Or·gan·ic: Tips for Shopping at Whole Foods for People Who Aren’t into “Whole Foods”

Let me preface this post by telling you that I am neither a vegan nor a vegetarian.  I don’t have a nut allergy.  I am not lactose or gluten intolerant.  I don’t hunt for the Non-GMO or Fair Trade logos on food packaging.  Organic is not a must-have in our house.  It’s a nice-to-have.  If the price is reasonable.

It’s probably not surprising that I was well into my twenties before I saw the inside of a Whole Foods store and that it was happenstance even then.  I needed to pick up a few grocery items on my way home from work.  Whole Foods was the only supermarket on my route. I decided to give it a try.

An uneasy feeling came over me as I wandered the aisles.  Where was my favorite ketchup?  My diet soda?  It turned out that the retailer didn’t carry any of my favorite products.  Whole Foods is strictly organic and the foods that I ate at the time were far from it.  I practically ran out of there screaming, walled off the memory of that day in a remote corner of my brain, and didn’t set foot inside of another Whole Foods for almost a decade.  Tip:  For more information about what organic means, I found this great article, What does “organic” actually mean?

img_0237And I’ll be honest.  The only reason that I gave them another try is that there is one down the street from my son’s school.  So, what was it like this time around?

If you are anything like me, Whole Foods conjures up a mental image of a parking lot filled with hybrid cars and bicycles.  Inside, aloof hipsters, aging hippies, and limousine liberals roam the aisles.  The products are unfamiliar.  The inside looks and smells like a barn.  Everyone stops and stares when you walk through the door.  This is all (pretty much) inaccurate.  Let me tell you what it was really like.

Like most modern supermarkets, Whole Foods’ decor can only be described as fancy warehouse.  Since its stores tend to be smaller than other major supermarkets, it feels warm and inviting.  Their heavy use of warm earth tones amplifies this effect.

It doesn’t smell like a barn.  It doesn’t really smell like anything.  Unless you are in the prepared foods section and then it smells awesome.  Tip:  Go during a meal time so that you can grab a bite to eat and peruse the circular before you shop.

As with most supermarkets, the first section that you encounter is the produce section. Maybe this is a good thing for us whole food skeptics as it turns out that organic produce looks just like any other.  I picked out some pears and steeled myself for the journey through the rest of the store.  Tip:  Some produce tends to be more contaminated by pesticides than others.  If you are on a budget and only want to do some of your shopping at Whole Foods, here are 22 Foods to Eat Organic.

img_0180The next section was personal care.  A giant display of essential oils nearly scared me off until I noticed another large display of tea.  I picked out a few boxes and snagged a face mask that I read about in a beauty magazine but couldn’t find anywhere else.  As I walked the rest of the market I realized that I had begun using many organic products since my last visit without realizing that I was doing so.

I ended up with a basket containing fifteen or so items. A few were familiar.  A few were like nothing I’d ever tried before.  Most were the organic counterparts of the processed foods that I normally ate.  Tip:  You will encounter many foods like meatless hamburgers and non-dairy creamer while shopping at Whole Foods.  Maybe this is what you are looking for or maybe you are feeling adventurous. Otherwise, read the labels.  Carefully.

I have stopped by Whole Foods once or twice per month since that second visit.  It will probably never be my regular grocery store, but I will continue to shop there for certain items.  Whole Foods’ produce and meats are fresher than many of their competitors.  Their prepared foods are amazing.  What really keeps me going back is their Personal Care section.  I have had a good experience with every new product that I have tried from this section, they have a great selection of teas, and I can’t help but love a supermarket that sells incense and smudge sticks.