Whole Foods: Making Totalitarian Bureaucracy Look Organic

Despite being a member of the Park Slope Food Co-op, I still head to my old haunt, Whole Foods, when it’s late, or I’m in Manhattan or I feel like reminding myself that the only thing worse than a bunch of self-satisfied, ideologically inflexible, wealthy pseudo-hippies is a bunch of self-satisfied, flexible-because-oh-my-god-I-love-yoga, wealthy people who can afford to live in Lower Manhattan.

That said, Whole Foods is really an ok place. But they are a corporation, and they’ve most given up the pretense that they are nice, wholesome place. (Some combination of the mockery in “Baby Mama” and the whole complete-and-total fraud thing made surrendering that fantasy a necessity.) So, it’s a place of no-frills, strict rules.

For example, there’s a big sign in the Union Square Whole Foods that says, “All Food Must Be Paid For Downstairs.” This is to deter people from a) stealing and b) trying to pay for their stuff at the coffee bar. One time I tried to avoid the line, took my stuff upstairs and sneakily paid for my stuff along with the cheapest iced coffee you can get in NYC ($1.85!). But the next time, no dice.

Barista: You can’t pay for that here.
Me: I thought I could if I bought a coffee.
Barista: You weren’t supposed to bring it upstairs.
Me: But…I already did. And I’m buying a coffee. So…can’t you just let me pay for it?
Barista: You’re not allowed to bring it upstairs, we’re not allowed to ring it up. Sorry.
Me: But…can’t you make it exception?
Barista: No. Because technically, if you brought it upstairs, you stole it already.
Me: Except I didn’t steal it. I’m in the process of trying to pay for it.
Barista: That doesn’t matter. Bringing it upstairs is stealing. So, if I let you pay for it, I’m supporting stealing.

I guess she zoned out just enough at a staff meeting to hear the words but miss the point entirely…but oh well. As a person who was threatened by a co-worker for doodling during a staff-meeting (guilty of: disrespect, lack of contribution, badly imitating Jack Pollock), I feel her pain. Then again, as a person who feels that doodling should be allowed at staff-meetings, I’m also not a fan of people and places that refuse to make one-time exceptions.

But, I can learn to love Whole Foods for what it is, and be gracious enough to follow the rules. So last week, when I left behind two Luna bars after paying for them, I figured there was little chance of recompense. Then, I happened to find the receipt in my bag tonight (5 days later.) Since extracting unusual favors from customer service folk is something you can do with aplomb if you are unemployed, on disability, or retired, I decided to see what customer service could do for me.

I gently, eagerly explained my situation and then added that I knew it was a totally weird request and I really didn’t care that much and I surely didn’t really expect that my Luna bars would be replaced and I understood if he didn’t trust me. (I’ll probably say something similar if my ex ever agrees to meet me for drinks.) He put his hand out for my receipt and was silent for at least a minute and a half.

Finally, he spoke. “The computer is showing that yes, your Luna bars were in fact left behind.”
“Excuse me?”
“The computer shows forgotten Luna bars.”
“So go get your bars, show them to me and I’ll make a note that you have them.”
“Ok…Wait…” My mind struggled to envision the system that had delivered this information. I guessed, “You guys enter it into a computer database every time a customer abandons a grocery item?”
Or not cool. I mean, on one hand, it’s great that I got my bars. But in a weird way, I was excited to either a) have someone trust me or b) be able to take the high road and sacrifice my lost Luna bars so that Whole Foods could end the third quarter in the black. I was not expecting to find that Whole Foods was keeping such close tabs on everything everybody did. Of course, I realize that I’m the weirdo who went back to the store for $1.98 worth of soy-protein isolate, cranberries and inspiring one-liners for women, so I have really have no right to criticize Whole Foods.

But I felt that I was obligated to warn everyone that Whole Foods is watching. I’m not naming names, but you people who break the one-sample-per-customer rule, you know who you are…


9 thoughts on “Whole Foods: Making Totalitarian Bureaucracy Look Organic

  1. This is not only brilliant, it's eye-opening!

    I'm proud of you for returning for your Luna bars. It would just be loony to pay for them and donate the proceeds to Whole Foods!

  2. haha I loved this post. Very cool that they still had your luna bars. It's a nice moment of 'all is good in the world' when the dude at the counter believed you! 🙂

    (Although I also, with you, still distrust Whole Foods as a rule).

    ps- I totally want to practice Anusara… but need to find someone in my city who teaches it. Sigh- specific yoga can be tricky.

  3. If “one sample per customer” isn't fascism, I don't know what is…okay, maybe not quite that…but I just love the clerk not wanting to support stealing by letting you pay for your items…

  4. Wow…too funny. If gluten-free product supply is a good measure of how much a corporation sucks, Whole Foods sucks. Yes, I'd love a $6.00 frozen loaf of bread with pieces the size of a Post-It note.

  5. Whole Foods has always seemed like a big corporation to me. They just were a big corporation that put on a fancy dog-and-pony show for awhile about being granola-toting-green-earth-loving hippies.

  6. I like your writing, Im hitting you up to review a show again. park slope food co-op is a faux hippy conspiracy, similar to organic food. how come no one promotes growing your own food? plus the prices are the same! i have taken up yoga again, i did it in boarding school as it was required. michelle barge at golden bridge is the real deal urban guru.


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