10 Lessons I Learned Working at a Natural Foods Store


Prepping the leafy greens. Sorting out the supplements. Counting the bags of Pirate’s Booty. Working at a natural foods store in Maine was one of my favorite jobs ever. I learned a great deal about healthy living, and even more about human behavior:

  1. Organic produce really does taste better. Before I started eating organic fruits and vegetables, I doubted that there was any real difference between organic and commercial. But then I started eating organic every day. When I would go back to eating non-organic produce, I could easily taste the difference. And it wasn’t good.
  2. However, the word “organic” can function as a healthy-living halo that gives otherwise conscious consumers permission to buy and eat very unhealthy products – like organic Jellybeans by the bagful.
  3. Some vegetarians go crazy for meat-free products that taste like meat. One day we received a new product for a meat-like veggie “jerky” in three different flavors. It was juicy. Several vegetarians were working at the store at the time, and they went ape over the veggie jerky – eating several packages each. “It takes just like meat!!!” they raved. About an hour later, they were all sick and puking. Moral of the story: never eat juicy jerky.
  4. People will take health advice from anyone, including young, ignorant, natural foods store cashiers who adamantly disclose that they have no idea what they are talking about.
  5. “Ma’am” is a four-letter word outside of the South. I was raised in Texas where the “ma’am” is a sign of respect, something that every child is taught to say. Outside of the South, however, it can be interpreted as a blatant insult and public proclamation of a woman’s old age. I started saying “miss” instead, which connotes youth and doesn’t offend anyone… not yet, anyway.
  6. The gluten-free lifestyle has come a long, long way. When I worked at the natural foods store in the early 2000s, people would drive far distances to reach our store for its selection of gluten-free products. Now, gluten-free everything is probably the biggest health trend around.
  7. People want an easy cure for everything, including the normal ups and downs of life. One particularly bleak February afternoon, a lady came in and wanted a supplement remedy for feeling “a little sad.” My co-worked replied: “It’s February – we’re ALL a little sad. It’s called WINTER. How about a hug instead?”
  8. Bulk bins can be gross. Why? Because people stick their hands in them ALL THE TIME to help themselves to a free sample. Kids are the worst, but adults freely jam their grubby paws right into the bins as well. And I know buying bulk items reduces the need for packaging, but let’s face it: often bulk items are simply not as fresh compared to a package of food that you open yourself.
  9. You can find great deals on the clearance rack at the natural foods store. These products aren’t expired (they couldn’t be sold if so) – they just didn’t sell well, and they need to go to make room for products that will.
  10. Finally: Never, ever recommend to a vegan that feeding her cat a little bacon grease is a quick and easy way to get rid of its hairballs. Never mind that you had no way of knowing that the woman was a vegan in the first place – or that her cat was, too. Freak-outs may ensue.

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