Now you've gone and done it, Whole Foods. You've made my love/hate relationship with you even more complicated.
You've strung signs and banners in that store of yours behind my house touting the "Non-GMO Project" and urging shoppers to look for its seal — because, after all, the more products with the seal we buy, "the more products will be verified."
Believe it or not, however, some of your admirers aren't afraid of cutting-edge plant science. We view "genetically modified organisms" — crops in this case — and their potential for higher yields, better nutrition and drought and flood resistance as indispensable to meeting the needs of the world's growing population in this century. And we trust the many prestigious national and international scientific bodies that vouch for their safety.
Yet now, Whole Foods, you've thrown in your lot with the worrywarts who want to banish genetically modified crops — as if people in the U.S. and Europe who seem to be eating plenty with our current harvests are all that mattered. Why, you've gone so far as to pledge that you'll require labels by 2018 on any product with genetically engineered ingredients.
Now, I realize the customer is always right, even if the customer is a techno-pessimist who keeps pestering you to get with the anti-science crusade against GMOs. And since you do so many other things right, I'll probably grit my teeth once or twice and keep enjoying your store's atmosphere, with its outgoing staff, impressive selection of prepared foods, breads and meats — and the bistro where my wife and I eat Sunday brunch.
But you do try a fellow's patience, Whole Foods, you really do. As you know, you also give rhetorical aid and comfort to the "locavores," those folks who believe it's somehow virtuous and environmentally advanced to deplore all but locally grown or produced food. And never mind that transportation is but a tiny fraction of food energy inputs and globalized food markets are a glory of the modern age.
Nor should we forget the era that best describes local self-sufficiency in all its charms: the Middle Ages.
Fortunately, Whole Foods, you don't really believe in locavore primitivism anyway. Like most grocery chains these days, you scour the world for the best cheeses (Ireland, Italy, England, Wales, France, Germany, Austria), the finest fruits and vegetables (Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and so on), coffees and teas (Kenya, Costa Rica, Colombia, Sri Lanka, etc.) and much more. You sell fish from the seven seas, jams from France and Canada, and even exotic products such as crostina from Italy and sweet cocoa flat bread from Spain.
So what's a little hypocrisy among friends?
Admittedly, you're dead serious about your organics emphasis, as it's been your calling card since your founding. And never mind how many studies confirm that the nutritional benefits of organic food are nil or negligible, while organic farms tend to have lower yields — and for some crops significantly so.
If the whole world went organic, some of the world would have to go very hungry.
But not those who shop at Whole Foods, thank goodness!
We could always cut down forests to create more farmland, of course. Indeed, "if you take into account land displacement effects," writes Mark Lynas, "organic is also likely worse for biodiversity."
Lynas is a founder of the anti-GMO movement who repudiated it recently after a closer look at the science, so he's probably not high on Whole Foods' popularity chart. And with even Walmart touting organic and local food, you know those trains have left the station.
But with grocery stores, as with sports teams, much can be forgiven. Especially when that Southwestern skillet on Sunday never fails to please.
E-mail Vincent Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @vcarrollDP