Thursday, June 22, 2006

Whole Foods, Milwaukee update

As previously reported, Whole Foods is coming to town in the fall, and this week's Milwaukee Mag Dish on Dining* fixed a date on it: September 13. If you're local and have "Thorough knowledge of Whole Foods Market products, quality standards, food philosophy, and company mission," they're looking for an in-store educator. One does wonder how someone living in a WFless town would possess such knowledge, but anyhow...

Unlike, say, Pittsburgh (hey, zp!), Milwaukee has not wanted badly for upscale foodie consumer culture. We have thriving co-ops and a whole bunch of gourmet grocery stores called Sendik's which are (incredibly confusingly) not all part of the same chain. We have a Public Market with good fish and seafood, organic produce, grass-fed beef, and locally made corn tortillas. We have not only Penzey's (two locations!) but also The Spice House. I can't think of a single foodie foodstuff that we used to get at WF that we can't find here. Among the small cadre of grocery shoppers I've talked to about it, what excites them most about WF is that competition from the chain might bring prices down at these other places. This seems like the perennial issue: when WF comes to town, everybody starts to notice that food at the co-op costs a ton. But rich people who wish their organic bananas would be 20% cheaper don't get my shoulder to cry on.

What I like most about WF is what I like about the Apple store. I walk around in a state of wide-eyed wonder. But this wears off after a short time and the notion that good health, eating, and virtue can be bundled up in an appealing corporate brand and sold to status-seeking yuppies and hipsters starts to stink.

The Milwaukee store will offer something that the other branches lack. Here they are taking the notion of Whole Foods as healthy foods and synergizing the brand with a hospital. The new WF is going to be on the first story of a medical office building, the Columbia St. Mary's Prospect Market Commons/Whole Foods Market Here is the hospital's hype:
Columbia St. Mary's is pleased to partner with them to introduce the natural food market to the hospital setting - the first of its kind in the nation.

"This is another perfect opportunity to reinforce the importance of healthy lifestyles through great food," said Karol Marciano, Executive Vice President of Business Development at Columbia St. Mary's. "We look forward to sharing this special experience with our patients and the rest of the community."

In September, Whole Foods Market will occupy 50,000 square feet on the first floor of Prospect Medical Commons, a medical office building that will be occupied primarily by Columbia St. Mary's Community Physicians. The collaboration between the natural grocer and Columbia St. Mary's complements the hospital's emphasis on creating a healing environment and advocating healthy lifestyles. Once the market opens, Columbia St. Mary's and Whole Foods Market will work to provide community classes to further educate residents and patients about food, cooking and overall healthy living.

"Whole Foods Market is pleased to become part of the Milwaukee community and to have the opportunity to partner with Columbia St. mary's," said Patrick Bradley, Whole Foods Market Midwest Regional President. "Just like Columbia St. Mary's, Whole Foods Market has a passion for people, and we're eager to demonstrate this passion through our natural, organic and gourmet products, free in-store tasting, events and cooking demonstrations. Our partnership with Columbia St. Mary is really a unique and innovative relationship."
Is this not appalling? Doesn't the hospital-supermarket connection seem too close to an Onion spoof?

There are lots of reasons to be happy that WF is coming to town. If they raise awareness about where food comes from and what it does for you, that can't be all bad. But there are also lots of reasons to be suspicious of WF. The company is anti-union (follow the Pbg link). Many believe it is favoring a big-business model of organic agriculture over one that promotes local and sustainable food production. (There has been some back-and-forth on this between WF CEO John Mackey and Michael Pollan.) And as the Cod has been following closely (more, more, more) the chain's recent decision to stop selling live lobsters seems to confuse issues of ethics and economics, making the company seem less than straight in its public demonstrations of good citizenship. One must be ever wary of the self-sanctifying corporation.

I hope to have more to say about this come September, if not sooner.

*The Dish, written by the magazine's food critic Ann Christenson, would be great as a blog with an RSS feed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff. I have a post on the Craigslist thing going up Mon.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Pyewacket said...

I have the usual mixed feelings about Whole Foods - of course it's overpriced, focuses too much on big business "organic" and not enough on small local farmers and is just irritating in general. That said, I shop there all the time. Boston doesn't have that many choices, particularly in the off-season (6-7 months a year) when the farmers' markets aren't running. There's a co-op, but it's small, pricey and limited in selection. There are some nice Italian stores and some good cheese shops, but if I want nitrate-free bacon, for example, or organic cream, Whole Foods is my best bet.

I would also like to say that, having spent over a month watching a very, very sick woman be fed horrible, un-nutritious garbage at one of the best hospitals in the country, anything at all that ANYONE is willing to do to improve the offerings in hospitals and the nutritional knowledge of doctors is okay by me. Really, the situation is very bad. There seemed to be a belief that you could serve the patients any sort of crap, because the vitamins and protein shakes would give them what they really need. Given that there are piles of studies that show that nutrients are best absorbed from actual food, and given that nutritionists are constantly finding new compounds and enzymes in foods that seems to have healthful properties, you would think that the importance of actual nutritious, fresh food would be something doctors attending patients in an ICU might worry themselves about. But apparently not. If Whole Foods can do something to improve the situation, more power to them.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

I am jealous beyond words that you have Penzeys in your town.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

question, not comment. stumbled on your blog--based on your profile(fave movies, etc..)when you were in madison, did you by any chance take the intro to film class at the u? ps. freaks and geeks was one of my all-time favorite shows, probably subliminally why i checked out the blog.

7:54 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

bhenke: you almost have my number. I didn't take the class, but I did teach it (a few times as a TA, one summer as a lecturer).

Freaks and Geeks was so good. I should blog about it more.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, i should try and clear some of the cobwebs from my mind, and try and remember when i took the course, i loved that class. i worked at the brathaus(now called state street brats--yuk) which is where i met my hubby. oddly, i grew up in milwaukee and when i checked back on this blog i see that your are talking about my favorite custard place. funny coincidences, huh? take care

7:55 PM  

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