Like most people interested in improving their health I go grocery shopping on a weekly basis. I am fortunate to live in NYC and I have a multitude of options to choose from when it comes to grocery shopping. I usually go to Whole Foods because it is in the neighborhood where I spend most of my working hours. Even after all of these years shopping at Whole Foods, I still look forward to my weekly trip (most of the time). There is something about walking towards the store and feeling empowered that you are going to make good food choices for the week ahead. I like going through the automatic doors and being instantly surrounded by fresh flowers and luscious looking baked goods. Everyone around you seems to be on a positive mission to satisfy their deepest foodie cravings. You are pleasantly assaulted with visions of brightly colored grapes and strawberries, vibrant greens, potatoes and mushrooms spilling out of their boxes. In this moment you feel rich and comfortable in the fact that you will feed your body the best you know how. The energy of the store can be translated to overwhelming if you are new to grocery shopping in a mainly healthy store or cathartic if you are an experienced hand in picking the best items for your personal needs. You float from aisle to aisle (if you have time) looking at the best gluten free options or salivate at the extensive amount of artisanal cheeses begging you to pick them up sniff them and put them in your cart. Never did you realize that there were so many types of olives or dairy free ice cream. Ideas begin to swim around in your head about how you would personally consume these products. Then you just shake your head and try to keep focused on your list.
One of my favorite parts of my weekly grocery shopping is the meat and fish counter. Here you are greeted with deep red porterhouses and the lighter pink veal chops. Along with this you see the delicate looking lamb chops and extremely gross looking but healthy veal liver(try it its so good!). Behind stands the temperature controlled dry aged meat rack which is more expensive but the taste and texture is rather indescribable and worth the price. Most of the time, customers (that includes me) stand there looking at all of the options while the butcher patiently asks if they can help. I learned to not be afraid to ask how to prepare a cut of meat if I am not sure. Almost always the butchers can provide you with some valuable insight and advice. This lessens the intimidation to try a new cut of meat. The seafood counter is just as inviting and has many wild caught options. I recently started buying and preparing wild caught skate ( the taste is fresh and light). There seems to be always a new species that I never heard of and I have branched out trying many different types of seafood. Most are rather easy to prepare which may not seem the case at first glance. When I am finished at the meat and fish counter, I know that my positive experience is coming to a close. As I walk towards the check out a sense of dread and annoyance washes over me because I know what lies ahead.
Since Whole Foods is a big part of the NYC experience there was much thought put into the products, layout and overall efficiency of the store since space is obviously limited. This is also evident in the checkout lanes. If it is extremely busy there is always a staff member making sure that all of the lines are completely optimized. I find this refreshing and I rarely dread standing in the queue itself. What I dread is dealing with the actual team member who is bagging my groceries and taking my payment. For some unknown reason (which I will someday know the answer to) there is a complete breakdown of professionalism. While I do understand that perhaps this position is not the highest paid position in the company, I do not understand why Whole Foods and all of its infinite connections and knowledge do not train their cashiers more thoroughly. They also have no idea of what Whole Foods actually sells. Almost every time I check out, the team member has a question about one of my items or has no clue what it is. I find this absolutely ridiculous! I first encountered this lack of knowledge years ago when a very kind and curious team member asked what buffalo was. I patiently explained to her the reason why I chose buffalo and how it compared to more recognized beef. Our conversation then went to some other items in my bag. As I began to explain, another team member walked over interested and began to listen in. I then knew that there was severe lack of attention and education given in this department. As I walked out of the store that day, a feeling of disappointment crashed within me. Here were curious young people surrounded by healthy foods. They were also surrounded by other team members who knew what the healthy food was yet they had no clue what they were putting in customer’s bags. That was a day of great awareness and great sadness.
After that day when I realized Whole Foods was not taking the time to train their staff properly, my whole outlook on the company began to change. If they are not training the people that you see last in your grocery shopping experience, how deep does this incompetence go within the company? As I continued to shop at Whole Foods, I noticed that this lack of knowledge and unprofessional behavior was just not at one store it seemed to be at every store I visited. I remember one day in particular that made me very angry for hours. It began with the team member letting me go to the register while he was still finishing up with the customer previous. Then it lead to him calling me buddy ( I am not your buddy!) while he reached in my vegetable bag to pull out some items. I firmly told him “Do Not touch my items”! Why would you do this? He also had no clue what many of the items were and he was very slow and unpracticed with the whole checking out and bagging process. By the end of my shopping experience that day I was seething. Why every time I go shopping do I have to deal with this type of behavior? If I am dealing with it on a rather consistent basis, I am sure there are many other customers dealing with the same issue. Although I realize that this is a first world problem, Whole Foods has a responsibility to promote health throughout our country and the world. This starts with supporting the very people you employ. Under the Whole Foods core values, it states that they support team member excellence and happiness while serving and supporting local and global communities. From my outlook and I am sure others this is not happening at even the most basic level. You cannot say this and not train your staff who come from the very communities you seek to support!
Through some investigation of my own I found by talking to managers on the floor at the store, I found that the cashier area has a very high turnover rate. This raises many red flags. I also found out that a team member receives up to 40 percent off. In addition to receiving this wonderful benefit, shouldn’t there be some training involved with Whole Foods products? I was also made aware that many team members are not paid very well and come from impoverished communities around NYC. Just knowing these few facts is enough to provoke the activism within me. Grocery shopping in a place like Whole Foods should be a positive and enriching experience with knowledgeable and professional staff from start to finish. I think that if a customer seeks to better their health, the very place they go for their daily needs should seek to better the health and wellness of the surrounding communities. All team members within Whole Foods should have options and support so they can embark on their own healing journey. We are in a time that we have the power to demand change and promote better health policy and awareness. I hope from my own healing journey and from others like you reader, we can seek to promote this awareness.
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