The Conscience of Consciousness

7 06 2007

Whole Foods

By Jill Ettinger

Of all  attributes inherent in nature, balance is unequivocally the most prominent, even if not the most obvious. Seeds that lay dormant for seasons awaken cyclically with fine detail, yet their fierce beauty proves temporary. This is true for all things living – at least until now. Anything and everything is possible though. But for now, what goes up, must come down.

Humans (well, those that drive industry, at least) have taken a stance of sorts that we do not depend on nature. The inevitable force that pushes up green through cracks in thick pavement is a reminder that we are not in control, no matter how much one deludes themselves through greed, false power and the tired games of war. I suppose for some, the stagnation of a tree can serve as an all too heavy reminder of that which will outlive us. (Ironic how the fear of death drives us straight into its arms.)

For the last several hundred years, as corporate industry has been developed, economic gardens replace yields of traditional crops, producing fruits that are bitter. The harsh, morally questionable toiling leaves soil much too dry for another harvest. The benefit to this is the realization that we must find another way of pushing forward. “Going Green” is heading up those last few hesitant clicks of the rollercoaster track, preparing for the thrilling descent into mainstream. Giant catalysts for this change, Whole Foods Market, is now facing an antitrust case for their recent $600 million merger with Wild Oats.

While it’s unlikely that the FTC will block this merger, it’s a loud commentary on the fear-based corporate mindset. Though the complaint is that Whole Foods buying out Wild Oats will then hold too much “power” over the organic and natural market, with an ability to manipulate pricing and availability, it’s more likely the opposite is true. The real push comes from the fear that organic options will become too accessible, diverting interest (and addiction) away from mainstream “food” options and the livelihood of the trillion dollar mega-corporations who thrive on the misfortune of others.

I was thinking about this whole process the other evening as I sat at dinner with a friend who is beginning to manufacture a natural food product. He had a lot of questions about packaging and marketing. I found it amusing as we talked about the industry standards and expectations, how movements intent on reprogramming our food supply system still have to play into the passé marketing strategies thought up by crusty old steak-eating and cigar-smoking men almost a century ago. Customers, now generations into being dazzled and wowed by soda and potato chips, automobiles and running shoes, forget the mere functionality of such things as necessity – or at the very least – commodity, and value these items as sadly, identity.

Which is why this Whole Foods antitrust accusation is comical. It misses the point entirely of what it is this business in particular is, at its core. Of course there are “green” gimmicks. An example I see often, as I live half my life in hotels, is their pitch being that they are so committed to preserving the environment by encouraging reuse of towels. We see through these facades with green-colored glasses. Even though it’s most obviously a money-driven practice, we know every little bit still makes a difference.

But Whole Foods takes these practices to heart. Their Whole Trade program, for example, is not something you’ll find at Wal- Mart. Yet, anyway. But no doubt it will catch on. And that’s entirely the point of the merger. Whole Foods is buying out Wild Oats at roughly 12% of what Coke just paid for Glaceau. But it’s much more significant a purchase than the soda giant gulping down Smart Water. Glaceau may have sold their soul, but Whole Foods is buying theirs back. The merger is a milestone, acknowledging a growing movement that no longer involves wimpy-organic-granola-tree-hugging-co-op-shoppers, but a strong new culture demanding healthy options for families and farmers. Whole Foods dresses it up a bit (OK, a lot) but they are in essence, a brave David, as in, about to slingshot Goliath.

The effect of “waking up” is causing those that cling to bank accounts and status to cringe. If going green is a virus, these are the people pushing children and elderly out of their way to get to the front of the vaccine line. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t seem as there is any stopping this germ. Awareness happens, as it always has. Humans have evolved over time, each step bringing a more engaged responsiveness to their environment, and themselves. We can only pretend we are in control for so long before we have to go out and weed the cracking pavement of our rigidity.




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