Sunday, September 14, 2008

Whole Foods Revisited (by car, this time)

After biking to Short Pump and buying next to nothing last weekend, it was inevitable that I would go back with Karen and Jasper and buy up a bunch of natural/gourmet groceries. You see, the last visit was more like an art opening for gawking and being seen than a shopping expedition. I just wanted to see what kind of exquisite monstrosity had been bestowed upon the Greater Richmond region. And ooooohhh, is it a dandy of a grocery store. It's not physically or economically accessible for most Richmonders, but I still admire the achievement of bourgois beauty.

Jasper was sound asleep in his carseat when we attempted to pull into the parking lot. The Henrico police had rerouted traffic in a big circle around the place and then directed each car to the few available spots. Once inside, I took charge of the baby, so Karen could get a load of Whole Foods' infinite superiority over all other markets in the area. She had warned me before we came that she was "going to buy stuff." But once we got into the produce section, Karen was like a kid in a candy store... with a credit card. She seriously loved every square foot of that place. Drawn in by nearly everything she saw, Karen initially complained of the same paralysis that I complained about. But, that didn't last long and the cart started filling up.* Sweet Jesus, what have I gotten myself into? I couldn't wait to find out how much this trip was going to set us back.

We took our time going up and down each isle (had to cuz it was so crowded), carefully picking out sale items, unique treats, and exotic ingredients we've wanted to try. Big bottles of San-J Tamari was offered 2for1. Grapefruit shampoo for four bucks and change and Tofurky slices were $2 per pack. There was a long moment that I stood in front of the seafood case, wondering how the price of fillets could have doubled over the Carytown Seafood and PT Hastings prices. Mahi mahi for $17/lb? They also had something called "puppy drum redfish," but the staff couldn't tell me anything about it. Turns out George W. Bush designated it a protected species in federal waters, due to overfishing. Still not sure why I'd never heard of it. I settled on wild coho salmon for $12/lb, but I was disappointed to find it scaley and full of bones when I got it home. Oh, well. That's the price of tangling with nature. Shut up or go vegan, right?

I think Karen's favorite areas were the prepared foods cases and the freshly made desserts. The sushi chefs were giving out samples of the best ginger miso dip either of us had ever tasted. Halfway through, Jasper was awake and fidgety, so I carried him in the Baby Bjorn. He's a dream to shop with if he's suspended in front of me with a full view of the sites. It's a great arrangement, except that I can't see his face and have to ask the oogling strangers if he's smiling. He usually isn't, because he's contemplating the stimuli of our wacky world.

Okay, here's the moment you've all been waiting for. How much did we spend? Well, I'm still trying to track down the comparison study that Trader Joe's did about x number of bags of their groceries versus the same from Whole Foods. Obviously, the difference was pretty wide, with WF looking like pretty steep (TJ's says they're 20-30% cheaper than WF**). However, I'm used to buying six bags at Kroger for $120 or so, or $75 for even more groceries from one of the salvage stores on the Southside (we're talking paper bags, here). And with all of the stories of sticker shock and stories of over-indulgence from other bloggers, I was definitely bracing myself.

It turned out to be approximately 4.5 bags for $160. Not bad, eh? This includes a $12 wedge of parmigiano reggiano, $14 worth of fish, a $10 bottle of wine, and seven bucks for four of the biggest and tastiest apples I've ever had. Seeing the receipt was actually a little alarming, because it was so short. But, the thing is, they print it on both sides of the paper. A cool little eco-nuance.

Next time, Karen wants to cut straight to the prepared foods and buy buy some lunch so we can enjoy a meal in their in-store lounge or maybe in the outdoor seating. Then, we can shop judiciously with full stomaches and maybe even taste some wines that we'll probably never buy.

On the way home, we clocked the drive at 13 minutes and 12.2 miles. Not nearly as bad on a Saturday at 4pm as I experienced at quitting time on Wednesday. But, nonetheless, Karen and I agree that we won't be coming out here too often (in part because Karen had to go back out to Kroger the next day for stuff we don't need special organic brands for - such as the non-fruit ingredients for this stovetop peach streusel from the awesome new Food Network show). But, when we do, it'll probably be an exciting trip.

*A car seat and a diaper bag in your shopping cart helps create an optical illusion of a full load of groceries. Try it and you'll be tricked into spending in moderation.
**I called the Tysons Corner TJ's and they say this is the average of their comparison studies, but that WF's 365 brand does compete with their prices, but not on the name brand stuff.


  1. I've seen Honeycrisp apples at Ukrop's before. Were the WF apples organic? Is all of their produce organic? Me thinks I need to take a trip to Mecca.

  2. Coho? You need to extract the pin bones with tweezers before cooking..

  3. J. Emerson has less expensive cheese.. but not as large a selection as Whole Paycheck.

  4. I've been trying a lot of restraint at Whole Foods. So far I have not bought anything yet from their seafood or meat case but I'm pretty sure I won't last. right now I'm trying out their different organic eggs and testing their 365 brand of butter to see if it is just as good as the ones I already use.

  5. I've got no patience for pin bone picking. Once, I made a rainbow trout recipe from The Inn at Little Washington cookbook. Had to tweezer those fillets forever. Never again.

  6. You young people have no patience, Grasshopper.

    Take a straight bladed knife & draw it closely parallel to the surface of the fillet from the head to the tail as you go down, the blade will catch in the pinbones and you can see them and pluck them deftly out..


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