Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

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The Independent Online

I write this from Whole Foods Market in Kensington, haute-crunchy supermarket to the chattering classes. Many greens (including me) slagged it off when it first opened in June but now, unable to resist the wide variety of crunchy cuisine on offer, I find myself here quite a lot.

The store has attracted criticism by making dazzling green claims, which savvy shoppers soon pulled apart. Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association in the US, believes Whole Foods' green policies are "just a veneer". "They'll do the right thing if pushed by the media – otherwise it's just business as usual."

I don't know why this should come as any surprise. We live in a capitalist society, and like any other supermarket the place must make a profit or fold. It's down to the consumer to make green shopping choices – avoiding heavily over-packaged products, eschewing air-freighted produce and buying British. The public gets what the public wants, and if there is a demand for sustainably produced food, shops will provide it.

When Whole Foods first opened it was possible to reduce satisfyingly one's personal waste mountain by refilling old eggboxes and reusing the endless plastic bags that magazines and newspapers are increasingly packaged in to fill up with dried products from the huge vats of dried goods on display. I'm having to be increasingly surreptitious about this, as assistants on the shop floor seem bent on discouraging wartime string-savers such as I from bringing their own bags. Confusingly, if you manage to bypass the jobsworths on the shop floor, the assistants on the till will give you 5p back for every bag you bring – an incentive for reusing plastic bags I wish other shops would follow.

One of the criticisms people have about Whole Foods is that there is too much choice – who needs 30 varieties of tomato, thunder the critics. Well, I'm afraid I do. I'd be happy if there were 200 types of tomato, but 30 will just have to do for now. So many more obscure strains of fruit and vegetable have all but disappeared. Once we used to complain that supermarkets only sold one type of woolly, flavourless tomato, so at least the place provides a market for unusual produce that might otherwise disappear. It also showcases products from small artisan producers that larger supermarkets ignore.

But if I'm honest, chiefly the reason I come here is to escape my cleaner, the saintly Mrs Pippoletta, who stays in my flat for hours, seeing it as a refuge from her barrels of ungrateful middle-aged children who still live at home. Listening to Mrs P's terrible tales of her ghastly offspring (combined age: 120) is the most effective birth-control method I know – she could empty the nation's IVF clinics in a minute. As for the Pope, five minutes with Mrs P would convince him to provide free condoms at communion. As it is, I must stay in the bar at Whole Foods writing this until the coast is clear.

j.stephenson@independent.co.uk

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