Those Annoying Whole Foods Customers: A Field Guide

Frank MastropoloCategories:Music

Rock Cellar Magazine

New York City’s small neighborhood groceries of the 1950s, while run by friendly shopkeepers named “Pop,” were cramped affairs with wilted vegetables, bruised fruit and dusty, dented canned foods.
Though he had a good run, Pop couldn’t compete with the arrival of supermarkets from the suburbs – their brightly lit, expansive aisles brimming with choices.
At its grand opening in my neighborhood, A&P gave kids free banks that looked like bags of their freshly ground coffees: Eight O’Clock, Red Circle and the scary Bokar; with each purchase, moms earned sheets of Plaid Stamps, an alien form of currency that, when collected in books, could be exchanged for electric mixers.
Ann Page became more welcome at our table than most of our relatives.
Today natural and organic food superstores are taking a big bite out of supermarkets’ business.  My favorite is Whole Foods; its shelves are always neatly stocked with a huge variety of vibrantly-colored fruits and vegetables.
Organic foods of all types are widely available.  And while the pundit class may debate what are acceptable levels of pesticide residue, I’ll take the blueberries that weren’t grown in a haze of Raid, thanks…

Whole Foods’ cleanliness, variety and courteous staff are impressive, but it is the store’s self-important shoppers that have attracted urban anthropologists to the aisles to engage in careful study.
The serious student of this arrogant, entitled species may observe its habits 7 days a week, but give these fascinating creatures plenty of room as they approach; their needs, their schedules, are *highly important.”  These are, after all, the Pompous Princes and Princess of Produce.  Detailed study of the data available and years of field experience have guided my observation of these self-confident creatures.
As an introduction, I’ve selected 5 prominent examples of this angry, impatient breed.


Cartoon by Stephanie Butler

First to stir from the bush each morning is Mad Max Mom.  With her yoga mat strapped to her back like a quiver, MMM’s most identifiable features are her brightly-colored spandex running tights, Skechers Shape-ups and baseball cap.
To cut a swath through his enemies, Max Max had his Ford GT Interceptor; Mad Max Mom has her jogging stroller.
Their strollers do more than just display their little miracles of modern fertility science.  They’re used like the battering rams the Untouchables attached to trucks to bust open the warehouse doors of bootleggers in Prohibition-era Chicago; agile shoppers scatter when Mom barrels down the aisle.


Cartoon by Stephanie Butler

Next to arouse, at midday, is the Starving Sampler.  Veterans of the hippie communes of the 1960s, this mature species is expert at foraging for food at the sampling stations throughout the store.
Though highly educated, both the males and females apparently do not grasp the function of the sampling station: an opportunity for customers to sample, then perhaps purchase a product.  The Starving Samplers simply see the display as lunch.
The store’s cooks, who prepare the food and maintain the stations, are keen observers of this crafty species.  Like a crooked gambler palming chips, this clever primate often grabs two or three samples with a single swipe of the hand.
Samplers often feign interest in the product, asking whether it contains ingredients like “gluten.” They have no interest in purchasing the product; their intent is to distract the cook while they help themselves to seconds.

When an accompanying drink is available, the Starving Samplers of Whole Foods always demand refills:  “A little something to wash it down!”  Cooks are highly entertained as Samplers bray for more coffee…waving the empty dispenser by its handle like a railroad lantern.


Cartoon by Stephanie Butler

As the school day ends, the Precious Snowflakes appear, blissfully undisciplined by their parents, who consider the store to be their kids’ own personal ball pit.

Watch the floor for bouncing plums and apples as a signal that you have entered their territory.  The development of these little monsters’ self-esteem is paramount, so observe without comment as they careen down the aisles.

Any complaints to the parents about their churlish children’s behavior will not yield an apology; instead, expect an argument asserting their child’s rights and a suggestion you shop at a bodega if you don’t like it here.


Cartoon by Stephanie Butler

While Whole Foods shoppers may be temperamental, they do appreciate quality.  But an even higher standard is required by one species: El Exigente, the Demanding One.
This boy examines fruit as thoroughly as Detective Goren working a crime scene.  El Exigente doesn’t just examine the color and knead the skin to determine a fruit’s ripeness; he lifts each piece to his nose and deeply inhales its fragrance.
He often performs this test on dozens of fruit, so best get to the market early if you’re a stickler for good hygiene.


Cartoon by Stephanie Butler

Finally we sight the Blathering Businessman, a noisy species that emerges from below ground – the subway – at workday’s end.
The store is merely an extension of his office; the other shoppers just an inconvenience.
We’re impressed with his importance as he shouts commands to subordinates on his iPhone while tossing items into his shopping cart.  He moves fast, so stay alert.
Things slow down at checkout, where we’re forced to wait while Mr. Double Miles searches with his free hand for his credit card as he continues to blab away.


For the dedicated observer, the best time to study the smug, self-satisfied shoppers of Whole Foods is on weekends; that’s when their schedules intersect and together they pack the store.
The tempo picks up from earlier in the week, as there are now squash games and play dates to attend.  Like rats in a cage, they chafe as they’re forced to negotiate crowded aisles and endure long lines like commoners.
With so many privileged, pretentious bullies in the joint at once, they’re forced to endure each other’s rudeness and bad manners.
The lesson? When everyone is special, it turns out that no one is special.

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