Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Let's Retake Our Plates

By Joe Dickson, March 29, 2010  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Joe Dickson
Let Every single bite of food we take has deep agricultural, environmental and nutritional significance. The bowl of cereal I’m eating right now contains corn (which might be organically grown or not, genetically modified or not) and is bathed in milk (which might be organic or not, from cows given synthetic growth hormones or not, or it could be soy milk — GMO or not, organic or not, and let’s not even get into almond, hemp or rice milks). That yellow color could be natural or not, and the whole box could be preserved with synthetic preservatives to make its shelf life virtually infinite. This is a very simple meal (eight ingredients), and a relatively minor one in the grand scheme of my day, but the choices I’ve made with this little meal have touched at least half a dozen different crops, some cows, growers and my own health. The relationship between a meal and the rest of the universe is complicated and gets more so when we start talking about meat, seafood and products imported from other countries. My point here is that what seems to be a tiny choice (what to eat for breakfast) can actually have deep significance when we consider the collective impact of the 1100 or so meals we each eat every year. The incredible growth of the natural and organic food industry over the past 30 years has been driven by individual food choices made about specific meals. Yet considering that organic currently makes up just 4% of US agriculture; GMO crops make up almost all corn, soy, canola, sugar and cotton production in the US; our kids are getting fatter; and unhealthy food is getting cheaper, it sometimes seems like our movement – natural and organic foods – has barely made a scratch in the mainstream of conventional food. "Let’s Retake Our Plates" is a Whole Foods Market initiative designed to highlight the things we all can do to continue this movement towards better food. In choosing between various types of food, we really are voting with our dollars and have the power to accept or reject so many ways of growing crops, raising animals, impacting the environment and feeding our bodies. The plate (or take-out container or smoothie cup or whatever) is the point where we, as eaters, intersect with the systems and practices through which that food is grown, raised, processed and marketed. Every Bite Has A Story For us, as a company, “retaking” takes place on so many levels – our standards for the food we sell, the nonprofit groups we partner with, the suppliers we work with, and the advocacy we do to fight for stricter organic standards and better lives for farm animals. Throughout the month we’ll explore the details of all of these and more. The main reason I love my job is that the work my team and I do is at the core of our company’s constant “retaking” of our plates. More to come throughout the month, but here’s a super-abridged overview:
  • Our quality standards: Our founders started this company as an alternative to the conventional grocery stores of the 1970s and 1980s, when artificially processed, preserved, colored and flavored foods were taking over and it became increasingly difficult to find simple, fresh, natural foods. Our quality standards continue to serve as our definition of “natural” – a concise list of acceptable and unacceptable ingredients that ensure our food meets your expectations of natural.
  • Organics: We’ve done more to support organic agriculture in the US than any other retailer, since the very beginning. Rather than just sell organic food, we’ve helped grow the organic market by actively promoting organic and pushing for strict standards. We pressed for and helped develop National Organic Standards. Our VP of Quality Standards, Margaret Wittenberg (also my boss) was the sole retail representative on the National Organic Standards Board from 1995-2000, as the standards were being developed, and I’m humbled to have been picked by the USDA to hold that same seat from 2010-2015.
  • Non GMO ProjectGMOs: We’ve been worked up about this issue since the first GMO crops were approved in the US and continue to ramp up the work we’re doing. We do not believe that natural foods and genetic engineering are compatible ideas, and we’ve banded together with other retailers, manufacturers and industry stakeholders to form The Non-GMO Project, a non-profit that helps verify and identify food products as non-GMO. We’ve committed to enrolling our entire Whole Foods Market store brand product line, and the list of enrolled and verified products keeps growing.
This is just a small sampling of the work we do to advocate for better food, and I’m only one of thousands doing this work throughout our company. There are very few simple answers to the question “What should I eat?” and the quest for those answers has driven us, as individuals and as a company, as we’ve grown over the last thirty years. And there will always be disagreements about how food should be grown and made and sold, and I hope that those disagreements bring fertile, productive discussion that continues to make our food better and better. The first step is to ask critically where each bite comes from, digging deeper and deeper, and acknowledging that every bite of food has a story. Learn more at Let’s Retake Our Plates.




Michael Whittall says ...
Love to get recipe for wonderful Sperlonga Bread you sell in UK at Kensington, UK:I do not live in UK and would love to make it at home. Thanks
03/31/2010 10:42:31 AM CDT
vaughnm says ...
Recipes vary based on store, so you'll have to check in w/ Kensington to see if they'll share! :) http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/kensington/
03/31/2010 11:20:18 AM CDT
Esther says ...
Thank you for taking a stand against GMOs! I firmly believe these foods are not natural and are causing major harm to people who are innocently eating these foods and are simply not informed or provided ample information to make the right choices! Please let me know everything we can do as consumers to take a stand against genetically modified foods. Having become aware that they are so abundant in our food supply and are not identified on food labels had made me really, really angry and I want to do everything I can to get the labelling laws changed so that people can make more informed choices. Thank you!
03/31/2010 11:47:47 AM CDT
Mike says ...
I echo Esther's comments on getting really, really angry about how much fake stuff is in our food. After my wife and I watched Food, Inc. we drastically changed the way we eat. We had always known that natural food is a better option for our bodies, but never grasped the significance of what we were really eating until now. The first time we went through our supermarket and refused to buy "normal" eggs and meat, I felt like "one of those people", but after we finished and put all our things on the checkout belt, it felt GREAT to be in charge of what we were eating. Thank you Whole Foods for all you've done for so many years. Keep up the great work! P.S. Here's a funny exchange my wife and I had a few weeks ago: Wife: "I'd like to start buying organic eggs" Me: "Why? People have been eating normal eggs for hundreds of years." Wife: "No, people have been eating organic eggs for hundreds of years." Me: /facepalm
03/31/2010 2:56:14 PM CDT
Shelly says ...
I agree with what Ester and Mike have said. I am trying to eat as close to the earth as possible but it makes it difficult if everything is not allowed to be in its natural state. I am currently working with my daughters school to change the lunch menu from processed foods to cleaner choices. It is unbelievable what they feed our kids. If there is anything that I can do to help "retake our plates" I am ready! This is the type of stuff that gets me excited!
04/01/2010 5:22:39 AM CDT
Stewart Schroeder says ...
GMO foods are significantly improving crop yields in impoverished third world countries. Where naturally occuring genetic splices are utilized, what is your fundamental philoshical difference between GMO crops and the over 10,000 years of genetic modification humankind has achieved through hybridizatiion.
04/02/2010 5:04:55 AM CDT
Esther says ...
Stewart- I know you want a response from Whole Foods- but my concern as a consumer is that the genes from the seed of the food has been genetically modified to resist pesticide and is growing into a food that includes protein of a pesticide and that it is therefore not healthy to eat and like scientists had warned as it was being created, it has strong potential for allergenicity and could affect our health in a negative way. I prefer to eat things that are grown as they have for those 10,000 years in nature. As a consumer, I ask that at the very least these foods are labelled so that people are fully aware and can make their own decision as to whether or not they should eat GMO foods. I have developed allergies to corn and soy that I believe are related to GMO corn and soy in the processed foods and fast food I was eating. And I do wonder if these would have developed had the corn and soy not been GMO.
04/03/2010 9:39:18 AM CDT
Linda Grace says ...
Everybody needs to see the DVD "Food, Inc." It is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. It took a lot of determination for the producers to expose the condition of our food in this country.
04/05/2010 2:29:33 PM CDT
Lauren says ...
It's a bit hypocritically ironic that Whole Foods is promoting its stance against genetically modified food products, given that a VERY large percentage of its prepared foods and salad bar items contain canola oil. Most canola oil is genetically modified.
04/08/2010 7:39:55 AM CDT
Lynne says ...
If you have Netflix online, you can watch Food, Inc and Corn King and many others under the 'watch instantly' tab. I watched Food, Inc 3 times and it changed the way I shop. I now buy only organic dairy and organic meat. I'm trying to add as much organic products as I can, but I can only afford to do so much. That's why I decided on all organic dairy and meat first. What a real eye opener this movie was for me, and I'm so glad I'm aware now. A few years ago, I had my kids watch Supersize Me, and they haven't eaten fast food since. Now they watch Food, Inc and they are becoming aware too. Sometimes the truth will make me wince, but I'm always glad to have it.
04/08/2010 8:33:53 AM CDT
patricia says ...
re your Let's Retake Our Plates! campaign: it all sounds great. but you are not living up to these standards. produce is filled w/ conventional foods, the meat animals are not fed natural food - sometimes in the beginning of their life, but not up until the end, you've just taken the all the raw milk out of your shops, etc, etc. whole foods is starting to feel more & more like a regular supermarket, at ralph's you can get some organic produce too nowadays. whole foods COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE, but you are becoming too mainstream for me. unfortunately, because i loved shopping at whole foods.
04/20/2010 11:06:25 AM CDT