The Corner

The Meaning of Whole Foods


If you have not already done so, please do read John Fund’s excellent piece on the admirable John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods.

When I think of John Mackey, I think of Edmond Dantes. (Hear me out for a second.) I have an enormous affection for The Count of Monte Cristo and its hero, Dantes. As his alter ego the Count, Dantes hosts a dinner party, and he delights his guests by serving two kinds of fish from distant parts of the world. He calls the gesture “a millionaire’s whim.” Imagine that: Two kinds of fish. I recently counted about 40 kinds of fish for sale at my local Whole Foods, and while Whole Foods is expensive, you do not have to be the Count of Monte Cristo to shop there.

I have written before about my affection for Apple products, and in my forthcoming book (forgive the plug), I spend some time exploring the question of why we have such great telephones and toys but such awful schools and such a mediocre health-care system. The iPhone is a pocket miracle, but consider the much more pedestrian case of groceries. Not too long ago — 1950 — the typical middle-class American family spent a fifth of its income on food, mostly on basic groceries for preparing meals at home. Commodities like butter and sugar were carefully priced into the household budget. Today, we spend about half of what we spent on food in the 1950s, and we spend a great deal less labor on cooking. The Sun King himself never enjoyed such riches as are to be had in a Walmart, to say nothing of a Whole Foods.

If you’ve never been poor, it can be hard to see how rich we are. Our wealth is ubiquitous, and therefore practically invisible. As depressing as the Age of Obama can be — the national debt, political parasitism, and the rest of it — we live in an age of wonders, rich beyond the imagination of our not-too-distant ancestors. The princes of old may have had their chamber pots covered in gold, but they never had air conditioning or penicillin.  I am not proud of everything we have made of our world, but I am unabashedly proud of my local grocery store. When the little green men land, we should not take them to our leader; we should take them to Whole Foods.

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