What’s something about Whole Foods that could be Better?

Via Waylon Lewis
on Feb 17, 2013
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Image by Joe Shlabotnick
Image by Joe Shlabotnick

Okay: I’ll only use reasons that are communicated respectfully and fairly and intelligently (can be big or small, simple, green-motivated is a plus): what are 10 Things about Whole Foods that could be Better?

Click here for “What do we appreciate about Whole Foods?

Waylon Lewis:
I’ll go first:
…at least here in Richmond [where I’m visiting, from Boulder], there’s a ton of plastic instead of compostable (egg carton kinda stuff) packaging.
The windows and doors are wide open, and it’s winter.
If you want coffee, you can’t get for-here unless you ask and even then only if you’re getting espresso–so that’s literally a few people a day out of thousands.

Matthew: Lower prices.


My main issue with WF is the lack of support for health care that the CEO openly speaks about and thinks his customers will overlook as they run to the new end-cap with organic homespun flaxseed butter with a hint of mandarin. (Obamacare=Fascism) My second issue is that they’ve been accused of carrying unlabeled GMO products.

Sara: What could be better? Lets start with making more of the Whole Foods across the country resemble Boulder’s! Seriously though, even the Louisville operation doesn’t take care of its salad bars (replenishing with fresh food, offering patrons a wide variety, maintaining cleanliness throughout the day) or its pastry selection (my friend bit into a completely rock hard snicker doodle a few months ago).

And I agree with Matthew above, lower prices and/or (more realistically) coupon offerings based on spending (which Safeway does amazingly well) and a “rewards card.”

Finally, and of most importance, hiring disabled (this includes obesity) or special needs employees. I know from my own experience in helping some of my clients attain vocational or volunteer opportunities at Whole Foods that they are largely discriminative to uphold their image and aesthetic. Of course, this would be against the law, so they don’t hire the person for “other” reasons, but if you take a look at many Whole Foods employees I would be surprised if you’ve recently seen a clinically overweight cashier or an individual with Down syndrome working in the produce section.

Stephanie: The Parking lot configuration needs to be reworked. Seriously.

[first world problems alert]

Don: did a price check yesterday: kale is twice as expensive compared to natural grocers/Vitamin Cottage


Green motivated and whole foods in the same sentence. Oxymoron.They’re in bed with Monsanto, overpriced, antithesis to the locavore movement no matter how much they support some local farmers and producers. They have no credit w’ me since falling in line w’ Monsanto…shut them out by not supporting them.

 [not super educated on the subject alert]

Erica: The ingredients in the bulk of their prepared foods….suck. They use bad oils, non-organic ingredients, and are very limited with gluten free selection. In Boulder, the prepared foods got worse when they remodeled. I used to find acceptable choices before then, but will rarely purchase their prepared foods now.


It could be a worker’s co-operative instead of a corporate model. This gives both employees and consumers the best deal, while eliminating the class of people who make money off of the business while contributing nothing. it also generally means a more democratically run business, and one which is more locally receptive to community needs.

Jade: I know you asked for things that could be better, but as a former employee I’m going to give it to you straight about a couple of things. Now, I know they try hard, and are doing far better than most grocery stores, but the problem I have with them is they come off such a high horse but the reality is that they are really not what they say they are. They 100% carry unlabeled GMO products. Their wording is extremely sneaky by saying; “Our products are GMO free” except, they are only referring to the 365 brand, not the whole store like it would lead you to assume. Each store throws away THOUSANDS of pounds of plastic gloves every month and (from my experience) they have no intention of finding a better alternative. The ‘eco friendly’ looking brown boxes you get for the hot food are lined in plastic and therefore can’t be composted like they’d like you to believe. They still use single-use plastic silverware in almost all their stores. Many stores have open freezer/milk/egg cases creating a need to run the freezers 24/7. And, you want to know the real tragedy here? Rather than donating their going out of date, bruised, slightly imperfect food, they throw it away or compost it. We could feed entire cities on the food Whole Foods throws away. Want to know the real low down Waylon? Send me an email.


Make all their inventory GMO Free Certified

Andy: Pay their employees more—I had to quit after 1 month of working at the Boulder Whole foods after I could not meet my basic, monthly expenses working full time.


When WF opened in Boulder I remember they fired my friend for eating a banana from the garbage. They fired him and crushed the garbage…Some excuse about inventory and such. Crushing the garbage so hungry dumpster divers can’t access the perfectly edible scraps is immoral. Firing an enthusiastic team member over a rotten banana is outrageous.

kathy doucette
kathy doucette

Aysia: employee pay, requirement that vendors/brands reduce their wholesale prices to them to increase WF margins, hard for smaller brands to get in the door

Jade: Brock, your friend is not the first or the last unfortunately.

Erika: Stop selling any GMO foods! What are they thinking?

Joshua H. Ban GMOs and link up with that new bamboo architecture guy and build aquaponic green houses on the roofs of their stores.

[Boulder comment of the week Award]

Kate: They are a big enough player in the grocery world to require their farmers to pay higher wages to workers.
They could choose to be a leader in the Say No to GMOs movement.
They could focus on overhauling all packaging to make it less wasteful and requesting suppliers to do the same.
They could overhaul the formulation of all their body care products to be more organic and natural.
And they could work toward a goal of carrying 100% organic produce.
WF you better get to work!

[best most constructive comment yet?]

Jayme: The CEO could be less of a capitalist jerk.


I appreciate the small versions of WF like ideal market. The huge one is completely overwhelming and totally overkill to me. So sometimes less is more.

Kelly: Their CEO could be better.

Starre Vartan I agree with banning GMO’s – I don’t think if entire countries can outlaw them, that it could possibly be that hard for WF to do the same, and it’s what the vast majority of their customers want. As far as the compostable boxes….I not only did a personal compost test on them, but spoke with the company who makes them (not Whole Foods, they just buy them from them), and they are the best that I’ve found. They are definitely not lined with plastic, as I not only successfully composted them, but used that compost in my garden this past summer. I even wrote about it. They are one of the few containers that say they are compostable that you can actually compost in your backyard. My stores in Westport and Darien, CT and in NYC do an excellent job of keeping food fresh and full in the takeout bars, and stores are superclean and well-run, but I also second the food waste thing – that is an issue that they should be leaders on, and they aren’t (composting isn’t enough, and what about the meat and dairy?). http://inhabitat.com/compostable-packaging-test-whole-foods-deli-containers/

Megan: Jade—They don’t even give to Food Not Bombs or Boulder Food Rescue? How does it treat its employees?


I buy from my local farmers market or support people that I know grow gardens for a living. Their overhead is way too high to really offer value for the dollar – it’s a ‘status’ symbol. And if the first two didn’t exist, my boycott of them would still stand.


Lisa: I shop at local health food store in my area instead of Whole Paycheck

Kelsey: as a vendor, they aren’t supportive in the least. I could talk to you for hours about this.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


8 Responses to “What’s something about Whole Foods that could be Better?”

  1. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Nice idea, doing two columns for the pros and cons of WF. Wish I could add to the list but I'm several thousand miles from the nearest one. I can say, though, that I envy those of you who have access.

    I notice several people here at this yoga/Buddhist forum don't like the CEO's libertarianism. Consider this: As several have pointed out here at Ele recently, Libertarianism is the closest real world political expression of ahimsa.

    A modern three word definition of libertarianism: non-aggression against non-aggressors.

    Sounds pretty ahimsa, doesn't it?

    How about this, John Stuart Mill (an early libertarian) explaining Wilhelm von Humbolt (an earlier libertarian)'s Harm Principle.

    "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."

    Can you find anything more ahimsa than that in modern politics? Not outside of libertarianism. Makes sense to me that WF's CEO would be a libertarian.

    G' day!

  2. Michael says:

    I like

    If you’re stuck in a jam with terrible fast food options or some such, sure you can still use WF for your own ability to navigate a toxic food landscape, but other wise fuck em. Wolf in sheep’s clothing, with a deceptive veneer.

  3. Marcus says:

    The CEO should just leep his mouth shut, what with his nut-job opinions: calling the Affordable Healthcare Act "fascism;" and, denying the reality of Climate Change. Oh and then there's his idiotic book, "Conscious Capitalism." Stop. Just keep your nutty Libertarian ideas to yourself and take better care of your employees.

  4. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Fascism, huh?

    I'm sure the CEO of WF (don't know his name) must take a lot of heat for calling Affordable Healthcare that. But if it is, it is. Depends on your definitions. Mises, the grandaddy of 20th c. free market economists, was in Austria in the 1930s and thus had a ringside seat on both fascism and socialism. His elegant and concise definitions…

    Socialism: govt ownership of the means of production.
    Fascism: private ownership with govt direction or control.

    By this definition, American health care and also the financial system have been fascist for more than half a century, and both have caused us no end of trouble. Being a libertarian, Mr. WF CEO is probably going with something like that definition. If so, it makes perfect sense.

    Because of all the baggage the word 'fascism' has now, it's more common to call it 'crony capitalism' or 'state capitalism.' Whatever you call it, though, the results are the same.

  5. glutenfreelee says:

    I totally agree that their food choices on their salad bar are atrocious. They use canola oil in everything yet the CEO even wrote recently that he stays away from them. Do you know how canola oil is made? Highly processed and disgusting. The whole conscious capitalism makes me want to hurl over a bit, considering they place crapshit foods with GMO/awful ingredients on their shelves at the expense of better companies. They do, however, support small local companies while other grocery stores DO NOT, yet they don't support them to the extent that they should. There is a ridiculous hierarchy in place to where those who are below workers are not allowed to reach out to them and send them emails and need to "stay in their place." It's really awful, especially amongst the regional grocery teams. The entire natural foods industry is at fault, however, for the GMOs on the shelf. They should be spending more time focusing on banning those pseudo-natural processed shit foods from companies like General Mills than allowing them on their shelves.

  6. Rachel says:

    To dispute the 3rd comment from the top by Eileen: My local whole foods in Denver actually does have at least 5 obese employees and one of the cashiers is deaf. He has a cochlear implant.

  7. Jill Bielawski says:

    Update: They can stop selling rabbit meat!

  8. HeroGames says:

    مرحبا بكم في العاب تلبيس بنات جديدة وممتعة.