As my birthday loomed earlier this month, I made a conscious decision that I wanted to get healthier. I had already started juicing earlier in the year and per my doctor’s orders had cut back on my meat intake. Since I like to view my birthday with the same optimism of a New Year – I figured it was time to get my life all the way right. This meant it was time to go to the other side. The organic side.
This meant it was time to go to Whole Foods.
I knew that organic was the last place in this food frontier I had to conquer. I wanted to begin to rid myself and my diet from the pesticides, preservatives, and toxins that is in so much of the food found on regular grocery store shelves.
I collected my reusable bags and headed to the store. I was hesitant. Yes, I had been to Whole Foods before, but only on a handful of occasions. The most recent time was when I ran in to get something from the hot bar to take to a bourgie Black women affair. Since I didn’t have time to cook, if it’s one thing I knew that crowd would appreciate, it was something from Whole Foods. When the lady rang up that little box of pasta salad to the tune of $18, I scrunched my face in protest. She gave me that, ‘this is Whole Foods, ma’am’ look. I paid the money and slunk away. I did take comfort in knowing the pasta was a hit and enjoyed by all.
So that’s why I was hesitant. The idea of shopping at Whole Foods and the money that might have to come out of my purse was daunting and frightening. I’m a writer who is cobbling a bunch of jobs together. Shopping at Whole Foods seemed like an impossible feat reserved for the middle class echelon and above.
However, my saving grace is that as a single woman I tend to shop like a European – meaning that I usually shop once a week and only buy the items I need to make my meals. I’m not much of a frozen food eater or even a snacker, except for maybe a bag of popcorn. No, I like real down home cooked meals.
I figured that as long as I stuck to my usual routine, I would be just fine. During my first trip to Whole Foods, I planned to stay on the perimeter – veggies, fruits, meat, and dairy. I bought what I needed for juicing, meat to cook, and just a few extras and my total was comparable to what I would spend at the regular grocery store. I was pleasantly surprised. I vowed to come back the next week.
It’s now week three of shopping at Whole Foods and while my total has crept up each time, it’s mainly because I am slowly replacing items from the grocery store for the organic ones. With each visit, I venture more and more into the aisles to see all that the store has to offer. In the words of Aladdin, it’s a whole new world. The options! Everything looks so delicious and tempting. And then I check that price, twist my mouth, and say, maybe next time. What’s most important is that I have what I need. I checkout, sling my reusable bag over my shoulder and head back into the city, head back home.
Because the sad truth is that my Washington, D.C. neighborhood which is still solidly Black working class is caught somewhere in between food dessert and gentrification. The nearest grocery store, while up the street, is actually across the border line and in Maryland. I have to travel by car a few miles away to an “up and coming D.C. neighborhood” to shop at Yes! Organic or go a few miles into Maryland to shop at the Whole Foods. It’s definitely a 6 in one hand, half a dozen in the other situation. And if I wanted to go to a Trader Joe’s? Puh-lease!
While there are some D.C. neighborhoods that host Farmers’ Markets on the weekends, my neighborhood does not. Again, the closest one is over the Maryland border. Access to fresher meat, produce and other organic options means that you have to make a conscious decision, literally go an extra mile or two to get healthier options that would enhance your quality of life.
It is an additional hassle and headache. And if you have preconceived notions about these “fancy” stores then you wouldn’t even think they were for you. When we held a community meeting about a potential grocery store coming into our neighborhood, the majority of people wanted a Shopper’s. I mean no disrespect to Shopper’s, but it’s no Whole Foods. But what everyone knew for certain was that it would be affordable and reasonable. It would be for them.
The few weeks of shopping at Whole Foods have made me challenge the idea that this place is not for me. I don’t mean that solely from a race perspective, but from an income one as well. It is easy to make assumptions about a place and decide without really knowing that the place is not meant for you, even if it’s to the detriment of your own health and well-being.
I’m looking forward to more exploration into organic and natural products, not just at Whole Foods, but other stores and markets as well. I’m sure that it will be a trek and a travel to get to a few of these places and to have these new experiences. But I know the journey will be worth it.
Diana Veiga is a freelance writer. You can check her out on Twitter at: @dianaveiga