Whole Foods Bowery

Say what you will about tie-dye wearing hippies, but the 1960s gave birth to a slew of natural food co-ops and health food stores that sparked the organic movement now mostly defined by Whole Foods. Also known as Whole Paycheck for their expensive and irresistible offerings, a trip to Whole Foods can tip the $100 mark in just a single bag. As the nation’s largest natural food chain now tries to shake its nickname (especially in these that-darn-recession-just-won’t-quit times), it’s a good time to consider our shopping options, from the superchains to the Mom and Pop stores to the farmers markets.

Take a look at the pros and cons of the organic food shopping options. What’s your preference?

Whole Foods

Pros:

  1. Accessible in many major cities (and often with parking lots, double score).
  2. Wide selection of fresh, local and organic produce, staples, snacks and prepared foods.
  3. Private label brands offer low-priced alternatives to brand name foods.
  4. Lots of personal care and household items that can make it a one-stop-shopping trip.

Cons:

  1. Having a wide variety of organic fruits and vegetables year round can mean importing from far-away countries, not the most sustainable practice.
  2. Despite the lower-priced private label items, the store is full of high-priced enticing items that can easily lead to over-spending.
  3. Even though the chain promotes a long list of quality standards (like humane animal treatment and cage-free eggs), some items can contain unhealthy ingredients, not easily discerned by the common shopper.

The Mom & Pop Natural Food Store or Co-op

Pros:

  1. Higher likelihood of being locally owned and operated.
  2. Often offers only seasonal, local and organic produce, meat and dairy.
  3. May be more capable of special ordering items (even if they don’t sell them in the store).
  4. May have large bulk food selection with better pricing on commodity items.

Cons:

  1. Can lack on selection.
  2. May not be as accessible as a larger market.
  3. May be more expensive on some items than stores that offer private label or monthly specials.

The Farmers Market

Pros:

  1. Freshest, farmer-direct options always in season.
  2. Typically affordable pricing well below grocery stores.
  3. Fun community environment.

Cons:

  1. Organic options may be limited.
  2. Markets may not be frequent in your area.
  3. Still need to make other shopping stops for household items and staples.

The Verdict

Eating organic means being discerning in food choices and foregoing the mass-marketed shopping experience. While Whole Foods might meet most of your shopping needs, spending time in a variety of local markets and farmers markets will provide you both variety and community—factors integral to the shopping experience, not to be overlooked. 

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: david_shankbone