Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Whole Foods in Union Square is Awful

The Whole Foods in Union Square is awful because no one there understands how to shop. No, this is not entirely true, more accurately; no one is there to shop. They are there to do the following things: text message in front of the escalator, read the ingredients of organic brownie mix to someone standing twenty feet away, talk about the economy, calculate saturated fat levels on their fingers, drink coffee while leaning against the olive display, talk about Obama, talk about the tragedy of David Foster Wallace, worry if they should put back the pound of chanterelle mushrooms they’re carrying, talk about Damien Hirst while forgetting his name.

They are not there to shop. Not in the sense that a mother of four who works as a receptionist in your dentist’s office enters her local C-Town with a carefully penciled list and a small bag of coupons and goes to work with efficiency and purpose. A person like that knows how to shop, and so when you go to your local C-Town the aisles are not strewn with distracted mopes in silly, ironic winter hats who stand listlessly in front of the dairy display talking to their companions about the freak-folk side project they’re working on with Devon and fiddling with their Iphones.

These people have their minds on a million different things and sour cream is very low on the list. Unfortunately I need to get to the sour cream. This is why the Whole Foods in Union Square is awful. It has wonderful amenities and a beautiful store environment but is not as much a supermarket as a circus. It is the supermarket equivalent of the Max from “Saved by the Bell”, with people filtering in to hang out and eat and sit on their chairs backwards and whatever other pointless nonsense is constantly going on in either of these places.

All of this occurs in aisles, by those barrels of nuts and of course, in front of the sour cream. This is fine if you’re not interested in buying a set list of things and just want to wander around a brightly lit, fresh-smelling atmosphere and dream. Sometimes I do feel that way. Does that make it any less insignificantly annoying? No. It's the same kind of mundanely hellish experience as trying to walk near Penn Station or Times Square at 5:30 on a Friday. The aim of “shopping” has entirely been replaced by “browsing”, which is shopping without any sense of purpose. This means that when I want to get a really high-grade chocolate chip cookie or pay too much for cheese I have to go all the way to the Whole Foods on Bowery, which is a first-world tragedy of the highest order.


kennn said...

Most supermarkets represent Whole Food's convenient yet hyper-real amalgamation of worldly amenities ..
(western beef is one of my favorites, and not because their logo is a smiling cactus with a cowboy hat)

but whole foods in particular is branded like a product, which is kind of out of the ordinary for a supermarket, since these places generally don't have such specific target consumers (western beef has an appeal to west indians in NYC, but this is because of regionalized selective inventory, its not coming from a set of savvy marketers)

Things get weird when you go to a Whole Foods with a purpose. For example, me and Allison wanted to make a nice rigatoni spicy sausage dinner a few weeks back, this seemed simple enough since I've made this dish a handful of times in the past. It got pretty complicated when we were choosing pasta sauces because within the already crazy variety of sauce choices laid the 'naturalness factor'. We just picked the one with the best designed label ( this rule applies to our wine selection as well). Anyway, in the end we thought we had everything we needed, but right after the checkout Allison pointed out that we forgot to buy fresh basil. I decided we would forfeit the herb since I was not ready to spend another 15-20 minutes on the ridiculous serpentine ushered line. We were defeated pretty easily. Throughout this ordeal (yes, its an ordeal, my baby loves her some basil) me and Allison not once considered the obvious. We walked across the street, bought a bundle of basil for two bucks at a bodega and thought about how we represented the confused middle-classy future of New York.

Jesse said...

The entire thing is kind of like an amusement park. I think there's some point to be made about the connection between the rise of this kind of shopping and our generation's general inability to commit to any serious responsibility but I don't want to make it.