Austin, TX – A Whole Foods experience

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Hello all!

I’m back from a hiatus brought about by some recent travels.  David and I recently spent a week in Austin, Texas, followed by a week in and around Mexico City.  Then I got horribly ill in Mexico and spent 8 days bedridden, so…fun times!  Anyway, I’m back now, so I thought I’d share a few tales, particularly from Austin – a city so hipster it hurts, and, more importantly, a city with the first Whole Foods store in the US!

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Firstly, you need to know that I’d never set foot in a Whole Foods before, so the experience was already guaranteed to blow me away. Add to that the fact that it was their head-office store and I walked around and around for over an hour with my mouth wide open and my eyes shining.  Truly a kid in an organic, cruelty-free, no-synthetic-ingredient candy shop.

One of the things that surprised me most was the huge variety of everything.  We’re pretty spoiled for choice in Australia I think, but the range in most stores is absolutely nothing like it was in Austin.  It was actually really exciting to see the number of heirloom varieties being sold as well – retaining some of our food heritage, rather than adapting everything to the modern palate is just so important*.

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I was disappointed that we didn’t also get the chance to go to the farmers market, but I did hear great things about it – I’m not surprised that Austin is apparently one of the healthier cities in the US, with such an enormous range of fresh produce.

With all that said though, there were some things that did bother me.  One was the inaccessibility of a lot of the stock.  Prices were completely comparable to those in Sydney, while wages in the US, as a general rule, are not.  Basically, a lot of the food in Whole Foods seemed like it might be prohibitively expensive for a lot of people, reinforcing the divide by the wealthy who can afford to eat well and the poor who can’t.  I truly believe that good, nutritious, interesting food should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their economic circumstances, so that was a bit of a concern.  The other main concern I had was the amount of sugar in EVERYTHING.  Honestly, I think I found just one muesli (out of about twenty varieties) with no added sugar.  Quite a few cereals had both honey/agave/maple syrup AND ‘evaporated cane juice’ – i.e, sugar.  On the one hand, I was pleased that nothing had artificial sweeteners.  On the other, I was horrified by the fact that almost nothing outside of the produce aisles would have retained its original flavours.  Perhaps this is just the difference between an American and an Australian palate, but I honestly found the granola bars I bought for daytime snacks waaaay too sweet.  Personal taste aside though, I also found the sugar contents concerning in light of the rates of Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity in the US – eating organic is all very well, but it doesn’t preclude such lifestyle diseases when too much sugar is consumed.

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Overall, I really think Whole Foods does amazing things and I wish we had one here in Sydney.  But as with anything, there’s room for improvement.

The same goes for Austin as a whole actually, but I’ll write more about that later.  Anyway, for now, it’s great to be back.

*I’d really recommend this TED talk by Cary Fowler on agricultural genetic diversity.  It’s really interesting and also a little saddening.  I may write a bit more on this later.

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