One early morning this past summer, I was driving up north on my way to a 400-acre organic farm for an interview hoping to better understand the farming philosophies of an organic farm, what it takes to run a CSA program, and the role of farmer’s markets in supporting local farms. It was that very same day that I learned about Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods.
We’re pretty lucky to live in the Bay Area. For a lot of reasons (the weather!), but throw a stone and you’re likely to hit a really great natural grocery store with an impressive supply of locally sourced produce, meat and dairy products, and tons of cool brands that are innovating what it means to eat healthy. (Side note: I’m loving what Epic Bar is doing right now. Check ’em out)
This probably seems like a weird thing to highlight as a perk of living in this area, but I grew up in the Midwest and when I moved here after college (granted this was years ago, things have changed!), I was floored at how easy it was to find fresh, local produce. I remember when I first moved to Berkeley, I found this place called Berkeley Bowl. I kid you not, I dragged my mom there when she visited me just to show her the crazy amount of mushroom variety.
Exploring natural food stores has evolved into a weird and somewhat therapeutic hobby for me. Natural grocery stores are like gateway drugs to learning about a whole new world of foods, products, and overall just becoming more immersed in the whole food industry. It’s like when you start spending a ton of time with a certain friend and start to pick up their habits and mannerisms.
And there’s one friend in the business that’s become quite popular among the rest.
Since it was founded in the 80’s, Whole Foods has changed the game for natural grocery stores and how they relate to the mainstream grocery population. If you’re interested in the history of the brand, check out the How I Built This Podcast interview with founder, John Mackey. Highly recommend (this entire podcast is my new obsession).
Despite the very justifiable stereotypes associated with the brand — from “Whole Paycheck” to other more basic associations (girl wandering around post-yoga class drinking Kombucha; no, I’ve never done that), it’s hard to argue that the brand hasn’t done a lot to propel the healthy food movement into what it is today.
So much so that Amazon acquired Whole Foods for a casual $13.7 billion (talk about ‘Whole Paycheck’).
The ramifications of this acquisition will continue to play out and if you’re as health nerdy as I am, I’ve linked some really great articles that delve into these speculations below.
Amazon certainly has their own agenda, but I think there are a lot of good things that could come from this beyond their own financial or data-driven interests. Namely, heightened awareness for the importance of knowing where our food comes from.
That’s what I’ve really taken away from all of this — there’s never been a more important time to understand that healthy, whole food doesn’t just magically appear in a grocery store. And it certainly can’t just be shipped via Amazon Prime.
Which brings me back to the morning on the farm. It was my first time visiting a farm in California and to be honest, I had never talked to anyone in the farming industry about farm philosophies or how CSA programs and farmers markets support farms. Or how kids are being educated on the importance of keeping farms alive. Or how important it is to eat what’s in season rather than buying those shipped-from-the-other-end-of-the-world (albeit so tasty!) mangos. These are all things I believe in (mostly as a result of my dear friends, the natural grocery stores), but it opened up my eyes that the real friendship we need to focus on is the one with the place where all of that food comes from: local farms.
We’ll soon share the interview we had with the director of Education and Outreach at Full Belly Farm, which will better explain why no matter what’s going on with Amazon, Whole Foods, and the scope of the healthy food industry, there are few things more important than learning about natural food production and finding ways to support it.
In the meantime, if you’re in the area, here are some of our favorite, not-so-Whole Foods-popular, but no less wonderful natural grocery stores in Berkeley and San Francisco:
- Berkeley Bowl (Amazing mushroom section!)
- Monterrey Market
- Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco (They have vats of almond butter……..)
- Berkeley Natural Grocery
- El Cerrito Natural Grocery
- The Local Butcher Shop
- Monterey Fish Market
- Tokyo Fish Market
- Magnani Poultry
- Bi-Rite in San Francisco (On your way to a picnic or friends’ party? This is the place to get flowers and hors d’oeuvre)
And if you’re still curious about the implications of the Whole Foods/Amazon Acquisition…