March 11, 2005

I want entertainment-oriented shopping.

Richard Lawrence Cohen describes the new, huge Whole Foods in Austin, with all its glorious entertainment features, like a chocolate fountain for dipping strawberries. I want one here in Madison too! We have Whole Foods, but not the new deluxe Whole Foods they've got. He disapprovingly calls it "decadence," but why shouldn't shopping have an entertainment element to it? I hate to go food shopping. I've been known to make meals out of peanut butter -- just peanut butter -- for days, purely to avoid the experience of setting foot in a food store. I hate the feeling of wheeling the cart around from aisle to aisle, especially in an ordinary supermarket. Time slows down, you lose your feel for reality. You need some things, but it's so boring to lift them up and put them in your cart! I will pay more for the food to pay, indirectly, for an aesthetic, amusing experience. Won't you? We pay all the time for aesthetic, amusing experiences, like movies, that don't even get us through a basic chore like laying in supplies.

UPDATE: Richard tells me he did not intend "decadence" as a term of disapproval. More of a Sally Bowles "divine decadence" sort of a thing.

ANOTHER UPDATE: A reader writes:
I love Whole Foods because it presents itself as a feast of sensualism, rather than dour vegetarianism or consumerism. That's entertaining in itself!

I agree. There's a real appreciation for beauty at Whole Foods. The health theme is not medicinal and puritanical as it is in old fashioned health food stores. Shopping at Whole Foods causes you think of eating well: it's easy to see and feel drawn to things that are both healthful and delicious. That is so helpful! In an ordinary supermarket, you feel torn between the good-for-you and the junk food. You transcend that dilemma at Whole Foods. And the people who work there enhance the experience. Supermarket workers usually seem weary and act like they don't even see you, in the hope that you won't ask for anything. Old fashioned health food store workers tend to channel the puritanical theme of the place or to act as though they're too evolved for the work ethic. Whole Foods employees tend to be alert and friendly and knowledgeable -- and not in a phony or annoying way. And that's not just by chance. They have an excellent training program and a real conception of what they are about. They richly deserve their success.

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