Before I left for NYC a friend at work kept telling me to go to Whole Foods Market. She kept trying to explain the Aladdin's Cave of Magical Goods (Open Sesame!) to me. In my ignorance, I couldn't really fathom it. But she was so right.
WF is an organic supermarket. It has a social conscience (as a supermarket can), doing things like paying all employees' health benefits in full – a big deal in the US – and focusing on local and fresh produce. The one I went to in NYC was the Bowery store, so all my observations are from that experience alone.
After our first wander through WF, I was all agog with giggly wide-eyed amazement. Naturally I paid most attention to the vegan foods, which included more than a whole freezer of soy and rice ice cream;
a whole case of tofu and soy products; more soy milk flavours that I could imagine (Mocha! Spice! Coffee! Sweetened! Unsweetened!);
sweets and desserts;
ready made meals, fresh meals including pizza; and 3 massive salad and hot food buffets.
Each item produced on the premises is not only clearly labelled as vegan or gluten free or what have you, but has all the ingredients listed on its little sign. And we're not talking one option here. As a guesstimate, about 1/3 of the buffet was vegan, and there were quite a number of vegan desserts, ready made and other meals too.
On my first visit to the buffet bars I bought over US$22 worth of food, at $7.99 a pound, cos I was compelled by a force greater than my self-control or vanity to try it all (that didn't mean I had to eat it all. But I did, natch). I was more restrained on future visits but did note the changing variety of options - and all of them were winners. They included seaweed salad, endamame, soba and buckwheat noodles, slaw, tofu baked and marinated in three hundred gazillion ways, dumplings, samosas, guacamole, quinoa, fresh salads, pakora, curries ... and not one was less than great.
One thing that really got me was the variety of vegan foodstuffs that we just don't have in Aus: Turtle Mountain ice creams in all flavours; Soy Dream ice cream (the mocha fudge is spine-tingling);
a few shelves of non-dairy cheese (although as I discovered too late, most contain casein - yeah thanks Soya Kaas!); and a lot of processed mock meat. Usually I avoid the processed stuff for health, price and food snobbery reasons, but the need to try multiple varieties of Tofurkey was strong (and it was good! Really good!) ... and the fact that they are being produced is still better than no vegan food being on manufacturers' radars at all.
So with all this variety, not to mention the 'personal care' section including Zuzu Luxe makeup and No Miss nail polish, I was an excited girl. On our second trip I took photos of just about everything labelled vegan - slightly embarrassing for poor Buzz, yes, but oh-so enjoyable for me!
Also - a picture of many eggs. I'm not sure why the sight of duck, pheasant and ostrich (ostrich!) eggs on sale next to the chicken eggs disturbs me so much - I'm sure they're not treated any better than the chooks - but it does. There's something especially obscene about the ostrich eggs. Maybe it's because they're bigger and I'm sizeist, maybe it's just the unpleasant novelty - I don't know. But I was particularly shocked. What do you think?
So .. Whole Foods. Are you planning to open in Aus? Would it help if I offered my services as your Special Executive Vegan Food Taster Extraordinaire? Would it help if I promised to shop exclusively with you and you alone? Would it help if I extolled your virtues a little louder (no, this not a paid advertisement, just a hungry hungry girl!)? So, like, open in Aus ploise?
I'm aware that there's some concern out there about the supermarket-y nature of Whole Foods, and the vegan virtue of proclaiming their brilliance in light of the extensive meat and dairy sections, and things like the ostrich eggs. I intend to do a bit thinking and a bit of research and have a more serious, less fawning discussion later on, but in the meantime, if I could get that Soy Dream Mocha Fudge right now I would happily use my fingers as a spoon.