Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Standards Even a Kid Can Understand

By Joe Dickson, March 13, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Joe Dickson
365 Organic KetchupI've been avoiding this post. Not because I don't love talking about what I do, but because I couldn't figure out how to shrink this topic - an overview of our Quality Standards - into an easily digestible post. But then our lovely blogmistress (Paige Brady) told me I could write a series rather than a single post. Yeah! Just as I was breathing a sigh of relief, she hit me with this bombshell: Could you use the first post in the series to explain our Quality Standards in a way that an 11-year-old can understand? What!? Seems that she was in our downtown Austin store over the weekend with her daughter's 11-year-old friend, who had never been to our store before. She was thoroughly enthralled and amazed - remember your first step inside our store? Anyway, the friend asked, "Is everything here organic?" and Paige said "no" but that everything was natural. And then fumbled through various attempts at explaining what natural means - realizing as she rambled that a typical 11-year-old doesn't have the background to understand how much junk is in our conventional food supply. Paige eventually came up with this: "You won't find blue ketchup here because ketchup comes from tomatoes and tomatoes aren't blue in nature." And the friend got it: "So, ketchup is red here?" Yes. I am so immersed in food and agricultural issues that I'm guilty of forgetting that there are many people who come to our stores without the abundance of food-related details that I deal with every day. We all have so much going on, who has time to delve into all the details unless it's part of your job? So, I'll take the challenge. Give me a minute to dust off my old nursery-school teacher skills (in a former life I taught at a tiny nursery school, a job which included managing the library of children's books). An 11-year-old should be able to understand what makes Whole Foods Market different. Here goes. Welcome to Quality Standards Storytime. Once upon a time there were only natural foods. I know this is obvious, but one of my most strongly-held beliefs about food is that we should pay attention to the diets that humans have followed for 200,000 years or so. Our bodies and brains evolved on a diet of unprocessed foods -- mostly plants and nuts, some animal protein and very little else. The 50-100 years since the advent of food processing and artificial preservatives occupies about .05% of that timeline. I think it's fairly logical to play it safe and stick to the diets that have proven safe and healthful for most of recorded time. Then, sometime in the twentieth century, Artificial Preservatives, Colors and Flavors were invented by "food scientists," devoted to improving the quality of our lives through science. The ability to color, flavor and preserve food indefinitely made it possible to recreate authentic-seeming foods and make them last virtually forever. Chicken flavoring with no actual chicken, snack cakes able to survive for 20 years, and that infamous blue ketchup all became possible. With modern food science, we became able to replicate and "improve upon" traditional natural foods, and make fake food products more cheaply than the authentic original. The Organic and Natural Products movements were born in opposition to these changes, based on the belief that natural food is healthier, better for you and better tasting. As the conventional grocery industry got weirder and weirder, the group of resisters got bigger and bigger. Whole Foods Market was born out of that opposition, founded in 1981 as a natural alternative to mainstream grocery stores. Organic agriculture also followed a similar route, rising as a resistance movement to chemical/industrial agriculture during the 1970s and 80s. While organic and natural come from similar roots, the word "organic" has come to describe the way that agricultural products are grown, raised and processed - without toxic or persistent pesticides and using environmentally friendly practices. "Natural" focuses more on how a multi-ingredient processed food is made and whether the specific ingredients are consistent with our definition of natural. Natural products can include both organic and non-organic agricultural products. Both of these approaches spring from similar perspectives, with a few key differences (and I'll write more about those in future posts). In a nutshell (actually, in an office building), the Quality Standard Team creates standards for the ingredients in the food in our stores, and ensures that what we say we do ("Offer the highest quality natural and organic foods") matches up with what we actually do, with what's actually on our shelves. I'll get into some of the specifics in future posts, along with some of the notable myths and misconceptions about natural food. If there's a particular topic you'd like us to delve into, let me know. So, how did I do in making this clear enough for an 11-year-old? What did I miss? What would you say? Would love to hear your feedback.

 

28 Comments

Comments

Rafael Zambrano says ...
Thank you for the information. As a former employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Food and Nutrition Service), I have always questioned the direct and usual correlation between the various food industries (i.e. Corn Growers, Beef Industry, etc) and the Department's (USDA) approach to introducing or 'creating' certain food standards into the American diet. Did you know that the Department's original food pyramid was developed by managers and not nutritionists or dietitians? Also, did you know that the Child Nutrition Program which is responsible for the School Lunch Programs once allowed catchup t be considered a member of the fruit group? Needless to say, I whole heartily enjoyed and agree with your article. Thank you.
03/13/2009 6:36:46 PM CDT
denise petersen says ...
awesome-thank you! i am doing a kids' class in the morning, and will print and use this as part of my intro! i look forward to your future posts!
03/14/2009 3:28:05 AM CDT
treesha g says ...
Dear Joe Dickson . . . thank you for bringing forward your article on standards-even-A-kid-can-understand. there's always so much to learn. always. i am very glad that ---you--- have been empowered and are enabled to write/responde in giving a 'series of articles', instead of just one (1) "post". giving the opportunity for all to learn more . . . even if: one is only eleven years of age. looking forward to your future posts. [nostalgic note: between ages 2 through 8 (years old), i over-stood my father's Backyard garden. eating natural stuff, not bought from grocery stores ...lettuce, corn, squash, other veggies that were grown, in our backyard, in order to feed our family of 9 --- by age 11, i was able to learn more about our hometown farmers: visiting local-area farms that raised Chickens, eggs; cows providing fresh beef and whole milk. the farmers sold natural foodstuffs, (back in the day, eh?)] dad made mocking comments (on occasion) of the food that was sold in general grocery stores. he said: the food industry is drastically changing... (1968) for example, my Dad would speak of the "wonder" brand bread: "you can take four (4) of those loaves of bread and squash them down to the size of a baseball. they contain artificial ingredients and preservatives. zero nutrition" this "conventional" bread, he spoke of, was sold for about 15 cents per loaf. it seemed to help those large families, who needed to buy things for a cheaper price. he would continue that: "one head of lettuce (conventional iceburg lettuce ) did NOT give Energy and nutritional value, as much as any naturally grown garden lettuce. dad's point being: even if at a cheaper price, this doesn't mean it's better for your body. he, my father, was probably my first introduction to the notions of wholefoods ideals. at age 11 (eleven), i got it. the whole truth, the simple truth, how simple foods are better. keep going/growing forward, joe. yeah! K.I.S.S.
03/16/2009 4:27:57 AM CDT
Laura says ...
I like Whole Foods stores because of their emphasis on organic food. However, I still have concerns about products that are merely labeled "natural." As we all know, the word "natural" is bandied about by food advertisers in order to make their products seem healthier than they are. Such is the case in foods or health products that have a lot of artificial fillers, but contain "natural" flavors, so the company sticks "Natural" on the label. This leads me to be skeptical of any item containing the term "natural." It has completely lost its meaning in today's food industry. Joe, can you respond by explaining what standards Whole Foods has for "natural"-labeled items?
03/18/2009 12:03:00 PM CDT
dicksonj says ...
Hi Laura, We don't have a specific standard for products labeled as "natural." Instead, we require that all of our food products, regardless of the claim they're making on the label, meet our quality standards, which prohibit artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, hydrogenated fats and other artificial ingredients. In other words, our quality standards, which apply to all the food we sell, are our definition of natural. Thanks!
03/18/2009 4:11:45 PM CDT
stacey says ...
Thank you! I have been looking for ways to explain to my children why we buy what we buy. It is at times hard for them to be the only kid at the lunch table without a prepackaged cheese and cracker meal and a neon colored "treat". Thanks to Whole Foods and various other learning opportunities they are "getting it" and able to get some cool treats of their own. Keep the articles coming!
03/22/2009 2:59:12 PM CDT
Kandice says ...
As a wife, mother and organic gardener, I strive to bring my family the best quality possible to the dinner table each night. I cook mostly everything from scratch except the pasta its self. From my breads, sauces and soups to homemade pizza and from scratch dumplings, I find Whole Foods 365 brand ingredients the best in quality! Currently we are located almost 40 minutes away from the nearest Whole Foods market and when we relocate later this summer we will be nearly 2 hours away. After visiting other local grocery store chains and comparing organic prices we have learned we can't afford NOT to shop at Whole Foods. As a family of 3, we do all our grocery shopping entirely at the Whole Foods Market in Dublin, Ohio. Our average monthly expense from Whole Foods is approx. $350 to $500. This allows me all my basics for cooking through the month. Our cart is usually overflowing every two weeks when we go or if we only go once a month or less we tend to use two carts. I buy in bulk as often as possible with flour and sugar and other basic cooking ingredients. I will always opt for the 365 Value Brand verse the higher priced name brand. The quality is the same and on some products the 365 brand is even better. The 365 standard allows me to shop quickly without all the label reading and research. You know what you're getting and you know it's good! As someone whom is medically housebound due to severe chemical and environmental sensitivities, plus major allergies to Genetically Modified food and Bovine Growth Hormones, I can trust the quality of the 365 brand. Their cheese, milk and other dairy items are hormone free and contain no GMO's. For someone like me Whole Foods 365 value brand is the best of the best! Thanks Whole Foods!
03/23/2009 12:18:24 PM CDT
Sandy Cooper says ...
I love everything about Whole Foods. Thank you for staying true to your mission. I'm about to do a post on my blog about this very topic (definitions of organic and all natural). I plan to use your post as a reference. Thanks! Sandy
03/26/2009 6:33:43 PM CDT
Terri holley says ...
Thank you so much for my first true introduction to whole "natural" foods. Being brought up on fast foods. Raising my family on fat, perservatives, and coloring, at 50 yes old with hypertension, I am going to try to change my eating habits. "Better late than never."
03/27/2009 1:35:56 AM CDT
EG says ...
My great grandmother lived to be 100 years old, and she never ate one McDonald's french fry in her life! I believe this says something, not specifically about fast food, but about food in general. I always understood organic in the way you described, but I was taught that "all natural" was a way of saying, "Once we GET the ingredients, we don't add any preservatives (etc.) to them". I understand that the process of putting together the food is natural, because nothing is being added to that food. However, do we know about the origins of the tomatoes in the tomato paste? I'm not clear on that. Could those tomatoes have been grown with pesticides? That's what I've always understood. Great post, though!
03/27/2009 6:09:31 PM CDT
Miko says ...
As a team member celebrating my fourth anniversary, I enjoyed this article as a way to help me communicate more effectively with new guests. I am still amazed at how many folks come to my store and are looking for "diet soda." It can be tough to explain why we don't have what they want... some people get down right testy. But I think this series will help to get the word out about what natural means to us.
03/28/2009 6:54:55 PM CDT
Heather says ...
I am a room mother in a rural town. We don't have a Whole Foods within 300 miles. I use information from the blogs to teach the kids in my daughter's class about eating healthy and keeping their bodies fit. In my teaching, we discuss that all food/calories are not the same and how the best foods have the least packaging. When I am traveling, I always take my cooler and pack the car at Whole Foods to bring home. We take lunches and my daughter is happy to share why she doesn't have green gooey treats in her lunch. She was brought up organic/natural and we do our best to make her lunches healthy, interesting and fun. Keep up the good work and I will keep passing it on to those who don't have access to your site. Change is hard, growth is hard, but the efforts make a better place to live.
03/30/2009 9:47:09 AM CDT
Susan says ...
Excellent article Joe. I plan to email this to friends who routinely question why I choose to grow my veggies organically and why I only purchase organic & natural foods, paper and cleaning products. The recent peanut recall made me question whether food companies which label products USDA organic actually include organic ingredients. If food companies purchase peanut and peanut paste from one or two suppliers, how can they claim the peanuts to be organic under some labels and not claim as organic under other labels. How do I as a consumer really know whether what I'm assuming to be organic actually is organic? Take a look at the food safety section of this website and peruse the myriad peanut related recalls, it does make one question the food labeling claims. Thanks for your informative posts.
03/31/2009 8:43:54 AM CDT
Nick says ...
What is your position on foods with High Fructose Corn Syrup? I was under the assumption that your stores do not carry or agree with that ingredient being in any of your stores products. High fructose corn syrup seems to be one of the most threatening things for a healthy society. I was shocked to see it in some sauce products on your shelves. What a dissapointment. Apparently Whole Foods makes exceptions.
04/28/2009 12:40:52 PM CDT
Ann says ...
Why did the Whole Foods 365 Brand move away from the whole foods values and quality standards and add natural flavors to most of your products? The 365 brand promotes no artificial flavors, but instead chooses to hide under the natural flavors additive. What happened to flavors being from real food itself, whole food? Inquiring community member
05/25/2009 10:18:13 PM CDT
dicksonj says ...
Hi Ann - Thanks for your comment. The 365 Brand is subject to the same standards as the rest of our stores. We do allow natural flavors in products throughout the stores. The term "natural flavors" is subject to a very restrictive definition imposed by the FDA, which ensure that "natural flavors" are what you'd expect - simple extracts of natural, whole ingredients. Let me know if you have any other questions about our standards - thanks!
05/26/2009 11:26:15 AM CDT
Bela Pflaum says ...
Hi, I live in souther California and have been shopping at Whole Foods for the last 15 years. Recently I took my friend who is interested in learning more about how to shop for natural foods and we came across a questions. For instance your "365" non-organic flour - is it the same as any non-organic flour at the regular supermarket? I asked 2 different employees at my local store and they gave to different answers.
01/11/2010 12:07:33 PM CST
hsiaw says ...
Per our Quality Standards, all of our flours must be unbleached and not bromated.
01/12/2010 12:39:45 PM CST
benedictus says ...
I guess I took it for granted that I could walk into Whole Foods, as I do at least once a week, and feel 110% confident that I didn't have to read labels like you do at Walmart or Target for artificial sugars, colors, preservatives, etc. But I was wrong. To my disappointment and dismay, there were bottles of Heinz ketchup with HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP on the selves!! Right next to the 365 Brand ketchup that I make a special trip to get and go out of my way to get it from Whole Foods. Why? Why is this on their shelves? Now I'm going to have to start looking at the labels because I can't trust that EVERYTHING in their store is safe. Very disappointing.
02/14/2010 1:30:58 PM CST
Magee Murray says ...
Just tell them Organic doesn't use chemicals and extra stuff not made by the earth to grow food. Natural is how things should be without extras - cows eat grass (that's what they are suppose to do); chickens run around in big areas like when you visit a petting farm. The most important thing to remember is no bad chemicals (extras) in the stuff you eat :) TLAC (Think Like A Child) :)
04/01/2010 6:36:23 AM CDT
Shandalee says ...
I agree that the best, most natural foods are ones that need no explanation more complicated than an 11-year old could understand. Does Whole Foods then believe that an 11 year old could understand the process required to create High Fructose Corn syrup? It certainly wouldn't be as simple as saying the HFCS is extracted from corn. I think they would turn the argument of natural right back at us from the point of "enzymatic processing to separate the natural sugar molecules....etc." If the ingredient cannot be taken straight out of something that grows, walks, or swims on our earth...it does not exist in a natural state on our planet. Please stick to your standards Whole Foods. I very much appreciate the majority of your products and the way they allow my family to live and eat. However, I feel like allowing in HFCS is an abuse of the label "natural." I hope you reconsider your position on HFCS as I think this is an ingredient the majority of your shoppers are aiming to to live without :) Thanks for your consideration and I'd be interested to read an article about WF stance on this issue!
04/05/2010 8:06:25 AM CDT
Teresa Sendra-Anagnost says ...
please change my e mail to tscorp24@gmail.com. I entered it incorrectly the first time. Nowonder I havn't rec'd replies to my questions
04/29/2010 2:54:13 AM CDT
stella taylor says ...
Joe, I was just wondering if you all had caught on to the msg in your broth/gravy offered in your stores. I went in specifically to avoid same and was severly disappointed. Even packages that had no msg stamped on them had msg under another name in the ingredients list. I was so disappointed I haven't shopped with you all for some time. Please tell me this has changed. Stella Taylor
08/28/2010 6:01:08 AM CDT
paig292 says ...
@Stella Joe wrote a full blog post about MSG myths and misconceptions that you may find helpful: http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/2008/07/myths-and-misconceptions-msg/
08/30/2010 9:20:36 AM CDT
Dorothy says ...
I've seen a lot of Polysorbate 80 in the Whole Foods products. Why is this? I try to avoid it given the controversy surrounding it. I don't see it as "natural." Thanks.
02/20/2011 11:30:00 AM CST

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