We get Letters v.9 – The Lower Class and Whole Foods

From the inbox:

I’ve been reading the posts about Whole Foods versus Safeway that was put up by Jack, and while I completely agree with him about the over-processed, over-packaged stuff they are passing off as food, I have to wonder, what do people who can’t afford to buy from Whole Foods do?

What if you’re a single mom in the inner city? Do you know of any organizations that reach out to these people? Any way they can get good food for their kids, and do they even know how to prepare it?

Just wondering.


Thank you for your e-mail Noelle. Your point is a very salient one. Yet there is a difficulty when writing about poverty, in that certain presumptions can often take away the dignity of the poor. My hope is that I avoid that pitfall.

It is important to distinguish the difference between Whole Foods and the products they sell. Whole Foods has made a name for themselves and have popped up in mainly middle to upper middle class neighborhoods. They do up the prices on many of their products because the market can bear it.

The produce they sell may be able to be found at other locations. But this is where it gets difficult. Not all products found at Whole Foods can be found at one other singular location. Generally, supermarkets in lower class neighborhoods have lesser quality and lesser selection. But one can often find better quality produce at lesser prices at markets in various ethnic neighborhoods. Here in Seattle, the cheapest produce is not found at Pike Place Market, but rather the markets in the International District.

The largest issue that Whole Foods brings to the rich/poor debate is that of resource allocation. That resource is not money, but of time. Whole Foods allows one stop shopping for a variety of products, often with the benefit of the customer’s own transportation.

The lower class, often dependant on public transportation, would need to spend several hours going from place to place to get similar products at lower prices. It should go without saying that the lower class typically cannot afford to spend that amount of time shopping for food.

One could argue that Whole Foods uses manipulation and political correctness to sell organic produce. But when your living paycheck to paycheck, such philosophies are a luxury that one cannot always afford. At this point, only food education seems to be applicable. Teaching people that fruit and vegetables, organic or not, is better than processed food. So who’s responsible for getting this information out?

That’d be the state and federal governments. As we’ve discussed here before, the governments don’t always put the people’s interest in front of food companies. But a decent program is WIC, which is run by the USDA.

Noelle, I’m not sure if any of this helps, but I hope it gives you a good idea of some of the issues that are involved in food and the lower class.

For some background information, read this article about food and poverty to get a good idea on what poverty does to a person.

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