Out in a small town, a 20-year-old scratches his scruffy beard contemplating whether or not to buy kale. He adjusts his thick-rimmed glasses to look at the price label, finally deciding against the purchase, and sipping his chai tea latte as he exits Whole Foods Market. Our hipster friend wasn’t able to purchase from his favorite organic foods supermarket, one that has made its way into our society, a society that seems to be obsessed with healthy living, yet has over one-third of its adult population as obese.
We are living in a time where Americans have become increasingly aware of and obsessed with healthy living. Disco clubs have transformed into Zumba studios. Arcades have turned into LA Fitness. Gummy bears have become multivitamin Flintstone gummies. How, then, does America still have a frighteningly high population of obesity, despite the latest health trend? CrossFit and kale shakes are not luxuries that everyone can afford. And it might just be as simple as that.
While this cultural obsession with health is one that is well timed, not everyone is realistically able to make choices regarding healthy living. It is a serious socioeconomic problem when one of the richest countries in the world has nearly 47 million Americans, or about 15% of the population, on food stamps. While many are quick to point to the fact that many of those receiving this federal aid still have the “choice” to purchase healthier food options, a recent study found that those individuals on food stamps were consuming less fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and more sweets, desserts, and refined grains than Americans not on food stamps. This may be because some of the cheapest meals available are often fast food chain restaurants, offering high-calorie meals deep-fried in socioeconomic disparity. This may help to explain why Mississippi is not only the poorest state in the nation, but also has the highest rate of obesity.
On the other hand, the healthiest food options are oftentimes the most expensive, with organic supermarkets like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods as some of the most prominent companies. The truth of the matter is that most people cannot afford to buy an overpriced sandwich that will end up as an organic bowel movement, especially when there are cheaper alternatives available. This is why last Wednesday’s Whole Foods Market 2015 Q2 Report shocked many when it announced that a brand new store concept was being unveiled, one that was focused on affordable prices while still offering healthy food options. Co-CEO John Mackey stated, “We think a streamlined, hip, cool, technology-oriented store—a store unlike one anyone’s ever seen before … is going to be pretty attractive to that particular generation.”
While it appears that Whole Foods may have a large heart, we mustn’t forget that it too is a corporation, one that operates under the capitalist mantra of “profit over people,” and as such, it might not be that the company is worried about the health of the public. Rather, it might be that by the end of the Q1 (the first quarter, ending April 12th), the company revenues grew 3.6% instead of the predicted 5.3%. Some prominent players on Wall Street remain unsure about this cheaper line of stores, while others point out that companies such as Nordstrom Inc. have seen success with cheaper lines, such as the introduction of Nordstrom Rack.
It is, of course, still too early to prophesize the fate of this new line of stores; however, it is something that should be favored, regardless of their true intentions, given that at the end of the day it will allow for more individuals to choose healthier food options, encouraging other companies to perhaps follow suit. Millennials can look forward to this tech-savvy chain that will now allow us to indulge in specific dietary preferences including all sorts of organic, gluten-free, GMO-free, nut-free, paleo and vegan options, if we would like. Despite the amount of scrutiny that many of these “healthy crazes” receive, they are relatively better than guzzling sugar-saturated sodas and consuming artery-clotting grease globs disguised as burgers. Along with the vast buffet of cultural cuisines that America has to offer, it might also make sense to offer the choice of what you eat, regardless of any financial situation.
This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine.