What You Will

Another Burma Shave billboard on the information superhighway. Random thoughts about arts, faith, culture, music, language, literature, and the shortcomings of the Hegelian dialectic. (OK, just kidding about that last bit.)

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Location: Edmonds, Washington, United States

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Produce wash: who's really getting soaked?

So yesterday I paid a rare visit to a Whole Foods Market in Seattle. Rare not because I dislike the place, but because it's so far from my home. I don't travel that far for groceries, but in this case I was on my way home from church.

Whole Foods Market, in case you didn't know, is a high-end supermarket chain specializing in organic produce and "sustainable" business practices, and it's proven remarkably successful. A recent piece in Slate, though, peeks behind the curtain at Whole Foods and questions some of their practices. For instance, is it really "sustainable" to import organically grown produce from Chile instead of buying it locally? Doesn't the fossil-fuel cost of transporting that produce from South America essentially negate the reduced environmental impact of organic farming?

Good question, but I saw something even more puzzling in the produce section at Whole Foods. It's a $4-a-bottle product called "produce wash." It's loaded with fancified, organic-sounding emulsifiers and other goodies meant to eradicate dirt, wax, and chemical or pesticide residue from the surface of your fruits and veggies.

Leaving aside the question of what's wrong with good old-fashioned tap water and a scrubbing brush, I'd like to know what such a product is doing on the shelves at Whole Foods at all. Because, you see, if the produce there is organically grown, why in the heck would I need to wash it with something designed to remove pesticides? Isn't it the point of organic agriculture that the growers don't use pesticides in the first place? What's next, an umbrella shop in the Sahara?

Lots of stores sell us stuff we don't really need; Whole Foods is hardly unique in that respect. But that's the problem: the appeal of Whole Foods is based on the idea that it's different from other stores.

I did go ahead and spend $49 at Whole Foods. I bought some produce; I'm just not sure whether I should wash it.


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