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Mark Strausman

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Whole Food vs. Whole Foods

Posted: 04/27/08 08:56 PM ET

Just out of curiosity, I typed "whole food" into my search engine the other day. I was careful to use lower case, no caps. I'm dyslexic, and I've depended on the fact that the postal system is always somehow able to deliver my mail, even when I've misspelled names, left off zip codes, and used my illegible handwriting. Using the internet requires a level of accuracy that's really challenging for someone like me. One wrong letter on an email and you get the dreaded "returned - address unknown".

So I felt a little bamboozled when my search engine's first responses for "whole food" were from Whole Foods, the national organic grocery chain. I did my part as a dyslexic member of society to type it correctly, and I was hoping something a little more generic would pop up first: perhaps the Wikipedia entry for "whole food", which showed up much farther down the page. I guess commerce drives the car and Wikipedia "rides shotgun", to borrow a phrase from my kids when they fight over who rides in the front passenger seat.

I don't want to rag on Whole Foods. They definitely upped the ante with conventional supermarket chains, and we have them to thank for the fact that organic products are in most supermarkets these days. But Whole Foods is under fire at the moment for their globalization of the organic supermarket industry, and for the fact that, while they market themselves as an outlet for local farm produce, a lot of their produce comes from giant corporate organic farms in California and the rest of the world. The produce on their shelves burns as much fossil fuel getting to the store as anyone else's, which raises the question of how much better than your local supermarket Whole Foods ultimately is. And it shows the increasing refinement of our dialog about responsible eating.

I personally favor the Wikipedia entry for "whole food". According to them, "whole foods are foods that are unprocessed and refined, or processed and of course refined as little as possible before being consumed." Wikipedia goes on to specify that whole foods aren't necessarily organic, but they share traits with organic foods, such as lack of chemically-assisted growing techniques and processing.

Green is the new black this season. Consuming foods that are sustainable, CSA-farmed or low-impact is in vogue, and for good reason. But I think that embracing the general concept of "whole food" is more important for the health and well-being of the average family than chasing whatever hot buzzword is currently floating around. There are simple things you can do, things that don't require that you make a pilgrimage to a special organic market or attach an odometer to see how much mileage your produce has logged.

The Food Skinny suggests adopting a Whole Food Policy in your home. By that I mean, simply, that you do your best to make sure that all -- or as much as humanly possible -- of the food your family consumes is cooked from scratch and made from fresh ingredients, not processed items. Cooking your own food is the best way of knowing exactly what's on your plate (and the best way to portion control!).

But a Whole Food Policy doesn't mean you should never eat take-out or dine in a restaurant. Do a little neighborhood research and find merchants who cook the way you want to eat. If you don't have time to make your own chocolate chip cookies from scratch, ask the owners of your local bakeries what's in their products. You may be pleasantly surprised to find someone around the corner who's baking wholesomely, without additives, corn syrup, or stabilizers.

When dining out, try to avoid chain or theme restaurants. Most don't cook the way we do in my restaurants: using all fresh foods cooked to order. Many chain restaurant entrees are processed somewhere, frozen, and shipped to the franchises; they're just finished on-site before they're sent to your table.

As a part of your family's Whole Food Policy, support your local merchants who cook from scratch with unprocessed, whole foods. If they go out of business, you'll need to cook at home seven days a week. And that's not very sustainable for the cook in the family!

The Food Skinny says that adopting a Whole Food Policy in your household by cooking as much as possible from scratch without processed foods, and supporting restaurants and bakeries who cook the same way, is a small, simple way to improve life and health for your family, and, ultimately, for the planet.

 
 
 

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