things like the fresh meat and poultry, a raspberry tart with big berries over a dark chocolate base in the pastry case, and the cranberry Israeli couscous in the salad bar. But overall I'll be admiring Whole Foods for its concept, not its food.