There is no substitute for knowing exactly where your food comes from. There is very little transparency in the big mainstream systems of mass production and distribution of food in this country. If you care about nutritional value, humane treatment of animals, the environment, and regenerative farming, you cannot buy mass produced, mass marketed foods with any confidence that you are supporting these practices.

Healthy foods at chain food stores

I have noticed that when there is a big recall of food products because of contamination, it often includes store-branded products sold at Trader Joe’s. Here is a recent example of a vegetable recall that includes Trader Joe’s, Target, and Wal-Mart.

Now, one of the reasons people shop at Trader Joe’s is because they believe that they are getting healthier foods at a reasonable price. And it may be the case that there are foods offered at Trader Joe’s that can’t be found at Walmart or Target or your local mainstream supermarket. But many people would probably be surprised to find out that the Trader Joe’s store brand foods often are made from the same ingredients sourced from the same huge mass producers that supply discount retailers like WalMart and Target and various other mainstream supermarkets.

At Whole Foods, too, things are not always what they seem. A couple of years back, there was a recall of foods that turned out to be served in the salad bars and sandwiches at many Whole Foods stores throughout the northeastern U.S. Now, I had always thought that there was someone making salads and prepared foods from fresh ingredients in the back of my local Whole Foods store. Only because of this contamination scare did I find out that Whole Foods was shipping centrally made salads from a distribution center or warehouse to their stores. Who knows how fresh the ingredients are? Who knows what may have been previously frozen, when or where? We are buying a reputation for healthy food. We have an idea in mind of what it means to eat lunch from the Whole Foods salad bar. That idea does not necessarily translate into the reality of a healthy, fresh lunch! That idea does not mean the food is top quality. It turns out the Whole Foods “North Atlantic Kitchen facility” was supplying salads and sandwiches, including “fresh” salads for the salad bars, to SEVEN STATES! Very far from my impression as a customer.

This Bloomberg News story tells us that you can buy chicken under the Whole Foods brand that is exactly the same as a lower-end Perdue brand chicken sold at other supermarkets. People are paying more for the same chicken with a Whole Foods brand label! The article spins this fact to suggest that you can find healthier foods at regular supermarkets. But my big takeaway from this article is: Because Whole Foods has built a reputation for offering healthy foods, people will pay for their brand, even though they have NO IDEA where that food came from, how the animals were treated, what the impact is on the environment, etc., etc.

I will say it again: There is NO SUBSTITUTE for knowing your farmer and being able to trace the origins of your foods. I always hesitate to buy store brands for this reason. Eden Organics is the only company I know of that uses a BPA-free liner for its cans. Their canned beans probably cost a little more because of this. I always choose Eden Organics over the Whole Foods 365 brand canned goods. Here is what it says on the Whole Foods website:

  • We have been working with the suppliers of our 365 Everyday Value products to find alternatives to BPA epoxy lined cans. Many of our 365 Everyday Value canned products are now in packaging that does not contain BPA, including cans with alternative lining materials, glass and aseptic containers. We are continuing our work to look for acceptable alternatives for additional products and to transition those products to new packaging.
  • The manufacturing of cans in the U.S. is dominated by a small number of very large companies. Whole Foods Market represents a very tiny slice of the overall canned good market, so our leverage is limited. Despite the uphill nature of this initiative, we have worked with a group of like-minded companies and socially responsible investors to push for alternatives.

In other words, Whole Foods does not want to pay extra to do whatever Eden Organics is doing to line their cans safely. This way, their store brand is less expensive than Eden and more appealing to price-minded consumers. Also not as clean, but likely many buyers assume incorrectly that it is better and safer than other store brands.

To return to the Bloomberg article, many people are not aware that poultry or hogs produced for human consumption in the USA cannot be given hormones. Companies market “NO HORMONES” on the package to attract consumers who want to buy the healthiest food for their families. Then in tiny print on the package, it says “Federal regulation prohibits the use of hormones.” So if many shoppers do not know what it means when the chicken or pork package says “hormone-free,” as per the study cited in the Bloomberg article, that is because it doesn’t really mean anything!

It may be true that Whole Foods’ standards for their meat suppliers have helped, along with rising demand for healthier more humanely raised foods, to raise the quality of some products offered at mass retailers, because of changes in producers’ practices put in place for efficiency. But there is still no substitute for knowing where your food comes from, and knowing the real conditions and production practices of the farms, processors, and packagers supplying your food.

Joanne Malino

Joanne Malino

Joanne Malino, a certified Integrative Nutrition Coach, co-founded Profeta Farms with her husband, Paul Profeta, and General Manager, John Place. Joanne helps people to optimize their health and energy by choosing the best, cleanest, most wholesome foods available. She is passionate about providing a wide variety of local, organic, great-tasting foods to the surrounding area, and educating people about the importance of knowing where their food comes from.


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