First, a question. As a grown-up independent modern woman with a full-time job, my own flat and credit card, whom should I be expecting to take responsibility for what I eat? Is it A) Me? B) My mum? C) The American owner of my local corner shop? Both A and B believe that it is A. But last week C insisted on sticking his oar in.
John Mackey, the outspoken Texan behind the global money-pit Whole Foods Market, is indeed the owner of my local shop since The Independent on Sunday moved in next to its flagship UK store on Kensington High Street in west London. The first (and last) time I went into the vast temple to posh bread and avocado pyramids was a revelation. I swear I only looked at the salad counter and all my money was sucked out through my eyeballs. One colleague dropped by for a sliver of seared tuna and a dollop of wilted spinach and it set her back £23.
Dieting would never be a problem if I relied entirely on Whole Foods for all my shopping; I could never afford to buy any food. According to Mr Mackey, however, most of his customers are not only richer but also quite a lot stupider than me.
"Basically, we used to think it was enough just to sell healthy food, but we know it is not enough," he told The Wall Street Journal. "We sell all kinds of candy. We sell a bunch of junk." Retailers have a "responsibility" to tackle Britain's obesity crisis, he added in his mumsy way. "There will be some cooking classes [in stores]. It will be about how to select food, because people don't know."
If Mr Mackey wants to stand in his shop and teach people how to whip up a heavenly passata I wouldn't dream of stopping him. But the suggestion that his customers don't know how to buy food is an insult to everyone. It's true that there are those who are too poor, too rushed or too befuddled to eat well, and these people may need help. But Whole Foods customers are not among them. Close to 100 per cent of them can read, I'd bet. They know, really, that organic lard has a lot of organic calories in it, and that doughnuts are fattening even if they do cost more than their weight in gold.
For the consumers' part, whether in Whole Foods or Tesco, those who pass the buck on their food choices are only infantilising themselves. Remember all those people telling Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that they couldn't afford to pay more for a free-range chicken? Well, a few of them were telling the truth; most were just wilfully obtuse.
A free-range chicken does not double the price of your weekly shop; it adds £3 to it. This is a matter of choice. Don't pay £3 more if you don't want to, I don't care. But don't stand outside a pub chain-smoking Marlboro Lights and whip yourself into a frenzy because you can't "afford" proper food.
I can't afford to smoke, as it happens, but I can find a couple of quid for a lunch that wasn't tortured. Poor Fearlessly did try to explain. But John Mackey's customers won't listen to his well-meaning shopping lessons any more than Tesco's customers did to Hugh.
You don't find the free-range refuseniks at the organic deli in Whole Foods Market, of course. But you may find them in a nearby pub complaining about the price of vegetables over a "reassuringly expensive" pint. Let them, and let the posh doughnut-scoffers, puzzle over their mysterious organic weight gain. But as for the majority, Mr Mackey: let them eat cakes. And let adults take responsibility for their own obesity crises.Reuse content