A shimmering glass of rosé stuck out like a gem among a display of tomatoes in the produce section. A bearded, glasses-and-woodsy-button-down-wearing character walked by, pushing his cart with one hand, carrying a tulip glass of porter in the other. Several aisles away, a man peered at the nutrition label on a package of rolled oats while sipping from a stout bottle of Lagunitas IPA.
Drinking while grocery shopping (‘drocery’ shopping is a tempting quip) is the norm at the Whole Foods Market in Lincoln Park Chicago, where you can purchase alcohol from one of three bars conveniently dispersed throughout the store.
“I get one drink and meander through, and then by the time I check out I’m done,” the woman drinking rosé told me. After wandering the first level, I decided I might also need a drink to tackle the sheer amount of decision-making required when shopping at this monstrosity of a grocery store.
Within the 75,000 square-foot, three-story market there are hundreds of thousands of products to choose from. Boxes of tea occupy an entire aisle, in addition to the loose leaf in the bulk section. There are well over fifty varieties of chocolate bars, including Sulpice’s Cake Batter White Chocolate and Lily’s Stevia Sweetened, to choose from. The deli makes over thirteen styles of sausage – from ‘chicken chorizo’ (an intriguing oxymoron) to ‘Mediterranean lamb.’
Opposite the main entrance, in the back of the store, a mini food court offers ‘world cuisine’ Whole Foods style; a shopper can choose between Wicker Park Subs, Taylor Street Italian, Chinatown Asian Fusion, or Pilsen Taqueria for a mid-shop meal. (Incorporating Chicago neighborhoods into the stations’ names is perhaps symbolic of the diverse cuisine found right there in the city.)
The sports/coffee combo bar features twenty beers on tap and the ‘Da Vine’ wine and cheese bar offers seemingly infinite pairings. I sampled six different kinds of tofu and three dipping sauces at one of the many free sampling tables throughout the store.
I wondered why this tendency of providing the widest assortment of products possible didn’t carry over to the produce section. Why only carry five varieties of squash when there are hundreds available? Why only five different melons? Why only one type of grapefruit?
It seems we’ve squandered much of the natural diversity of plants in the name of efficiency (it’s easier to mechanize a farm when working with one variety of, say, potato), while exponentially increasing the variety of packaged goods we can buy.
The contrast might never have occurred to me had it not been for the irony presented under the fluorescent lights of a corporation built on touting Whole Foods.