All posts tagged Whole Foods Market

It’s Time to Change Tack Navigating “Natural” Claims

Reading the news this morning, I came across an industry article about yet another class action suit over natural claims, this one against Whole Foods Market and their use of a leavening agent, sodium acid pyrophosphate (SAPP), in some of their baked goods.

Honestly, my immediate reaction was to feel badly for Whole Foods. They are an organization who has consistently shown leadership on this topic. In the face of confusion from food manufacturers, lack of guidance from government and mountains of technical details, Whole Foods has done the hard work to set standards (and the bar) for the natural food industry for years. Their Unacceptable Ingredients List which dictates what is and is not allowed in foods sold on their store shelves has had an immeasurable benefit on shaping the natural products industry. (The fact that a list like this is even necessary should be a major indicator as to the state of food today.) Not to mention additional trailblazing efforts such as their 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating system and their announcement last year regarding GMO labeling.

Unfortunately, whether or not you are doing the right thing doesn’t seem to be a consideration factor for getting pulled into a class action lawsuit. Prominence and the resulting amount of publicity and chances for a large settlement seem to be the only criteria to consider.

Having experienced firsthand the toll these suits take on a business in terms of hours worked, money spent and, most importantly, focus and energy taken away from making food better for people and planet, I really believe it’s time to change tack. Instead of working in isolation as brands and businesses, trying to get a handle on the quickly evolving natural and organic landscape behind closed doors while simultaneously hoping we aren’t the next ones to be made an example of in court, what if we pooled our resources and learnings on this issue? If my experience is any indication, we’ve all learned a lot and together should be able to connect the missing dots, solve the mysteries of modern food production once and for all and move the definition of natural forward in a productive, collaborative way. Waiting around for government to tell us what to do clearly isn’t wise, so let’s get together and get ourselves sorted so we can prove to our consumers that we really do know what’s going on and that we have their health and best interests at heart.

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Image by Counse

Recipe for Irony: DIY High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Finally!  No more need to run to the packaged food isle of your local grocery store to get your high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) fix.  Thanks to a Parsons Design graduate student, you can now make your own!  All you’ll need is some sulfuric acid, latex gloves, protective eye goggles and, of course, Yellow Dent #2 corn.

For her thesis project, Maya Weinstein decided to engineer the secret ingredient to the industrialized food system in a domestic kitchen and film it for the world to see.  Maya’s motivation,

There are a lot of videos and articles on the web that talk about how scary and bad HFCS is for you, but there’s not really any information about what it actually is or how it’s made.  I saw a void there that I wanted to fill.

Bravo, Maya.  Clearly, Parsons is also teaching tenacity, as I can report looking up the recipe to HFCS is not as simple as a quick Google search.

A few years ago a few colleagues and I were tasked with a project to dig into the definition of natural for food.  Instead of taking the typical route of creating an “unacceptable ingredients” list (which is common for most companies and retailers like Whole Foods Market), my part of the investigation quickly navigated into the world of processing.  My reasoning: if you walk back far enough into the processing steps, almost all ingredients are natural…I mean, they must come from the earth at some point, right?  So, focusing on finished ingredients is not really the best way to understand naturalness.  Instead, we should make this determination based on what happens to the ingredient between leaving the ground and ending up in a finished food.

Unfortunately, the steps between ground and finished food are often tightly guarded under the guise of “proprietary information” and “trade secrets”.  This is likely why Weinstein identified a void in the internet ethos.  I cannot tell you the number of flow charts I received from ingredient suppliers in the process of my own research with incredibly vague steps like “washing” and “extraction”.  Trade secrets are all well and good except when the secret information is needed to make determinations of health and safety to people and planet health.

Thanks to its celebrity status, HFCS has not managed to stay behind the veil of industry protection.

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Image by Alternative Heat

Whole Foods Market and Monsanto – Really, People?

Since the beginning of the year, Whole Foods Market has been dealing with a set of rumors all relating to a relationship with Monsanto. One rumor is that that they have been purchased by the multinational agriculture biotech company. Another is that the two companies are at least cavorting together to support the deregulation of genetically modified organism (GMO) crops such as alfalfa in the United States. My immediate reaction to these rumors is to laugh. I mean, really. Really? Would anyone who knows anything about these companies actually believe such nonsense?

But here’s the thing that really irritates me about these rumors…Whole Foods Market is STILL dealing with them, more than two months after publicly addressing and dismissing them on their blog and, more importantly, after making one of the most profound public commitments to addressing the GMO labeling issue a retailer has ever made.

I’ve seen this type of attack on a major brand play out multiple times in past years and it really bothers me. Despite what your feelings may be of large companies such as Whole Foods Market or even Wal-Mart, they have one thing that is undeniable – power to change the system. When, in 2006, Wal-Mart announced a commitment to sell more organic food, awareness and availability of organic expanded dramatically. Similarly, when Whole Foods Market announced this past March that beginning in 2018 they will require products in their stores to label if they contain GMO, they triggered a ripple effect in the food community that will result in more organic farmland, more organic food options and maybe even federal action on the issue of GMO labeling.

In reality, the people and groups behind the Whole Foods Market and Monsanto rumors are probably very small in number and do not impact the vast majority of those who care about natural and organic food options.  However, a small group, if organized, can demand a lot of time and attention from the company/brand to manage. What if, instead of forcing Whole Foods Market to spend time strategizing about how best to squelch nonsense rumors, they were given the opportunity to focus on the best ways to support healthy, sustainable food options for their consumers and our country?

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Image from Whole Foods Market Blog